ST GEORGE, UTAH
Good history requires place, time and, most important, a story, Elder Steven E. Snow said March 25 at the KINnect YOU family history youth event held at the Burns Arena on the Dixie State University campus.
Elder Snow, General Authority Seventy and the Church’s historian and recorder, was the concluding speaker for the eight-hour event that drew nearly 4,000 area high school students from St. George and surrounding communities.
“I have visited in my service the past 16 years scores of countries around the world,” said Elder Snow, whose roots are in St. George and who is descended from Church apostle Erastus Snow, who lived in that pioneer settlement. “I’m always drawn back to the red hills of southern Utah. I love these mountains and valleys and canyons. This is my home.”
Much of his talk focused on stories of pioneers from the St. George area. He also spoke at length on “the two man-made structures that dominated this valley for so long,” the St. George Tabernacle and the St. George Temple.
“The temple was announced to some surprised local Church leaders in January of 1871, and it was dedicated in 1877,” he said. “It’s constructed of the same materials as the tabernacle. Its exterior was plastered and painted white. It stands as ‘an iceberg in the desert.’ ”
The tabernacle was completed in 1871 and dedicated in 1876.
He said both the temple and tabernacle were built as public works projects. “And those projects are credited with keeping the saints here, because they were running out of reasons. Things weren’t working and these construction projects kept the people here.”
Elder Snow remarked, “It seems miraculous to me that two such buildings could be under construction at once in the far-flung outposts of St. George, Utah.”
Occasionally the old buildings give up secrets, he said, noting that last December, workmen drilling in the walls of the upper floors of the tabernacle for a renovation project found a small, sealed tin can. Found inside the can was a “Note to the Future” penned by Charles L. Walker, a stonemason and a songwriter who had been known as the “poet laureate of Dixie,” referring to St. George’s nickname given to it because of its Southern settlers and location in Utah.
The note read, “Now behold in two days, the last stone will be laid on the tower. Therefore, I place this fragment of history in the wall. I have worked on the edifice from bottom to top and though many times weary and not having the comforts of life, the Lord has sustained me and blessed me all the day long. The people are prospering now [it was only 10 years after settlers had arrived] and gained wealth. Yea, some are turning away from the truth on account of their riches and their disobedience to God’s holy commands. I know the gospel of Christ is true, and whoso endureth to the end shall have eternal life. Amen.”
Elder Snow said one of his favorite stories about the tabernacle occurred in 1879, when Father Lawrence Scanlan wanted to provide an opportunity for Catholic miners at Silver Reef to have Catholic Mass.
“He came down to St. George and asked my ancestor, Erastus Snow, if it would be OK if they held Mass in the St. George Tabernacle, and Grandpa said, ‘Yes, sure.’
“In fact, he asked John Menzies Mcfarlane, the stake choir director, to teach the choir all the music required for the Mass. As far as I know, the St. George Tabernacle is the only tabernacle in the Church where Catholic Mass has been held.”
Elder Snow shared a little-known but related story from contemporary times. He said that a year ago last August, he traveled to Italy and met with some Church history advisers there. One of them told of a Catholic who had been playing the organ for a Mormon branch some 20 miles from his home.
“Years ago, he had met with some Mormon missionaries and received a book called Meet the Mormons,” Elder Snow related. “In it was a little synopsis of this story about the St. George Tabernacle and Catholic Mass, and he was impressed by the story. And when he found out this little branch of Latter-day Saints did not have an organist, he asked ... if he could come to Mass on Sunday afternoons and on Sunday mornings drive 20 miles to play for the Mormons. So I guess the lesson is whatever good you do comes back to you in many different ways.”
Elder Snow concluded his address by telling the youth: “What is happening to you now is important for the future. Keep a journal. Keep a record. Write your personal history. Keep a scrapbook or a phone or video journal. Keep your Instagram account, your Facebook account. These are important markers of your journey through life.
“Thank you for what you have done today. I challenge you now to find more stories to link to your family members and to find more family names you can research and do work for in the temple. I challenge you to record your life so your family of descendants will remember you and you will not completely be forgotten in one or two generations.”
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