Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Keeping Funerals in Accordance with Church Policy

Opportunities to reactivate those who have fallen away from the true path of the gospel are all around us.  When 66 year old Sister Kennedy passed away last month I knew this would be an ideal opportunity to encourage her only daughter to return to full activity in the Church.

Carrie hasn’t attended Church in over two years.  She has been unable to overcome her feelings of disgust concerning the Prophet Joseph Smith who while in the prime of his life meekly submitted to the will of the Lord in marrying several young teenage brides and humbly took upon himself the burden of marrying the wives of other men while they were serving the Lord on full time missions. 

When we met in my office to discuss funeral arrangements I knew that this would be a great opportunity to encourage her to use the atonement to overcome her negative feelings towards the prophet and invite her to return to full activity in the Church.  I even had a calling in mind for her so that she would know that she is both needed and loved and that I, even the Stake President, am willing to overlook her harsh and self destructive initial reaction towards the man whom we praise as having communed with Jehovah.  
Carrie was well prepared for our meeting and knew exactly how she wanted the funeral service to go.  She seemed so much more assertive than she used to be as an active member and I wondered what had happened to the submissive Carrie I used to know.  I shan’t get into details but she had a family ritual dating back centuries and a presentation she wanted to do.  She also wanted her non member Aunt to speak about Sister Kennedy’s life.  I quickly let her know that as per the newly updated and inspired instruction manual given to Church leaders a funeral is in fact a Church meeting presided over by priesthood authority.  I quoted from the manual (feel free to follow along where it states that “Many religions and cultures have rituals, ordinances, and customs associated with death and mourning for the dead. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ has no such rituals or ordinances. Church leaders should not incorporate rituals of other religions or groups (and I mentioned that this includes family groups) into Church services for deceased members.”

Afraid that she might say something negative about the Church were she allowed to speak and concerned that her aunt may not keep her comments in harmony with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ I took the opportunity to assure Carrie that as a Church we understand more than anyone how difficult this time must be and that this is reflected in our manual where it specifically instructs that “Members of the family should not feel that they are required to speak or otherwise participate in the service.”

I also read the important part of the manual where the Lord inspired our leaders to write that “Having large numbers of people share tributes or memories can make a funeral too long and may be inappropriate for a Church service.”  I have always felt the importance of not boring the congregation with all sorts of personal memories of the deceased.

I did assure her though that she and her aunt would get front row seats while I and a few other priesthood leaders spoke of the glorious plan of salvation that Joseph Smith restored to the earth.  I further assured her that my remarks would include the requirements associated with each kingdom of glory and would focus specifically on the state of joy and happiness of those such as the late Sister Kennedy who, unlike so many others, endured in the gospel until the end. 

Carrie seemed to be getting a little agitated at this point but calmly asked if as part of the service she could at least show a short video she had made on her mother’s life.  I was able to inform her that the Church has a clear policy on this matter instructing that “Video recordings and computer or other electronic presentations should not be used as part of a funeral service.”

Carrie mentioned that videos are often shown at baptismal services while the people are getting changed, after the baptism takes place.  I had to explain to her that funerals are very different from baptisms and that while the reasons aren’t given in the manual, the prophets, seers and revelators have, in their infinite wisdom, expressly forbidden videos being shown at funerals.  I testified that I knew we would be blessed as we exercised the faith required to follow these instructions. 

Carrie then expressed an interest in setting up a live video feed so that the many relatives in America could see the service.  I was pleased to inform her that the manual specifically addresses this very issue where it states “Nor should the service be broadcast on the Internet or in any other way.” I suggested that the relatives in America might enjoy the service a lot more were they to attend in person.

Carrie asked whether the funeral services of apostles (and even that of Church president’s such as Gordon B. Hinckley) were broadcast to the world and I was able to confirm that in the case of high ranking Church officials who have righteously served the Lord all their lives broadcasts serve as an excellent missionary tool and a reminder of what each of us can become should we keep our lives in harmony with the Lord.

I then brought up the topic of clothing and Carrie mentioned that she and her aunt intended to go to the funeral home to put on her mothers best Sunday dress in preparation for the service and burial.  This was of course completely unacceptable and I will admit that by this point I started having second thoughts about extending her a Church calling.  I patiently explained to Carrie that since her mother had been through the temple she “should be buried in temple clothing” and that this could be done only by worthy endowed members of the Church.

When asked why being buried in the clothes of the temple was so important I explained to Carrie that the mysteries of the Kingdom are only given unto those who are prepared to hear them and if she would like to participate in the temple preparation class that will soon be starting in our ward she can ask this question there.

At this point Carrie stood up and quickly thanked me for my time saying she had another appointment to get to.  I haven’t heard from her or the funeral home for well over three weeks now and must remember to follow up to see when we can move forward with the service.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Plea to Africa; Cease Your False Traditions!

The one thing that would really get under my skin when I was living in Africa was when the people would waste their precious money on tribal traditions (related mainly to marriage and funeral ceremonies) that were obviously not in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then would be unable to give their hard earned money to the Church.   

Finally an apostle of the Lord, even Dallin H Oaks, has addressed this issue head on, appealing to the people of Africa to give up their false traditions such that they can worthily donate to the Lord’s Kingdom upon the earth.  Brothers and Sisters please open up your copy of this month’s Ensign and find the article entitled “The Gospel Culture”, or follow along at this link:

Allow me to quote directly from the article:
“To help its members all over the world, the Church teaches us to give up any personal or family traditions or practices that are contrary to the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ and to this gospel culture.…we appeal to our older members to put away traditions and cultural or tribal practices that lead them away from the path of growth and progress.  We ask all to climb to the higher ground of the gospel culture, to practices and traditions that are rooted in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”

One of the main areas in which the people of Africa need to climb to the higher ground of the gospel is with the issue of marriage.  Africans just don’t do it the right way and Elder Oaks is forced to ask: “Marriage is essential, but in Africa we must ask, what kind of marriage?”

