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Temple Work in Connection with the Church Security Program

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 22, 2012

We’ve mentioned numerous times that early in the 20th century it was common practice to pay small sums of cash to Latter-day Saints who served as temple proxies who were working in behalf of those not related to them. That is, Latter-day Saints who had the responsibility to see that temple work was completed for their kindred dead, but who did not live near temples or had more work to do than they could accomplish themselves, paid a small fee to others to do that work for them. These others were chiefly the elderly who appreciated both the value of temple service and the opportunity to help support themselves financially.

In the mid to late 1930s, the General Church Security Committee (Church Security meant Welfare Program in that era) sought to expand this assistance to more elderly Saints. Their proposal directed to ward and stake leaders is presented below. It is undated, but the General Church Security Committee existed under that specific name only from 1936 to 1938.

Temple Work In Connection with the Church Security Program

Melvin J. Ballard

Chairman of General Church Security Committee and
Member of Quorum of Twelve Apostles

Brethren, as we have studied the problem of finding employment for our brethren and sisters, who are in need of help there has come to our attention the condition of a great many aged brethren and sisters who are unable to enter into the field of industry, who nevertheless must not be kept in idleness, for even idleness to them is a menace. Those who are in good physical condition should be provided employment. The type of employment that appeals to us as something these people can do with joy to themselves and with satisfaction in the feeling that they are helping at least to support themselves – is our temple work.

I think the most beautiful thing I have seen in the world is the temple work of the Church as performed by aged people. When I contrast this with old-folks’ homes where people live in idleness in charitable institutions supported by the state or the counties just waiting to die, it does seem to me that this is the most delightful kind of activity for aged people there is in the world. It is a delightful experience for them to be engaged in the redemption and salvation of their kindred folks whom they are to meet in the spirit world.

The General Committee have made some recommendations to the First Presidency which they have approved and I am going to read to you a few lines and items from those recommendations:

“The General Committee have considered carefully the details of the suggested project, and we submit to you herewith our findings and observations with recommendations as to what might be done in developing the splendid ideas contained in the proposal.

These suggestions are made after a consultation with the General Board of Relief Society and representatives of the Genealogical Society.

Proposed Temple Work Project and Its Relation to the Church Security Program.

Our study of this matter suggests probably four classes of individuals who would be interested in such a project:

1. A considerable number of faithful Latter-day Saints, who because of age and perhaps minor infirmities are unable to sustain themselves in any rigorous activity, but who would find great joy in being enabled to labor in one of the temples, where as a result of their labors they would have sufficient income to supply their needs. For the most part the greater number of these persons are located in larger centers near our temples.

2. We have many of our faithful people who are in distress and who are being assisted at the present time on various work projects, whose genealogical work is being neglected because in many cases they are too far distant from the temples to be able to afford to do the work and they are without funds to have the work done.

3. The great majority of our people are converted to temple work, many of them live at some distance from the temples and frequently find themselves unable to provide the ready cash to permit them to do regular temple work or to pay to have this work done, but they might be able to contribute of their merchandise if credit could be allowed them and the merchandise thus provided be used to take care of those near temples who might do the work.

4. There are undoubtedly a great many of our members who live near the temples but who, because of arduous Church responsibility or business and professional requirements feel they do not have time to attend the temple or to search out their genealogy.

The following suggestions are submitted for commencing this program as soon as possible:

1. Ward and Stake Genealogical societies should be instructed to begin a business-like and determined campaign among Church members of their localities to submit approved proxy lists to have the work done at the temple located in their particular district. These lists are to be accompanied by contributions of cash to the amount of approximately fifty cents per each name submitted. workers are to be provided with receipt books made in triplicate, one copy to be left with the donor and one copy to go with the contribution and proxy lists to the office of a temple home described hereafter, or to some designated person at the temple nearest to which the donor resides. Where produce is contributed for which an individual desires work to be done, this person should be instructed to deliver such merchandise to the storehouse nearest the temple in his district and receive from the storehouse a copy of a receipt made in triplicate which specifies that this produce has been donated for the purpose of paying for temple work desired done. A copy of this receipt is to be retained by the storehouse and a copy transmitted to the nearest temple home above referred to or to a designated individual at the temple. When such produce has been disbursed either by sale or distribution on Bishops’ Orders, the donor is then to be furnished a statement of the value received at which time proxy lists may be submitted in the manner described above.

