Episode 61: Mary Richards reports — from radio to Church News journalist

Mary Richards spent nearly two decades working as a reporter for KSL NewsRadio in the heart of Salt Lake City. Working near the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mary had many opportunities to report on Latter-day Saint events and members. During her radio career, she produced numerous radio documentaries that aired between general conference sessions.

While working on these projects, from covering the temple dedication in Haiti to exploring the Sacred Grove for the bicentennial celebration of the First Vision, she was able to see the good work of the Church roll forward. She joins this episode of the Church News podcast to discuss her recent move to the Church News staff where she is working to help create a “Living Record of the Restoration.”

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Transcript

Mary Richards: The process of moving over to the Church News was one that came as a complete answer to prayer for me. I was thinking for a long time: “How can I use my time and my talents and my profession to further the work of the Lord? How can I help the gospel?”

Sarah Jane Weaver: I remember last summer seeing you doing an interview, thinking, “Wow, she would be a great addition to Church News.”

Mary Richards: Ooh, because I saw you there and I thought, “I want to go work for her.” I would see you at so many events, and I just thought, “Man, she’s got the best job. She just gets to do this all the time.” And here I am, and we’re in a recording booth together. It’s perfect.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News and welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

I have long admired Mary Richards, who worked for almost two decades at KSL NewsRadio, a sister company to Deseret News and Church News. In November, Mary joined the Church News staff. Mary, we are so glad to have your enthusiasm and talent and testimony. Welcome today to the Church News podcast.

Mary Richards: Thank you. I’ve been a longtime listener, and now I’m on the podcast. It’s a little — it’s thrilling and a little intimidating. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, why don’t you talk and tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey from radio to Church News.

1:42  

Mary Richards: So I, if everybody wants to know the whole story, because it’s kind of fun to tell people about myself that I am one of 12 children. And now I have five children of my own. I love, love my family so much. We’re really close. I grew up all over the world, I grew up with my dad’s job at the State Department getting the Church News overseas. In fact, I like to tell people that I remember seeing the Church News on my table when I was 6 years old. And now it’s just absolutely thrilling to be writing for it. So in the course of traveling in my parents’ jobs, we ended up in St. Louis, where I would listen to KMOX, the radio station there, and that kind of just kind of gave me this bug for being in the news business and wanting to be a journalist and tell stories. And so I moved out to BYU and studied broadcast journalism, and then graduated single. I was a little bit nervous about that, because I’d come from Missouri where there weren’t as many members of the Church, and here I was at BYU with so many to pick from, and I couldn’t find anybody. But then I moved to Salt Lake City to work for KSL, and then I met my husband at a University of Utah Institute singles ward. So we met and then I married him a couple years into my time at KSL, and we have five children. 

And the process of moving over to the Church News was one that came as a complete answer to prayer for me. I was thinking for a long time: “How can I use my time and my talents and my profession to further the work of the Lord? How can I help the gospel spread?” And it was just a lot of prayer. “Am I in the right place for me, for my family?” My youngest started kindergarten last year, you know, was it still OK to be waking up at four in the morning and three — no, three in the morning, let me back that up — and I just prayed so much about where I should be and how I could be helping. And then when this opportunity came, it was just perfect.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I can’t believe you spent so many years working that early morning shift on the radio. The work that I became familiar with that you were doing was work you do for general conference specials as a reporter for KSL. And I want to talk a little bit about that, because it certainly prepared you for the work you’re now doing for Church News. Do you have a favorite conference special that you did?

4:02  

Mary Richards: Well, two kind of come to mind — no, three, OK, fine — so every six months, I would put together these radio documentaries to air because KSL NewsRadio airs general conference, and in between the sessions, we would have this coverage and good content for listeners. I think the first one that comes to mind is my favorite is “The Saints in St. Louis” because I was able to go back to St. Louis where I’d been in high school, and cover the history of the Church in that area, which is so fascinating, because it was — we studied the Doctrine and Covenants this last year, you know, we went over all the sad situations of the history of the Saints and Missouri in the western part of the state. In St. Louis, they had this haven, they welcomed the Saints, they helped them, they, you know, it was a starting off point for the trail west for a while. So that was a great piece to work on an interview because I was back in this place where I had grown so much in high school and was able to learn more about the temple-building process, which I had seen as a teenager. That’s a big favorite.

Port-au-Prince Haiti Temple
Port-au-Prince Haiti Temple Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Another favorite, I think, going to Haiti just changed my life. I traveled to Haiti to cover the dedication of the temple and I traveled with Jason Swensen, co-worker here at Church News. And just being with this seasoned Church News writer, I just looked up to him so much, I learned so much about storytelling and covering senior leaders of our Church in these historic places. That was life-changing. It was also scary for me to leave, because I had little kids at home, and I thought, “I’m going to this scary place.” But I just felt protected the whole time, which was such a testimony builder for me. 

