Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Their dominions upon the face of the earth were small

January 31st, 2013 by John Mansfield

The LDS Church has announced the closing of another school, this one the 49-year-old Benemerito of the Americas in Mexico City. (link) This is said to be done as the only feasible option for providing training facilities for a surge of new missionaries, but it had probably been desired for some time to close the school. A drastic, permanent loss like that isn’t allowed merely to smooth over some facilities crowding issue elsewhere.

Earlier in the week my attention was drawn to a small maternity hospital opened in Nevada’s Moapa Valley in 1941. Two hundred babies were born there over a twenty-five year span, which averages to fewer than one a month. This hospital was created and run by the LDS Church. The church built seventeen other hospitals after World War II, but got rid of them in 1974. (link)

Running schools or hospitals has been a frequent service rendered by religious bodies. One of my children was born in a Catholic hospital, and two in an Adventist hospital. It was once a service rendered by the LDS Church, but that is all in the past except in very limited cases.

I wonder how the welfare system is doing and suspect that it too is a shadow of its former self. My current stake once operated two farms, one in Virginia and one in Maryland. They were sold decades ago, as was the dairy farm in Las Vegas where I served as a teen. When I lived near Detroit, one of my ward’s cannery assignments was canning beef stew. Later the decision was made to only can fruits because there are fewer health issues and a simpler inspection process. Not even fruit is canned now, and Detroit no longer produces goods to be used by the LDS welfare program. Remember that story that President Eyring tells of his father weeding onions while suffering the pains of cancer? That’s one to put in the binder with tales of migrations across the plains.

We seem to be distilling Latter-day Saint culture as that of a people who 1) attend services on Sunday, 2) also worship occasionally in a temple somewhere within a couple hour’s drive, 3) dedicate a couple years when young to full-time church missions, and 4) otherwise keep apart from one another and engage lives in the broader world, mostly on that broader world’s terms though incorporating their personal religious values into the engagement, without any culture or sociality among the Saints that amounts to anything. Our grandchildren will be amazed that anyone felt attached to it enough to even write stuff on the internet about it.

Comments (44)
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January 31st, 2013 09:25:22
44 comments

Vader
January 31, 2013

All of the things you mention are areas in which expanding government has encroached on what was traditionally the sphere of organized religion.

The Church, or at least its leadership, is well aware that it is fighting a rearguard action.


Adam G.
January 31, 2013

I think you’re right. I know its unfortunate and suspect that its a mistake.

It reminds me of back in the 70s when to reduce costs the church administration trashed a bunch of the old historic church buildings (look at the addition to the Logan temple). Now we regret it extremely but what is gone is gone.

This trend has been going on for awhile of course. When I was young we lived in a small Mormon town where not only was the Church heavily involved in education and culture, but the Church actually replaced some of the economy. All heating was supplied by woodstoves, and the older people and disabled and single women in the stakes all got their wood supplied by the Church. The men would all take off a couple of days in the fall and we’d cut and split wood and store it in the church woodlot, then we’d haul last year’s wood to the individual homes. When a chain gas station moved in that sold liquor and stayed open on Sundays, we were deeply shocked and for a while the stake presidents organized a boycott.

That’s all gone now. My father sometimes gets wistful when he reads stuff about the Amish. He says that kind of tight-knit community is how Mormonism used to be and it was sweet.

Nothing lasts forever, of course. But when change is inevitable, we don’t always try hard enough to make sure that the change includes room for what was good about what went before. The modern downplaying of Pioneer Day, for instance, with the broadcasts that mostly consist of show tunes, is just egregiously unnecessary.

A couple of my more wild and only partly serious notions are an attempt to make more room for a thicker Mormonism then we’re trending towards: my idea of culture that is specific to the temple (music composed for the endowment and only played there, books and paintings and cinematography only available to be read or displayed in the celestial room or some other special room in the temple); my idea of making more doctrinal and cultural room for experiments in communal living.

But let me be fair. Most of the thinning of our culture is an inevitable result of trends in the modern world against which we’re helpless. Second, the move to small temples, often in historic old buildings or making more nods to local folkways and architectural language–and with dedications accompanied by cultural events–is a positive move. So is the backing off from the heyday of having Salt Lake pay for everything where members now take more of the share of cleaning their local church and temple.