2. In order to provide economical and desirable living quarters for elderly people who are eligible and worthy to do temple work and where they have no home near a temple city, that such persons might be housed in a home provided for the temple city to be managed by persons appointed by the Church where the cooking of meals, etc., could be done for all the occupants to provide the greatest economy and yet in a manner to allow for the utmost of privacy and individuality.

People admitted to such homes must be upon recommendation of the Ward Bishop who must certify as to the status of the persons who enter, as to whether or not they are wholly independent, dependent, partially dependent or well able to pay. The status of each individual is to be known only to the person in charge of such a home.

Investigations of some local boarding and rooming houses, reveals that the usual charge being made in such places where excellent accommodations are provided is $30.00 per month for single persons, which includes room, breakfast, lunch put up for workers to take to the temple, and an evening meal, and where two persons live in the same room, a charge of $50.00 for the couple is made.

If these people could be provided with sufficient names solicited from Ward and Stake members and they be permitted to do a minimum of two names per day, this would provide an income sufficient to employ them and amply pay the costs of the home and to allow some additional money for these people to spend for themselves.

Orders for merchandise could be drawn on the local regional storehouse where surpluses could be utilized and the costs of such merchandise be paid out of the contributions received as above described or from the transfer of merchandise contributed to outlying storehouses that might be transported to the local storehouses or the cash equivalent paid.

We recommend that such a movement be instituted in every temple district pending a working out of plans to provide temple homes for the aged who are not otherwise situated and conveniently located to do such work.”

You will notice, brethren, that it provides that these folks may do work for which they may receive assistance themselves from the labor by contributions paid by brethren who can afford to pay for the genealogical work being done or the temple work who are not able to go themselves. There are some of our aged people who will be on government relief or on pensions or old-age assistance and some of them will be independent enough and willing to do charity work without cost because they can support themselves. We believe that if you brethren will give attention to it you will find a way by which you may house these folks who live out of the temple cities where they may be cared for more economically than by having one or two in a place and bringing them together and yet giving them home-life and giving them the opportunity of helping themselves by doing this temple work.

We submit this project to you for your thought and consideration, that you may be able to promote the welfare of many of these aged people and at the same time do a glorious work for those who have passed beyond and who are looking to us for the ceremonies and ordinances so essential to their salvation and exaltation and at the same time bring to the people who are engaged in the work joy and satisfaction and the spiritual uplift that will be a great blessing to them. Amen.



17 Comments »

  1. This is fantastic, I never knew about this. Was this for just Utah temples or was it US and beyond? The committee name only last for a short time but what about the program? Thanks Ardis, a good find.

    Comment by David M. Morris — June 22, 2012 @ 7:42 am

  2. Thanks for recognizing the significance, David.

    I don’t know how widely the program was implemented, or for how long. I do know that about this time a sort of “village” was built near the St. George temple, using donated labor from members in the region, for the use of temple patrons — but whether that was specifically to house elderly workers under this program or for more general patron use, I do not know. I’ll be watching for evidence of how this proposal was carried out — there must be some wonderful human stories from all angles, if I can only ferret some out.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 22, 2012 @ 7:47 am

  3. Thanks for putting this up. I’ll have to come back and read it later — as I’ve mentioned before at Keepa, I have one or two ancestors who participated in this program. The one that I’m sure participated in the program died in 1931, before this proposal, but the other lived in an apartment in the Sharon Building in downtown Salt Lake for many years, to give herself immediate access to the temple and family history resources available at the time.

    Comment by Amy T — June 22, 2012 @ 7:47 am

  4. (And when I say “program” I mean the temple work.)