And I think also, my piece I did several years ago, I guess it’s been six years ago, on the power of forgiveness was something that I needed at that time. And isn’t it true that a lot of times the stories we’re writing or the stories we’re doing really help us so much personally as journalists. You think, “I needed that right then in my life,” and especially when you hear someone give a talk in church, they’re like, “This is probably more for me than for you,” they’ll say, and that piece was more for me, I think, than for the listeners. But hopefully, listeners got something from that — the healing, spiritual and physical aspects that forgiveness gives us was really crucial for me at the time. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Tell us more about that. What benefits are there to forgiving other people?

6:21  

Mary Richards: Yeah, there’s a lot that comes to us. Obviously, spiritually, we learn those lessons in church, and I need them over and over sometimes. But physically, our health improves. Our blood pressure, our overall well being, we, in being able to release what we are just holding on to, changes our physical aspect. Our hearts are healthier. I mean, there were all these studies, I decided that just I thought, “Here’s the evidence, and here’s the data,” but also the more evidence that to me was more telling was just how our Savior teaches forgiveness, and how we want to be more like Him, and therefore we are changed in so many ways by forgiving.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I want to talk about Haiti, because we did a podcast on Haiti earlier this year when there was another earthquake there. Certainly, Haiti is a country that is defined by disasters and poverty. We all learn, when we travel for Church News, that the places we thought would be scary just aren’t scary, because we have this immediate connection to Latter-day Saints in whatever nation they live in. But, you know, you did go to Haiti at a time where they’d had this horrific earthquake, they’d started to rebuild, and then there was this amazing symbol of hope in the temple.

7:39  

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, stand outside the Port-au-Prince Haiti Temple on Sept. 1. 2019.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, stand outside the Port-au-Prince Haiti Temple on Sept. 1. 2019. Credit: Jason Swensen

Mary Richards: Yes. And speaking of change, like forgiveness meaning change, the temple brings change. And Elder David A. Bednar [of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles] testified of that there, and so did Sister Susan Bednar, that a temple in the location anywhere really changes the people, changes their hearts, changes the country. And I have so much hope that the next time I go, I’ll see those changes however many years it takes down the road. And that was my second trip to Haiti. In 2010, I jumped on a sea, those huge cargo planes, I jumped on one of those with the Utah air reservists as they were traveling right after the earthquake, it was January 2010. And we flew there for like a whirlwind of a day as I covered what they were doing and how they were setting up and helping and then hopped on a plane and came back and just this whirlwind, 24-hour experience to report on that. And so going back in 2019 for the dedication of the temple, I just had such a love in my heart for the people. And we interviewed just these faithful, faithful Latter-day Saints who traveled so far to get to their meeting houses. And I had experienced that growing up, living overseas with my dad’s job, where we would travel long distances to get to this small room where we all met together. But there’s such a power in being with other Latter-day Saints, being with them and worshiping with them. And knowing, “I’m not alone in my love of the gospel, in my testimony, the gospel, look at us all here together.” And so that was so great for Haiti to have a temple, to know that it would bless their lives. In preparing to go and going — they used to have to get on crazy, little transportation, like the back of a pickup truck and haul eight hours into the Dominican Republic to go to the temple, and maybe they could cross the border, maybe they couldn’t, and to have it in Port au Prince, it was just amazing.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I was so glad that we started this conversation with St. Louis so we could reflect back on early Latter-day Saints. One of my favorite things that you reported on was the work you did in 2020 on the 200th anniversary of the First Vision of Joseph Smith, because 2020 was a crazy time. You know, when that special aired on KSL NewsRadio in April, we had been, one month into this accelerating pandemic. We’d been hearing about the pandemic and worrying about the pandemic since January that year when President Russell M. Nelson [President of the Church] sent masks and other supplies to China; and by the time that aired, church had shut down and temples had closed and missionaries had come home, and all of us were reflecting on President Nelson’s message to “Hear Him” much in the same way Joseph Smith heard the voice of the Lord so many years earlier.

10:25  

The sun sets behind a silhouette of the Palmyra New York Temple and the angel Moroni.
The sun sets behind a silhouette of the Palmyra New York Temple and the angel Moroni. Credit: Laurie Williams Sowby

