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Bishop Ek and His “Lovely Ward … But They Are All Poor”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 23, 2013

Carl August Ek (1845-1912) was a Swedish convert of 1871, who emigrated to Utah in 1878 and settled in Cache County, where he worked as a stonecutter on the Logan Temple. His leadership talents and devotion to the Church were evident from the very beginning: He began serving as a branch president only two years after his baptism; he returned to Sweden as a missionary in 1882 and ended his mission there as a conference president (roughly equivalent to a stake president), and, not long after his return from that mission, as one of the presidents of his Logan Seventies Quorum. He moved to Salt Lake City, where he was called as bishop of the 25th Ward in 1902, serving until his death in 1912. Bishop Ek was married three times, and has posterity active in the Church today. He supported his family with his skills as a stonecutter, chiefly in the carving of monuments and headstones.

The 25th Ward was on Salt Lake’s west side, with a largely immigrant population and then, as well as now, one of the humbler Salt Lake neighborhoods. It was part of Pioneer Stake, whose budgeting process we recently looked at.

About a year before he died, Bishop Ek reflected on the difficulties of being a bishop in such a ward – and his reflections were entirely different from the challenges of today’s bishops.

“This is a lovely ward,” he wrote, “and I think that you will find just as many honest noble Saints as you could find in any other ward. But unfortunately, they are all poor.” Apparently he had brought up the subject of the ward’s poverty so often to his stake leaders “that I might be looked upon as a little crazy on that point,” but it was a point he was compelled to repeat now.

The 25th Ward had been organized in 1902, and one of its first tasks was to build a chapel. “The first time we did build was in the year 1902.” (LDS Architecture – I wish the blogger had kept up this beautiful blog! – has a photograph of the chapel as it appears today, including a closeup of the 1902 cornerstone.) Ward needs required expanding the original building: “In 1906 we added two classrooms. In 1909 as the population had increased and the Sabbath School, especially, were crowded for room, we again were asked to furnish more room. Had we been justified to consider the people’s finances, we would have said NO, but knowing that the rooms were badly needed we again made an effort, knowing perfectly well that we should have a struggle on our hands. So we went to work and lengthened out the main building, also two classrooms behind, also a first class cement basement under the whole addition, also a steam heater. We can say with a good deal of satisfaction that we have not spent a dollar for any Tower or any extra corners, only plain, substantial work.”

The Church contributed $1,500 to the more than $4,000 debt of 1909, and the bishop worked to raise the rest. “With our best efforts we succeeded to collect among the saints only $619.35.” The ward borrowed the balance from Zions Savings Bank. “I must confess, the gloomy outlook to clear the expenses of this ward, together with my private misfortune [financial reverses were, at the time of this writing, leading to the loss of the Ek family home] has been the means to prepare my mind until I am willing to give up my lovely ward and go out on a lonely piece of land to meet come what may.”

Building expenses weren’t the ward’s only financial trouble. “In building our meetinghouse bigger, it takes fully double of coal and light, and it is more to do for the janitor. Besides, we have interest [of] $30.63 every three months.” And raising the money for the coal, and the interest, and payments on the principle, fell squarely on Bishop Ek.

“If we were in a ward where people had something, it would be easy for some of us are good collectors if there is anything to be had. But when we know that the people can hardly exist, what can we do? I have been through this ward so many times for different reasons, so I know how every family is fixed. A small portion has their homes paid for; the majority is paying now on the installment plan, and I am counting just now 47 families are renting.”

Appeals for donations raised more trouble than money: “We have tried to avoid asking for donations from the stand, as it generally drives away the good spirit, and people, too.”

Fund-raising activities were difficult: “If we have dances to raise money, we often get a class of people from the red light district, and still with that nasty company our gain is very small.”

Door-to-door collections didn’t work well, either: “If we send out collectors, very few get any and they get discouraged and will not try again.”

Bishop Ek tried to act as his own collector: “Sometimes I walked through the Ward from house to house, time and again, and succeeded fairly well in raising money for ward expenses of different kinds, but it has been too often I was hardly through with one bill before I had to start on another. At present I have two excellent counselors to help me, and still it is all we can do to collect all that is needed. In fact, we are behind.”

The critical need to raise money detracted from the bishop’s more important duties: “It has sometime been a question in my mind if it is right for a Bishopric to devote the most of their time collecting in their ward, when there is so many people in the church that needs to be built up spiritually and where our time and energy should be devoted. Still, there has been no other way for us than to pitch in, in any capacity, or else we would have been stuck long ago.

“I think we done very well up to 1909, but after that we have had to explain to the saints from time to time that we needed so much money for that and for other things and never any end to our wants. A good many has lost courage, quite a few have moved away, and our ward has fell behind to some extent.”

Bishop Ek died a few months later, just 67 years old. The ward survived, and became the ward of my mother’s childhood and youth. In 1988, the chapel built at such long-forgotten sacrifice was donated by the Church to the Salvation Army.

And, members in more prosperous days, you and I are spared these struggles.



15 Comments »

  1. I have tears in my eyes reading about Bishop Ek’s struggles. This post makes me so grateful for the way things are handled today.

    Comment by Chad Too — September 23, 2013 @ 9:21 am

  2. We do take so much for granted. I’ll try to have a different attitude when the YW fundraiser or the Friends of Scouting collectors come around. Even in our times of personal struggles, we have it so easy these days. Thanks for giving me the subject matter for some self auditing this morning.

