“Sealing Families, Strengthening a Ward,” Ensign, Dec. 1998, 30
“I guess I’m just one who loves to go to the temple,” says Berne Gebs, bishop of the Richmond Ward in Indiana. The idea of a ward temple trip wasn’t new, but usually when the Richmond members went on a bus trip to the Chicago Illinois Temple they joined with several other wards in the Muncie Indiana Stake to fill the bus. This time Bishop Gebs wanted to keep it all in the ward family
In the group were new members, longtime members who had never been to the temple, and members who had not attended the temple for some time. Bishop Gebs wanted the entire ward to benefit from a special temple trip where some members could receive their endowments, some be sealed to family members, and some—if not all—perform temple ordinances for members of their own families who had passed on. And the bishop hoped a by-product of doing this sacred work as a ward would be a greater sense of unity and togetherness.
Yet when the idea of an all–Richmond Ward temple trip first came up, there was some uncertainty throughout the small ward. Several people said, “Oh, we can’t do that; our ward isn’t strong enough.” So the bishop sat down with the priesthood and auxiliary leaders and started listing names of members who could participate. Without even referring to the membership list, they realized there were enough endowed members in the ward to make the bus trip work.
Over the next several weeks, the bishop talked to every member in the ward who might possibly attend the temple. “What has always worked well in the past is the personal invitations,” explains Bishop Gebs. “So I called everyone in one by one and invited each personally to go on the temple trip. That included new members and those who were going for the first time.” To help prepare those who would be receiving their endowments, the bishop asked couple missionaries David and Carolyn Wilson to organize a temple preparation class. He also asked Peggy Woods, ward family history consultant, to help members prepare family names to take with them to the temple.
For Jack Wright Jr., a member since 26 December 1996, the opportunity for him and his wife, Sandy, to be sealed was the culmination of a year-and-a-half journey of patience, pain, growth, and joy. Jack and Sandy had been married for 30 years but were nearly separated by disaster on 18 September 1996. On that day, a dump truck ran a red light, causing a collision that shattered Sandy’s foot and nearly killed Jack, who suffered two broken legs, a broken neck and wrist, and lacerations to his face and arms.
Sandy, a member since age 11 but not active at the time of the accident, was admitted to the hospital in Richmond while Jack was flown by Life Flight to a hospital in Indianapolis. When two of Sandy’s sisters (also members of the Richmond Ward) visited Jack in the hospital, the first thing he said to them was, “How can I be with Sandy for all eternity?” The accident had changed his entire outlook.
Several ward members visited Jack in the hospital and gave him a priesthood blessing. Then Jack asked the missionaries, who had been visiting him every day, to teach him the discussions. With Sandy at his side, Jack listened to the discussions in the hospital; the lessons continued after he was moved to a physical therapy hospital and were completed while Jack was staying at his son’s home in Richmond. Three months after the accident, he was baptized a member of the Church.
In September 1997 Jack and Sandy were making plans to go to the St. Louis Missouri Temple the next March; being sealed in the temple was, after all, the goal they had been working for since Jack’s baptism. Several weeks later, Bishop Gebs called them in and invited them to prepare for the ward temple trip to Chicago. The Wrights accepted the bishop’s invitation and attended the temple preparation course taught by Elder and Sister Wilson. On 6 February 1998, with many of their family and closest friends, they entered the Chicago Illinois Temple.
“It was really nice for me because three of my sisters were there,” says Sandy. “We had enough people at the temple for the sealing session that the room was filled. And that made it special to know that everyone there knew who you were. It brought a lot of us closer together.”
Over the course of a year and a half Jack underwent 10 surgeries; was baptized; received the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods; baptized his parents and seven other relatives, including his daughter, his son-in-law, and several grandchildren; received his endowment; and was sealed in the temple to Sandy for time and all eternity.
Another couple who overcame tragedy were Dale and Barbara Sharits. They too attended temple preparation classes and then went to the temple for the first time to be sealed. Members since 1974, Dale and Barbara had not been fully active throughout the ensuing years. But when tragedy struck in 1990 with the death of their 19-year-old daughter Shannon, they turned again to their faith in the Lord to help them overcome their grief.
“We had been invited to go to the temple years earlier,” Dale recalls, “but I wasn’t ready.” This time when the bishop invited them to prepare for the temple trip, the Sharitses were ready. “I knew that this was the time,” Dale says. “So many hurdles were in front of us, but they fell—one by one. It was time for us to do what was right, which was to go to the temple and be sealed.”
Before leaving on the temple trip, the Sharitses prayed that Shannon might share this important day with them. Dale remembers first feeling his daughter’s presence that day as he and Barbara were receiving instructions inside the temple. “I knew that she was there,” Dale says. “Her presence was felt. My wife said, ‘Shannon is here.’ She knew too. Needless to say, it was really special. … Elation, happiness, sadness, joy—all those feelings rolled in.”