Mary Richards: Exactly. That, the other one that changed my life was doing that special as well. I think when I got the assignment, it was maybe even December, early January, before things had really started to ramp up. And the idea was, “Let’s have you talk about the 200th anniversary of the First Vision, maybe you can sit down with an expert or two and kind of have this conversation.” Well, me in my typical overachieving fashion, interviewed probably 21 people and put all their voices in that hour. And as I was doing those interviews, things were changing rapidly. I was out in New York. I was in Palmyra on March 12th and the 13th, and that is when the news came that they needed to close these Church historic sites, and close the temples. I was — this will make me emotional — I was in the Palmyra temple that Friday evening, because I thought, “You know, I’m here, I want to see this beautiful temple,” and they had just heard that they were going to close the next day. I want to share this story because it was something that really touched me and I just saw how the Lord was in the details of my life. When I’d been at the visitors’ center – and I just adore those missionaries there – one of them had said, “Hey, you’re going to the temple, why don’t you take, can you take this name with you?” for that was one of her ancestors’ names or family history, and I thought, I was honored. Well, I get there and I’d rushed there after doing all these interviews and running around upstate New York all day, and I get into the locker and I can’t find that card. I can’t find it anywhere. I’m thinking, “Oh, no, I’m just barely making it to the 6 o’clock session.” They’re asking for me, they’re like, come on. So I just I said, “I’ve got to go.” So I was able to use a temple name and go through. When I got back to the locker, there was the card right there. And so I thought, “I’m going through again,” and I grabbed it. I went on the 8 o’clock session, and I did two sessions back-to-back. And this is the only time in my life where I’ve been able to just feel in the temple, in the moment, present, at peace, not worrying about my children back home with a babysitter because they were with my husband and my in-laws and they were fine. And I was in the temple for that long amount of time, feeling just such a love of our Heavenly Father to His people, knowing that this temple would close the next day, and I had that opportunity to be there that whole time. And I just felt His love for me, thinking, “It’s going to be OK, I know this is so scary, I know things are such an upheaval, but I am in charge, and I love my people and I will not abandon them, I will not leave them alone.” So that was such a spiritual experience for me in the middle of this moment of being busy gathering my interviews and my story and putting it all together because I had a pretty tight deadline. But I was so glad for that opportunity to spend that long in the temple with being able to put all those worries to the side.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And in my own travels, there are very few opportunities we have to set things aside, to step away from the work and go to the temple. Yet, there are a few times that I’ve done that too, that are just remarkable. You know, you kind of duck in in a nation and sometimes in a language that’s not your own, and you feel the peace of the Lord so many places across the globe. As you were talking, I thought, isn’t it interesting that in a time when so many journalists are cynical and  they don’t really focus on issues or talk about issues of faith. How has it been to be so open about your faith as a Latter-day Saint journalist?

13:58  

Mary Richards: I have always felt that I cannot separate this part of myself from — I’m not this compartmentalized Mary, like, “Now I’m a professional, here’s me here, here I am, now I’m a mother and now I’m a member of the Church.” They’re all part of me. I’m always talking about my family, my faith on my social media accounts that I’ve had for several years as a journalist. I’m not going to ignore those parts of me. I wrote about that experience in covering the bicentennial for the Journal of Mormon History, and the whole thing was talking about how I have my news ears, I guess, my journalist ears and my spiritual ears, and sometimes I’m hearing things from both if that makes any sense. Are you getting the messages as a journalist and getting the message for my own testimony? But as I’ve gone along interviewing people throughout my life, all over Utah and this country, I’ve hopefully tried to just kind of bring it up in conversation, that I am a member of the Church and this is what I believe and I just love it. I just love it, and not to be pushy or to say, “Look at me,” but just kind of, hopefully, organically. This has always been something that’s been in the back of my mind. My patriarchal blessing said that “your ready smile will bring people to the gospel.” I was a shy, shy girl, so shy. And I got that blessing and just that line — and other lines too — that line stuck with me, thinking that I had this way to be able to shine a light on the Church and on my experiences and my love of the gospel, and just have this, be this positive aspect for good so that maybe if I’m the first person someone has ever interacted with, that’s a member of the Church, it’ll be a positive experience. And so that’s probably why I smile and laugh a lot. Even in hard times, like, “Let’s just laugh through this.”

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I’m so touched. You know, when we think about how we each hear the voice of the Lord, I hear the voice of the Lord, and my journalism training plays into that. It’s how I seek answers. I ask a lot of questions, and then I listen to people, and oftentimes I process while I speak too. I verbalize things in the form of questions and answers and somehow the Lord speaks to me in that process. It’s a process of discovery that actually was honed for me in journalism training. 

One of the other specials that you did was about preaching during the pandemic. Certainly, we had all of these missionaries coming home during the pandemic. We did a couple of podcasts with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who was then chair of the Missionary Executive Council for the Church. We did a follow up podcast with the executive director and managing director of the Church’s Missionary Department. Because we have these amazing pioneers in our day with these missionaries who were serving during the pandemic or serving after the pandemic had sort of shut things down, and they pioneered a new way. They did home MTC and they turned to social media, and they actually were very, very flexible. 

