Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Lowering Dignity (1950)

Lowering Dignity (1950)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 17, 2013

In 1950, in some of the missions in the United States (I’m sorry, I don’t know which ones), missionaries had what they thought was a clever idea to advertise their message. Whenever they sent mail, they stamped the envelope in bright ink: “Read the Book of Mormon,” “It is great to be a missionary,” and similar brief slogans.

That practice came to the notice of the Quorum of the Twelve that summer. The Brethren were not amused. “It was the feeling of the Brethren that such practices cheapen the Book of Mormon and lower the dignity of our missionaries,” wrote Church leaders to mission presidents throughout the world. “Will you, therefore, please take the necessary steps to advise the missionaries that this means of advertising be discontinued.”

What are some of the odder methods you tried as a missionary, or that you are aware others used? Were there any attempts that your leaders shot down for any reason?



  1. First thing I think of is the pranks like knocking on a door and saying, “I have a book for you from Heaven.” Then your companion on the roof drops a BoM into your hand. We had elders who really did things like this.

    Comment by Carol — May 17, 2013 @ 7:13 am

  2. We used to take large sheets of white paper down to the shopping streets (there really isn’t a good translation for “shotengai,” is there?) and one elder with brush and ink would kneel down and start writing in Japanese. After writing some standard stuff (like the name of the church), we’d start writing some made-up characters (which cannot be reproduced here, and probably should be consigned to the dustbin of history anyway) to try to get the attention of the passersby. Most of them probably just thought we were confused.

    But, if a stamp like that on an envelope in 1950 was considered undignified, one wonders what the brethren from that day would think about buying advertising space in the playbill for a crude spoof on missionary work.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 17, 2013 @ 7:20 am

  3. But, if a stamp like that on an envelope in 1950 was considered undignified, one wonders what the brethren from that day would think about buying advertising space in the playbill for a crude spoof on missionary work.

    Great point, Mark B.

    One elder in my mission was known to approach people in public places and ask for the time. This was just a ruse to start a conversation, of course. (I heard about the trick from his disgruntled companion who was inevitably placed in the unfortunate position of having to shove his hand into his pants pocket to hide the fact he was wearing a wristwatch!) [groan]

    Comment by David Y. — May 17, 2013 @ 8:06 am

  4. Anybody remember missionaries posing as opinion poll takers out canvasing people (while tracting, or, for me, porte-a-porte) on “families”? This acted as a way of introducing people to the idea of Family Home Evening, which then served as a foot in the door to talk about the rest of the Church. This happened for a while briefly in southern France in the early/mid-1970s, but then was shut down. I remember my first companion showing me how it had been done.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — May 17, 2013 @ 9:03 am

  5. Scanned from my missionary scrap book. This was, of course, run-off on a mimeograph machine and colored in especially for me as the Zone Leader. The Elders, in the city were I was assigned, presented it to me I think at the train station as I was passing through from one to another city in the Zone doing baptismal interviews. We had a member who had painted reproductions of the Arnold Friberg illustrations from the Book of Mormon that were sent around the mission so we could hold “Expositions of religious art.” The illustration is of some popular Brazilian cartoon characters, I think from the world of Mônica. The text reads in the balloon “Did you know that Christ came to the Americas?” And the rest: “Come find out, for it would be our honor to explain it to you. In the Cultural Center of Alegrete, The 23rd – 28th of May, 1977, from 9:00 to 21:00 (9:00 pm), No charge [free]”

    Lowering dignity? Only vaguely understanding who the cartoon characters were at the time, I didn’t worry too much about it. The Expo itself was a little odd, and probably violated international copyright. (Sorry, Friberg estate).

    Comment by Grant — May 17, 2013 @ 9:03 am

  6. Before anybody derails the conversation — which is making me cringe and laugh at the same time — by asking Grant how he added the picture to his comment: He emailed it to me, and I inserted it. For safety’s sake, the system is set up so that only an administrator can insert pictures into comments.

    Back to your regularly scheduled parade of indignities …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 17, 2013 @ 9:09 am

  7. I was really uncomfortable with “car tracting”. Basically we find people wth cars and ask to teach them. The church was 15 miles away and there were no buses running on sunday, so it was just a practical matter…but ugh. Tat was the elder’s area…so their problem. I only heard about it when i was on splits…which for our mission was 2 elders and 1 sister!

    I will always remember a zone conference encouraging us to find spontaneously…as you are just walking, or shopping or on the way. The committment was to PLAN to do 4 hours of spontaneous finding a week. Nothing like filling in the blue planner with…be spontaneous next thursday from 2 to 3:30.

    Comment by Britt — May 17, 2013 @ 10:34 pm

  8. I used to sit on a bus with a pamphlet and read for a while then ask the person next to me what this word meant and point to “restoration” or something. They would help me with my Spanish and that would start the conversation and I’d leave the pamphlet with them. We had some baptisms result. Is that undignified?

    Comment by Carol — May 17, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

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