News of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Pittsburgh area, counsel from its leaders, and reflections from its members.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Service – The Arbor – December 2014

The December 2014 issue of The Arbor focuses on Step 12 – Service:

Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, share this message with others and practice these principles in all you do.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “an idle mind is the devils playground.” Serving others can help us keep busy and direct our thoughts and actions towards helping others. One contributor said, “One of the more sure anchors of personal recovery over addiction is to be anxiously engaged in good causes.”

As quoted from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf in this edition: “Selfless acts of service and consecration refine our spirits, remove the scales from our spiritual eyes, and open the windows of heaven. By becoming the answer to someone’s prayer, we often find the answer to our own.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Searching Out Your Native American Ancestors

On November 29 the Plum Family History Center hosted an excellent event in honor of Native American History Month. The event started off with a Native American-themed lunch: a three-sisters vegetable chili with buffalo. It was delicious! It was accompanied by fried bread and side dishes brought by the guests.

After lunch, Pat "Star Dancer" Selinger presented about researching Native American ancestors. Pat is the Turtle Clan Mother in the Lenape Tribe. Everyone in attendance enjoyed learning more about Native Americans and their relations to the United States government and to us.

Pat boldly stated the challenges associated with researching Native American Ancestors. Because they are native, there are no immigration records. And there are rarely any written records at all, for that matter. When records do exist, a Native American may be recorded as being "black," or any other descent they married into. Also, because of the persecution in our country's past, many Native American renounced their heritage in order to protect themselves.

Generally, Native Americans don't have a great interest in genealogy work. So, what tools do you have to research Native Americans in your bloodline? Start with whatever clues you can find. Sometimes Native American were told to keep their heritage an absolute secret in order to protect themselves from the government. If think you have Native American ancestry, recall the stories your elders have told, and you may find connected stories in Native American lore. You may find help through individual tribe websites. Here are a few for starters:

Buffalo three-sisters chili. The three sisters are three vegetables
(corn, beans, and squash) that grow well together by providing protection and support. 

Some of the displays brought by Pat Selinger

Plum FHC director, Ed Snodgrass, helps serve the chili

Chef Jared and Pat Selinger working on the chili and fried bread

Pat Selinger answers questions after her presentation

Thanks to Ed Snodgrass and Pat Selinger for this great event!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

LDS Family Services in Pittsburgh - The Arbor - November 2014

LDS Family Services is a private, nonprofit organization established by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to strengthen individuals and families.

LDS Family Services' Michigan Office provides support to the three Pittsburgh stakes, the Jamestown NY Stake, all the stakes in the state of Michigan, and the Toledo, Cleveland, Akron, Kirtland, and Youngstown Ohio stakes.  Doug Gardner, the full-time manager of the Michigan Office, has primary responsibility for the Pittsburgh stakes.

LDS Family Services provides:

Individual, marital and family counseling

Stake presidents can request that its two excellent courses, Strengthening Marriage and Strengthening Families, for their stakes.  Janet Stoddard of the Pittsburgh Seventh Ward has regularly taught those classes as a welfare specialist in the Pittsburgh PA Stake.

LDS Family Services has played a central role in developing Family Home Evening lessons designed for parents to teach their children about the dangers of pornography.  The lessons include basic doctrines and principles about the sacredness of the body, sexual intimacy, following the Spirit, choosing good media, appropriate actions for when a child sees pornography, and repentance. The lessons include age-specific activities parents can select based on the needs of their family.

LDS Family Services has hired Bishop Mark Geherin of the Pittsburgh First Ward to work as a part-time counselor to meet with Church members in the Pittsburgh and Erie areas. Bishop Geherin brings tremendous talents and experience in his role as a professional counselor.

Adoption services

In June 2014 LDS Family Services announced changes to its adoption program. Currently, LDS Family Services provides free counseling to LDS single expectant parents and their families and assists LDS families who are hoping to adopt by providing free consultation and referral to community adoption resources, as well as screening and registration for a free adoption matching website.

Addiction recovery program

This 12-step program provides help for dealing with addictions involving substances (such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs, coffee and tea), gambling, pornography, inappropriate sexual behavior, codependency and disorders associated with eating.The Michigan Office publishes the Arbor, a monthly periodical that provides updates on meetings available to those in the Pittsburgh area. Each issue also highlights one of the program's twelve steps. The November issue focuses on step eleven:
Seek through prayer and meditation to know the Lord's will and to have the power to carry it out.

