“Temple Ancestor Day,” Ensign, July 1989, 12
There was something different about the group of eighteen in the St. George Temple. Yes, they were all from the Las Vegas Sixty-eighth Ward. But that wasn’t so unusual—Las Vegas Saints regularly attend that temple. This group was different because all of them were there to do the ordinance work for their own deceased family members and ancestors. They were the vanguard of an effort that saw their ward members submit ten times as many names for temple work as they had the year before.
The same difference was true, too, for the group of approximately 110 teenagers from the Augusta Maine Stake, who were on a three-day temple trip to the Washington Temple. They were there to perform baptisms for their kindred dead. The youth themselves had prepared the information for the ordinance work.
That difference also characterized several hundred members from the Riverton Utah North Stake, who averaged more than fifteen ordinances per family for their ancestors in the Jordan River Temple in two days.
These three trips resulted from leaders promoting ward or stake ancestral temple days. The idea was not only to attend the temple, but also to take an ancestor there.
For the Las Vegas Sixty-eighth Ward, Las Vegas Nevada Sunrise Stake, the family history program began rather quietly. Bishop Larry Halsey pondered how to help the members of his ward respond more to the spirit of Elijah. Suddenly he realized that, though individuals can accomplish a little by themselves, a ward pulling together can do a lot more. So in December 1986, he challenged ward members to each submit the name of one deceased family member or one ancestor for temple ordinance work in 1987. Bishop Halsey then turned to his priesthood executive committee and correlation council for ideas on how to help the members. He says, “I wanted to do away with the idea that family history research was hard. I thought that few could be intimidated by submitting just one name. And I knew the total results on a ward level could be quite exciting.”
The bishop assigned Mike Prince, the high priests group leader, to coordinate efforts. The ward leaders began to make brief presentations before the priesthood quorums, the Relief Society, and the Young Women and Young Men. In July, Bishop Halsey reemphasized the challenge through the ward newsletter. Though slowly at first, ward members started to take notice.
Because the challenge included all ward members, ward leaders also emphasized preparing members to go to the temple. Brother Prince started a temple preparation seminar for senior members of the ward, to which he invited his mother. Home teachers, visiting teachers, and friends also pitched in to help prepare the less-active. For example, one member who had moved to Las Vegas and did not attend church had become Scoutmaster of a non-LDS-affiliated troop. He was interested in his family heritage, however, and the ward’s family history program intrigued him. With his home teachers’ help, he returned to activity.
The Sunday School contributed by beginning a family history class, taught by Irene Halsey, the bishop’s wife. She was also Relief Society family history consultant and gave two- to three-minute presentations every week to encourage progress. In both callings, she made frequent phone calls and visits and worked with ward members on their family history records. She reported the number of records submitted to the temple to Brother Prince, and the families contacted him when they received clearance from the temple. By the end of 1987, one hundred names had been submitted to the St. George Temple.
By April 1988, enough names had cleared for the ward ancestral temple trip to be a reality. Eighteen ward members participated that first time. (Usually, five or six went on the two-hour trip to the St. George Temple.) The Princes were there, including Brother Prince’s mother. She was sealed to her deceased husband, and Mike Prince was sealed to his parents. His mother’s home teacher, Kerby Black, served as proxy for the father. Tom and Tami Bradley and Tom’s mother were some of the others who participated. They completed the ordinances for Brother Bradley’s maternal grandparents. Then his mother was sealed to her parents, along with a brother who had died in infancy.
As news of the experience spread, interest in the project quickened. Sister Halsey was called as stake family history specialist to initiate an effective stake program. Meanwhile, ward members who had not made the April trip began asking for help to get their records ready. In May, Howard and Terri Weisman were called as the ward’s first family history consultants. Howard Weisman, a convert from Judaism, treasures his ancestors’ family histories. He feels a little like the Joseph who was sold into Egypt. Despite rejection from his brothers, Joseph paved the way to preserve his family and, ultimately, all of Israel. Howard Weisman feels that he has gone ahead, as Joseph did, to arrange for the salvation of his own family, who are of the tribe of Benjamin. Within several months of the initial ward ancestral temple day, the Weismans had participated in over 182 ordinances for their own family.
As soon as the Weismans were called, they began visiting with ward members, sitting beside them as the families pored over family records, guiding them in what to do. They also took members to the regional family history center. Terri Weisman says, “Many have gathered information and just need to know how to submit the information or fill in the gaps. We look at our work as missionary work. We teach one-on-one—part-member and less-active families, singles, widows and their children, ward and stake leaders—and we challenge them to pray about what they’re doing.”
Bishop Halsey noted that “once the ward members became involved, they learned how simple family history work is and how wonderful the rewards are. The program became self-motivating.”
Brother Weisman describes one family who had forty-three ordinances to do: “Brother Prince made assignments for the proxies. Seventeen or eighteen ward members were able to share in a great spiritual experience.” Brother Prince notes that members almost never refuse a request to serve as a proxy. This sharing has created a feeling of family among the ward members.
By the end of 1988, ward members had submitted 1,018 names for work in the St. George Temple. As Sister Weisman points out, “When people do the work for those who are dear to them, they catch the vision.”
