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Financing the Kingdom: An Example from 1936-37

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 16, 2013

In April Conference, 1907, Joseph F. Smith said, “We may not be able to read it right away, but we expect to see the day when we will not have to ask you for one dollar of donation for any purpose, except that which you volunteer to give of your own accord, because we will have tithes sufficient in the storehouse of the Lord to pay everything that is needful for the advancement of the kingdom of God.” That day more or less came in early 1990 when the Church announced that henceforth the operating expenses and activities of wards and stake would be paid by the Church, and that local fundraising activities would, for the most part, cease.

Before that date, each unit was responsible for setting its budget and raising its own funds. Guidelines from the Church and practices on the local level varied according to time and place, and it would be impossible for any post to give a comprehensive review of the Church’s local unit financial history. Instead, this post looks at how one stake – Pioneer Stake, on Salt Lake City’s west side – handled their budget and fundraising during one brief period – 1936 and 1937. I chose this time and place because that’s where my mother’s family lived (Mom graduated from Salt Lake’s West High in 1938), and, well, because I have documentation from that time and place.

Each bishop was apparently responsible for estimating the costs for general ward operating expenses during the year – lights, heat, water, maintenance and repairs to the ward building itself, based on prior experience and forecasting the need for reshingling or replacing the furnace or other projects. Pioneer Stake was a poor area – the Church’s Welfare Program originated in that stake – and 1936-37 was deep in the Depression, so repairs and remodeling must have been kept to the absolute essentials. Supplies to be used by the ward in general – new hymnbooks, for example – were included in this part of the budget estimate.

The quorums and auxiliaries (“each department of the ward”) were to plan their programs a year in advance. This included the expenses of operation – manuals, teaching aids – and recreation. The stake had specific guidelines for budgeted expenses:

– Only the M.I.A. and the Primary could include recreation expenses.

– Socials, apparently considered as a separate category from recreation, were permitted … but not for the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums, and not solely for the officers and teachers of the auxiliaries. Such officers’ socials were encouraged, but were to be paid for by those invited, and not by the ward at large.

– “Equitable and reasonable” amounts for the MIA activities “of each grade of the Aaronic Priesthood” were to be set up (Scouting handled separately). The guidelines do not include any specific mention of girls’ MIA activities.

– The Primary budget could not include any amount earmarked for the Primary Children’s Hospital. “This is a charity offering,” the guidelines read, and contributions must be raised by the Primary itself outside the boundaries of the ward budget.

– Ward and MIA dances were to be held in the wards’ gyms (they frankly called them “gyms” rather than “cultural halls”)

The Relief Society was not included within the ward budget, per a Church-wide agreement at the request of the Relief Society. Pioneer Stake’s guidelines were: “Do not include the Relief Society in the ward budget but allow them to operate independently and collect their monthly donations and membership dues in accordance with the instructions received from the General Board.”

Most ward auxiliaries and quorums did assess annual membership dues. Those dues, with the exception of the Relief Society’s, were to be figured into the ward budget and not kept for the particular use of the quorum or auxiliary that collected them.

Scout and Explorer registration was the responsibility of each individual boy and his family. Boys’ leaders were expected to cooperate with the boys in raising funds so that every boy in the ward could participate, but their expenses were not to be figured into the ward budget.

These were the days when towns, wards, and other organizations sponsored annual Old Folks’ Days which included an outing to some resort. Old Folks’ Day activities were considered a charity, not a maintenance expense, and were to be financed out of fast offerings and through donations of food, money, and transportation at the time of an activity.

Missionary farewells usually included printed programs and a dance with a hired dance band. Such dances were fund raisers to help the missionary on his way. Expenses for such programs were to be deducted from the proceeds of the dance, and not included in the ward budget.

The MIA sponsored a reading course during those years to broaden the education of the Church’s youth. Books for that course were excluded from the ward budget. “Ask the Public Library Board to furnish these books.”

Once each quorum and auxiliary had planned its activities and assessed its income from dues and its projected expenditures, the leaders consulted with the bishopric and had their budgets approved.

Next, the bishopric met as a financing committee to consider what must have been one of the more ticklish and perhaps difficult parts of their work: “Go through the ward record of members, and estimate the amount that will be required from each person who has an income, keeping particularly in mind those who are non-tithepayers.” Were non-tithepayers to be given a financial break on the theory that they would not contribute anyway? Nope. When assessing non-tithepayers and those “who give very little financial help in the ward, ask them for more than would be expected from faithful tithepayers.” As a rough approximation, each family’s assessment would be 1% of its annual income.

The budget was presented to the ward at large, in a special budget meeting, with a special effort made to have as many ward members attend as possible. The bishopric explained the budget, and ward members voted to accept it … nobody had a line-item veto; it was a straight-up accepting or rejecting of the budget as a whole. The ward notified, by letter, ward members who were absent from that meeting.

