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

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!