Adam G.
January 31, 2013

Though I’m not a user myself, my impression is that Facebook and social media have helped buttress the sociality among the Saints.


John Mansfield
January 31, 2013

Vader, I read an explanation like that from Elder Packer regarding church schools, that public schools exist now so there’s no need for church schools as long as we have seminaries and institutes. I think if it were up to him, BYU would have been cut loose along with the rest.

Adam’s firewood story brings to mind how precarious the space for such things is currently between those who want government to do everything and those who want commercial enterprise to do everything. There are those who with some frequence lament that any vestige of LDS culture exists and would dislike priesthood quorums doing something big that doesn’t absolutely have to be done. (And sexist! And carbon-emitting!) On the other side are others who in the absence of a significant church culture have been drawn to colorful forms of conservativism to the extent that they consider the most significant teachings of the Book of Mormon are that taxes should be low and market economies unhindered.


MC
January 31, 2013

When he worked for CES, President Packer was instrumental in thwarting Ernest Wilkinson’s plan to plant mini-BYUs across the West. He did a study which supposedly showed that the Church could hold on to just as many young people by putting a much smaller amount of resources into Institutes. Considering how many apostates brag to their media mouthpieces in ominous tones about having attended BYU, perhaps he was right.

I’m too young to remember the old ways, so I don’t look at it too wistfully. The old church schools probably make more sense in the third world, which Mexico really isn’t anymore. I would love to see the Church start such schools in Africa, however.


MC
January 31, 2013

More ominous to me than the closing of schools is the lessening ambition of youth programs due to crowding out by school, homework, and sports. Although the recent fad for handcart treks is a positive trend in the opposite direction.


Vader
January 31, 2013

John, don’t misunderstand me. I used the word “encroachment” deliberately. The government is pushing the Church out of areas it oughtn’t be pushing the Church out of.

The handcart treks, too, are ultimately at the mercy of the government’s forbearance, since BLM owns much of the the relevant property. And, predictably, folks unfriendly to the Church have applied some measure of political pressure on BLM to restrict the treks.


Adam G.
January 31, 2013

MC,
I endorse your comments. What I would like to see would be a hybrid Institute/mini-BYU model, where the church sets up residence dorms at a few select institutions around the country and works with the institution to get the students school credit for religion classes.


Zen
January 31, 2013

I can say my elder daughter thought the world of her experience on a Trek, even though she came down with pneumonia for a week and a half.

I have to say, I really miss the old 24th of July rodeo my hometown ward would have. We had to pare it down to nonexistence because of insurance costs and the possibility of litigation.

I am beginning to wonder just how much more we can split the thread the Constitution is hanging by. We can’t be left with much at this point.


Geoff B
January 31, 2013

Good observations all around, and interesting points.


MC
January 31, 2013

Adam,
That’s a great idea; it would require a vastly increased rigor in institute courses, which is a feature, not a bug.

The residence hall idea would be less likely due to the expense, although “spontaneous order” has created de facto “Mormon dorms” in many university towns in the U.S.


Adam G.
January 31, 2013

The advantage of ex officio order is that you could require ecclesiastical leader endorsements and suchlike. Maybe some kind of scaled down honor code.


MC
January 31, 2013

Actually, my alma mater instituted “clean living dorms” that they put together at the behest of the local LDS leadership for the express purpose of “keeping all the Mormon kids from going to BYU”. But I can’t find anything on the internet about it, so it may have died out for lack of interest.


MC
January 31, 2013

The rapid expansion of BYU-Idaho is certainly relevant to this discussion as well. I think a generation hence BYU-Idaho will be larger than the flagship. And its online options (which require interaction with the local institute) will allow the Church to keep tabs on young people who can’t make it to Rexburg, even if they live abroad.


john f.
January 31, 2013

Great post — I too find it sad.


john f.
January 31, 2013

“So is the backing off from the heyday of having Salt Lake pay for everything where members now take more of the share of cleaning their local church and temple.”

I have lingering misgivings about the move to replace the activities committee with the building cleaning committee.


