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 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."


  1. Thank you for posting . pictures and testimonies of this historic day. I love the Pittsburgh members in all 3 stakes now!

  2. What a wonderful day for the church in Pittsburgh. Thinking fondly of all of you today!

  3. Thrilled to learn of this news!
    As an "expatriate" of the area, I can only express my joy at noting the progress of the church; many personalities of great import with whom I have shared moments of growth and insight. My old congregation affected.....
    ......and anticipating further advancement in the future as consequence of this re-organization.

  4. Thank you so much for this post, it is a wonderful surprise to be able to see the growth of the church membership in Pittsburgh. I joined the church in 1964 when Pittsburgh was a District, now 3 Stakes! What great members there are throughout all of the Pittsburgh Stakes. I love having my home and family in Salt Lake but a piece of my heart will always be in Pittsbugh!

  5. It was great to see the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pick up the story just a week later. See