    Comment by Amy T — June 22, 2012 @ 7:48 am

  5. Ardis,

    I have had this, or something very similar, before. I am having trouble finding my file at the moment. I want to say it is from (or at least the version I had was) a 1936 leadership training type meeting. Several General Authorities spoke. A couple of the talks were on Welfare (“Security”) in general and a few, including the one by Elder Ballard, were on specific programs like this that the Church was implementing. I need to go for now but I will resume my search tonight. I am pretty sure that the original file I looked at was in the Church Archives, but it may have been BYU (and this may take awhile I have a whole file drawer and 5 gb of stuff on Church Welfare, it’s a pet topic of mine :-)

    Comment by andrew h — June 22, 2012 @ 9:33 am

  6. It brings to mind the general conference addresses i’ve heard from the late 1930s on how (comparatively) wealthy individuals should come up with work that they might could do themselves (painting their house, repairing a fence, and such), and pay poorer individuals for it. Now, this was often in the context about how this was way more ennobling a process than government-run make-work programs (J. Reuben Clark, Jr. was big on that), but aside from that it seems quite a parallel idea, at least as it’s presented here.

    andrew h: Maybe 1938 or 1939, i’m thinking of? Those are the conferences i’ve heard the most from, though i don’t have immediate access to the recordings right now. I haven’t gone through to see whether the text of the conference reports exactly matches the audio on those topics (there were some big differences in a couple of the addresses, as i recall, but i don’t remember which ones), but a scan of the conference reports might would help find it.

    Comment by David B — June 22, 2012 @ 9:40 am

  7. andrew h, your description makes sense based on internal evidence.

    The copy I’ve transcribed was printed separately, with only Elder Ballard’s talk and no introductory identification, as a four-page brochure, presumably for ease in distributing it to bishops and stake presidents. If you can pin it down any further, I’ll pass your information on to the CHL to update their cataloguing of this item.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 22, 2012 @ 9:43 am

  8. Oh, and andrew, if you run across any other gems that would work as blog posts, or if you wanted to write a summary of something interesting that is too long itself to post, you know you always have a platform …

    David B., thanks for pointing out that flavor of the better off offering work to the less well off — it does sound like that, now that you mention it. Some of the first welfare projects involved sending out-of-work people to farms and orchards of members who couldn’t afford to hire laborers, to harvest the crops, a portion of which were canned by other members in need and distributed as part of the welfare work — a win-win-win-win-win situation!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 22, 2012 @ 9:47 am

  9. Two birds with one stone – helping those in need of financial assistance AND getting temple work done.

    It makes me wonder if the temple emphasis has changed over the years – now I hear it preached all the time about going there to benefit yourself spiritually (which has been my experience) but the emphasis in the past appears more on the work for the dead. It isn’t explicitly stated either way but the text makes me think that the underlying assumption is that temple work is mainly a duty to be performed on behalf of the dead. I think that message is still preached in the present time but more of the temple emphasis is shifting towards the living.

    Perhaps it was different because temples were only accessible in a limited area.

    Comment by Dustin — June 22, 2012 @ 9:48 am

  10. Dustin, I think you’re spot-on. I did a quick study a while ago of Conference talks about repeat visits to the temple, and it does seem that in our generation — say, the last 20 or 30 years — the emphasis has been largely on “what’s in it for us.” Not that there hasn’t also been mention of an obligation to the dead, but that’s a very distant, in-the-background feature. In earlier decades, it was all about our pressing duty to redeem our kindred dead, with next to no mention about personal gratification.

    This item was created in the atmosphere of our obligation to the dead … and, if it can help the living in a material way, let’s do that, too. But you’re right about the underlying assumption. Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 22, 2012 @ 9:55 am

  11. I’m trying to keep track of the numbers, and they are not quite making sense to me.

    1) Name is submitted with $0.50.
    2) Room and board is $30.00 a month
    3)

    a minimum of two names per day, this would provide an income sufficient to employ them and amply pay the costs of the home and to allow some additional money for these people to spend for themselves.