Vader
January 31, 2013

I suspect much of the motivation for having local members do more of the cleaning of chapels was to get them to treat their chapels with a little more care. Most members do, but I’ve seen some sad exceptions.

BYU-Idaho has the considerable advantage that there is much more room for expansion than in Provo. Unless Rexberg has changed quite a bit in the last few years.


Ben P
January 31, 2013

Great post, and I agree. I was sad to hear the news for many of the reasons you point out.


Adam G.
January 31, 2013

John F.,
I hope building cleaning wasn’t a replacement for activities! In our congregation, the death of ward activities (nobody came) preceded the death of the activities committee.


Cameron
January 31, 2013

I know firsthand that the church had to reduce/restrict volunteerism at our cannery in San Diego because of overly strict health certification requirements.


Adam G.
February 1, 2013

Regulations are the main reason we aren’t allowed to use the ovens in our ward building anymore. The secondary reason is fear of lawsuits.

One of our local traditions is a big matanza thrown by the chamber of commerce to raise money for charity. Public matanzas are a tradition around here that goes back to 1500s. This particular one has been going on since the 50s. I’ve also heard since the 30s.

A few years back the US Department of Agriculture decided we had to have a permit. Last year, the Ag denied the permit. After extreme pressure was brought to bear (US Senators got involved), they granted a one-year extension. This year they again refused the permit, political pressure was brought to bear again, but this time to no good issue. The matanza is over.

My wife lately has got involved with our very small town government and with running our very small local water co-op. It turns out that governance these days mostly consists of complying with regulations from state agencies that were imposed under threat from federal agencies, or with complying with federal and state grant conditions. 50 homes on an aquifer-fed water system, and my wife has already met with EPA administrators twice and emailed and called multiple times.

Those last two examples come from civil society, not expressly religion, but unless you believe that faith is only a matter of consenting adults in the privacy of their bedroom, anything that strangles thick local culture also chokes religion. Tocqueville’s predicted tyranny of minutia threatens the Kingdom as much as the death of sexual mores. But the threat is less obvious, more gradual, and less easy to lay your hands on at any one point. And more likely to receive cooperation and even embrace from managers inside the church that would otherwise be most ferociously sensitive to any encroach on our liberties.


Vader
February 1, 2013

Russell Kirk put great stock in particularism. I am disappointed that many conservatives have ignored this.


Bonnie
February 1, 2013

I agree wholeheartedly. It’s with great sadness that I can’t take my children with me to work at the peach orchard or the strawberry farm as I did as a youth. With the bloating of hospitals and their mixed model setup, I hope to see the market come in with smaller clinics, but I doubt we’ll see the church get involved, at least in the developed world. Even in the developing world, the church tends to focus on supporting market solutions or providing humanitarian aid. It is a tragic loss that we don’t serve together more, and I agree wholeheartedly that the effect has been to turn us into Sunday Mormons who give money instead of create relationships through time and shared sacrifice. Money is too much with us, but then, that’s a soapbox of mine.


jennifer rueben
February 1, 2013

Have to comment on Bonnie’s statement that she is sad that she can’t take my children to work on church farms etc. I was deeply involved in an failed attempt to organize meaningful hand out work projects for our ward sisters in this area. It failed not because we could not arrange meaningful and needed projects but because of lack of participation. We however had no problem raising money for supplies . This experiences supports Bonnie statement that we are turning into Sunday Mormons who give money instead of create relationship through time and shared sacrifice. Agree completely that money and material possessions are too much with us.


Michael Towns
February 1, 2013

Russell Kirk would not recognize modern conservatives.

I am puzzled though about the “Sunday Mormon” criticism. While I agree that the loss of welfare farms due to various factors and use of canneries due to regulation is deplorable, I’m not sure that we should dismiss the value of people willingly, even cheerfully, giving their money away in support of various causes.

We simply don’t do things as communities as much as we used to, period. I recall when I was a little child that I would roam the neighborhood and play in peoples’ yards. Neighbors would talk. It was customary to spend time with ones’ neighbors.

I noticed this stopped and become rare by the late 80s. Not sure what the trigger was, but people — not just Mormons — in the US simply don’t exercise the rituals of community any longer, and I’m not sure that is a Mormon thing as much as it’s a function of a vastly different culture than the one we had thirty years ago.

