Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Sunday School Paper Shuffling

Sunday School Paper Shuffling

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 04, 2012

I think we lost valuable records sources when the Church decided, in the early 1970s – some say as part of Correlation; others say because Church archivists were opposed to storing so much paper – to curtail the number and depth of reports created by ward organizations. Perhaps the value of knowing the percentage of Primary teachers attending prayer meetings is minimal; perhaps we really don’t need a record of the sacrament meeting closing hymns sung in Petaluma, California in September, 1976 … although given the passage of enough time and the creativity of historians, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of valuable studies that now can never be made.

But all those potentially valuable records that weirdos like me like to sift through were created and catalogued and stored at a price. Just because I think it would surprise you to know the level of detail in which we used to preserve our history, take a look at this sample Sunday School report created in one ward in May, 1961. Note that it is Form 3 (an unnumbered record was the roll book kept in each class; Form 1 recorded each teacher’s attendance at various meetings and summarized the attendance in each teacher’s class; I have no idea what Form 2 counted; and there was an optional Form 4 compiled at the discretion of the stake Sunday School secretary drawing from all the Form 3’s submitted throughout the stake. Really.)



Form 3 and its purpose is described :

This form is prepared by the ward secretary and used by the ward and stake superintendencies, ward bishops and General Sunday school Board.

This is the operating report and balance statement for each ward or branch of the Church. At least four copies are made of this form and a copy sent to the bishop, the stake superintendent and the General Board of the Sunday School. One coy is kept in the ward or branch Sunday School file.

A bishop noting columns 10 and 12 can determine how many members at the various course age levels are absent each Sunday and how effectively the Sunday School of his ward is reaching the members. Columns 15 through 17 show what is being done to improve the activity of the ward Sunday School membership. Study of Columns 1 through 9 will indicate the dedication of each officer to his calling.

The stake and ward superintendents are alerted monthly by this form to the areas which need attention in the Sunday School.

Those of us who have come of age in recent decades, or at least have assumed ward leadership responsibilities since the 1970s, probably have little conception of the vast amounts of paperwork that used to be a part of Church duties!



  1. Wow. And wow. And just wow.

    I’ve served as secretary in the Young Women program, and my duties took about two or three minutes a week total. (The president didn’t like to delegate any other duties besides keeping rolls, which was rather frustrating, but it made it a low-effort calling, which I guess I needed at the time.)

    Comment by Amy T — May 4, 2012 @ 8:50 am

  2. I’ve thought about this too. The detail does seem a bit overdone, but when you look at what Stapley extracted from various ward and stake relief society minutes for his article on female ritual healing, you do begin to wonder what we might be leaving unrecorded that could be of future use to historians.

    For w while we had ward historians who took pictures of every activity, kept sacrament meeting bulletins, and wrote up lots of small notes about ward happenings. As far as I know, those voluminous three ring binders are still sitting in the bottom of a closet in our building, and I suspect no one has looked at them in five years.

    I recently was instructed to write up one paragraph about our High Priests group for the ward history to be submitted to the stake as part of our annual report. I tried to think about what would be most of value, and included lots of names and dates. It ran to several paragraphs, far beyond the request. I don’t know how it was edited after it left my hands.

    Comment by kevinf — May 4, 2012 @ 9:47 am

  3. While serving as a Church Service Missionary in the Chuch History Library, I saw the variability of ward and stake historical records. Our assignment was to respond to inquiries from members (and non) on a great variety of historical subjects. I was amazed at how many members assumed everything that ever happened in their ward had somehow been recorded and was readily available in Salt Lake. Yet, sometimes, and amazing mass of detail was available concerning some historical subject. I kept copies of my research reports and sometimes look at them. One of the families I currently home teach is descended from an early church family but knew little about them. I was able to give them a fat file of details of more than 125 years of the history of that family. Lots of fun for an old man.

    Comment by CurtA — May 4, 2012 @ 10:33 am

  4. What I find interesting about this report is how it shows that even in 1961 there were explicit artifacts of the early history of SS as an independent school with all of the requisite record keeping you would expect in that kind of organization. One of the comments a the church organization infogram post at BCC a few days ago called the SS presidency the appendix in the body of Christ. This report may be its spleen.

    Comment by KLC — May 4, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

  5. Yikes! Talk about trying to be data-driven. I’m glad that the church is a little less corporate than it used to be.

    I’m not a historian, so I can’t see the value in maintaining all these numbers. I can see that the reports may have had value as a data point when evaluating how some programs may be meeting members’ needs. They could have been used to validate moving to the block schedule (IIRC in 1961 Sunday School was pretty much optional attendance). But, at a time when number crunching was done by hand, or adding machine, it would have been inordinately laborious to assess any overall trends.

    Really, Ardis, do you think even you could squeeze a personal story out of any of these?

    Comment by charlene — May 4, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

  6. “Once upon a time, in Santa Rosa, California, there was a Sunday School class studying the history of the Church. Twenty-three ward members were enrolled in the class, but alas! in the month of May, 1961, only slightly more than half of the class members attended Sunday School on any given week. Was that because a substitute teacher had been called in one week? and, oh, the lack of dedication, because that substitute teacher failed to attend prayer meeting? The valiant class members, however, determined to raise their percentage so that their class did not appear to disadvantage on the Stake Sunday School Secretary’s optional Form 3 report, approached two new potential class members and invited them to attend. The record is silent on whether the invitation was accompanied by bribery in the form of cookies, or threats in the form of hellfire, but we can still be certain that …”

    Yeah, charlene, you’re right. A personal story is going to be quite a stretch! But given enough such reports from a wide enough area over a long enough time, and I wouldn’t put it past some clever statistician/historian to recognize a pattern, and correlate it with other records to produce an insight into Mormon history that you and I would both find fascinating. That wasn’t why these records were created in the first place, but historians are famous for recognizing value in records beyond their original purpose.

    Nice comments, friends. We’re lucky to have so many records — luckier to have some than others, no doubt! This was just a hat tip to the unknown and overworked secretaries and clerks who partook of that spirit of recordkeeping. Better them than us, as we might say about other kinds of sacrifices made by Mormons of the past!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 4, 2012 @ 12:44 pm

  7. Is this the kind of report that Norlan G. and Sheron R. Walker used to prove that someone lived downwind of the nuclear testing?

    Comment by Carol — May 4, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

  8. Yes! That was my question, too, Carol!

    Comment by Mina — May 4, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

  9. I love crossovers that show how intertwined our history realy is …

    The Walkers wouldn’t use Form 3 because it doesn’t list names and so couldn’t be used to document a particular person’s presence in the fallout area. But they might use the related class rolls which do show someone (by name) was there on a given date. There are other records, like church censuses, and membership records, and lists of ward officers and teachers in a given year, all of which show names, which are probably more likely useful to that project — all those raw records that were used to generate summary reports like this one.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 4, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

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