In June 2014 the First Presidency approved a new Spouse and Family Support Guidecurrently available on line, but scheduled for publication as a booklet in the future.

Consultation with Church leaders

LDS Family Services is available to assist Church leaders as they work with members of their congregations who are dealing with social or emotional challenges.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Historian's Corner: A District Comes Before a Stake

This picture shows Imri Hutchings (standing at right), the second president of the West Penn District, along with his first counselor, Samuel Aston (standing at left), and several others at a district outing in South Park circa 1950.  President Hutchings’ wife, Bernice, is sitting in the back on the left, and Sister Emma Grace Hare, the first president of the district Relief Society, is sitting in front of her.  This picture appears in From These Hills and Valleys.

In October of 1943, Eastern States Mission President formed the West Penn District with Jay Wrathall as the district president.  President Wrathall had previously served as the president of the Pittsburgh Branch (which is now the Pittsburgh First Ward) from 1931 to 1933 and again from 1937 to 1943.

The district included three branches—Pittsburgh, Wilson (now the Pittsburgh Second Ward) and Washington as well as Sunday Schools in towns as far away as Johnstown and Carmichaels.  Wrathall and his counselors spent many Sundays traveling all around the district; their travel was facilitated by the clergymen’s coupons for gas that the district president had access to, this being during World War II when gas was rationed.  He was succeeded as district president by Clarence Bigler in 1947 and by Imri Hutchings in 1949.

When Hutchings was called to the position, there were 750 members in the three branches, but two of the branches were being led by missionaries, as there were very few Pittsburgh-area natives with Church leadership experience.  Hutchings chose leaders through inspiration and taught the members of the branches about “love and forgiveness,” as those who were called to lead were not always the most well-liked members.

He and his counselors also located members meeting in the more distant parts of the district and organized branches by starting with the most important auxiliary. “We found that the most successful way to start a branch was to start a Relief Society,” he explained.  Branches were organized in Butler, Punxsutawney, Johnstown and even East Liverpool, Ohio, during his tenure.  Hutchings also reached out to Saints in the region by holding leadership meetings with the Erie District and sending officers to conferences in Harrisburg and New York State, but the Erie meetings were less than successful; “there were so few (in attendance there) that most of the time we all traveled in one automobile.”

The West Penn District’s auxiliaries were also organized gradually during this period.  The district Relief Society was organized in 1949 and went through many of the same challenges of transportation and communication as its predecessor in the West Pennsylvania Conference.  These challenges were exacerbated by the geographic area of the district, which stretched from Wintersville, Ohio, to Johnstown, but they were met with unfailing resolve.

The first elders quorum in the district, which was called the Second Quorum of Elders since there was a First Quorum in Philadelphia, wasn’t organized until 1958, and it started out with just 75 elders scattered across ten branches.  However, as with the rest of the local Church membership, the Second Quorum grew fairly quickly, as a Third Quorum had been formed by 1963.

The growth of the Church organization in the Pittsburgh area continued apace in the 1960s.  On November 13, 1960, the Eastern Atlantic States Mission (which included Pittsburgh) was formed from the Eastern States Mission.  Two days later, Hutchings was succeeded as district president by Frank Young, who held the position until the Pittsburgh Stake was formed in 1969.

In 1963, the West Penn District sent out its first full-time missionary, Sister Erma Wollensack of the Pittsburgh Branch.  The foundation for her successors as missionaries from Pittsburgh began to be laid two years later, when the district’s first seminary class took place in Upper St. Clair, a distant southern suburb of the city.

And in 1967, the missionary effort within the district was enhanced with the formation of the West Penn District Mission, which was roughly equivalent to the (now-discontinued) stake missions of more recent years and the ward missions that continue to exist.  The district mission’s first president was Orrin Hatch, a native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Baldwin who presently serves as a US Senator representing Utah.