Besides, in another thirty years, robots will be doing all the manual labor anyway.


Fletch
February 1, 2013

I lament the lack of opportunities to connect with men in the ward/stake. It’s only a Sunday thing, for sure.
Part of the problem is that we don’t have places or reasons to get together and develop relationships with each other. As an avid cyclist, I hang out in a local coffee shop that has a bike mechanic with a tune up/repair business attached. He has helped me to build up a bike, taught me how to build a wheel and worked on my stable of bikes. In the summer, I enjoy going up there to hang out with the local bikers in the morning to watch the Tour de France or to just talk. It helped to develop a sense of community and connection. Sadly, there are no such gathering places for the neighborhood brothers and sisters.


MC
February 1, 2013

Aside from regulations, it’s the tyranny of comparative advantage. I can “make” canned cherries much more efficiently by working and then buying from a cannery than by picking them myself, canning, etc. So can all of you (unless you’re in the cherry business). As the comments show, it lacks romance. But it does feed the poor.


Struwelpeter
February 1, 2013

To the list of dead Mormon institutions/traditions, I would add the ward potluck dinner. I have great memories of these as a child, and they don’t exist any more. We break bread so seldom with our fellow saints, and reviving the potluck would go a long way towards rectifying that.


Unknown
February 1, 2013

I know state and federal regulation is playing a role in what the church can and cannot do; especially, in some states in the Northeast. It is a religious freedom issue that few have latched onto because it is so subtle.

I also wonder how much of the downsizing of church farms and canneries is due to increased efficiency and production methods that make it possible to produce the same amount of crops/goods with less farms and canneries and less people involved. The Church still has enormous land holdings. And, indeed, if I am not misinformed, it is still expanding those holdings.

Thus, to me the issue does not appear to be a desire to liquidate the old, but rather a re-focusing of manpower and effort to meet the challenges of the new.

It seems that the brethren have been determined to free the members from some of these more physical demands of membership so that they can attend to spiritual duties in their own homes. For example, the February 2002 letter from the First Presidency calling for less meetings and more family time on Sunday.

The sad truth is, however, that many, maybe most, members have filled the extra time with more worldly pursuits — not a strengthened emphasis on the spiritual development of them and their families.

Finally, I like the comment on creating a temple culture. I know firsthand that the church is implementing an initiative to purchase more original and unique works of art for each temple.


Vader
February 1, 2013

“For example, the February 2002 letter from the First Presidency calling for less meetings and more family time on Sunday. ”

You mean the one that almost every unit I have lived in has pretty much ignored?


Unknown
February 1, 2013

Yes. Sometimes we cannot get out of our own way.


KLC
February 4, 2013

“It seems that the brethren have been determined to free the members from some of these more physical demands of membership so that they can attend to spiritual duties in their own homes.”

Unknown, how does that square with members doing building cleaning? Welfare ranch assignments were once or twice a year, cleaning assignments are every week.

Unlike john f. I have more than lingering misgivings about farming out building cleaning to members. It has nothing to do with laziness or even a disagreement with the philosophical goal of making members feel more responsible for their buildings. To me it is a bad move because it imposes volunteer fatigue that impinges on more noble and worthy efforts. In my ward we are constantly harangued about signing up and meeting the ward cleaning assignments, every week, every meeting. I think most people have a defined reservoir of time and good will they will devote to extraneous causes. Ward cleaning assignments chew up most of that on mundane tasks and when something worthy and extraordinary is also asked for response suffers because people feel they have already given enough.


Zen
February 4, 2013

I was a building maintenance coordinator (the guy in charge of getting people to clean the building) for over 2 years. Most people did it once or twice a year. I don’t see why your entire ward would need to come every week. There isn’t that many jobs to be filled.

But given enough? Are we comparing cleaning the building to pioneers crossing the Sweetwater River in January? I do not think that means what you think that means.


John Mansfield
February 4, 2013

A moral of the story could be that those arranging service assignments need to go about it so that people don’t feel like they’re being asked to do the same thing every week. Don’t send the clipboards around every week, and try some other methods like personal one-on-one invitations.