17:18  

Mary Richards: Yes, I was so impressed and touched by the experiences I learned. And the testimony that grew as I interviewed some of these returned missionaries and current missionaries and mission presidents in the same way, talking about this, very same topics about how things had to change. And I thought, “Boy, isn’t the Lord amazing? No unhallowed hand will stop the work of this Church.” And during the pandemic, I sure felt like Satan was trying to stop the work of the Church, stop missionaries, stop temple work, stop all these things. And people thought, “Alright, let’s find a way around this, or let’s find a way through this, or let’s find a way to do this safely.” And they did. And the work continued and continues today, and that was a great experience for me to see. And to share that with my children to say, “Hey, guess what? Today I actually interviewed two missionaries and here’s what they said,” because I have a teenage son, my 16-year-old is going to be going on a mission pretty soon. These things, these last two years, everybody says they fly by, so to be able to share that with them, to say, “Here’s what I learned as I did these interviews, and I’m putting together this story, and here’s hopefully how it’ll bless our family’s life,” let alone, hopefully listeners and readers, but at least in my own little sphere — “Here’s how this missionary work has been able to continue, and isn’t that amazing?” And they were like, “Oh, yeah, Mom, thanks.” We’ve had, I think they listened. I think I saw their eyes brighten, hopefully, that they were listening to me. I’m just so in awe of the young people of this Church as they just faithfully keep serving and keep doing and keep going and doing as they were and as they still are during this pandemic.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I remember last summer seeing you doing an interview at the Church Administration Building, it was for the NAACP. Now, that’s a story that I have covered since July of 2019 when President Russell M. Nelson gave the keynote address at the NAACP National Convention in Detroit, and so much good has rippled from the things that happened before that event as the Church began to work with the NAACP on joint initiatives and self-reliance. And then, at this big press conference, they actually announced education and humanitarian initiatives. And I remember seeing you there thinking, “Wow, she would be a great addition to Church News.”

19:37  

Mary Richards: Oooh, because I saw you there and I thought, “I want to go work for her.” I would see you at so many events, and I just thought, “Man, she’s got the best job. She just gets to do this all the time” because I was often the reporter assigned to cover Church press conferences and issues and stories, but that was kind of not every day at KSL. Often I was out on car crashes, and house fires and politics. And so when I was able to do those stories and go to those news conferences, I thought, “This is amazing.” So yeah, I would always see you there. In Manti – we were both in Manti for the temple announcement. I saw you across the way. I just thought, “She’s got a great job.” And here I am, and we’re in a recording booth together, it’s perfect.

The Manti Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is pictured in Manti on Saturday, May 1, 2021.
The Manti Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is pictured in Manti on Saturday, May 1, 2021. Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I’d love to talk about that special day in Manti. You know, President Nelson announced 20 temples at general conference just before the Manti event, and the  Church had made plans to renovate the temple in Manti and to make it handicap accessible. And in the process of doing that, they also cared so much about the historic nature of that beautiful pioneer temple, that they were trying to find a way that they could both keep and preserve the history of that temple and accommodate the other needs in this area of the state of Utah, and so they announced a new temple for Ephraim, Utah, which is not too far from Manti. What, like seven minutes?

21:04  

Mary Richards: Yeah, exactly. It’s just, it’s really not that far. Yeah. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I love that it was by a college campus. We were just talking about the Latter-day Saint leaders’ focus on young adults and this college age, really strong, vibrant population of future Church leaders. So now you’ve got a college community that can go to the temple, and yet, you just can see how the Lord blesses all the children in His vineyard. 

21:30  

Mary Richards: Oh, exactly. That was such a beautiful day. I think I’d gotten a call the night before: “Drive to Manti, there’s something big coming. We don’t know yet what it is.” I felt such a spirit come over me testifying of our Prophet and his love of the Saints when he announced that Ephraim temple, because he said, “This will bless this area in so many ways,” and I thought, “This is it. This is amazing.” And then walking around the Manti Temple later that day, and just thinking, “What a beautiful building, aren’t we so blessed to have temples on the earth today, and a Prophet building more of them and finding these ways to be able to bless those people?” Yeah, that was a wonderful day.

Sarah Jane Weaver: That was a great day for me too. As I was driving to Ephraim and Manti, I was on the telephone with my missionary daughter. She had been in Ohio on a reassignment. We love Ohio. We love everybody who’s part of the Cincinnati, Ohio, mission. There’s a shout out there. She still talks about Ohio sunsets. It’s not that she loves Ohio sunsets, but she loves Ohio Latter-day Saints, and she had gotten word that she was traveling to Brazil. And she had called me just before I walked into that press conference to say she had reached São Paulo, she was headed to Fortaleza, she was traveling alone, and ran into an employee from the Church’s area office in Brazil who was there on area business and who helped her reach her gate, and that was beautiful. That was beautiful for me to know that the Lord was going to take care of her, and then to go in and participate in this spiritual event where a prophet said, “And I’m going to take care of the people in central Utah.”