The dreams of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in southwestern Pennsylvania to have a fully formed Church organization in their area finally came to fruition at the end of the 1960s with the formation of the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Stake.  But that is another tale for another post.  Until next time…

Respectfully submitted,

Rush David
Pittsburgh Stake Historian

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Daily Decisions - The Arbor - October 2014

The October 2014 issue of the Arbor features daily accountability:
Continue to take personal inventory, and when you are wrong promptly admit it.
That's not always easy, but it's crucial. As Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve Apostles explains in "Decisions for Eternity":
Each day is a day of decision, and decisions determine our destiny.
An anonymous contributor to the Arbor uses these helpful questions to assess her/his daily conduct:

  • Did I pray to know and follow God's will today? What progress did I make?
  • What weaknesses do I need to surrender to God?
  • In what ways was I kind and loving?
  • Was I able to "let go and let God?"
  • Do I need to make amends to anyone?
  • Did faith, or fear, control my thoughts?
  • Am I taking care of myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually?
  • What am I grateful for today?
That we may choose wisely each day's decisions for eternity is my earnest prayer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Privilege to Participate: Reflections from Stake Conference

Elder Teh greets President and Sister Johnson of the Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh Mission at a dinner before the Saturday night session

It's been one month since the historic stake conference in which two stakes became three. Hopefully all the excitement surrounding the stake changes didn't eclipse the inspiring message from Elder John U. Teh in the Saturday night adult session. Here's a brief reminder of his message, along with some photos from that evening.

Last year church leaders invited members to participate in hastening the work of salvation. What is our role in helping this work move forward? At the adult session of Stake Conference in August Elder Teh explained how the work of salvation will be hastened. He taught, “In Doctrine and Covenant the Lords states, ‘I hasten my work in its time.’ Whose work is being hastened? The Lord’s work. Who will hasten the work? The Lord will. When will he do it? In His time.” Elder Teh then testified that the work of salvation is being hastened right now and it is our privilege to participate in it if we choose

How do we participate in this work? In D&C 4 we read that “if [we] have desires to serve God [we] are called to the work.” Each of us has unique gifts and experiences that allow us to participate in the work of salvation. The only prerequisite for service is a desire to serve

Later in D&C 4 the Lord states, “Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Once we have developed a desire to serve God we can ask for direction to know how we can serve. The Lord has promised that He will answer our sincere prayers.

Elder Teh's message was a timely reminder that it's a privilege to participate in the Lord's work on Earth. If we have a sincere desire to contribute, the Lord will provide the way for us to do so, no matter our individual situation.

Elder Teh and Elder Kunz were visiting General Authorities for stake conference

Brothers Brandt Gray and Ken Soenen

Members and missionaries gather for the Saturday night meeting

We are blessed with great missionaries in and around Pittsburgh!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I Believe in Christ: A Musical Celebration

Tonight the Pittsburgh 5th Ward hosted a musical celebration called "I Believe in Christ." It was a beautiful production that was all the more impressive when we realize that it was all put on by just one ward.

The program consisted of numerous musical selections interspersed with elaborations on the following Christ-centered messages:

  • I believe in Christ's birth.
  • I believe in Christ's example.
  • I believe in Christ's atonement.
  • I believe in Christ's church on the Earth today.
  • I believe in Christ's role in the plan of salvation.
The audience was privileged to hear from the 5th Ward choir, a children's choir and soloists, the ward Young Women, a harpist and organist, a musical family, and a women's group. Each performance invited the Holy Spirit to testify of our Savior, His love, and His divine plan for us. 

Thank you, 5th Ward, for sharing your talents with us and with your community!

Jesus is the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. Because of Him, death is not the end, and life takes on new meaning. We can change, we can start over—and we can live again with God. . . . Celebrate His life and discover all that’s possible because of Him. 

Beautiful images of the Savior decorated the foyer and cultural hall.

The refreshments

The Primary children got to the refreshments first. They deserved it after their beautiful singing!

Three of the participants: two soloists and one member of the children's choir

Forgiveness and Restitution

"Whenever possible, make restitution to all persons you have harmed." Step 9 of the Church's Addiction Recovery Program applies to every one of us, addict or not. If we hope to be forgiven by God and by others, we must try to fix what we have broken.

In the words of the lead writer in the September 2014 edition of the Arbor, step 9 calls us to "identify and seek forgiveness from people whom we've offended." If we are sincere, as part of the process of seeking forgiveness we will attempt to repair the wrongs we've done to them.

But there's more, he says: "I must forgive everyone before I can expect others and the Lord to forgive me." The author faced a challenge in doing that—two major offenses that had hurt him deeply. He shares his story in the Arbor. Sometimes forgiving is just not easy.

Sometimes we mistake what forgiveness means. One of the finest discussions of forgiveness—what it is, why we should forgive, and how—is last year's Marjorie Pay Hinckley lecture at Brigham Young University, "Forgiveness in Marriage." The principles explained there apply not only in marriage but in many other relationships. If forgiving is a challenge for you, take time to watch the lecture, embedded above.

