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The Mormon Moment, 1935

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 11, 2012

The New York New York Stake was organized on 9 December 1934, the first stake in that area, one unit taking in the densely populated metropolitan areas in both New York and New Jersey. Bishop Vern Thomander of East Orange, New Jersey, was profiled in a news feature sparked by the organization of that stake. The points made here about “a religion they know so little about” don’t sound all that different from those made all these years later, do they? Or do they?

Newark [New Jersey] Sunday Call
10 March 1935

By Girard Michelson

Few residents of East Orange are aware of the presence of a Mormon bishop in their midst. A very young, energetic and genial prelate, too. He is Vern[on] S. Thomander (the h is silent), [1902-1986] bishop of the East Orange ward of the Mormon Church, or, to be exact, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A 32-year-old electrical engineer, he was recently elevated to the prelacy after serving two years as president of the East Orange branch, before the district was officially designated as a Mormon ward. He lives at 459 North Grove street, his family consisting of Mrs. [Pauline Romney] Thomander and their two pretty little daughters [Donna and LaVonne].

The bishop is a very human individual, serving his Church without salary – as all Mormon clergy do – and deriving keen satisfaction in watching his flock grow, and joining them in disillusioning those who picture Mormons as eccentric, white-bearded elders who practice polygamy.

200 Members

There are 200 registered Mormons in the East Orange ward, which includes practically all of Essex county, and hundreds of others not actively affiliated. Most of them are young. They are a devout, earnest group of Church people who taboo intoxicating beverages, tobacco, tea and coffee.

The bishop is a native of Utah, a graduate of the university of that state, from which he holds a degree of bachelor of science. He obtained a degree of master of science from the University of Pittsburgh. He is of the third generation of Mormon Thomanders and his father is now clerk in a Mormon ward near Salt Lake City, Utah. The bishop’s wife is also Mormon-born, and takes an active part in the affairs of the East Orange chapel, located at 40 Whittlesey avenue.

Since January 1, the East Orange ward has been included in the newly organized New York (Mormon) stake of Zion, which also includes Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Oceanside, Bay Ridge and Westchester. The last three are branches, the others are wards. Wards are regularly organized sections comparable to parishes and are presided over by bishops. The branches are not so fully organized and are directed by presidents.

Mormon Chapels

All Mormon places of worship, except the temple in Salt Lake City, are known as chapels. They are supported by the tithe system – each follower donating a tenth of his income every year. No collections are taken, no plates passed. As a means of raising relief funds for the needy the faithful eat but one meal on the first Sunday of each month and donate an amount equivalent to the cost of the other two meals,

Polygamy, the bishop tells one, has been banned by the Mormon Church for a great many years, and its practice now is cause for summary excommunication. The preaching of sermons is not confined to the bishops, presidents or other leaders of the sect. Every Mormon is expected to occupy the pulpit whenever called. They never prepare a sermon.

They believe “In worshiping God according to the dictates of their own conscience and allowing all men the same privilege.”

The East Orange Churchman believes heartily in hobbies, but his professional duties and Church work consume so much of his time that he is not able to pursue any himself. “The hobbies, however,” he adds, “must be constructive and not merely for amusement.”

The Thomander home is a favorite gathering place, not only for believers in the Mormon faith, but members of other sects who come to discuss a religion they know so little about. The Church leader is a convincing talker and a tolerant thinker. He has at his finger tips the story of the Church founded by Prophet Joseph Smith, the telling of which unfolds one of the interesting chapters of American religious history.



9 Comments »

  1. Great find, Ardis!!

    Those were heady days for the Borough of Brooklyn, which contained both the Brooklyn Ward and the Bay Ridge Branch–Bay Ridge is the neighborhood in far south-west Brooklyn directly across the Narrows from Staten Island.

    It didn’t stay that way. Populations move, and the Bay Ridge Branch was discontinued, and then the Brooklyn Ward became a branch. It wasn’t reorganized as a ward until sometime in the 1960s.

    Twenty-eight years ago last month the New York Stake held a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the creation of the stake. If I can hang on for another 22 years, I’m hoping to see the celebration of the 100th anniversary.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 11, 2012 @ 7:00 am

  2. My great-grandmother’s name was Martha Caroline Thomander. I wonder if she was related to this guy.

    Comment by Jeannine L. — December 11, 2012 @ 10:20 am

  3. Jeannine — since you’re commenting on a Mormon history blog, which means we can probably assume that your great-grandmother was a Mormon, I’d estimate the probability of a fairly close relationship between her and this bishop to be between 95-100 percent. : )

    Nice article, Ardis! That is good media coverage.

    Comment by Amy T — December 11, 2012 @ 10:33 am

  4. Fantastic. I can tell that this is exactly like the current Mormon moment because it’s (a) a Newspaper Article (2) about Mormons (3) that mentions Romney (well, a Romney…)

    Seriously, the most interesting parts of the article are the “never prepare a sermon” and “hobbies should not be merely for amusement”. Was anything similar actually taught by the Church back then?

    Comment by The Other Clark — December 11, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

  5. I don’t know about the hobbies, TOClark, but there *were* some sermons and some admonishment to missionaries about not preparing sermons — you were supposed to rely completely on the Spirit and speak as the Spirit directed in the moment; preparation showed you didn’t have the faith to do that.

    My response when similar remarks are made these days (and they’ve been made in the Bloggernacle occasionally when someone posts the text of a talk they gave) is that I trust the Spirit to inspire me on Tuesday with what I need to say/listeners need to hear on Sunday.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 11, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

  6. I know the 1st edition Mormon Doctrine strongly diapproved of those that read their sermon. Nowadays, it seems that reading is the rule rather than the exception. Interesting to see how practiced religion evolves.

    Comment by The Other Clark — December 11, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

  7. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my dad’s memories from that same era in Snowflake, Arizona, is that nobody was asked to speak in advance–they were all just called up from the congregation to speak extemporaneously. And we think some meetings these days are boring!

    Comment by Mark B. — December 11, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

  8. An interesting article. Fascinating that there was a fairly accurate article without any particular bias. At least not that I can discern. :-)

    Comment by Julia — December 12, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

  9. There is a Veron Samuel Thomander born 1 jun 1902 in Castle Dale, Emery, Utah. He is the son of Daniel Theodore Thomander, brother of Martha Caroline Thomander. She is also my great grandmother.

    Comment by Laurie — March 24, 2014 @ 11:07 am

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