Church Historian Discusses Role of History in Mission of Church

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“Church Historian Discusses Role of History in Mission of Church,” Liahona, Oct. 2007, N5–N6

Church Historian Discusses Role of History in Mission of Church

The essential purposes of the Family and Church History Department, said Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, is “to help God’s children make and keep sacred covenants,” a scripturally mandated charge given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the early days of the Church.

Addressing the Mormon History Association’s annual conference on May 26, 2007, Elder Jensen, named Church historian and recorder in April 2005, recounted in detail the development of the historical department and the contributions of the many leaders who took seriously the command of the Lord given on the day the Church was organized to keep a record of the Church.

“I speak not as a professional historian, but as the ‘Church’ historian, as one in a long line of general officers of the Church called for an indefinite period of time to fulfill a calling that was established by a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith,” he said.

Past accomplishments of the department, he continued, centered mainly around the collection, preservation, and to a lesser extent, publication of the records that contain the Church’s compelling history.

“What is the essential purpose of Church history?” he asked. “The Church has become a great international organization with its spiritual center of gravity shifting more and more to the southern hemisphere. These and other factors have convinced us we can’t go on doing our historical business as usual.”

After prayerful consideration during the past several years as to how to chart the future course for the department, Elder Jensen said, “we feel that history has to contribute to the overall mission of the Church, … to the salvation of mankind.”

Elder Jensen noted that such a mandate distinguishes the Family and Church History Department from other professionals and history enthusiasts.

“This is a noble and lofty ambition, one not easily achieved and possibly not always fully appreciated by our professional colleagues,” he said.

To accomplish this mandate, he added, the Family and Church History Department is focused on three criteria: to assure remembrance of the great things of God, to help preserve the revealed order of the kingdom, and to witness and defend the truth of the Restoration.

This goal “defines our work and our audience,” creating “a scope of work bigger than we can accomplish on our own—thus the need to collaborate,” Elder Jensen said. It “moves us from being simply a passive collector to an active organization that will set priorities in collecting, disseminating, and researching and writing.”

Building a department to serve a worldwide Church requires a change in thinking that is not without some pain, he said. Such development will require organizational changes that emphasize serving the general membership of the Church as well as the leaders. All these changes must take full advantage of technology.

Another significant step toward developing the historical department is the construction of a 250,000-square-foot (23,000-square-meter) building to be known as the Church History Library.

“Ground was broken last October and construction is proceeding on schedule for a mid-2009 dedication. The library will house our priceless collections and is designed to be open, inviting, and very functional,” Elder Jensen said.

Adapted from Church News, June 2, 2007.

Architects’ rendering shows the new 250,000-square-foot (23,000-square-meter) Church History Library now under construction north of the Church Office Building that will meet the demands of a growing Church.