Written by Stephen Thompson
Canada West Mission Centre Historian
Vol. 2 | No. 2b
Here is Part 2 of what is going to end up being at least a 4-part series. There is just too much good stuff to share! Please click on the button below to read the full article. Enjoy!
W. Wallace Smith (Prophet-President, 1958 to 1978): W. Wallace Smith was the Pastor of Portland, Oregon’s, First Street Church when he was ordained as an Apostle at the 1947 General Conference. His call came through his older brother, President Israel A. Smith. In April of 1950 he was ordained into the First Presidency as a Counselor to his brother. There is a significant and interesting backstory to his call into church leadership. Time and space constraints do not permit sharing that here.
Israel A. experienced some significant health challenges in 1947 and 1948. He was to undergo surgery that could prove to be risky. He was aware of the confusion caused when his brother, and his predecessor as Prophet-President, Frederick M. Smith, died suddenly in 1946 without clearly and intentionally identifying his successor. Before he underwent his surgery, he drafted a letter identifying W. Wallace as his successor in the event of his death. The letter was witnessed and authenticated by the President of the Council of Twelve and the Church Secretary and was left in the hands of the Secretary to be brought forward in the event it was needed. It was not needed at that time.
In 1952, Israel A. set off on a tour to the mission fields of Europe and Great Britain. Again, he was concerned about the possibility of an untimely death during his travels (note: he was 76 years of age), and he revised his letter. This time he had it authenticated by one of his Counselors and the Presiding Bishop and left it with his Counselor (President F. Henry Edwards) to bring forward if it was needed. He travelled safely on this tour and returned home without incident.
However, on Saturday, June 14, 1958, the direction provided in the letter was finally, and sadly, required.
On that date he was driving from Independence to a ministerial commitment in Lamoni, Iowa. Just south of the Town of Pattonsburg, Missouri, on Highway 69, he was involved in a head-on collision. Although he survived the crash, he was fatally injured and died in hospital shortly after.
From that point on, all the intended processes to identify and approve the next Prophet-President of the church kicked into gear. There was a meeting of the Council of Twelve Apostles on Monday morning – presumably to go over all that would happen in the next few months. The funeral for Israel A. Smith was held on Tuesday. On Wednesday a meeting of the “formal council of church officers” was held including the remaining members of the First Presidency, nine members of the Council of Twelve, the Presiding Bishopric, the presiding evangelist, the senior president of seventy, and the President of the Quorum of High Priests. The letter drafted by Israel A. in 1952 designating W. Wallace to succeed him was read. They agreed to present the letter and W. Wallace Smith’s nomination to the General Conference scheduled for October of that year. F. Henry Edwards and W. Wallace Smith were sustained as the Presidency to preside over the church until that conference. Finally, a formal letter to officially inform the church of the death of Israel A. and the processes to follow was drafted, signed by Edwards and Smith, and sent to all Pastors of the church.
On Monday, October 6, 1958, the General Conference was convened. Following the ceremonial opening processes and the initial call-to-order requirements of the business meeting, the announcement of the recommendation to approve W. Wallace Smith as “President of the High Priesthood and of the Church,” was read. Votes were taken (first, of delegates, then of all persons present) and they were deemed unanimously in favour. Then Israel A. Smith’s letter from 1952 was read. It was then approved to be added to the Book of Doctrine and Covenants as section 144. The business meeting was adjourned, and the ordination service was held that evening.
And that is how W. Wallace Smith became the fifth Prophet-President of the church.