All together, 12 members of the ward attended the temple preparation classes. Barbara Mopps—who with her husband, Jim, joined the Church in 1960—was one of them. For a number of years she and Jim had not been fully active in the Church. But since moving to Richmond nearly 20 years ago, Barbara has been involved in the ward, and for the past four years Jim has been attending the ward also.
Barbara had been waiting to attend the temple; she hoped year after year that Jim would come to the point where he felt ready to attend with her. In the summer of 1997 she felt prompted that the time had come for her to receive her endowment, so she began to plan a trip to California to attend the temple with her daughter, Pam Spenner. But when Bishop Gebs asked her if she would be willing to go on the ward trip in February, she didn’t hesitate and said, “Yes, Bishop, I will go.”
She made arrangements to have Pam come with her. “I thought it would be really nice to go with the ward because they are my family too,” she says. “I’ve never been on a trip, even as a child, that was any better than this temple bus trip. We were all so close.” Six months after the ward temple trip, Jim and Barbara returned to the temple together and were sealed on 6 August 1998.
Barbara recalls that on the way to the temple, the sky was overcast but that “when we got to the Chicago area, the sun came out. It was just like the Lord was doing special things for our group. We were so special that day—all of us, not just the ones going for the first time but all 46 people on the bus. It was a wonderful day.”
Another member who went to receive her endowment, Pauline Issen, had recognized the sacred nature of the temple years before she joined the Church. She remembers waiting in the visitors’ center at the Washington (D.C.) Temple while her oldest son was performing ordinance work for another son who had passed away. “While I was inside that visitors’ center,” she recalls, “there was such a spirit that has never quite left me. I felt a very sacred feeling when I was there, and I always wanted that back.” Pauline, whose husband is not a member, was baptized in 1995.
After the ward trip, Pauline was eager to return to the temple. She went back the following week with her niece and spent another day performing ordinances for others. “I just can’t wait to go back again,” she says.
When Angela Kutche, a single mother of two daughters, heard that the ward was planning a temple trip, she went to the bishop and asked if she could go. Angela, who grew up in the Church, had been less active for about seven years before coming back into full activity in 1997.
About a month before the trip, Bishop Gebs called Angela in to talk to her about a recommend: “When she came in for her interview, I started talking to her about some of the things that were going to happen when she went to the temple for the first time, and she said, ‘Wait, I thought I was just doing baptisms.’ And I said, ‘I thought you were going for your endowment.’”
Angela remembers that when the bishop said this she felt an overwhelming assurance that this was the right time for her to prepare to be endowed. From that point she eagerly attended the rest of the temple preparation classes. The entire process of preparing to attend the temple and then actually receiving her endowment “has been a series of really neat experiences for me,” Angela says. “When you share something like that as a group, it brings the ward closer together.”
Peggy Woods and her sister Angela went on the temple trip together. But as the family history consultant in the ward, Peggy had also been asked by the bishop to help members compile family names to take with them to the temple. The ward members became excited about the idea and began spending numerous hours in the Family History Center™.
Marcia Suddarth, who had previously performed temple work for her mother, and had arranged for her father and a twin brother who had died to have their work done, compiled 64 family names to take with her on the trip. “This was the first time ever that I actually submitted and did work for my ancestors besides my immediate family,” she recalls.
She even gathered pictures of her grandparents, uncles, and others whose temple work was going to be done on the trip. She passed those pictures out during the bus ride to Chicago so ward members could see the people whose work they would be doing. “I feel I’ve blossomed in the gospel more by going to the temple and doing the work for my ancestors,” Marcia says.
In fact, nearly everyone who went on the temple trip had family names to take with them. Some of the newer members took the names of their mothers and fathers. Many of the longtime members put in considerable effort and time to have names ready to take with them.
“That’s what else made the trip really significant,” explains Peggy. “It was not just a fun temple trip that everybody went on, but each person had names of people very close to them to take with them. We went knowing what we were going for; we went to have our own families sealed to us. It united us as a ward seeing the newer members sealed, seeing children who had passed on be sealed to them, and being there as a ward family.”
Sister Woods was worried that members’ excitement to do family history work might slow down after the temple trip. But she says ward members now are clamoring for opportunities to use the Family History Center. “I’m sure we’ve increased our usage of the library several times over,” she adds.
The monthly fast and testimony meeting following the trip reflected the spiritual strength with which the Richmond members returned from the temple. One after another, they stood and bore testimony of the Savior and of His atoning sacrifice and His goodness in their lives. Each person’s testimony touched on the sacred experience of attending the temple, many of them specifically hearkening back to the sealing session held the first night.
“The bishop had organized a special ward session where we were all together,” Peggy Woods recalls with a broad smile on her face. “You looked over and you saw this sister, and you knew her; and you saw this brother, and you knew him; and you had known these people for years. That had a real effect on us. Then we all went into the sealing session together. It wasn’t just the families who were being sealed; it was like a ward being sealed together.”