John L. Sorenson
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My Church Service

A major part of my life has been spent in service of various kinds to and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This segment of my reminiscences will report what I recall, at age 88, of that activity. In accordance with the custom of the time, it was not until age 12 that I received any formal "calling." But I had been prepared somewhat earlier by informal activities. My first two-and-a-half-minute talk in the ward Sunday School meeting (for adults, youth and children, held on Sunday morning; sacrament meetings were in the afternoon) was probably at age 10. (I realized that my parents were incapable of helping me, so on my own I asked my neighbor, Beatrice Thornley, a school teacher and sister of my best friend, to help me prepare it.) She did, and I was able to memorize and speak my small piece without major tremors. In classes and activities in (weekday) Primary (for children) and Sunday School classes I participated as called upon in responding to questions and offering prayers according to the normal format. At 12 I was ordained to the office of deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood and was thus qualified to "pass the sacrament" (that ritual was performed was offered twice each Sunday, in Sunday School and sacrament meeting). Deacons (and teachers, ages 14 and 15) were also assigned to "pass envelopes" each Fast Sunday (the first of the month), going to each house in the ward to collect contributions from ward members who were asked at that time to place in envelopes with their names on them the amount saved by fasting two meals; this formed a fund used by the bishop to assist the poor of the congregation. Also at 12 I was inducted into the Boy Scouts (each ward had its own troop of scouts). They met one night a week at "Mutual" (meeting of the Young Men's and Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association, for teen-agers—although that name had not yet been coined). Unfortunately the adult leadership for the Scouts was totally incompetent. I was immediately designated a "patrol leader" of a tiny group of 12-year-olds, none of us having the vaguest idea about the how of scouting or leadership. The adult leaders had little more knowledge and little interest. My scout experience ended after I achieved the first rank, that of Second-Class scout; I just quit going by age 13. I was positive about meeting my priesthood responsibilities and completed an assignment virtually every week, even if it meant going to the afternoon sacrament meetings alone (my mother went sometimes), a walk of three blocks. Before long I was approved ("sustained") by the other deacons (most were only occasional attenders) as the president of the deacons' quorum. At 14 I was ordained a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood; I continued the same pattern at that age, and also served as president of the teachers' quorum. At 16 I was made a priest. A new duty was preparation of the sacrament table and pronouncing the specified prayer over the sacramental bread and water. Again I was almost always present and pronounced one of the prayers for that ordinance at the sacrament meeting. (By then administration of the sacrament in the Sunday School had been given up.) By that age I had no doubt given a number of short talks (none of which I recall) and had joined the ward choir, encouraged by music leader Willard Thornley. In 1941 when I was 17 I had begun attending Utah State Agricultural College in Logan (I had "skipped" second grade, so I was always a year ahead of my age-mates in school). America entered World War II in November with the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1942 it became apparent that I would enter the military, one way or another, so by November I had decided to go into a training program (advertised widely at the USAC in the sciences departments) to become a meteorologist in the Army Air Force  (this was before there was a separate U. S. Air Force). In November 1942 I was sworn into the Army Reserve to await entering active duty the next March. Sometime in the fall of 1942 I was ordained an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood and was immediately made Second Counselor in the Smithfield Third Ward Elders Quorum for the remaining six months before I left (in March 1943, at age 18). Periodically, as possibilities allowed, I attended some church services in Albuquerque, NM, Pasadena, CA, Miami, FL, and later in a very small servicemen's group in Natal, Brazil. Returning home to Smithfield in June 1946 I decided it was appropriate for me to serve a mission. I have told that story elsewhere, of meeting Kathryn while awaiting my mission call and deciding to marry her during the long interval before I left in January 1947 for 29 months. Home again in late June 1949, we moved to Provo to attend BYU. For half a year we were in a weird apartment on Fourth North where we attended the Provo Fourth Ward. I co-taught the adult MIA ("Mutual") class. The next six months we were living on Second East in downtown Provo. Then we moved into Wymount Village, an area of apartments (where the Law School parking lot now is) for married students, and attended the Wymount Branch on campus (for married students) for a couple of years until I graduated in 1952 with an M.A. degree in archaeology. For the next three years we managed to live in various houses owned by the school on the edges of campus while I was employed as an Instructor in the Archaeology Department. During that interval we hung on in the Wymount Branch for two years and then a year in the nearby the Pleasant View Ward. Through those years at the Y my usual calling in the church was as a teacher of adults in Sunday School. At some point also I served as a stake missionary in the East Provo Stake for most of a year (mainly working with non-LDS students attending BYU). In West Los Angeles for two years we attended the Mar Vista Ward   while I was in graduate school at UCLA. Again all of church activity that I recall of that period is Sunday teaching of adults. (I always enjoyed that and was considered very successful at it.) We returned to Utah for a year (1957-58, in American Fork) where I had chosen to do the research for my dissertation on the effects of the construction of Geneva Steel plant on the place. My church work (that I recall) was working with Kathryn in the Cub Scouts of which we always had a bunch! Finally when I eked out employment at BYU (1958-64) teaching anthropology, we settled in northeast Springville. There we attended the Fourth