 Mark A. Scherer, The Journey of a People, Vol. 3: The Era of Worldwide Community, 1946 to 2015 (Independence, Mo.: Community of Christ Seminary Press, 2016), p. 86
 Scherer, Journey, Vol. 3, p. 88
 Scherer, Journey, Vol. 3, p. 85
 Scherer, Journey, Vol. 3, pp. 90-92
 Scherer, Journey, Vol. 3, pp. 107-109
 Scherer, Journey, Vol. 3, pp. 109-112
 Scherer, Journey, Vol. 3, pp. 138-144
Vol. 2 | No. 2a
At the next World Conference of Community of Christ, scheduled for Friday, May 30 through Friday, June 6, 2025, a significant chapter in the history of the church will be written with the approval and ordination of the next Prophet-President of the denomination. On January 17, 2024, the Council of Twelve Apostles of the church announced the completion of their discernment process concerning identifying the next church leader and identified Stassi D. Cramm, currently a Counselor in the current First Presidency, as the person to succeed current Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazey. New chapters in church history are started whenever a new Prophet-President is ordained. Assuming no unforeseen circumstances get in the way, this new Prophet-President will be the first woman ordained to this office.
I thought it would be timely, and hopefully interesting to readers, to review the processes by which each of the Prophet-Presidents have come to hold that office. I will split this description into two parts. In today’s Part 1 I will describe the processes by which the last four people have been named to the church’s most senior leadership position. In Part 2 (currently scheduled to be published in two weeks, rather than next month) I will describe the processes for the first five people to arrive into this position. Interestingly, although there are similarities in the processes, none are exactly like any other.
Stassi D. Cramm (Prophet-President-Designate) : The discernment process that has led to the naming of Stassi Cramm is recent and may already be familiar to you. However, there was at least one major “twist” in the process. In a letter to the church on March 6, 2023, President Stephen M. Veazey gave notice of his intention to retire as of the 2025 World Conference AND provided an outline of a church-wide discernment process to arrive at the name of the person to succed him which was to start immediately and conclude by February 2024. As it was described, the process would provide input to President Veazey and allow him to then decide on and name the individual. The “twist” in the process occurred with President Veazey encountering a significant health issue, announced to the church on July 27, 2023, which required him to withdraw from his leadership duties, including leading the discernment process.
On August 30, 2023, the two Counselors to the First Presidency, Scott Murphy and Stassi Cramm, announced to the church in a letter that had asked the Council of Twelve Apostles to assume leadership of the discernment process. The letter stated, “The council will follow the current timeline and process previously announced to the church.” The significant change is that instead of President Veazey essentially taking on the responsibility of naming his successor, the Council of Twelve collectively took on that responsibility. Inevitably that meant variations in the original process that included meetings of the Twelve and purpose-specific retreat at a church campground as a last step in the process before the announcement on January 17.
Stephen M. Veazey (Prophet-President, 2005 to, presumably, 2025): On November 29, 2004, President W. Grant McMurray delivered a letter of resignation, effective immediately, to his two Counselors. It fell to them, Peter A. Judd and Kenneth N. Robinson, to inform the Council of Twelve and then the church at large. This was uncharted territory for the church as this was the first time that an incumbent Prophet-President had not named a successor. Fortunately, such a potential situation had been foreseen by President Joseph Smith III, who drafted “A Letter of Instruction,” published in the Saints’ Herald on March 13, 1912. Several sections of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants were also cited to give support and guidance to the process. The Council of Twelve Apostles was tasked with leading a discernment process to determine the name of the person to be presented to the church for consideration. The Council requested the participation of the First Presidency, the Presiding Bishopric, the Presidents of Seventy, and the President of the High Priest Quorum to support and advise them. In addition they invited the prayerful and active participation of the church membership at large to support them in this process.
On March 2, 2005, unanimously confirmed their decision to name Stephen M. Veazey as their recommended candidate. Veazey at the time was the President of the Council of Twelve Apostles and had served the church in a variety of ministerial roles for several decades. A special World Conference was convened from June 2 to 5, 2005, for the express purpose of approving this nomination, then implementing the ordination of Stephen Veazey to the office of Prophet-President, and then approving other changes in church personnel that flowed from that process.
