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A Shout From The Attic: Church Building Mission - 7

Ronnie Bray tells of a church building supervisor who was given an unexpected instruction.

In the late nineteen-fifties and sixties when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Great Britain experienced
its greatest growth spurt since the previous century, an exciting and novel programme was introduced to deal with the demand for custom-built chapels to accommodate the swelling congregations and provide facilities for the full family programme that challenged congregations who gathered in ever growing numbers to worship, learn, and play in rented halls, and converted houses that had been the common meeting places of the United Kingdom saints for a hundred and twenty-five years.

The programme charged local leaders with finding suitable building plots that were then approved by the Church Building
Department, planning consent obtained, and the land purchased. The next step was to call a building supervisor, typically a retired builder, called as a missionary to oversee the building process that usually took three years.

To assist the supervisor and provide a continuous presence of workers on each site, four Building Missionaries were called to
serve for a two year stint, during which they would be housed with a member family that received a small stipend for their
keep. The missionary himself received ten shillings a week for toiletries and spending money. Necessary clothing
replacements for the missionary were paid for out of branch building funds as and when required.

Sites were equipped with a fairly comprehensive range of carpentry and building tools, so that all necessary work could be undertaken by the building missionaries trained by the supervisor, and with the evening and Saturday assistance of branch members who often hit the site like a flock of helpful birds and carried out essential tasks for which they had no training, sometimes no skill, and often no aptitude. However, buildings grew out of the ground to become edifices of faith and inspiration as they pulled the work-along-members together into a unity that only pioneers enjoy.

Full time proselyting missionaries knocking on doors near a building site would frequently visit to say “hello,” and pass a
few moments in encouragement for their church service counterparts and to see how the building was progressing.

On one site, a group of missionaries approached the building supervisor with an unusual request. Their mission president was nearing the end of his time and his missionaries had decided to make a small treasure chest to hold an illuminated address of appreciation particularising the esteem in which his missionaries held him. A couple of them had carpentry skills, and another was an artistic calligrapher. Could they use the site equipment to make the chest?

The supervisor agreed, and for the next few weeks the little group was busy buying exotic wood, measuring, cutting, planning, jointing, gluing, finishing, varnishing, and mounting brass fittings to the perfect and exquisite ark, into which was placed the illuminated parchment, suitably sealed with red ribbon and a wax seal.

The building supervisor watched this process with interest and was, perhaps, a little envious of the regard these boys had
for their mission president. He was, he mused, in a similar relationship to his missionary boys, as was the mission
president to his. It was true, he agreed within himself, that he was probably harder on his missionaries than his opposite
number in the mission office was but, he argued, the mission president didn’t have boys who seemed not to understand simple rules and at who he sometimes had to shout to get them to understand the rudiments of the many processes that comprise building skills. So, it wasn’t exactly a love affair between him and these lads but he did his best for them, especially considering that none of them had any building experience when he took them under his wing, so at least they should be grateful to him for that.

Soon after the mission president’s eyes had become moist as he read the beautiful document, the building supervisor noticed his builders acting as if they had a secret. He discovered them huddled together like conspirators, and they scattered nonchalantly as he approached. They whispered and one or more would occasionally be hard to find. He dared to imagine that they had taken a lead from the proselyting missionaries and were even now preparing a similar gift for him. Comforting himself with these thoughts, and not wanting to spoil his surprise, he kept out of their way whenever he noticed them behaving conspiratorially.

He was right in his suspicions: the site crew was indeed preparing a coffer and manuscript for him, and as he became surer of this, his heart swelled with a sense of satisfaction and a certain amount of justifiable pride. When, he wondered would they make the presentation? His wondering was cut short by an announcement from one of their number that they had something for him that they would present on the next Saturday when all the branch members were present for a work day.

During the intervening days, he imagined the scene, as his hard-hatted band would produce a highly finished treasury that he would unclasp to reveal a flamboyant parchment telling the affection they had for him and, no doubt, detailing all those aspects of his personality and character that endeared him to them.

The Great Day dawned and he donned a clean shirt and jeans before driving his wife and himself to the crowded site, arriving
a few minutes after the programmed presentation time so as not to appear too excited. By this time, the missionaries had
assembled the ward members in a semi-circle, in front of which they stood with their hands behind their backs.

The supervisor stepped forward, his face beaming like Moses’ when he descended the mount of theophany. The missionaries
stepped forward and produced a miniature coffin made of the rough and dirty wood, held together by ugly twisted nails.

Stunned, but programmed to receive, he took the box and lifted its lid, revealing a scrap of torn cement powder bag on which were scrawled the words, “GET LOST!”

As he had hoped, his missionaries had told him what they thought of him, but not as he had hoped. Perhaps they had in mind the words of Paul:

“Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour”


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