23:15  

Mary Richards: Oh, goodness, you’re giving me goosebumps thinking about that juxtaposition together there. And isn’t that interesting how in our careers, we often have that juxtaposition of something happening in our personal life, and then how it’s kind of paralleled with what’s happening in our professional life. That was exactly what was happening when I was putting together the New York piece, the bicentennial of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, where I’m editing this long story at home, while my children are all of a sudden at home from school, remote learning, because schools have been shut down. I’m worried about them, I’m worried about my husband’s business, and I’m putting this all together and I keep hearing the same messages, that God spoke to Joseph Smith, God spoke again, the Church was restored, that First Vision kicked off all that we have right now. And so that grounded me in that time, in March and April of being so worried and so — everything was so confusing in the world and with a pandemic starting and what really was happening and how did it spread? And my children are worried and they’re at home all of a sudden. We have we have a 2,000-square-foot house and all seven of us, we’re all trying to use the same WiFi to do our schoolwork and work work, and isn’t that interesting how the messages that the Lord sends us, if we listen, and in that case, I had to listen with my spiritual ears and my journalistic ears to what He was saying, that “I love you. I’m in charge, it’ll be alright. Stay faithful and get through this.” And I think about your daughter and all those missionaries who face that uncertainty of, “Hey, I’m going here. Wait, maybe I’m flying there and where will I be? What will it look like?” And He’s saying, “I love you, and there are people who will be there and they love you too.” And that’s just such a spiritual message to me that — one I need to write down and remember, I think, more.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I remember that time too, and WiFi was a problem at our house. My husband was working from home, he’s in the tech industry, we had two daughters that came home from Brigham Young University, and so they’re trying to do remote learning, and I had a daughter in high school, and there just was not enough bandwidth in our home to accommodate all of that. And yet, when I think back on that time, it was a special time for our family at a time that I may never get back. Those mornings that were filled with so much tension as everyone was trying to get on the computer; and yet, when will there ever be another time when I can have all of my kids, especially kids of that demographic, with me at home, not being able to go out or do much?

25:55  

Mary Richards: Teenagers. Yes, I thought, “Oh, my goodness, this is my opportunity to really love on my teenagers and keep them close,” even though sometimes a little too close: “We might need a little space.” But looking back, it really was a blessing and being so blessed to be able to stay safe and healthy. I was grateful for that. We prayed so much, we fasted and prayed with the Prophet on those days He asked us to, and we still do today as we think about the Saints and others around the world. But you’re right, just being with all your family, and it really got me used to, because — I used to leave at 3:30 in the morning, I was out reporting every half hour on the radio, and I wouldn’t see my children. My husband would get them ready for school, he did such a good job, and I mean, he picks their clothes and helps them with their hair better than I do, I think, at least the boys. But then when everything started, I started working from home on the radio, and now working a lot and being able to write from home from the Church News has really blessed us, even just for the tiny detail that I can do my daughter’s hair before school. We have a girl at the end. We have four boys and then our girl at the end and she just started kindergarten. And those little teeny elastics are hard for my husband’s fingers. And he’s, I think, very grateful that I can, right before we log into our morning staff meeting, I’m able to quickly give her hair a brush, put a little bow in there, and out she goes.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, I’m so glad you mentioned that, because so much of what we do, especially as Latter-day Saint women, but I think as all Latter-day Saints, we do with the help and support of other people. And certainly as families work together towards goals that they set together, as couples set goals, and they figure out how they’re going to make things work and seek personal revelation to do that, there’s something that happens on the side, which in our case, was — we have three daughters and I have traveled a little bit for work and my husband had to learn how to navigate those little elastics. He does it different, I can just put them right in the hair, but he can do it now. Now no one ever says, “Wow, that wasn’t so great.” Because if he does it, then then it stands. When my babies were little, they wore a lot of pajamas because he thought they were comfortable for them, and I’m so thankful for that. 

28:08  

Mary Richards: Yes, I love that because you were a team — are a team still. And my husband and I are a team, where we are raising our children and doing our Church callings, and all these things, supporting each other, filling in the pieces when someone needs to do this or that or are taking up some slack here, or splitting the household chores in different ways. My husband cooks so much better than I do. He’s just amazing at it. And so, that’s something that he’s been able to do and it’s blessed our family’s life. When he was called into a bishopric, it was a YSA ward, and I remember that it felt like the stake president was kind of giving him an out: “Well, I know you’ve got these young kids, and if you want to do this, and your wife is gone, early, dark hours,” and I was like, “No, it’s fine. We’re a team, we’ll figure this out.” And we did, and that was such a blessing for our lives, that calling, to see the Church in that way, in a different way, because he was the bishop of our family ward, and then being in the bishop of a young single adult ward — again, I saw how the Church is in the people and the Saints and how the energy and the new testimonies of these younger people really uplifted me as well. And the same in our family ward, just the love and support we got from members as I had two babies while he was bishop. So this has been — it was eight years ago for them for a five-year stint, and I just cannot thank them enough for sitting with me, for helping me, and I would have to go to bed early because I woke up so early. So, I put all the children to bed and then I’d go to bed and he’d be out at meetings or he’d get a phone call and put on a white shirt and have to go out and help and minister to somebody and I just thought, “Aren’t we all in this together? And isn’t that just beautiful?”