W. Grant McMurray (Prophet-President, 1996 to 2004): On September 19, 1995, President Wallace B. Smith met with the church headquarters staff to announce his pending retirement as of the upcoming World Conference in 1996 and to identify his successor as W. Grant McMurray. McMurray had been a member of the First Presidency since 1992 and had previously served the church as Church Secretary and in the Church Historian’s Office. Although there were many things to “juggle” in this nomination by Wallace B. Smith, perhaps the most difficult and emotional issue was passing church leadership outside of the Smith family for the first time. He cited the “Letter of Instruction” drafted by Joseph Smith III (his grandfather) as providing principles for succession and he stated his own three criteria that followed from that. They were: the person must be called by revelation through the present prophet/president; the call must be approved by a vote of the people in conference assembled; and the person must be properly ordained by those having the authority to do so.
At the 1996 World Conference President Smith presented his final inspired document to the church naming W. Grant McMurray as his successor. This was approved a vote of the conference. And McMurray was then “properly ordained” to the office by those having authority. Wallace B. Smith assumed the title of “Prophet Emeritus” and left the job of leading the church entirely to his successor.
Wallace B. Smith (Prophet-President, 1978 to 1996): In the spring of 1975, President W. Wallace Smith called his son, Wallace B. Smith, and asked if he could come over for a visit. In that visit the father asked the son to consider succeeding him as Prophet-President. He gave him a year to decide as he wished to announce his intended retirement date at the 1976 World Conference. (reference: Scherer, Journey of a People, Vol. 3, p. 400) Wallace consented after many months of consideration.
At the 1976 World Conference, his call was presented in a document to the church giving a two-year timeline of preparation for the position, after which he would be ordained at the World Conference of 1978. The challenge of history and tradition that had to be overcome was the fact that every other prophet-president had died in office. W. Wallace did not want to do that and the conference (both 1976 and 1978) finally accepted this.
Wallace B. had not previously held church employment, although he had certainly been active in his local congregations all his life. After a hectic two years of preparation, the 1978 World Conference accepted the call and he was ordained to the office.
**In two weeks: I will complete this description with the first five presidents of the church.**
Vol. 2 | No. 1
As Mission Centre Historian, one responsibility is to encourage congregations to have a Congregational Historian to track the major events in their congregation each year. Some congregations have a long, consistent history of having historians appointed. Others seem to have had more occasional appointments, perhaps whenever someone expresses interest in the task after a year or two (or more) of having no one taking on the task.
Chilliwack Congregation is one with a long tradition of having a historian appointed each year. I have in my files reports from 1984 to 1999. And I know that reports have been filed for most, if not all, years since then. All the reports I have were prepared and submitted by Vilda Fetterly. I believe Vilda continued in that role until relatively recently when the “torch” was passed to Lorelei Dean. I thought I would share a few of the happenings in the Chilliwack Congregation as reported by Vilda in her 1984 report.
Membership as of January 1, 1984, was 118 persons. There were 3 marriages, 2 baby blessings, 1 ordination, 2 deaths, 1 “transfer in,” 2 “transfers out,” and 1 membership withdrawal recorded that year. Membership at year end was 114.
Guest ministry on January 29 was a distinguished trio including Howard S. (Bud) Sheehy, Jr. (Counselor to the President of the RLDS Church – as we were known at that time), BC District President Carl Bolger, and Seventy R. Skoor.
Many members did many good things:
That was 1984 in Chilliwack in a nutshell. Thanks Vilda!
Vol. 1 | No. 6
For those of you who are reading this column carefully each month (and, really, who isn’t?!), you will recall that I dealt with an overview of the people who edited and contributed to “The District Leader” newsletter in Alberta and Saskatchewan Districts in the January 1961 issue. I will share some very brief excerpts of content here, from seventeen pages of fairly dense type, to give a bit of the flavour of the times.
