My ward’s sacrament meeting theme last week was the Law of Consecration. My 10-minute talk was built around condensed versions of two stories told long ago on Keepa. Because of that I wasn’t going to post the talk, but it’s Friday and I’m feeling lazy and there may be readers who weren’t around earlier to read about Carl Clifton Booth and Laura Rees Merrill — their stories are worth knowing.
Early in this dispensation, the Lord declared: “… I, the Lord … make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures. … The earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.” (D&C 104:13, 17)
I understand from this that not only does the Lord have the right to direct me in the use of my earthly blessings, but by making me a steward, he also expects me to find ways to use my blessings – my time, my talents, my possessions – in his service even when he doesn’t give specific directions. He has made me – has made us all – “agents unto [our]selves,” with the responsibility of finding ways to serve him.
Turning our earthly blessings to the service of God is the Law of Consecration. We most commonly interpret consecration as relating to economics – we are commanded to tithe, and to make offerings: fast offerings always, with the opportunity to contribute to other worthy efforts: most recently, to support the tens of thousands of new missionaries who have been called to full-time service.
But consecration involves matters beyond the financial. Most of us have made covenants in sacred places to build the Lord’s kingdom through our time and talents and anything else we possess. We do that, in part, by filling church assignments. In a ward like ours, though, with its unusual structure and superabundance of experience, few of us can fairly say that our callings require a significant amount of our time or effort. If we do consecrate our lives to building the kingdom, many of us have to be creative and look for opportunities beyond the ward, beyond our families, perhaps, to find uses for our time and talents.
In a recent Conference talk, Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught:
True success in this life comes in consecrating our lives – that is, our time and choices – to God’s purposes. In so doing, we permit Him to raise us to our highest destiny.
I would like to consider with you [he continued] five of the elements of a consecrated life: purity, work, respect for one’s physical body, service, and integrity.
Because I often find my greatest inspiration in the lives of Latter-day Saints of the past, I will share with you two of my favorite stories, about Latter-day Saints you may never have heard of, whose lives illustrate the law of consecration in action. Note how their stories reflect what Elder Christofferson has identified as elements of a consecrated life: purity, work, respect for one’s physical body, service, and integrity.
Carl Clifton Booth was born in Texas in 1882. While he was still a teenager, he went to the Philippines with the U.S. Army. When that war was over, he became a mercenary, fighting in China, and with the Russians in their war with the Japanese. He returned to Texas, becoming a member of the state parole board, and president of the Society for the Friendless, providing support for released prison inmates.
And somewhere along the line, Carl met L.D.S. missionaries, and was baptized in 1927.
Carl settled in Dallas, where his routine included making weekly trips to the west side of the Trinity River to collect the rent on several small houses he owned there. Poverty was the normal state on the west side of the river. In the 1930s, families throughout the region, displaced by the Dust Bowl and crop failures and bank foreclosures, made their way to the very bottom of society, building shanties in West Dallas out of scraps from the dump, sleeping on the bare ground.
On one of his weekly trips to that sinkhole, Carl found a small child crying in the street. The little one was hungry. Carl took what money he had in his pocket and went to a grocery store, returning with food for that family. From then on, he never went on a collection trip without food in his car.
Carl and other Latter-day Saints in Dallas talked about what they could do to help the people of West Dallas. He was especially concerned for the children living there without religion or schooling of any kind. One night Carl went to a meeting of the unofficial West Dallas camp council, which met in a ragged circus tent. Carl proposed organizing a Sunday School for the children. The camp accepted the offer, and the unofficial West Dallas Branch came into being that night.
With the help of the Dallas Relief Society, Carl organized his Sunday School, meeting at first in that circus tent. When it was destroyed in a windstorm, he bought a shack. When the land under that shack was sold he moved his class to the shade of a large pecan tree. He kept careful minutes of his Sunday School, recording weekly attendance as high as 150. With help from the Dallas Branch, he taught the children to sing and pray, and told them stories from the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
Carl’s minutes show one unusual feature. Besides the activity that you would find in the minutes of any ordinary Sunday School, Carl’s include lines like: “Distributed four bundles of clothing” and “Gave away 20 pairs of shoes” and “Distributed four new blankets and one new quilt,” and on and on.
