“Would They Accept a Hippie?” Ensign, Mar. 1990, 66
As a college student in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1960s, I encountered a variety of life-styles and social philosophies. I chose liberally from among them, pursuing those practices that appeared compatible with my perception of the world.
However, a significant way of viewing the world escaped my attention—until a good friend from high school who had been baptized introduced me to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He told me the Joseph Smith story, explained about the Book of Mormon, and expressed what he referred to as his testimony of the Church.
Due in large measure to his efforts and to those of two outstanding lady missionaries, I was baptized a member of the Church. Unfortunately, almost immediately I became a member in name only. Although my friend was supportive and I had enjoyed the spirit of the missionaries who had taught me, their continued influence was no longer available to sustain me through the delicate transition process. Within a month of my baptism, my friend had moved to another state, the missionaries were transferred to new areas, and my membership record was assigned to a newly created ward.
I suddenly found myself a member of a church with which I was basically unfamiliar and in which I was largely unknown. Not surprisingly, within three months after I was baptized, I stopped attending church. My religion became the college subculture of the sixties—the music, clothing, politics, and literature which dominated that tumultuous decade.
Following graduation from college, I accepted a job several hundred miles from San Francisco. By relocating, I not only maintained my anonymity within the Church, but also assured myself of no further LDS contact: no one had visited me for more than a year, and thus no one knew that I had moved.
For the next seven years, I avoided all contact with the Church and maintained the life-style I was familiar with as a student. It became the measure by which I interpreted the events of life around me. As the length of my hair and beard continued to grow, any LDS influence I may have retained was soon either lost or repressed.
After several years of “doing my own thing,” however, I gradually became dissatisfied with the direction my life was taking. While the thought of changing or altering that direction was frightening, my dissatisfaction prompted me to seriously reevaluate and question my life-style. I sought out the opinions and experiences of others, but they were as confused and dissatisfied as I was.
Did life have a purpose? Certainly, the life-style I was living did not provide clarity to this most basic question. I needed a source of enlightenment, direction, and happiness that would stabilize my life.
For the first time in seven years, I found myself reading the Holy Bible for answers to the questions of life. Almost in a sense of desperation, I started having simple, honest prayers once again, with a God I had not spoken to for many years.
Then one Saturday evening, almost by chance, I happened to find the paperback copy of the Book of Mormon that my friend had given me many years before. As I removed it from the shelf, I began thumbing through it and reading the verses my friend had highlighted for my benefit. As I read from the book of Alma, these words struck me with tremendous force:
“Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” (Alma 32:26–27.)
I put the book down on the desk, still open to Alma’s counsel. As I did so, my heart seemed to flood with an excitement it had not felt for many years. Suddenly, I recalled my friend’s testimony of the gospel, the missionaries’ declaration that the Church is true, and how positive those personal witnesses had once been in my life.
The more I thought on those experiences, the more I desired to know if the answers to my questions might be in the book open before me. I resolved to follow Alma’s counsel and to experiment upon the word: I decided to attend church the next day. How I would be received or the reaction my physical appearance might provoke I did not know, since I looked more like a hippie than a Mormon.
It was thus with some trepidation that I arose on Sunday morning, dressed in the best clothes I owned, and left for the chapel located twelve miles away. Each mile of the journey, I prayed that I might know if the Church was true, and if true, that the members would accept me.
I parked my car and nervously approached the entrance of the building, offering a final prayer for knowledge and acceptance. I slowly pulled the chapel door open and saw three men standing in the foyer engaged in animated conversation. Almost simultaneously they looked up, saw me, and appeared to freeze as their countenances became stolid.
Before I let go of the door, not yet knowing if I would be staying or fleeing, I timidly introduced myself and admitted being a member of the Church who had long since dropped out of church activity. One man stepped forward, introduced himself as the bishop, and with these words not only answered my prayers but helped change my life: “Brother Dunn, we’ve been expecting you—Welcome home!”
The warm hands that greeted me that day ushered me toward activity in the Church. For me, that first step through the door was the most difficult. But the ability to change is an eternal principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the years that have passed, many profound changes have occurred in my life. Yes, the long hair and the beard have disappeared, but the greatest change is the perpetual excitement I feel about the gospel and the testimony I have of this Church and of the Book of Mormon. I will be eternally grateful to the bishop who came forward and greeted me with open arms, speaking words of unconditional acceptance—“Welcome home.”