    I don’t see how two names a day provide ample income.

    Also, how long were endowment sessions in the 1930’s? I think Salt Lake is still near three hours just for the endowment session. If the patron also needs to do baptisms, confirmations, possible ordinations, initiatories, and even sealings, just two a day is a very long day!

    Comment by HokieKate — June 22, 2012 @ 10:09 am

  12. Now I’m starting to read the actual article. Wonderful! I’ll have to send this along to my parents who are temple workers just entering their retirement years. (“…it does seem to me that this is the most delightful kind of activity for aged people there is in the world.” : )

    (By the way, how old was Melvin J. Ballard when he wrote this? It looks like he was in his early- to mid-60s. Sounds about right for the tone of the writing.)

    Wow. That’s quite a program. This was proposed about the same time the Social Security program was being developed to address the same problem: poverty among the elderly.

    One of the major flaws I note in the program is that it does not address the problem of what happens when the elderly become too feeble to get to the temple. What happens if they develop dementia? Major health problems? When they were no longer able to earn that $25 or $30 a month through doing temple work, what provision was made for their care? Did the proposal assume that family would step in at that point? Why at that point and not before? Or would the Church assume the burden of care for the elderly until their deaths?

    Comment by Amy T — June 22, 2012 @ 10:10 am

  13. HokieKate, it certainly wouldn’t provide vacations in Miami, but to destitute elderly people content with “enough” (which I think for many Latter-day Saints in the mid-1930s meant shelter, warmth, food, and simple clothing), the numbers do add up —

    If they earned $1.00 for two daily temple sessions, their room and board would be paid for in only 15 days. Assuming the temple was open five days a week (I think it was, at least in Salt Lake and probably Logan, although St. George and Manti might still have been on the more rural, lower frequency schedule), they’d have had at least another 5 days of potential earning, which would go a long way (look what $1 gets you: a room and all your meals for a day) for spending money.

    And yes, you’re right, they would have been long days. Baptisms wouldn’t necessarily have been part of that (youth groups were going to the temples well before this period, doing baptisms wholesale), but from initiatory through endowment (longer than today’s) through sealing, these would have been long days, not physically intense, maybe, but long and perhaps wearying in other ways.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 22, 2012 @ 10:32 am

  14. Ardis,

    I found my scanned copy of this item by Elder Ballard, but when I scanned it I was not smart enough to save the provenance information. I will have to find my hard copy.

    I can tell you that it was originally a talk in a training meeting. It was printed in a pamphlet with the other talks from the training and came from pages 13-17 of the pamphlet. It is followed by a talk by Bishop Sylvester Q Cannon on “Beautification of Church Property.”

    I will get more information for you after I mow the lawn!

    Comment by andrew h — June 22, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

  15. There is a Spanish-speaking branch in our area consisting largely of *cough* less than fully documented *cough* immigrants. They’ve been hit hard by the recession, and for a time, our local leaders were encouraging the wealthier members to find reasons to employ them, for things like simple home repairs, yard work, and so on.

    I think our leaders may have realized what a messy can of legal worms they were opening, however good their intentions, because I haven’t heard a lot about it more recently.

    It was a simpler world back then.

    Comment by Vader — June 25, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

  16. Ardis,

    I found the the full pamphlet that this talk is from. I got a copy at the CHL and scanned into pdf. Elder Ballard’s talk starts on page 13. All the talks are interesting. The First Presidency all spoke, as did Harold B Lee who was then an employee, he would shortly be called to be an apostle. I have emailed you a copy

    Comment by andrew h — August 1, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

  17. Regarding the shift in emphasis from redeeming the dead to personal spiritual benefits, I wonder if that has anything to do with waning millennialism in the church. If you think Christ is coming soon you might have a sense of urgency about finishing things not yet done that a later generation that sees the 2nd coming as less imminent wouldn’t share. Did it take until the post WWII generations to finally extinguish millinnial fervor so evident in the early restoration?

    Comment by KLC — August 1, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

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