Sarah Jane Weaver: That is the message for all Latter-day Saints across the globe. We talked about the blessings that came to so many people during the pandemic; but this was also a trying, hard, horrible time, where so many people felt lonely, and where so many people dealt with sickness and death and disappointment, and had economic consequences. And yet, somehow everything keeps going. I remember doing a series where I interviewed the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve on issues that were facing Latter-day Saints during the pandemic, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “We need to have a constant consciousness of those around us.” 

Mary Richards: Yes, I remember that. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And what a beautiful message: Let’s be a collective family, and look out for the needs of everyone else. Let’s just be constantly conscious of those who are on the pew next to us at church, or for our neighbors or for our extended family. You know, both of us have spent a lot of years writing about Days of ‘47 parades in Utah. Early in my career, I did every parade for probably 10 years, but that pioneer legacy that we celebrate today, that’s what it was, it was a, “Let’s plant crops for the people who come behind us. Let’s think about those in this collective society and help one another to accomplish a greater good.” And as a result, they settled the western United States.

31:17  

Mary Richards: Yeah. Oh, I love that pioneer —  I was always proud growing up as we moved around to say that my great, great, great, whatever uncle is David W. Patton, l would always say. But then on the other side, my dad was — he remembers when the missionaries came to my grandparents’ door. He’s a Navy child. And so my dad’s family — he’s a convert. And so I have pioneer stock on both sides, because they were pioneers for their family as well. And it’s just deep in our blood. 

You know, it’s interesting as we, as you and I, have traveled and been everywhere, the stories that are deep in the souls of the Saints in that area. In upstate New York, they connect so much with the Restoration. It happened there. They feel it, they talk about it, they bear testimony of it in their youth Sunday school classes. In St. Louis and in Missouri, there’s so much connection to early Saints and the testimony building of those hard days as they moved around. My family now lives near the Church historic sites in northwest Missouri. In fact — a little, little fun fact: I got engaged at Adam-ondi-Ahman. That’s kind of a fun thing. I brought my husband out to meet my family. And he said, “Let’s go see this, I want to go see this again.” 

Looking out over Adam-ondi-Ahman in Missouri.
Looking out over Adam-ondi-Ahman in Missouri. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’ve never been there.

Mary Richards: What?

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’ve never been there.

32:28  

Mary Richards: Come see my family and come go to the whole everything. It’s a beautiful, beautiful area. They connect there, and we would go to the Nauvoo pageant growing up, and they connected with the stories of Nauvoo. And then moving out to Utah to go to BYU and then I’ve stayed here, I just connect so much with the pioneers and their stories and their sacrifices. And in Haiti, they connect so much with the stories and the sacrifices of their Church members that have grown and loved and been baptized, and grown the Church there. So in each place, I think there are those examples of fortitude, of strength, of looking out for the Saints that come next. And you see that everywhere we go, and I’m excited to learn more of those stories as I write more for the Church News, of this worldwide Church. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, certainly, Joseph Smith is a Prophet to the world, and every person, wherever they may be across the globe, connects to him and the Restoration in their own way and in their own time, and it is beautiful to understand and tell those stories.

33:32  

Mary Richards: Yes, definitely. I mean, and that’s the whole mission of the Church News, right? A living record of that Restoration. Definitely.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and now it’s December. You’ve been working with us for a whole five weeks. 

Mary Richards: Yes. I love Christmas. Christmas is my favorite time of year. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: We just did a podcast with Sister Harriet Uchtdorf talking about her love of Christmas and her German heritage, and I want to talk about your love of Christmas.

34:01  

Mary Richards: Yes. Isn’t this something that we’ve totally bonded over? I love Christmas so much, because that nostalgia, for one thing. Because as we moved a lot as a child, we had the same fake tree. I think I counted up, I’ve moved 11 or 12 times before I graduated from high school. We moved a lot. But we had the same tree, the same decorations that my mother had made, the same foods, those traditions ground us, I think, and so that nostalgia is why I love Christmas today, but also because of the birth of the Savior. I mean, what a wonderful time of year to celebrate. And so, I’m so happy that it’s snowing this week, I think, and because it brings on — but even when I was living in Brazil, and it was hot and rainy in December, it’s still that Christmastime is just such a magical time of year. I could talk about it all the time, all year. And I do.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, just this week, my family sold my childhood home. We lost my father just in March of 2020 as the pandemic was sort of unfolding, and my mother has downsized and moved to a different location, and we realized it was time to sell the family home. And I took boxes of stuff home, and so many of those boxes are filled with Christmas decorations because that defines my childhood. I spent hours pulling them out, looking at them. My mom wrote the names of her kids on each one so that if the day ever came, they would be easy to divide up. 

Mary Richards: Oh, that’s smart.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, that was forward thinking.