Forgive and seek forgiveness. Forgive and be forgiven. Forgive and find peace.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Two Pittsburgh Stakes Become Three!

President Brennen C. Murray of the new Pittsburgh PA West Stake, with his counselors, Dale Hoggard and David Bayles
The Pittsburgh PA West Stake became the third stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Pittsburgh area and the newest of the Church's over 3,000 stakes when members sustained its creation at the semi-annual conference of the Pittsburgh PA Stake on Sunday, September 7, 2014. Brennen C. Murray of Upper Saint Clair, who has served for the last five and a half years as president of the Pittsburgh PA Stake, was called and sustained as president of the new stake. His counselors will be Dale C. Hoggard of Robinson Township and David B. Bayles of Upper Saint Clair.

Creation of the new stake meant reassignment of many of the congregations—wards and branches—in the Pittsburgh area. The new stake will take in six congregations that had been part of the Pittsburgh PA Stake—the Pittsburgh 2nd, 5th, 6th, Washington, Wheeling (WV) and Wintersville (OH) Wards. Two wards from the Pittsburgh North Stake—Greensburg and Pittsburgh 3rd—joined the remaining congregations—McKeesport, Monongahela, Oakland (young single adults), Pittsburgh 1st and 7th, and Uniontown—in the Pittsburgh PA Stake.

New presidency of the Pittsburgh PA Stake, President Erich B. Peterson, with his counselors, Ron Paul and George Cavalier
With President Murray's release, a new presidency was called for the Pittsburgh PA Stake.  Erich B. Peterson of Pittsburgh, who has served as second counselor to President Murray, was called and sustained as the new president. His counselors will be Ron Paul of Brownsville and George P. Cavalier of Greensburg.

Conference day was gorgeous. The sun was shining, the temperature was ideal, and for a change humidity was low. Families came knowing that a new stake was to be created. They were anxious to learn the details—which would only be revealed at conference.

Elder Teh visits with a child before conference begins.
Elder Teh and Elder Kunz

Elder Michael John U. Teh of the First Quorum of the Seventy, a native of the Philippines, presided at the conference, assisted by Elder Milan Kunz, also of the Seventy, who resides in Downingtown, PA.

Members throughout the Pittsburgh area could view the conference in their own meetinghouses; however, many gathered at the stake center. They heard testimonies of the gospel from those who had been released from their callings in the Church and from those newly called. Some were emotional; all were heartfelt.

Sister Armi Barnett and Patriarch Bruce Barnett
First to speak was Patriarch Bruce Barnett, who has served as patriarch to the Pittsburgh PA Stake for the last 20 years. A retired professor of biology at Waynesburg University, Patriarch Barnett has given blessings to hundreds of members of the Church in the Pittsburgh area over those years.
"The Holy Spirit does speak to us. I can't stress enough how important it is that the person coming to receive the blessing be spiritually prepared."

Presidents Erich Peterson and Dwight Ferguson,
who served as President Murray's counselors in the former Pittsburgh Stake

Next to speak was President Dwight Ferguson, who has served as first counselor to President Murray. He said he considered his release to be a tender mercy because it will allow him to spend more time with his wife and family. He recalled kneeling by his bedside in Finleyville as a 14-year-old boy to ask about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. God answered his prayer, and testified of its truth. That testimony sustains him to this day.

Following are extracts from the testimonies of others who spoke:

George Cavalier—former bishop of the Greensburg Ward (for 1,378 days, he told us), former U.S. Marine and convert to the Church, with a son in the Brazil Sao Paolo Mission:
"My parents taught me three things: Be brief, never say never, and the difference between a stranger and a friend is an introduction. I'm thankful for this opportunity to serve."
Ron Paul—bishop of the Monongahela Ward. His wife's friend and son had accompanied them to the stake center to meet with Elders Teh and Kunz. After the visiting pair had sat in the foyer watching members come and go for 20 minutes, the son remarked, "These people are so happy! What makes them so happy?" President Paul referred to feelings he shared with many in the room—excitement about the progress of the Church, sorrow to be parted from old friends:
"I am not the only one in the room with mixed emotions. I am humbled to be in the service."
Molly Peterson—wife of President Peterson and mother of three:
"Our head is the Lord Jesus Christ. I know that from the love that I feel. What a privilege it is to humbly assist in His work. Simple prayer brings miracles when we are assisting. My heart is tugged [over the division of the stake], but we will make new friends."
President Erich B. Peterson:
"Thank you, Molly, for talking with me and helping me—even when I didn't want to be helped! Perhaps this is an opportunity to live a little closer to the Lord, to love more deeply, to forgive and reconcile, to renew our commitment to go to the temple and to be worthy of a temple recommend. Our Heavenly Father is just a prayer away. Each of us can do great things because the Lord is the head of this church. We walk with Christ. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be your servant."
David Bayles:
"Sometimes when daddies are called to serve it's hard on the family. I will always be your daddy. I love you. There is one thing that has sustained me, and that is my testimony of Jesus Christ. There is no need for you to conquer the world, because Jesus has done that for you. I am so grateful for my Savior. I love Him."
Dale Hoggard—moved to Pittsburgh 34 years ago, accustomed to sit in church on the first row, at first as only three, ultimately as 11 in the family:
"I married up twice. Maile [my first wife] was a strong and courageous woman. I am thankful for temple covenants that can preserve us and save us through difficult times. It has taken me eight years [from her death] for me to crawl. For years Kitty Wirth was sitting in church two rows behind us. Now she can sustain me [as my wife] in my hours of need. Each of us are points of light. We give light to our friends, colleagues and neighbors that we love. We each have responsibility to actively participate in inviting others to come to Christ and live."
President Brennen C. Murray:
"I believe in God the Eternal Father, in his Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost. I worship them. I strive to obey them. As we honor them there is safety. It is through Jesus Christ that we are redeemed, that we are healed. Each of us is called of God in our various responsibilities."
Two youth also shared their thoughts and testimonies. Blake Connor of Uniontown Branch spoke of testimony and conversion:
"We can lift and inspire others. I am thankful the Lord is helping me with my conversion."
Lindsey Elias of the Monongahela Ward spoke about standing as a witness of God at all times and in all places. "I always share with my friends what I'm doing at church." She told of her school friend Angel, who, when another student criticized the standards Lindsey lives, spoke up to defend her, saying, "She has a beautiful faith." Lindsey said,
"I want to be an example to others. It's easier to live the gospel when we live it every day."
Sister Johnson—wife and mission companion of President Johnson of the Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Mission:
"We have the privilege of serving with a royal army. Love is the essence of missionary work. Add [to the labors of the missionaries] your everyday acts of love and kindness."
President and Sister Christman of the Columbus Ohio Temple
visit before conference.

Sister Christman—Matron of the Columbus Ohio Temple:
"It is a great blessing to work in the house of the Lord. I know we have a Father who loves us."

Elder Milan Kunz testified that those called to serve had been called by the Lord. He explained that Elder Teh and he knew whom the Lord had already chosen and whom He wanted called in the same way we all receive revelation from God:
"We study it out in our minds, make a decision, take it to the Lord, and He answers. All prayers are answered. Our Heavenly Father loves us." 
Elder Teh concluded the conference session:
"The Lord has called these men. 'We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy.' That took place yesterday. Go forth with faith, knowing whose work this is. He only asks that we do the very best that we can. I can do that. Every day I can be a little better. I take joy in that blessing."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Welcome, President and Sister Johnson!

At the beginning of July, we said goodbye to President and Sister Topham, who presided over the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Mission for three years. Shortly after, we welcomed President and Sister Johnson to Pittsburgh. They kindly answered some questions to help us in the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Stake acquaint ourselves better with them.

Tell us about yourselves.

We were both born and raised in Northern Utah in the Logan area, but the majority of our lives have been spent in other areas of the country: eight years in Minnesota, seven years in Boston area, four years in Wisconsin, a year and a half in Maine, eleven years in Seattle, and the past two years back in Cache Valley, Utah. We have eight children (four boys and four girls) and eight grandchildren. Our youngest son, Andrew, who is a senior in high school, is here with us. 

Rumor has it that President Johnson left an impressive career to serve a mission. How did you both spend your time before coming on your mission? 

President Johnson had a long career in executive management at large retail companies around the country. He was CAO/CFO at REI and Lands End. He is pleased to give his time and efforts serving with the missionaries here in Western Pennsylvania and finds great satisfaction working with the great members of the Church here. 
Sister Johnson has been a full time mother and homemaker. Her passions are grandchildren, music, and the gospel. 

How did you decide to serve a mission? Tell us about receiving your mission call.

