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

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.