Fast and Testimony Meeting: Provo, Nov. 1909
Contributor: trishkovach Created: 2 years ago Updated: 2 years ago
It was a typical fast and testimony Sunday in the Provo 4th Ward.
November 7, 1909.
Ward clerk James O. Oliver captured the gist of each testimony in one or two sentences that he jotted down and later typed onto legal-sized paper.
Patriarch Andrew Watson, now beginning his seventy-eighth year, was the first to the stand that day. He was often the first to stand at fast and testimony meeting. (He may have had the advantage of sitting on the stand, closer to the podium.) A Scottish emigrant, he had pulled handcarts across the plains in the ill-fated Willie Company, a half century earlier. Watson saw much death along that journey and in the years since. Yet, as he grew older and felt the power of God flow through him, he marveled more at what the Lord preserved than at what He took. Watson “rejoiced that the Lord had given to his priesthood the power to heal the sick.”
The reference to healing triggered thoughts in other members of the congregation. After Watson sat down, another old-timer named William O. (“Oscar”) Sperry stood up. A native of Connecticut, Oscar and his wife Eliza Ann Cloward joined the Mormons way back in 1849. They came across the plains and settled in Provo when it was just a tiny fort populated with a few dozen families who engaged in occasional skirmishes with Ute Indians. Like Andrew Watson, Oscar Sperry had seen a lot of sickness and death in his seventy-seven years. On this day, he “bore testimony that he had witnessed the healing under the hands of the priesthood.”
Mary M. Boyden, treasurer of the ward Relief Society and a member of the ward's Old Folks Committee, stood up next. She “had seen the sick healed,” the minutes recorded.
The concern for healing in the testimonies reflects a tension within the Mormon mind at the time. The advent of germ theory in the 1880s had changed the way western medicine was done. Scientific medicine was having more success than ever before and was thus gaining in repute. To the extent that this medicine healed their loved ones, Latter-day Saints welcomed these advances. But they also found scientific medicine threatening because it tended to encroach on the realm of faith. Many Latter-day Saints felt the need to preserve a realm where only priesthood healing blessings could go, where the knowledge of doctors fell short. By testifying of spiritual healing practices, Mormons like Boyden, Sperry, and Watson affirmed Mormonism’s superiority over other systems of knowledge then in ascendance.
Elmer E. Hinckley (the future uncle of Mormon president Gordon B. Hinckley) stood next. He may have felt uncomfortable with the direction of the testimonies and stood to provide a gentle corrective. Hinckley had a medical degree from St. Louis University and by 1910 was working as chief medical examiner at BYU. The talk of healing reminded him more of his missionary labors in Alabama in the mid-1890s than his present work at BYU. He too had witnessed remarkable healings. Just as important, he “had learned by experience that if we bear our testimony the Lord will open our mouths and give us words to say. The power of the Lord had been witnessed in the mission field and he knew that doctors could do more in their labors among the sick if the aid of the Lord was sought.” Doctors, in other words, were useful. Some Mormons still felt like doctors should be shunned and priesthood blessings were all that was needed to heal the sick; Hinckley believed a combination of approaches—science and religion—worked best.
Mary A. Hillman, whom the minutes described as a “visitor” to the ward, “felt to bear testimony for where she had been living it was harder to live her religion than here in Provo.” The 1910 census listed her as living in Lehi. At the time she bore her testimony, Hillman was 41 and on her third marriage.
During this period of Mormon history, an intermediate hymn often broke up fast and testimony meetings into two halves. Such meetings tended to go longer than the hour and ten minutes they are allotted today. They could go more than two hours, making a rest hymn useful.
The congregation and choir now sang a rest hymn, “Oh My Father,” after which Kirsten Hansine Petersen stood. Peterson was a second-generation Mormon who was born in northern Utah, in Cache Valley, to Danish converts to the church. Her father’s surname was “Pederson”; she married a Danish-Mormon by the name of “Peterson.” She and Wilhelm had five children, ages 14 to 4. He had difficult work stoking the fires for the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad. Though the couple started out married life giving their children thoroughly Scandinavian names like Neils and Olaf, they gave younger children more Mormon-sounding names like Willard and Eliza, perhaps indicating their deepening commitment and enculturation in the faith.
Kirsten “bore testimony of how the Lord had answered her prayer and given her a testimony of the Spirit World.” Pedersen, 34, would have had access to family names through her parents, who were the link to the old country. She may have performed vicarious ordinance work for the dead in Mormon temples and sensed that her efforts had been accepted in the world where people went after death.
Ellen (“Nell”) Harris then stood to speak. Born in Northumberland, England, Harris emigrated to Utah as a child. She was now 42, a widow, and a mother of three sons and a daughter who lived with her. To put food on the table, she took in boarders, though occasionally the ward pitched in by giving her fast offering funds. She told the congregation that “her heart was full of thankfulness to her Heavenly Father for the many blessings that he has lately given her.”
The next speaker clerk James O. Oliver listed in the minutes was a “Sister Rupp”—Oliver may not have known her first name. The 1910 U.S. census listed no Rupps living in Provo that year. Sister Rupp may have been a visitor. In any case, she “felt that the Lord will strengthen us for the duties we have to perform.”
William Buckley, an English emigrant in his early 70s, followed Sister Rupp. The year was coming to a close, and only one testimony meeting remained in the year 1909. Buckley sensed the window closing. He said he “desired that his name should go on the records as one that had borne his testimony this year.”
At this point in the meeting, Bishop Alfred Booth stood to say a few words. What he had heard in the meeting doubtless impressed him, but it was not sufficient. Nine people had born their testimonies, five women and four men. Only one in the group was a priesthood holder under seventy years of age. Where were the younger men? Booth said he “felt that some of the brethren holding the priesthood should occupy some of the time and called up on the Ward Clerk for the names of persons that had born their testimony.”
James A. Oliver then read the names of those of those who had spoken.
Oliver, 48, remained to bear his testimony. No other younger men were forthcoming. After Oliver sat down, John G. Jones, a convert from Wales, stood and concluded the testimony bearing for that day. Jones, a patriarch, was in his eightieth year—the oldest speaker of the day.
Source: Minutes, Nov. 7, 1909, Provo 4th Ward, General Minutes, 1909-1912, LR 7224 11, v. 19, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.