Then each family was contacted, by letter or by personal visit, and notified of its budget assessment. The budget committee representative requested each family to sign a “budget pledge card” agreeing to its assessment, and arranging a payment schedule.

The stake and individual wards carried out a recreation program with incentives for families to pay their budget assessments. Admission fees were charged for most recreational activities (seems alien, I know!) with the proceeds going to the ward budget. But, if you were current with your budget payments, your family was admitted free. Each family had a budget ticket where payments were tracked; the back was a listing of the events that for which current budget payments would earn you free admission. (I remember being a little girl so thrilled to get to see the movie “Davy Crockett” in our ward building – my family never went to the movies – when that film was shown in our ward as a budget feature. I assume we went in with my parents’ paid-up budget ticket, since I can’t imagine them being either delinquent in budget payments nor willing to pay an admission price for a movie.)
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In Pioneer Stake, at least, the budget activities of all wards were available to anyone in the stake with a current budget ticket. While this schedule is from the year prior, it will give you some idea of the recreational activities available:

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Note, too, that all of this was merely for the maintenance and operation of a ward. If the ward was building a chapel, or other building (you might note that on the above stake schedule, one of the wards was building a recreation hall; most chapels built in the era when the Pioneer Stake buildings were erected were built without gyms or cultural halls), the building fund was a completely separate expense for the members of the ward.

And that’s how it was done in the olden days.



5 Comments »

  1. Oh, what a wonderful post–which brings back a lot of memories, some painful, some good.

    About “cultural” halls: it was sometime in the 60s, I believe, that all the gyms became cultural halls. I think I was old enough to have some cynical thoughts about the name change (which means I was at least 3 years old).

    During the second half of the 60s, our family attended a BYU student ward where my dad was bishop. When we paid our annual budget (about $2/person per semester), we’d get a card like the one you show which would allow us into the “Budget Movies.” They were shown in the Auditorium in the Joseph Smith Building, which also happened to be the place where we met for church on Sundays. I don’t remember going to many movies at the downtown cinemas in Provo, but we went to those budget movies nearly every weekend.

    And then I remember the other side of this. In the mid 1980s, I was involved with a new stake that was created in NYC from the division of two existing stakes. One of those two was essentially bankrupt (and the units that went from it to the new stake were far behind in paying their budget assessments) so they gave nothing to the new stake. The other parent stake was in slightly better financial shape, and transferred a few thousand dollars to the new stake. It was November, winter was approaching, at least one of the chapels had an oil-fired furnace and we expected a delivery of heating oil that would cost about $2K. What an exciting time that was!

    The building fund was an even bigger challenge. Even when the local percentage was lowered to 4%, we still couldn’t figure out how we’d ever come up with $400,000–we estimated that land and building in NYC would cost $10,000,000.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 16, 2013 @ 8:19 am

  2. I well remember fund raising to build onto our old chapel in one of the Star Valley WY wards when I was in Mutual in the early 80′s. We held a “rock-a-thon” to raise money by rocking wooden rocking chairs for 24 hours (Friday night to Saturday night.) You had to get pledges (sort of like many walkathons nowadays – it was too cold in the winter for walking far and in summertime we all had outside work to do.) I beat all the boys by making it to 23.5 hours. They had to stop me because no one else wanted to go on. But I had $100/hour riding on my efforts so I wanted to finish the last 1/2 hour to get that last $50. My generous grandfather had offered to contribute $5/hour (when minimum wage was like $3/hour) and was shocked how much it “cost” him (I think he didn’t think I would make it through the night.)

    I was not enough of an adult to remember assessments otherwise, but I remember my folks wringing their hands a lot about not making all of theirs when my Dad had trouble finding work one winter.

    Comment by Allison in Atlanta — September 16, 2013 @ 8:56 am

  3. Great post, Ardis. Really interesting and instructive.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — September 16, 2013 @ 10:06 am

  4. Budget movies, assessments, separate Relief Society budgets, all of this brings back vague memories of my childhood. I remember that when the new building our ward in Ogden built in the 1960s was finally paid off, it had already been finished for a a couple of years, and we had to come up with another $10K to $20K (the exact number escapes me at this point) for repairs before we could dedicate the building. I remember that it was a tough several months before the bishopric finally got the money to pay for the repairs. It was a lower middle class area, plagued by a bit of a housing bust on VA loans gone bad at the time.

    I don’t remember budget cards like you show here, but my folks likely saw them or something like it. What must have seemed mundane at the time, is fascinating now.

    Comment by kevinf — September 16, 2013 @ 10:45 am

  5. I’ll repeat what I’ve said before, Ardis — you really should do a book on the cultural history of LDS life and practices in the first half of the 20th century. It represents a major transition period — after polygamy normalization, but prior to the explosive spread outside of the Wasatch Front in the latter half of the 20th century. I’m hard pressed to think of someone more qualified to document that than you. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — September 16, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

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