    Comment by Carl C. — September 23, 2013 @ 10:02 am

  3. An important story, Ardis. I imagine things didn’t get any better, especially over the next couple of decades. Didn’t President Harold B. Lee and President Thomas Monson grow up in the Pioneer Stake?

    Comment by Gary Bergera — September 23, 2013 @ 10:06 am

  4. Thanks, Chad and Carl — this is just one more way that history broadens our awareness that the way things are now isn’t necessarily the way things have always been.

    Indeed, Gary. President Lee’s involvement with the early Welfare Plan and President Monson’s ministering to “his widows” both come out of the poverty of Pioneer Stake and have had an effect on the Church and its members far beyond the stake, no?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 23, 2013 @ 10:26 am

  5. That was a hard lot, I am grateful how things run now, not just that the hardship is not placed on members and leaders of limited means also but that we have the means as a church to not do it that way. My very early childhood remembers the very end of member raised funds for renovations and additions to meeting houses. We had a framed cork type board that had fancy upholstery tacks that filled in the outline of a chapel as our portion of funds were raised. My earliest childhood church memories were of attending a ward building that was later damaged by fire and necessitated us attending a different one while it was repaired. I love that architecture blog, I wish they had kept it up, and I’m glad you linked to it, so I could remember it, fall is the perfect time for perusing and appreciating architecture. Maybe Keepa readers could contribute a few comments to inspire the author. This is one of my childhood buildings and may be the one I remember as being damaged. It could also be the other way around that this is the one that we attended because the other was damaged. Either way I remember lying down on the hard pew and gazing up on the details. https://ldsarchitecture.wordpress.com/category/meetinghouses/united-states/utah/utah-valley/

    Comment by Dovie — September 23, 2013 @ 10:27 am

  6. Also it makes me sad that the building was donated. :( I’m a fan of sharing resources but your story makes that building seem like sacred space.

    Comment by Dovie — September 23, 2013 @ 10:29 am

  7. I have some of the best memories of working with my Dad while building local churches with locally raised money (well into the 70’s). We’ve become spoiled and take for granted the nice chapels near us.

    Comment by P J DLM — September 23, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

  8. That’s what I think whenever I read an online complaint about being asked to take a turn cleaning a chapel, P. :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 23, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

  9. I went on a KSL top leaders trip to Italy several years ago. Many of us attended a Sacrament meeting in an Italian ward. The wise/wily bishop gave a talk about his members’ efforts to raise their portion of money to build a new chapel. After the meeting dozens of the KSL group formed a line to press American cash into the Bishop’s grateful hands.

    Comment by Kris — September 23, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

  10. Ha! Wile E. Bishop, indeed!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 23, 2013 @ 6:47 pm

  11. Did bishops at this time ever counsel members on getting an education, starting businesses, selling garden produce or other things to increase income? Or was that common sense common back then? I doubt the people were lazy and wasteful.

    Comment by Carol — September 23, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

  12. Thank you, Ardis. This is very moving.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 23, 2013 @ 8:37 pm

  13. I remember raising funds for the Portland Temple. (I’m pretty sure it was one of the last done that way.) We were asked as a family to make a goal, and then the senior Primary was also asked to make a separate fundraising goal, since we would be able to attend the dedication.

    Our ward budget fundraiser had been making hand-dipped Easter eggs, and the ward made and sold the eggs each year. The two years of the temple construction, we were asked to double the amount of time we spent making and selling eggs.

    I got to learn to dip eggs that year, because I had the most pre-orders of the Primary children. (I was very proud because usually you had to be in mutual before you were allowed to do more than shape the pre-dipped eggs or bag the finished ones.)

    The first year we didn’t make our ward budget and temple donation goals. Several of the YM/YW, I and a few other Primary children who were natural salesman, got permission to start taking orders early the second year. I had pre-sold sold 500 eggs (at $2 each) during the school Christmas break. I kept a picture of the Seattle temple in my scriptures, and when I wanted to stop selling eggs, I would pull it out, and remind myself that I had been given special permission to perform this service, and I didn’t want to let The Lord down. That year, we started out with as many pre-orders as we had made in the entire year before.

    I remember at our Ward Conference that year, someone from the Temple building committee came to give an update on the Temple, and to thank our ward for our efforts. Several other wards, with more rural populations, had not been able to meet their goals, but our Easter Eggs had raised enough that we made up the shortfall, and more. I still have the CTR pin that I was given, and a thank you for my contribution.

    I still feel an extra connection to the temple, and am grateful for the closeness that those ward fundraiser a brought to our ward and stake. Having been a Friends of Scouting coordinator, a number of times, I have found that those who have never had a ward budget, or a building or temple fund drive, need a lot more explanation about how blessed we are to have so few things we are asked to donate to directly. As I have read the many stories on Keepa, about RS fundraisers, (before the budgets were set by bishops, and RS became just another auxiliary) I have been reminded of some of the things we lost, with the new ward budgets. (That isn’t to say we haven’t gained a lot, as this post clearly shows.)

    Comment by Juliathepoet — September 24, 2013 @ 2:25 am

  14. It just occurred to me — duh — that as a stonecutter, Bishop Ek probably carved that 1902 cornerstone himself.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 24, 2013 @ 3:45 am

  15. Thanks for this,Ardis.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — September 24, 2013 @ 10:04 am

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