This call came as a surprise. Elder Perry’s secretary called one day and asked if we could meet with him at a local hotel while he was in the area for a conference. Elder L. Tom Perry interviewed us and President Henry B. Eyring made the call. It was very humbling, but we felt peace and confidence knowing the call came from the Lord. 
Brad had just been asked to teach a business finance class at Utah State.  He went ahead and taught that semester as we were preparing to make this move. Rosie was taking care of her 96-year-old father at the time and wondered how this would all come together. But the Lord’s timing is perfect. Brad’s teaching experience prepared him well for this calling. Rosie's dear father was called home (passed away) 2 months after our call, and we feel him with us all the time. We feel very humbled and blessed to be called.  

What do your responsibilities consist of?

For three years we are responsible for the work of the 260 missionaries that serve in this mission. We oversee training, placement, health issues, and any other problems that may arise. We are amazed at the spiritual maturity and dedication of these missionaries. It is truly an honor to serve with them!

What do you think of Pittsburgh so far?

We have loved getting to see much of the state of Pennsylvania as we travel around the mission. We think this is a beautiful place and enjoy the lush green and thick woods we hike in just across the street from our neighborhood.  The city is picturesque and, most of all, the people have been accepting, warm, and friendly.

What do you look forward to most about your time here?

We greatly look forward to our association with the members, missionaries, and those interested in learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Monongahela Pioneers Blood Drives in the Stake.

The Monongahela church's cultural hall became a blood donation center on August 5. Under the leadership of Scott Frederick, a member of both the Monongahela Ward and the stake public affairs council, members and friends signed up, Central Blood Bank brought everything necessary—staff, chairs, tables, equipment, even snacks, and by the end of the day the Blood Bank had collected 25 units of precious blood.

Alice Bonim of Central Blood Bank and Scott Frederick

Because faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints observe the Word of Wisdom—a law of health that rules out tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, and addictive drugs—they have good blood. When Cynthia Greathouse of the stake public affairs council approached the Central Blood Bank to suggest a partnership with the stake, officials of the blood bank were enthusiastic.

"Summer and winter are especially difficult, and we face shortages during those times of the year. We truly have ongoing needs all of the time. There is no substitute for blood," said Alice Bonim, who oversaw the event in Monongahela for the Blood Bank.

Members of the ward responded to the need. Even the young full-time missionaries donated.

Elder Martin from California said, "I came to donate blood and save lives. I don't like needles, but it's worth it!"

Sister Jones from Logan, Utah, said, "I got a little bruise, but it was worth it. Maybe I'm saving a baby's or a mother's life!"

Alice Bonim of the Blood Bank explained, "Donate blood and save three lives: every unit of blood can potentially be used for red cells, platelets, and plasma. Each has a specific use and need."

True to style, Sue Menzer of the Relief Society, with help from Ginnie Frederick, treated the Blood Bank's staff to a delicious lunch of homemade coleslaw, sloppy Joes, and yummy brownies.

By day's end the blood from Monongahela's faithful Church members was on its way to the Blood Bank. Thanks for your selfless service, brothers and sisters of the Monongahela Ward.

The leaders: Bishop Paul, Cynthia Greathouse and Scott Frederick. They made it happen.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Historian's Corner: A Conference Comes Before a District

A plaque in the Second Ward building charts the congregation’s evolution from one of the first branches in the Pittsburgh area to a suburban ward in the Pittsburgh Stake

To pick up from where we left off the last time, the modern history of the Church here began in 1886, when a conference was convened at the New England Branch (near the present-day location of the Pittsburgh Second Ward) on May 16-17.  The members of the branch had asked to be re-baptized into the Church the year before.  Another branch was organized that same year in Little Redstone in Fayette County (further south of Pittsburgh) and three more followed in 1887.

At that time, western Pennsylvania was under the jurisdiction of the Indiana Conference, a “conference” in this sense being a smaller version of a district.  The process of re-introducing the Church into the eastern United States was long and difficult.  It was likely made more difficult by the legal proceedings undertaken against the Church in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Western Pennsylvania was transferred to the Northern States Mission in 1889 and then to the Eastern States Mission in 1897.  The Eastern States Mission had been organized in 1893 when Elders Job Pingree and Seymour B. Young Jr. were dispatched to New York City to restart missionary efforts in the East following the resolution of the Church’s legal difficulties.  The mission was headquartered in Brooklyn and included New York, Maryland, the southern part of West Virginia, New England and eastern Canada in addition to Pennsylvania.