In his monthly column, Alberta District President, Seventy David Larmour, highlighted the following activities from the fall of 1960:
From the Calgary Branch (Vida L. Diaper reporting): “December has been a busy month… The Choral groups put in extra hours on musical offerings for the Christmas season, and the Women’s Dept. held their annual Christmas party, and their visiting committee was very active among the shut-ins. The Church School Christmas Tree and program was a delight to the little folks and adults alike, & there was standing room only, before Santa arrived. … Speakers for the Worship Services included Pastor E.B. McLean, Elders C.O. Diaper, Bruce Waddell, A.D. McLeod, Priest C.B. Gibson, Teacher J.F. Simpson and Deacons Laurence Boote and Albert Bates. A Carol Service was held on Christmas Eve, and two specially adapted Worship services was (sic) held on Christmas Day.”
Saskatoon Branch News (Lottie C. Diggle reporting): “A Regional Missionary workshop was held in the church November 26th and 27th with District Missionary Keith Harvey and Elder Kenneth Wilkensen as instructors. … The Messiah (as performed in the Auditorium in Independence) will be heard over station CFQC on Christmas Day. … The annual Christmas tree and program will be held December 22nd. June Fisher is preparing the children’s Choir for participation in the annual three-day Carol Festival which will be held in Third Avenue United Church. … Zion’s League members have selected the characters for a play entitled ‘The Unwilling Spirit.’ … Gary Macdonald convened a Hallowe’en party. Their Leader. Inez Thederahn and Joe Hodgins is president.” (Steve’s note: sorry if that last bit is confusing. It is as it is printed.)
Edmonton Branch report (Dorthea Mills reporting): “The speakers for the month have been Priests Walter Ratcliffe and Morris Johnstone, Elder Richard and Evangelist Wm. Osler. The Orioles were in charge of the church School Service, Sunday morning, Dec. 18. The prayers were offered by Ruth Walrath and the theme talk by Linda Hilker. There were two special hymns, one by the Junior Choir, led by Garry Gibson, and four Oriole girls sang one led by Donna Jenkins. It was a lovely service.”
Every issue ends with a page full of short jokes and brief wisdom statements (some serious, some humorous) under the title “Clancy Says.” No clues are evident as to who “Clancy” was. Two sample items to end this column:
Vol. 1 | No. 5
In my first column in this space several months ago I said that it would often be “frustratingly short” because I may try to present a significant story but be forced by the limits of reasonable length to leave out many details. Well – this will be a perfect example of that.
In March of 2021, as Mission Centre President, I had the task of cleaning out the Porcupine Plain, SK, church building before it was turned over to the purchaser. As a natural “hoarder” of sorts, I had a very difficult day (or two, as the case may be) of throwing things in the dumpster that, if there had been any option, I might have tried to retain. But there was no option. I did retain as many historical documents and books as I could identify. One of those things was a file box full of issues of “The District Leader,” dating from 1961 and continuing into the early 2000’s.
I recently reached into the box and brought a handful of early issues home with me, hoping that I could find a thing or two to share with you. Well – there are considerably more than “a thing or two” that I would like to share with you. Having taken so many words to set this up, I now have even less space to share with you. I need a “part 2” to do this justice.
The earliest issue of “The District Leader” in the box is dated January 1961. It is noted as “Volume 15, Number 10” suggesting that the newsletter’s origins may go back to 1946. If anyone has any earlier issues in their homes or their congregations, I would be delighted to have a look at them! Please let me know.
The front cover states its purpose as: “Published monthly in the interest of all members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan.” Then “page 1” says: “Published by the Districts of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.” The names of contributors and their home congregations suggest a far greater influence than those three districts.
Here is that list: the Editor, Mrs. M.A. Hanna of Calgary; the Children’s Corner Editor, Mrs. K. Fisher, Torrington, Wyoming; Women’s Page Editor, Mrs. Robt. Allish, Vancouver, B.C.; Business Manager, Mrs. C.B. Gibson, Calgary; District President Column (AB) by Seventy David K. Larmour; Editorial by Lottie C. Diggle (Saskatoon); articles by Elder E. Roy Glomstead; John Lucas; Evangelist Wm. Osler of Edmonton; J.W. Mountenay; Howard and Virginia Fisher, of Covina, California; Calgary Branch report by Vida L. Diaper; Mrs. M. Cornish of Senlac, SK; Roger Yarrington, Pastor, Courtney Rd. Congregation (city?); Ken and Isabella Fisher and family, Torrington, Wyoming; Elder Newton Ward, Pastor, East Alton Congregation, Independence, MO; C.V. Graham, Stake President (Seattle?); Saskatoon Branch News by Lottie Diggle; Fort William (Ontario) Branch Report, Lorena Henderson (for those too young to remember, Fort William was a twin city of Port Arthur and they amalgamated in 1970 to become Thunder Bay).