35:33  

Mary Richards: Yeah, we should do that. There’s a quilt my mom made that I really have my eye on. So wall hanging for Christmas, we should probably talk about that, actually, as siblings. Christmas is just such a time of year that just brings such joy and warmth when you think of those messages. If it’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and we’re not singing Christmas hymns in Church, I get a little grumpy: “Where are the two hundreds?” I look immediately up to the list of numbers. “Are we in the 200, 200 to 260, or 208, for our Christmas hymns?” Because it’s time it’s time to worship and sing and praise, all of it. One of the things we love to do is we go look at Christmas lights, we’ll drive around and look at the lights throughout the valley. And it’s kind of bad having a journalist as a mom or a former live news reporter because I’m often pointing out places I’ve been as we go around. They want to look at the moving lights with music, and I’m talking about, “Oh, I think I covered a crash there,” or, “I remember doing an interview right here in that building.” “Oh, yeah, that’s the health bill.” I’ll name all these different things, and they think, “Mom, we just came to look at the lights.”

Sarah Jane Weaver: There’s no glory in your own kingdom. So, Christmas is also a time where those who don’t have family connections may feel isolated or lonely. I don’t know how to reach out or help or strengthen them. Certainly, we’ve both done stories that show a lot of research on the effects of loneliness, of depression. And also last year, we both got to write about President Russell M. Nelson’s message on gratitude and what can happen as we are grateful for our blessings. How can we — using a term that we’ve already talked about in the podcast — how can we be more constantly conscious this holiday season of everyone around us? 

 37:19  

Mary Richards: Yeah, I think immediately of Sister Linda K. Burton’s talk about observe, see, and then serve. When we are able, and when we are in a place ourselves, in a good place ourselves, to be able to look outward and notice and see, like those ward members did for me all those years ago when my husband was bishop. I’ve tried to, during the pandemic, look for somebody who may not show it. But if you reach out, then you can tell that they were needing that someone to reach out to them, if that makes sense. Writing those notes, checking in on — there are so many sweet, dear women in our ward, older widows, and I wrote notes to them during the pandemic, and I don’t think I did it enough. I wish I’d called them even more, and I think about that at Christmas time too. Do you have someone in your life, and if you don’t, can I adopt you as my grandma because my family’s far away? Now all my grandparents have now passed. Can I be there for you in this time? But see if there’s a way to observe a need and then see how you can fill it, or find someone who can among your circle, you know what I mean? Among your ward or among your neighborhood? Is there a way to fill that need when there is that loneliness right now? Because I don’t think we’re meant to be separated and isolated. We need to be together.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Sister Sharon Eubank who’s in the Relief Society general presidency, and she oversees the work of Latter-day Saint Charities, so has this perspective of helping through humanitarian work worldwide. She says that you have to have a relationship, that the best service comes as a result of a relationship. If you want to do something for someone else, first become friends with them, then you can understand what they need most.

39:03

Donors sit in a row in Daytona Beach, Florida as they give blood for OneBlood, which services the Southwest U.S. Events took place simultaneously across multiple Florida locations on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
Donors sit in a row in Daytona Beach, Florida as they give blood for OneBlood, which services the Southwest U.S. Events took place simultaneously across multiple Florida locations on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Credit: Lauran Newman for Church News

Mary Richards: Yeah, maybe they don’t want me to call them all the time. But maybe they need something else, or maybe they don’t want my plate of cookies, they would need something different. If you can find that and then observe it and then fill it. Isn’t that what we’re all here for? This story I just did last week or the week before about, it was nearly 50 locations in Florida. Fifty meetinghouses all donating blood at the same time. And I was struck by, when I was speaking to the organizer on the phone, she said: “We are the Lord’s hands. And in this case, we’re almost, in a way, giving His blood. We are giving blood, donating blood to help others because that’s how we are placed on this earth — to help others.” And in this way, it was a Light the World service project that they put on JustServe.org and they just had an incredible turnout because I think there is that desire within us to help our fellow man, to help our fellow people. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: I love that in the early days of the pandemic when people were worried that medical professionals wouldn’t have the masks that they needed, that Latter-day Saints in Utah rallied together and handmade almost 6 million masks. Now, I saw the patterns to those. They were not easy.

40:11  

Mary Richards: So I sewed many myself, they were a little bit tricky. My mother-in-law, I adore her, she gave me my sewing machine and she walked me through, “Here’s the best way to do this,” and thank goodness you do it in an assembly line kind of fashion. You don’t do one mask and then put aside to do another. You’d be there for weeks trying to sew, because I got my allotment of 100. She said, “You’re going to do a whole bunch in a row doing this side, loop through and now you’re going to switch into that side, loop through.” And it was amazing, and my children were — I actually wrote about this and I included a picture of my daughter’s little hand on mine as she was trying to help push the machine through — and I’d put it on a very slow setting, little hand by this needle, I was a little bit scared, but she wanted to help. And I thought, “I could do this so much faster myself.” But I’m showing her — and my teenager son, he actually got in and did a few himself too — I’m showing her the act of service, even though it’s taking a little bit longer. You know, when you make cookies with kids and you’re like, “Don’t wait, stop, don’t, don’t,” but we have to teach them by doing. And hopefully that little part, I only did 100 of those 6 million, but hopefully that little part, in a way, I felt like it blessed my family in showing we serve. We Richards, we are going to serve, because, thank goodness, we’ve been blessed by service, maybe we can bless somebody else.