The mission expanded into Virginia shortly thereafter and counted 975 members in eight conferences by the year 1900.  Thirty years later, the mission counted 4,281 members in twelve organizational units, which by this point included districts and conferences; the Pittsburgh area was part of the West Pennsylvania Conference.

Despite having so many members, the mission counted only six chapels, including two in Pennsylvania.  During these early days of the Church, each branch was a handful of families that met in different members’ homes at varying times.  This was generations before the current consolidated meeting schedule was introduced (that occurred in 1980), so there was no organizational expectation of so much to take place on Sunday as there is now.

Two of the main priorities of the early branches were creating Sunday Schools and Relief Societies.  The first record of the latter in Pittsburgh dates from May 25, 1916, when a Relief Society presidency for the branches in the area was called.  The members of the presidency lived far apart and could not meet often, owing to the difficulty of transportation and communication in those days.  This also contributed to the fact that the Relief Society presidency’s membership changed three times in the ensuing year.

The challenges of leadership were ameliorated in 1922, when Sister Marble Holmgren was called as the Eastern States Mission’s first mission-wide Relief Society President.  She traveled around the mission to instruct the sisters in their duties, visiting the city of Pittsburgh on October 1, the Fairview Branch (in Butler County, north of Pittsburgh) on October 18 and the New England Branch on October 25.  Three years later, the five branches in the area organized their own Relief Societies.

From 1941 until 1963, the wives of mission presidents were asked to “take direct charge” of the Relief Society work in their missions’ areas.  This provided the relatively young branches with a veteran leader who may likely have had experience in areas with a fully formed Church organization.

The next step in the evolution of the Church in the Pittsburgh area came in 1943, when the West Penn District was organized.  But that is another tale for another post.  Until next time…

Respectfully submitted,

Rush David
Pittsburgh Stake Historian

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Visit the Green Tree Family History Center

 The Green Tree Family History Center, located at 46 School Street (near the corner of  Mansfield Avenue and Poplar Street) is one of 4,600 local FamilySearch facilities in 126 countries where anyone can access genealogical records and receive personal assistance with their family history. (Jim Stuber's numbers in the video were just a bit out of date. The number of centers and countries grow every year.)
Family history centers are free, open to the public ,and staffed by knowledgeable volunteers. Each facility offers both novices and experienced family historians the tools and resources to learn about their ancestors. The centers provide free access to subscription genealogical websites. For a small fee, patrons also have access to the vast circulating collection of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which includes 2.5 million microfilms from over 100 countries.
Lorrie Danko Guthrie serves as director of the Green Tree Family History Center. She has held this unpaid Church-service position for many years. As director, she oversees the center's operations, staffing, and finances—and she does a great job. You will find the facility comfortable, the staff knowledgeable, and the resources extraordinary.

Following are Lorrie's "11 Reasons to Visit the Green Tree Family History Center."

  1. Free help getting started with FamilyTree to create a permanent pedigree chart online.
  2.  Free access to Premium Family History Web sites through the Family History Center Portal.  These include Ancestry. com,,, Heritage Quest Online, Godfrey Memorial Library, World Vital Records, etc.  Usually you have to buy a subscription to these sites.
  3.  Experienced family history staff to help you get started or to get you over your “roadblocks.” Many of our staff have spent 30 to 40 years researching their families and helping others.
  4.  Free one-on-one help with your family history research needs.
  5.  Almost 1100 films on loan from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  These are national and international films.
  6.  Many research books on our shelves that are not available elsewhere.
  7.  All of the microfiche ordered by our patrons kept on permanent loan.  Since we opened in 1978, there are thousands of microfiche available for you to review at no charge.
  8.  Surname index to all of our family history books and files.  Again, many of these books are unique to our Family History Center.
  9.  Family History files which have been donated only to our Family History Center.
  10.  A nursery next door to the Family History Center, stocked with toys and books.  However, you must bring your own babysitter.
  11.  Free parking.
Hours of operation are:
  • Tuesdays, 10:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.
  • Thursdays, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
  • Saturdays, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
We invite you to experience how the Green Tree Family History Center can help you learn more about your own family.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Looking Back Fondly: Goodbye to President and Sister Topham

President and Sister Topham, who have served so faithfully in the Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Mission, have completed their three years here in Western PA. Here's what they have to say about their service and about Pittsburgh.
President and Sister Topham take the incoming missionaries to get a good view of Pittsburgh

Tell us a bit about yourselves.