Finally someone who is willing to stand up to the African people and bluntly ask them what on earth they think they are doing!  Finally someone who has the courage to lovingly invite them to relinquish their long held traditions and do things the right way!  If ever you have doubted the divine calling of Dallin H. Oaks as an Apostle of the Lord now would be a good time to repent of, and forsake such feelings. 

With regards to the false cultural practices surrounding weddings and funerals Oaks goes on to lovingly counsel Africans to “Avoid expensive feasts and extensive travel.”

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of not having expensive feasts at these once in a lifetime events.  A simple African meal consisting of fried bananas wrapped in Plantain leaves with perhaps a little fish should be more than sufficient for the occasion.  Family members including parents who do not live close by need not waste precious resources to attend.

This counsel is especially important as it will help keep members out of debt. Debt, warns Oaks, “will weaken or prevent your ability to pay tithing, to attend the temple, and to send your children on missions. Make plans that will strengthen—not weaken—your future Church activity.”

The people of Africa clearly have a choice; either they can have memorable feasts on special occasions or they can be obedient to the counsel of an inspired Apostle of the Lord by giving their money to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  To me the choice is crystal clear. 

Africans need to keep in mind the following words of Elder Oaks “When the people of God withheld their tithes and offerings, God condemned the “whole nation” (Malachi 3:9).”  Church members ought to understand that to a certain extent they are personally responsible for the poverty, natural disasters, political unrest and other condemnations that the Lord pours out upon their nation if they are not full tithe payers, but there is much hope in the following words of the Lord's anointed: “I believe that when many citizens of a nation are faithful in the payment of tithes, they summon the blessings of heaven upon their entire nation.”  Surely truer words have never been spoken.

I would invite all to follow my personal example by sending a letter to Elder Oaks thanking him for lovingly counseling Africans in this way.  The time has come for them to stop using the sacred funds of the Church from America and to stand on their own two feet.  And to the critics that will surely accuse us of cultural genocide (claiming that we have no right to change the long held tribal traditions that exist in Africa), I testify that only in climbing to the higher ground of the gospel culture can the nations of the earth be blessed.  This solemn testimony I leave with you all, in the sacred and holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Follow President Paternoster; He Knows the Way

Words cannot express the sweet feeling of the spirit that was felt by all at our recent Stake Conference as the Stake President entered the Chapel to a standing audience while the primary children joyfully sang the words:
"Follow President Paternoster, follow President Paternoster,
follow President Paternoster; don't go astray.
Follow President Paternoster, follow President Paternoster,
follow President Paternoster; he knows the way."

Following local and General Authorities is the one sure path of happiness and safety.  If there is one thing that saddens a Stake President it is when he sees members reap the disappointment and despair that could so easily have been avoided had they obediently heeded his loving counsel in the first place.  Today we will discuss the important topic of following the counsel of the brethren to have a one year supply of food storage.

When I asked the O'Donoghues, a newly wed couple who are both full time students, to prayerfully consider cutting off their Internet service so that they could afford to buy a one year supply of wheat and honey they came back to me and said they didn’t have the space for all that food in their rented bedroom.  They also claimed they “needed” the Internet for school work.  I haven’t heard from them since telling them about how Sister Paternoster used to make lovely cushions and pillows filled with wheat and how back in our day we got through school just fine using encyclopedias. 

Obeying the Lord by obeying priesthood leaders often takes great sacrifice.  When the famines, storms and pestilences of the last days come upon us I fear that prayer alone may not be sufficient to save the O'Donoghues.    

There are those even in the Church who murmur and even mock such counsel, but with the help of this month’s Ensign such murmurings will surely be put to silence.  In the article entitled *“Follow the Prophet” Elder Bennett of the Seventy discusses how when he and his new bride were students the prophet at the time counseled all families to have a one year supply of food. 

We learn from the article that the Bennett’s had very little money but they did have one unnecessary possession that could be sold – an engagement ring.  Please carefully consider what Elder Bennett had to say about that time in their lives:
"Unbeknownst to each other, both of us were thinking about how to start home storage for our family. To obey the counsel of that time, we needed to start acquiring a year’s supply of food. But how were we supposed to do it? We were students—and would be for years to come—and didn’t have a lot of money. But how was I supposed to ask Shelley to do that? I had just given her the ring. What would she think about my asking her to sell it so we could buy some oats and flour and rice?"

Elder Bennett goes on to say “I was so grateful for her willingness to make such a sacrifice to follow the prophet…..We became accustomed to lugging buckets of wheat from apartment to apartment, house to house, and city to city”.

My favourite quote from the article that shows the true spirit of obedience to Church leaders is as follows:“An engagement ring usually represents a commitment.  But for my wife and me, not having an engagement ring represented our commitment to the Lord and His prophets.”

Brothers and Sisters let us not be like the heathens who put their trust in men, for the scriptures plainly tell us: "I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm." (2 Nephi 4:34)

Please take some time this week to consider some of the sacrifices you might make to follow the loving and inspired counsel of your Church leaders.

Ever your servant,

President Paternoster