A Project Protect volunteer picks up a bag of materials to make clinical face masks for the state's health care workers in Murray, Utah, on Tuesday, April 14, 2020.
A Project Protect volunteer picks up a bag of materials to make clinical face masks for the state’s health care workers in Murray, Utah, on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: My favorite part of the mask story was one that was shared with me by the Relief Society general presidency, and they pointed out that we were making masks in Utah with our sewing machines and all of the technology that made that kind of cumbersome, hard project a little easier. But a group of Latter-day Saints in Mozambique made masks for their market there so that those who were working in the market, who were trying to sell their wares and make a living, had the equipment that they needed, had masks to protect themselves, and by extension, their families, and those masks had to be sewn by hand because they didn’t have sewing machines. And so, isn’t it interesting how we each serve in our own way to fill our own local need? And it is how the Lord blesses His children. 

So that truly is one of the things I’ve learned in my career, is that the Lord is mindful of us. He has sent us prophets and apostles to direct our lives. President Nelson says if you want to be happy, keep the commandments. And so we each move forward in our own way, by following the words of prophets and apostles and by seeking and receiving personal revelation in our lives. 

And so I’m going to end this podcast the same way that we end all of our Church News podcasts, with this very important question: “What do you know now?” And the question is what do you know now, after almost two decades of being a reporter and a journalist, what do you know now as a result of being a wife and a mother? And then I hope you’ll share your testimony with us, as you join our team to record a living record of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

43:10  

Mary Richards: What I know now, first as a journalist, and this is  — I bore my testimony about this to my ward — is, consider the source. I’ve always said that. Where are you getting your information in this world of so many sources of information, especially about the Church? Where are you getting what you’re thinking? Where’s that coming from? Are you getting that from something online that doesn’t quite, you don’t exactly know what they’re saying or where they’re coming from, but they said it? Or are you finding that information and that truth from our prophets and apostles and leaders? Consider the source when you’re looking at information, that’s something is a journalist that’s always stuck with me. Who is telling you this? Is it true? And are you praying about it to the ultimate source, our Heavenly Father? And that is always, I think, a good message that I repeat to myself, but then I also tell my children as they grow up and learn and navigate school and middle school in high school. And they’re starting to, maybe they come across as criticism of the Church or something that might make them question something, to say, “What’s the source? And is it true? And who’s the ultimate source?” It’s our Heavenly Father. 

Another thing I know that I have really seen in my years as a journalist covering the Church or covering so many stories is that there is so much good that happens that people don’t even know about. There’s so much that’s being done quietly, privately. It’s not in this big showy fashion. So many times the Church is helping in these communities around the world, in our own community, in our own backyard. Church members in their callings, they’re not paid for those. My Primary president is working nonstop, and nobody sees that, all the behind-the-scenes things that she’s doing for her love of the children and of families, for example. From that level, on the local level, all the way up to our senior Church leaders who are traveling the world, praying for people all over the world. I just know, all the good and I’m only seeing a glimpse of it in the last month or so that I’ve been at Church News, all the good things and all the prayer and the love that comes from our Church leaders, for the Church members and everyone else around the world. 

What I know now also from my childhood, growing up and being part of such a large family, and now having these amazing five children, my own and my husband, is that the family is just so crucial. Keeping those connections and those relationships close, healing relationships when you need to, and staying close to your family is just something that I know that our Savior wants for us because it makes us better people. It makes us be more like our Heavenly Father when we are thinking of that relationship for eternity and keeping it good here, so that it can go with us as we move forward. And I just know that no matter where I am — in Utah, in the world, that the Church is true. I’ve seen it growing up as I moved around. I’ve seen it now as a journalist writing about the Church or for the Church, that the Church is true, no matter where you go, that the gospel is on all four corners of the earth. And isn’t that amazing? That anywhere you go, like your daughter in Brazil, that there is someone there who will welcome you, who will say, “Come worship with us, here’s where we meet on Sundays.” And now we have a temple and all these things, that and especially growing up where we were in parts of tiny branches and everything, knowing that this is a worldwide Church led by a prophet of God today just has guided my whole life. Because it’s just anchored me, knowing that I’m not alone in this big universe, but that I have a Heavenly Father, that I have a Savior, and that I have this gospel on the earth today. It’s just something I can’t say enough. I probably don’t want to be the one that’s always getting up each month in testimony meeting, but my heart is always full with that knowledge, that we are all together, we are all Latter-day Saints, and what a beautiful message of the gospel to share with others, that He lives, that He was born this Christmas time, that He came on earth as a baby in a manger and then grew and then suffered and died for us and was resurrected. That is what I know now.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.