Reading the minutes of past Church meetings takes me back in time and drops me in the midst of a familiar yet alien world:
I note the hymns that were sung – some familiar favorites then are still sung now; others have dropped out of remembrance. S8ometimes I hunt up them up in old hymnals: knowing exactly where and when an unfamiliar hymn was sung gives it a context and an emotional reality for me.
When minutes include a synopsis or – hallelujah! – a few lines of actual quotation from a talk or testimony, I can hear the voices of ordinary Latter-day Saints of the past. Even more than in the edited and published sermons of Church leaders who were experienced speakers, the less polished words of sometimes awkward speakers, or at least the homely words a clerk used to summarize a talk, let me see the Mormon vernacular of a moment in the past. Sometimes the familiarity of Mormon cliches (“what? we’ve been saying that for so many years??”) delights me; sometimes the awkward groping for words to express now-familiar ideas is equally enlightening.
Minutes reveal ways in which Church practice has changed over the years: Who is sitting on the stand? How much did women participate? Why are they not holding a testimony meeting on the first Sunday of the month? What do the recorded announcements tell me about Church life between Sunday meetings? Are different topics emphasized in different eras?
And so a new series at Keepa: “A Few Minutes” presents the verbatim minutes for, generally, one month’s Sunday meetings in a given ward (long enough to give you a sense of the week-to-week rhythm of the Church, but short enough – I hope – not to be tedious … like this introduction). Will these minutes take you to a past time and place the way they do me? What can you pick out from the minutes that is different from your current experience? What is still familiar to you despite the passage of time? (These minutes are posted with little-to-no commentary; rather than spelling out for you what I, you can have the fun of discovering for yourself what interests you.)
We’ll start today with Mt. Glen (near LeGrande), Oregon in 1913. Other minutes already prepared for posting include wards in downtown Salt Lake City; Curtis, Arizona; Ozumba, Mexico; Strand, South Africa; Kofu, Japan; and Ricks (now Rexburg), Idaho. I’ve identified other places, near and far, for further posts, if the series proves successful.
The Church History Library preserves an enormous collection of minutes for all kinds of Church units and types of meetings. They are a wonderful, largely untapped source of family history if you have LDS ancestors. Many (most?) of the minutes are open to research; some, because they record private ecclesiastical matters — generally, the minutes of church disciplinary courts — on the same pages with the record of a testimony meeting, are less easily accessible. In my experience, it’s worth seeking permission to view restricted records if you can pin down an event to within a few weeks; often the Library staff will be able to search a narrow range of dates and, if your hoped-for reference is found, they may be able to give you access to that specific page.
I can’t promise to find or transcribe everything someone might want, but if you have an interest in a particular ward and a particular month (and let’s limit that to dates in the 1870-1940 range – nothing more recent, please), those minutes might as well be the ones sampled.
And a defensive note: These are not scholarly transcriptions: I have lightly (and inconsistently) edited for readability while maintaining the misspellings and other personal quirks of the clerks. The kinds of minutes I read are all handwritten, and for the post part they concern individuals who are not familiar to me. There is a good chance that I may occasionally misread a name that would be instantly recognizable to someone more familiar with the Saints in a given area. I apologize for that, ask for your understanding, and welcome corrections if any are obvious to you.