By 1943, Carl had raised the money, largely with the help of his non-member sister, to build a chapel in West Dallas – a real chapel, with a foundation and walls and a real roof. The unofficial West Dallas Branch became official, and Carl Booth – who else – was called as its first branch president. By 1946, 160 converts had been baptized, and more than 800 babies had been blessed.
And how well does Carl Booth measure up to what Elder Christofferson listed as elements of the consecrated life?
Purity – Despite all he may have seen or lived through while adventuring around the world, Carl’s life was clean enough to receive direction from the Spirit, to know what needed to be done and how to do it. Everything he did in West Dallas was done with a pure motive; his efforts were entirely unselfish.
Work – Nothing came easily in his project, from finding a place to hold Sunday School to collecting the supplies needed to feed and clothe the people. Carl worked.
Respect for the physical body – While Carl was concerned with the religious lives of the people he served, his recognition of the importance of the physical body and its needs and comforts is unmistakable.
Service – His work was an obvious service to the people of West Dallas – he ministered to their physical wants, their spiritual cravings, and their emotional need for dignity and respect.
Integrity – Again, his labors were all for others, motivated by love for his fellow men and for God. He served with undivided loyalty.
Few of us will ever be Carl Booths – we may not run across the same desperate level of need, perhaps, or we don’t have the gifts and talents that Carl had. We all may find opportunities, though, to go beyond ourselves and do something extraordinary that is well within our time and talents and budget.
Like Laura Rees Merrill did.
Laura Merrill was of the same generation as Carl Booth – she was born in 1876, to LDS parents. She was one of the first women to attend the Utah State Agricultural College in Logan. After being widowed, she worked to raise seven children. In the 1940s, she served two missions for the Church.
In the 1950s, when she was in her late 70s, Laura lived alone in a small brick home in Logan, working part time as the high school librarian. Like most, she followed reports of the Korean War through the newspapers.
In January 1953, American soldiers began to return from Korea. In Seattle on January 6, soldiers were sorted according to their final destinations and marched aboard charter flights in alphabetical order. One transport plane was headed to South Carolina, its 40 seats filled by men whose last names began with H, J, and K, with a three-man flight crew, including a young stewardess making her very first trip.
The plane’s flight plan called for it to fly southeast across Idaho, over Bear Lake Valley, then east over Rock Springs, Wyoming. Just before 4:00 a.m. on January 7, the pilot radioed that he was passing over Malad, Idaho; he would check in again over Rock Springs at 4:45 a.m.
But he didn’t.
At dawn, search planes were dispatched. The territory was rugged, the weather brutal. Finally, on January 12, a search-and-rescue pilot spotted wreckage in the high mountains on the Idaho side of Bear Lake Valley. Paramedics parachuted to the site, and radioed that there were no survivors.
In Logan, Laura Merrill read news reports with gruesome descriptions of the wreckage and the condition of the bodies. She knew that the families of the missing men were reading them, too, and that their grief was made worse when the Army decided to wait until spring to recover the bodies. She couldn’t bear to think of what the families were imagining, their loved ones lying exposed so far from home.
So Laura began to write letters to the families of each man and the woman lost on that flight. She described the beauty of the mountains ringing the Bear Lake Valley, the tranquility of the dairy farms below, and the sympathy of the local people. She wrote that soldiers stood watch over their sons on the mountain, and that the flag flew there. She had the Logan Chamber of Commerce send postcards to each family to give them hopeful, brighter pictures to replace images conjured up by newspapers.
And families wrote back: “Since you are so kind to write, and as our boy lies near you, I’d like to tell you a little about him,” wrote one. Letters flew both ways, as summer came and snows melted, and the dead were returned to waiting families.
Did Laura Merrill act in the service of God? Did she demonstrate the elements of a consecrated life: purity, work, respect for the physical body, service, and integrity? Did she do anything that any of us could not have done?
The members of this ward have been given extraordinary blessings – in wealth, in time, in talent, in experience. May we each look for ways to live the law of consecration – to be wise stewards of our resources, finding ways to keep our covenants – to magnify our blessings in the service of God, is my prayer …