Ward in their beautiful old chapel. My chief duty in the church was as one of the seven presidents of the Seventys in the Springville Stake (actually more busy work than the high-sounding administration it sounds like). In 1964 we were off to Santa Barbara for five years. My recollection is only of teaching adults once more in Sunday School, but also of many fine associations with good people in the church context. In 1969 we were back in Utah living in Orem. The only assignment that I recall in 1973 was serving again as a stake missionary. (One particularly memorable old man we taught told us stories of his association with heavyweight champion boxer Jack Dempsey when they were youthful buddies in Provo many years before.) We built a home in American Fork in about 1972 just below the point on the "bench" where the Mt. Timpanogos Temple now stands. I was then ordained a High Priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood and served as the group leader of our ward's high priests. After a few years and because of the high price of gasoline at that moment, we decided that we should move to Provo so I would not have to drive so far to my job at BYU. We bought the house in Edgemont at that time. As soon as we moved in, in 1980 (?) I was asked to serve in the BYU Eighth (married students) Stake on the High Council. Interestingly my specific assignment was to meet regularly with a ward that met in the old Provo Fourth Ward building, where Kathryn and I had gone to church when we first moved to Provo in 1949! At the same time our high council meetings were held in a room in the Smoot (administration) Building on campus which happened to sit directly over the spot where our young family had lived in "the Brown house" on the edge of campus in about 1953. After two years I was called as Bishop of the BYU 99th Ward, whose married student members were housed in a large area of apartments in southwest Provo (now called The Boulders). We met in the "clubhouse" of the facility. Two sets of students served (in succession) as my counselors. I was released in 1985 when the ward was combined with another student ward nearby. Within a few months I suffered my heart attack. Back in my home ward (Edgemont Seventh) I served as adult Sunday School teacher for a number of years (making a total of teaching "Gospel Doctrine" classes for a total of about 30 years!). I was also in the high priest group leadership from 1996-98, and teacher for that group for three years. For a period of time in the 1980s I served on a panel of consultants to the LDS Church to evaluate research activities being conducted by the  Correlation Department regarding several church programs.     I have also served as a consultant on several church-based films as well as a couple of attempts by private producers to do films involving the Book of Mormon. Some were completed, others were not. Generally speaking, my comments (about the cultural realities behind the scriptural scenes) were not accepted or effectively utilized by those doing the scripts.          In about 1973, I was asked by Leonard Arrington, Church Historian, to participate in the Sesquicentennial History project planned by the Historical Department at LDS Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. Target publication date was set for 1980, the sesquicentennial of the Church. I was asked to do Vol. 16 in the series, entitled The Cultural and Social History of the Latter-day Saints in the 20th Century. To that end in the 1970s I accumulated and processed a large mass of data. But after a time questions were raised among certain key Church authorities about the project, and all the contracts ended up being cancelled. It appears, in retrospect, that the initial project approval was given in the face of fairly strong minority reluctance among the authorities, which as the decade went on, became a majority. A few historians subsequently published their volumes as independent works, but most of the series that had been planned, including mine, were abandoned. I never published any of my material. In about 1965 I was again in touch with Dr. Lyman Tyler (ex-BYU professor and good friend), who was serving as a volunteer with N. Eldon Tanner, Second Counselor in the LDS First Presidency, producing an internal newsletter on a bi-weekly basis containing excerpts from the world press that well-informed Church authorities ought to be apprised of. Tyler was interested in studies I had been doing at Santa Barbara for Defense/General Research Corp. He suggested that the Church could benefit from "systems analysis" studies of that sort I had been doing. I stopped in Salt Lake City on one of my trips to the east coast to talk with Tanner, and the three of us had lunch. As we talked, Elder Tanner said, "I know from my business experience [as an oil executive in Alberta, Canada] of the need for research. If you and (some LDS) associates could arrange to address some problem(s) of concern to the Church, it could be valuable." I agreed. The topic we settled on was, "what are the problems that keep missionaries from being more productive in the field?" I said that I knew some colleagues who could help out and sketched the kinds of questions we might pursue. He noted, "Most of the Brethren have not had experience with this kind of study. It would be a good thing to keep this activity quiet, lest they wonder why they had not been consulted to authorize it." (No funding was involved.) We began the study but, unfortunately, people we contacted in te oricess raised questions in Salt Lake as to our authorization. It ended up that we could not perform as hoped. I served with the Thrasher Research Fund Technical Advisory Committee, 1984-89. The fund was an adjunct to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was designated by the donor, Mr. Al Thrasher, to administer the fund by making grants to applicants around the world who proposed public health research and implementation projects. In this activity I worked closely with Dr. James Mason and Dr. Alexander Morrison, both of whom were made members of the First Quorum of Seventy. In 2002 Merrill Bateman, President of BYU (and a Seventy/General Authority of the church) designated me as a "Special Representative" to work in support of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies where I had been serving as a researcher/editor/consultant since 1986. This was considered a "church service mission." The appointment has never been terminated, but since I was dispossessed of office space with the organization in 2008, I consider it no longer in force from that date.
Reminiscenses by John L. Sorenson