We are from Utah.  We both grew up in southern Utah but have lived in the Salt Lake City area for most of our adult lives.  We have 4 children and 16 grandchildren ranging from 18 to 9 months old.  I am a civil engineer by education and worked 30 years for the Utah Department of Transportation in highway planning construction and maintenance.  I also spent 11 years as a Senior Vice President and Western Regional Manager of an international engineering firm.  My most significant professional achievement was participating in the planning, financing, contracting and reconstruction of I-15 in the Salt Lake Valley.  Sister Topham was a cosmetologist but was always first and foremost a wife and mother and practiced most of her profession in our home while raising our family.  As for recreation, Sister Topham is a bowler and has participated in several bowling leagues, but her real interest is in her grandchildren.  She loves music and likes to play the piano.  I like to golf and to spend time at our desert home in St. George, UT.  While there I like to ride back-roads and trails in off-road vehicles.

What brought you here to the Pittsburgh area?

In 2011 I retired from work and Sister Topham and I had a desire to serve a mission.  We were surprised to be called on a three-year assignment to preside over a mission and were assigned to Pittsburgh and surrounding areas.   We have loved our time here and the people we have served and have served with.

What did your responsibilities consist of while you were here?

The main focus of a mission president is to work with the individual missionaries.  We have the responsibility to receive the missionaries, to orient them, provide housing and transportation for them, to assign them to their various service areas, and to train and direct them in their missionary work.  The Elders serve for 2 years and the Sisters for 18 months, and there is a constant flow of incoming and outgoing missionaries.  During our tenure here, the age at which missionaries can serve was lowered, resulting in a significant increase in the number of missionaries assigned to us.  When we arrived we had approximately 140 missionaries and we now have about 260.  The most significant increase was in our young sister missionaries, which increased from 8 to 80. 

What were some of your first impressions of Pittsburgh?

We had visited Pittsburgh several years earlier on a business trip and were favorably impressed, so we came with a positive attitude.  We love the green of summer and the colors of fall.  I had hoped to serve where the winters weren’t quite as harsh, but the good outweighs the bad by a long way.  In the three years we have been here, we have driven approximately 100,000 miles.  Our area covers from Lancaster to Williamsport on the east side and from Wheeling, WV, to Erie, PA, and Jamestown, NY, on the west, so it is quite possible that we have seen more of Pennsylvania than many of the natives.  Our first impressions of the beauty of the landscapes and the warmth of the people will be our lasting ones as well.

Please tell one or two of your most memorable experiences during your time here.

Because our mission boundaries are so broad and our missionaries so spread out, we didn’t think it would ever be possible to have all of them together in a single meeting.  As it turned out, we were able to get everyone together twice, once in June of 2013 and once in May 2014.  We were privileged to be visited by apostles David A. Bednar and Jeffrey R.Holland, along with other General Authorities of the church.  Each meeting lasted 3 hours and each missionary had the opportunity to individually meet these special men and be taught by them.  For us, being able to sit where we could look at all our missionaries in one group and watch each of them as they shook the hand of one of the Lord’s apostles was a real blessing—one that we will never forget.

When you go home and describe Pittsburgh to people, what will you say?

First let me say that we have grown to love the people here.  They are friendly and courteous and accepting of people from other cultures and places.  A couple of things that really struck us were, first, the courteousness of drivers.  We were amazed at how people stop to let others into lines of traffic and allow them to make left turns in front of them, etc.  Also, coming from a very rural part of the country, we assumed that Pennsylvania would be more urban. I suppose that if we had served in Philadelphia we would have found that to be true.  Instead, we found that central and western Pennsylvania can be as rural, if not more rural, than southern Utah, where we were reared.

Do you have anything else you'd like to say to people of Pittsburgh?

We hope that when we leave it won’t be the end of our relationship with Pittsburgh and that we will have the opportunity to come back or at least keep in contact with those we have grown close to.  Sister Topham has been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan since they won the World Series against the Yankees when she was in elementary school and listened to the games on the radio, so we will continue to root for the Pirates.  We hope that the prayers of the members will be answered, that more people will hear and accept the message of the restored gospel, and that you will be able to have a temple here in the not too distant future.  We hope that our positive memories of Pennsylvania will never leave us.

We in the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Stake are so grateful for the dedicated service of Elder and Sister Topham. We wish them the very best as they return to their family in Utah!