Jay S
February 6, 2013

I find this an interesting post, and feel most of the additions I would make have been addressed. one point that must be corrected for historical accuracy. According to the link you provided, and the information I found online, the LDS church did not run the Virmoa hospital in overton. Rather, the building was constructed as the Stake Offices for the Moapa stake. Then when the majority of the membership of the church was in Las Vegas, stake offices were relocated there, leaving the building superfluous. It was at this time that the Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital (forerunner of UMC) established the maternity hospital and later emergency unit, leasing the building from the stake.

while your point is correct in that the church did establish other maternity hospitals, this was not one of them.


John Mansfield
February 7, 2013

Jay S., you were a more careful reader than I was. I read the discussion on pp. 10-11 about the LDS hospitals, but overlooked the preceeding paragraph about Southern Nevada Memorial’s role with Virmoa. I mistakingly thought that Southern Nevada Memorial only became involved toward the end of Virmoa’s service. I am left unclear in what sense Virmoa was a “forerunner” of the post-war LDS hospitals; perhaps because it was in an LDS community, using LDS property, and moved forward with the state by an LDS stake leader.


Christian J
February 7, 2013

I know state and federal regulation is playing a role in what the church can and cannot do

In regards to feeding the poor? Please provide specifics. Why can’t a church operate under the same standards as other successful non-profit and for-profit organizations?


Adam G.
February 7, 2013

Christian J.,
you’ve answered the own question. If there are standards that are imposed from outside, then state and federal regulation are “playing a role in what the church can and cannot do.” By definition.


Christian J
February 8, 2013

Adam, my question may have not been clear. I took for granted the insinuation by other posters that the regulations were the cause of Church farms and canneries from operating fully – or at all. I’m asking for proof (even a shred) that this is even one of the factors influencing the Church’s decision. I’m also asking why the Church can’t function under the same rules that other successful non-profits (and for-profits for that matter) are expected to.

Mr. J.,
From what I can tell, you haven’t read the thread carefully, you have no real understanding of regulatory costs or how organizations respond to incentives, and you feel justified for no particular reason in making aggressive demands. Persuade me otherwise. I want at least two out of the three. Agressive, inattentive ignorance won’t fly.


John Mansfield
February 8, 2013

Are there any non-profit canneries besides the LDS welfare system preparing food for other people? A couple minute search only turned up a town in Virginia operating a community can-your-own operation and a group in Seattle trying to start an operation that will can restaurant left-overs and send them to places with high rates of childhood deaths due to malnutrition.


Vader
February 8, 2013

This is purely anecdotal, of course, but I know of at least two Church units that had to give up pizza fund-raising drives at the insistence of the local health authorities. No one actually was food poisoned, mind you — this would have been unlikely for take-and-bake pizzas in any case — but it illustrates the problem.

Another anectode: Our local cannery had to restrict the age of canning volunteers based on OSHA regulations. No more Boy Scout service projects at the cannery.

Adam’s point is well-taken, but I thought I’d be generous and supply some actual examples anyway.


Bookslinger
February 9, 2013

The Indianapolis LDS cannery had to severely alter the way it worked. Years ago they shut down the wet-pack cannery, and did dry pack only. I’m not sure of the decision-making or reasons behind that.

Recently, they closed the dry-pack opeation so that ward members could no longer do individual or group dry-pack canning. The same goods are sold, beans, rice, wheat, etc. But, all the actual dry-pack-canning is now done by “trained and certified” individuals, still volunteers I believe, and the goods are then sold to the end user pre-packed in cans or pouches.

This latter change is due to regulations (state, I believe) that require food handlers to have gone through state-sponsored training courses and “Safe-serve” certified.


Christian J
February 11, 2013

I should have specifically addressed my question to the posters who made the insinuation (that government regulation is the primary reason for canneries and farms shutting down). Brother Adam seems to be highly offended by my [bumptious pushy illiteracy in] asking the question.

Vader, your anecdotes are helpful in giving me an idea where the assumption comes from. Thanks for sharing.

I ask the question as someone who has helped run successful for and non profit food organizations (health codes and all). My query was genuine.

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