The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with its auxiliary Genesis Group, celebrated the priesthood over the weekend with a picnic and program.
With the focus being the 30th anniversary of the church's June 8, 1978, announcement extending the priesthood to all worthy males, Genesis Group members met Saturday for their annual picnic at Anzak Park in Cottonwood Heights and then Sunday along with other Latter-day Saints for a program at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
The feeling at the picnic was excitement as hundreds gathered for food, games and celebration. Members of the church's auxiliary support group for black Saints voiced their eagerness for the commemoration being held the next day.
Lindsey and Ed O'Brian and their children have been members of the Genesis Group for four years, but Saturday was their first time attending the picnic.
"We love this organization," Lindsey said. "Once you attend the meetings, you never want to leave."
Lindsey and her daughter Rachel were particularly excited for the commemoration program because they were in the choir.
Don Harwell, Genesis Group president, said he couldn't believe how many people turned out for the picnic.
"This is a bigger turnout than we thought," he said. "Because of the commemoration tomorrow, there are people visiting from out of town who came to the picnic."
Indeed, the atmosphere was noisy, with children playing in the playground, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, flying a kite and listening to music. Smoke billowed out of the three large barrel grills cooking the hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken.
Winston and Gloria Wilkinson said they have been members of the Genesis Group since they moved to Utah 11 years ago. Winston said he joined the Genesis Group because "the idea of African-Americans meeting together appealed to me."
Among the popcorn, cotton candy and snow cone makers, the french fry cooker, children throwing water balloons and the fragrant smell of meat cooking, Genesis member Nellie Doornbos sat on a grassy hill, taking in the whole scene.
"I love (the Genesis Group)," she said. "It's the most fun group I've gone to. They're just the most inspiring meetings with great music. Every month there's new members."
Harwell summed up the picnic best: "I guess we'd have to call this a success."
At the program the following day, Elder Sheldon F. Child of the Quorum of the Seventy shared some of his experiences while in New York City serving as a mission president and while living in West Africa, where he witnessed the growth of the church among black members firsthand.
"There are no strangers or foreigners among those who enjoy the blessing of the priesthood, make sacred covenants and keep them," Elder Child said. "They belong to the household of God. Because of God's love for all his children, in every gospel dispensation he has placed prophets on the earth to communicate his will to them. His love and his will was made manifest to us on June 8, 1978. ... We certainly have cause to rejoice and to celebrate. May we show our love to him by the way we live our lives and reach out to others with love."
Soloist Alex Boye, a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, sang two hymns, "How Great Thou Art" and "I Know That My Redeemer Lives," and choir director Mack Wilberg led a multicultural choir of more than 300 in providing additional music for the service.Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Presidency of the Seventy conducted the meeting and said, "We look to the day when all men and women of the earth will be seen as God's children."
Contributing: Carrie A. Moore, Deseret News