For the teenagers of the Augusta Maine Stake, temple activity took on an added dimension, too. Every April for the past several years, during the statewide spring break, the youth had made a three-day trip to the Washington Temple to perform baptisms for the dead. This time, as leaders formulated plans for the April 1988 trip, they urged the young people, with the help of their families, to obtain information on one or more of their ancestors and prepare the records for the temple work themselves. The stake leaders even printed lapel buttons that emphasized the theme of taking an ancestor to the temple.
The response was heartening. Even though many submitted records too late for normal processing, by the time of the trip, the names of about 150 ancestors had been cleared for ordinance work. Virtually every active teenager in the stake—about 110 youngsters—went this time, despite the cost. About sixty-five of them anticipated being baptized for their ancestors.
The group left on a chartered bus at 5:00 P.M. and rode for fourteen hours to reach their destination. Throughout the next day, they were baptized for the dead. That evening, in a fireside at the Washington (D.C.) Stake center, many testified that they finally knew what the Spirit was like because they had felt it in the temple. The trip was especially poignant for those baptized for deceased family members.
For the Riverton Utah North Stake, the challenge to take an ancestor to the temple came from the Jordan River Temple presidency. Stake president Duane B. Williams and his counselors met several times with the temple president, John Larsen, and his counselors to work out dates for submission of the records and for the temple work. Together they scheduled the times that the different ordinances would be performed. They decided to use two days for the work—the youth would come on 29 December 1987 to be baptized for their ancestors, and the adults would come the following day for initiatory work, endowments, and sealings. That way, the temple would not be overly congested.
Shortly after those meetings, the stake presidency held a bishops’ training meeting, to which the high priests group leaders were invited. There they announced the goal: that every temple recommend holder in the stake would do work for kindred dead by the end of the year. The high priests group leaders were assigned to supervise the project, and the family history consultants were to be trainers.
President Williams says that they were actually fairly well prepared for such an opportunity. “The main reason we were able to undertake this challenge successfully was because the stake and wards were already participating in the Church family history program. A couple were serving as stake family history specialists, and each of the ten wards had a couple as ward family history consultants. All had been through the Church training program. Furthermore, the ward Sunday Schools offered the recommended four classes for adults, including family history.”
The two weeks after the bishops’ training meeting, the high priests group leaders and family history consultants attended priesthood quorum, Relief Society, and Young Men and Young Women meetings to discuss the challenge and to describe the program: how to fill out the records, when to submit them, and what the schedule would be on the stake ancestral temple days. The consultants also kept up personal contact with ward members, visiting them in their homes to help with the work.
The stake also held a family history clinic one Saturday. The purpose was to provide hands-on experience in finding information and filling out forms. The main speaker was from the Church family history department, and all the stake specialists and ward consultants pitched in to help members learn to use library resources and microfiche readers and fill out forms.
The results were astounding. No exact figures are available, but over 160 families attended the temple on December 29 and 30. The stake established 146 new family files, and Church members completed over 2,500 ordinances in two days—all for their kindred dead. The outpouring of the Spirit was immeasurable. Many Saints experienced their ancestors’ presence during the ordinances. One woman, for example, recounted that she had felt the arm of one of her ancestors encircling her; she was nearly overwhelmed by a great outpouring of love. Many testified that they had never felt such complete peace before.
Because of the experience, many other members in the stake began to prepare to go to the temple. One bishop reported that at tithing settlement, one day after the temple excursion, two couples who had not had temple recommends for some time paid their tithing in full so they could once again attend the temple. They said they did not want to be excluded from the temple work they had heard so much about. Since the stake ancestral temple days, the goal has been to keep all the family files open.
These ward and stake members have found that taking their ancestors to the temple leads to unforgettable experiences. As Howard Weisman explains, “It is much like when Joseph met his brothers in Egypt. They thought they were lost, but Joseph revealed himself to them, saying, ‘God did send me before you to preserve life. … God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.’ (Gen. 45:5–7.) Then they fell upon each other and wept. I imagine that everyone who finds his ancestors and performs the ordinances of salvation in the temple for them will experience that when he or she meets those ancestors across the veil.”
The Names Processing Division of the Family History Department is willing to assist Church members, wards, and stakes in planning group excursions to do temple work for ancestors. The division suggests that stakes and wards follow these guidelines:
Before choosing the temple day, contact the supervisor of Correspondence and Information, Names Processing, Room 402W, Church Office Building, 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150 (tel. 801-240-5209). Be prepared to give her the anticipated date for the excursion, the name of the temple, and the name, address, and telephone number of the person coordinating the excursion. She can recommend a realistic time span to allow for the orderly and accurate submission and processing of records.
Allow members at least two months’ research time to obtain and record information about their ancestors. This will help to avoid the errors that usually occur when names are submitted in haste. Have someone other than the submitter proofread submission forms. Corrections cannot be made while a name is in the processing system, nor can corrections be made by temple personnel once you arrive at the temple.
Ask members to submit only the names they can perform ordinances for on the day of the temple trip. They should submit family file names for other temple visits separately.
Submit groups of records as you complete them rather than holding them for one large submission. Make sure that each group of names is clearly marked with the name of the stake and the date of the planned excursion.
Include the name and address of the submitter on each form. A telephone number, too, will expedite the resolution of problems or questions that may arise.
Attention to these suggestions will help make large group temple visits rewarding and spiritual experiences for all participants.