With that I have exceeded my length. I will come back with a Part 2 next month (or the month after) to share some of the interesting content of this 62-year-old newsletter.
Vol. 1 | No. 4
Welcome back to our next installment of “Historians Corner.”
You may remember (or may not! It’s been a while!) that in our last column we heard about the acquisition of the Hills of Peace Campground. I thought it only fair that I share the story of how the Samish Island Campground came into the possession of the church. Many members in BC may be quite familiar with this story.
For these details I am relying on a video featuring Kim Naten telling a fairly complete history of Samish. (Kim is currently the President of the Greater Pacific Northwest Mission Center (GPNW) and a life-long attendee at events at Samish.) I cannot tell this story any better than Kim, so I will simply directly quote excerpts from her presentation:
"…The story of how Community of Christ acquired these grounds is a story of immense generosity and humility …
Back in the late 1920s a young Norwegian couple by the names of Sig and Tora Freestad purchased a large parcel of property on Samish Island in Skagit County, Washington… They started out raising cattle there and eventually turned to raising turkeys.
Sig happened to work with a minister from a church very few in the area had really ever heard of, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Over time the two men became friends and through that friendship Sig and Tora eventually made the decision to join this little church.
The Freestads, who later moved away from Samish Island but still owned the property, developed a deep appreciation for the camping programs that the church offered its youth. At this time the church camps in that area took place at Silver Lake (near) Everett, Washington.
Sig and Tora came to feel so strongly about the need for a dedicated site for church youth camps that they ultimately felt led by the Holy Spirit to gift their farmland of over 80 acres to the church for this purpose. The Freestads presented their proposal to both the British Columbia Canada District as well as the Seattle District in 1957. While the BC District gladly accepted this generous gift, surprisingly, many folks in the Seattle area did not want to accept this and wanted camps to remain at Silver Lake. It took some time, along with a visit from one of our apostles, but the gift was finally accepted by a fairly close vote at the Seattle District Conference in 1958. By the summer of 1959 the first reunion was held there.
Between 1959 and the early 1960s a dining hall and restroom facility were built along with wooden tent platforms… Sig and Tora purchased a home across the street from the property and served as the campground’s first caretakers even as the campground developed with cabins and classroom buildings being added."
And that is the origin story of Samish Island Campground and Retreat Centre according to Kim Naten. See the bibliographic information below for access to Kim’s video.
Please let me know if you have any comments about this. Perhaps you have other memories of the early years of Samish Island that you would like to share. I would be happy to receive them!
Written by Stephen Thompson
Canada West Mission Centre Historian
Vol. 1 | No. 3
In recognition of June being “Hills of Peace Month,” I am going to share how the grounds came into the possession of the church in Alberta. I am drawing on written accounts from two people “who were there:” Ethel Hayden, from Calgary; and Jean Walrath, from Edmonton.
Ethel: The Hills of Peace grounds holds a special place in the hearts of young and old who ever attended a camp there and (have) been surrounded by God’s spirit and the feeling of peace. Renting grounds at Sylvan Lake was not to our liking.
Jean: (At the 1956) District Conference and Reunion held at Sylvan Lake, Alberta, Will McLeod told of a quarter section of land on a lake that could be suitable to build a campground.
Ethel: (It) had a spring-fed lake, lots of trees for shade, and very sandy soil which meant no mud when it rained.
