Last week I accompanied my father-in-law and 2 brothers-in-law to a regional young men’s meeting in Atlanta, by Charles W. Dahlquist II, who is the Young Men General President. Turns out, that all 3 have the same calling in the church. They are all young men’s presidents. That means they are in charge of organizing all the Sunday and non-Sunday activities for the LDS boys in their respective.
The meeting was wonderful. The Atlanta Stake Center (Brockett Ward) was filled to capacity with over 600 clean, neatly dressed, young men from ages 12 to 18 with their fathers. I admit the best part of the meeting was the opening hymn. The sound of 600 valiant, faithful, male voices singing one of the Hymns of Zion in praise to God and Christ got me so misty-eyed I could hardly get through the song.
After the meeting, my father-in-law was asking me what activities I had participated in which made the most difference to me in my youth. Although I remember doing a lot of fun activities with the scouts and young women, the most influential activities would have to be fulfilling the responsibilities I had in the Aaronic Priesthood.
When a boy in the LDS church turns 12 years old he is ordained a deacon and given a preparatory or Aaronic Priesthood. This is the same priesthood given to the Priests of Aaron in the Old Testament and was the authority by which John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ later restored the higher Melchesidek priesthood to Peter, James and John. Like the Aaronic Priesthood of the OT, the Aaronic Priesthood today has the authority to perform several outward ordinances such as administering the Sacrament of the Lords Supper as well as Baptism with water. And Like the Aaronic Priesthood of the OT, today’s Aaronic priesthood prepares young men to receive the Melchesidek priesthood which has the authority to bless the sick, baptize with fire or give the gift of the Holy Ghost, and administer the blessings and ordinances of Christ’s higher law and covenant in Latter-day Temples.
In my home ward or congregation as a boy, there were many sick and elderly who lived in several high-rise condominium complexes within the geographical boarders of the ward boundaries. Many of these sick and elderly could no longer attend church meetings and partake of the sacrament. So, the Aaronic Priesthood was assigned to bring the sacrament to many of these faithful LDS members each week. Most of the time we just came by after church and blessed and administered the emblems of the sacrament for them. Occasionally, we would visit them with the young women and hold a mini-church meeting in their small apartments. We would sing a hymn together. Sometimes someone would bring a violin or flute to provide accompaniment. Someone else would give a short spiritual thought; scripture or testimony and we would then bless and administer the sacrament.
I still only partially understand the impact that those experiences had on my life. I know I will never forget the people I was blessed to serve. I remember, Mr. Jenkins would always have us write our names down on a pad of paper when we visited. He would then proceed to remind us that he wanted our names so he could record in his journal who it was who had brought the sacrament to him that day. And then he would proudly point to a large shelf filled with binders, that contained his journal he had so faithfully kept his entire adult life. I knew that the LDS church encouraged all members to keep a journal and it was impressive to see this man who was in his mid 90’s continue to faithfully obey that instruction. His wife, much sicker, was in the next room in a hospital bed. I assume she suffered a severe stroke. She never moved or spoke. I remember one day hearing that after she finally died and that Mr. Jenkins followed her only a few hours later.
I remember taking the sacrament to Mr. and Mrs. B. Now, I knew of this Mr. B. He had been a very, very important person in his prime. But here he was, very frail and aged, weak, and rather deaf. And I think he both he and his wife suffered from Alzheimer’s but I didn’t really know much about that at the time. But, the thing I remember about brother and sister B was how they insisted on being dressed in their Sunday best in anticipation of our arrival. Also in their late 90’s, they were far too weak and frail to attend church. But they could have their home nurse get them dressed. And so I remember visiting them and administering the sacrament to them until they passed away. They faithfully participated in the church, as they were able, until the end. And I think that although this man is known to the world and admired for his great service in another important area, I will admire him and his wife most for that little detail of insisting that he be dressed in his Sunday best to take the Lord’s sacrament.
And then there was Bro. and Sister Davies. He had severe Parkinson’s disease and was confined to bed or a wheelchair. His hands shook so much with a tremor that we had to put the bread in his mouth and hold the cup to his lips. I will never forget his wife who so was so devoted to caring for her husband. Their apartment was immaculate, and he was always looked so fresh and clean. His blond straight hair never out of place. And so, again, they participated in the church and taking the sacrament which Christ asked all his disciples to do in remembrance of his sacrifice until the end of their lives.
But there was something else I realized after serving a mission. While serving as a missionary I had the opportunity to visit others who were elderly, sick, of other faiths who could no longer attend their church. And I remember hearing many of them express their sadness that they had faithfully attended their church and paid tithing their whole life and then at the end of their lives, their church had forgotten them. They felt cut off in a way from the fellowship and ordinances of the church. Yes, they could worship God at home, but they still felt like they had lost something. And, those missionary conversations helped me appreciate better the opportunity I had to serve those faithful members of my home congregation and for the Aaronic Priesthood which gave a young man of 16 and 17 the opportunity to do something so simple, yet spiritually uplifting and meaningful.
And what is so important about meaning to a 17-year-old? Well it made all the difference when I was faced with temptation. I was exposed to all the temptations and trials that all other adolescents are exposed to. But somehow, I feel through exactly these kinds of experiences, were the difference in helping me to resist temptation and make good choices while so many others did not.