Jean: Six people went immediately to investigate. They were Alvin Walrath, Dave Larmour, Will McLeod, Norman Olson, Vida Diaper and Cecil Diaper. A most favourable report was brought back. The same week on Saturday, a district meeting was held at Sylvan Lake. A vote to buy the land was taken…and passed unanimously. At the same meeting the people voted in favour of Alvin Walrath being put in charge of developing and building the camp. On Sunday a collection was taken and approximately $600.00 was raised.
Ethel: The land was bought in 1956 and work parties soon began. Many weekends and some holidays were spent travelling on muddy roads and later gravel to start developing the grounds.
Steve: And on the story goes up to the present day. Purchase documents from the time indicate the price paid for the land was $856.00. This is an story of rapid decision making. As Ethel suggests, there had been a feeling, probably for some time, that the people wanted a reunion grounds of their own. But still – in a matter of one week, Will McLeod told the District Conference (probably on Sunday) about the land; a party of six people immediately (probably on Monday) set out to go look at; they came back and reported favourably – despite what must have been very difficult road conditions and a much longer trip than it would be today. They had another business meeting on Saturday and approved the purchase! Amazing!
Now – while you’re thinking about it, go to that notice about “June is Hills of Peace Month” elsewhere in the Weekly Wire and make a donation to support the continuing operation and maintenance of this wonderful campground.
Ethel Hayden: “Hills of Peace Camp”, a one-page history published as part of a history of Alberta District, assembled in 2003 when the district was being folded into the Canada West Mission Centre.
Jean Walrath: “History of the Hills of Peace Campground,” unpublished, undated.
Written by Stephen Thompson
Canada West Mission Centre Historian
Vol. 1 | No. 2
Welcome to the “late” second edition of “Historians Corner.” I was travelling home from the Community of Christ World Conference in Independence, MO, last week. My apologies for the delay.
I have asked current congregation Historians to consider sending me anecdotes from the histories of their congregations for publication in this space. The Ribstone Congregation is celebrating their 115th anniversary this year and to mark the occasion they are publishing historical information about the congregation in their monthly newsletter. How convenient for me and you! The page that follows has been copied directly from the January issue of their newsletter to ensure the photos are also included. My thanks to Leila Goheen, Historian, and Darleene Skinner, Pastor, for their permission to use this material.
Do you have a documented historical anecdote about your congregation to share? Please send it to me at: email@example.com Thank you!
Click on the picture below to download a PDF version to read
Written by Stephen Thompson
Canada West Mission Centre Historian
Vol. 1 | No. 1
Welcome to the first edition of “Historians Corner.” The intention of this once-a-month column (maybe twice-a-month once we get started) is to highlight brief nuggets from the history of Community of Christ and especially from the church in Western Canada. These “brief nuggets” will be just that - brief. Perhaps frustratingly brief from both a writer’s and a reader’s perspective. There is simply not enough space here in the Weekly Wire for a lot of detail. But there are many places to find details about church history and we will try to refer you to those resources when possible if you wish to know “the rest of the story” (as broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say).
For this first instalment, we are going to go back to the very early days of the church. The organizational meeting for the church was held on April 6, 1830, - one hundred and ninety-three years ago this month. (Yes - our bi-centennial is fast approaching!) The formal organization of the church was the culmination of a series of events over the previous five to ten years; we will not attempt to summarize those events here.
The meeting was held “in the Smith log cabin in Manchester Township, Ontario County”1 in western New York state. No minutes of the meeting were made. Accounts of the actions taken at the meeting were written some time later. We know the six people who attended were: Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Samuel H. Smith, Joseph Smith, Sr., and Joseph Knight, Sr.1 The Prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., addressed the other five men in the spirit of revelation as recorded in section 21 of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. As originally organized, the church was known as the “Church of Christ.” It did not become the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” until 1838.1 Subsequent name changes were to “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” in 1860 and to “Community of Christ” in 2001.
community of christ
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Guelph, ON N1K 1S5 Canada
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