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My Most Memorable Church Meetings
By David Ririe
(From NETWORK, the family newsletter,
volume 3, October 1997)

After attending thousands of church meetings, I have concluded that being able to attend is one of the great privileges of this life. Our Church meetings have a positive, uplifting effect on the souls of those who attend them with reverence, optimism, and a degree of enthusiasm. The Light of Christ permeates our assemblies.

The first memorable meeting that influenced me was when I was about four or five. The words spoken and the special occasion that brought such a distinguished visitor to our town, I cannot recall. But what transpired after the closing prayer was indelibly impressed upon my mind. A tall, stately, elderly man with a beard shook hands with each person on the row in which I was seated. As he took my hand in his, the Holy Spirit assured me that I was shaking the hand of a Prophet of God. Being noticed by the President of the Church, Heber 3. Grant, was a thrill I will never forget. It was revealed to me at that tender age that he was a Prophet.

My father was called to be the Bishop of our Ward when I was about fourteen. The meeting in which the ward auxiliary leaders were sustained was impressive. each leader and assistant willingly accepted the call. I do not know how much warning they had received prior to the meeting, but it seemed to me as if they had received none at all. Knowing those fine men and women; among whom were Edna Ririe, Vivian Bush and 3. Arlo Moss; it wouldn't have mattered. They would have responded affirmatively to any call without any hesitation. These people were an inspiration to me and an example of how we should respond to those in authority in the Church.

After that meeting or one soon afterward, as our family rode home, one of my younger brothers innocently asked, "Dad, -now that you are Bishop does that make all of us Bishops?" Dad answered with his characteristic chuckle, "No, son, just me and your mother."

It was my privilege to attend several very special Sacrament Meetings while serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II. After several weeks at the Victorville Army Air Base, we were finally given a weekend pass. Melvin C. Rich, Ellsworth Brown and I caught a bus to San Bernardino, California so we could attend Church. As we approached the San Bernardino First Ward one of my buddies said, "I know it's a Mormon Church because of the kids running around on the lawn."

I suppose it was the first Sunday in August of 1943 because a Fast and Testimony Meeting was conducted. All three of us bore our testimonies. I believe it was the only time I ever cried while bearing my testimony. I was so overjoyed to be in Church after an absence of several weeks that I could not control the tears. Just before the meeting adjourned the bishop congratulated us on being in Church on the first opportunity we had been given. Only then did it dawn on me that this Bishop was the army officer in charge of our training schedule at the base. Approximately three years later this same Bishop, Charles Sampson, gave my bride to be her temple recommend so that we could be married in the Idaho Falls Temple. I contend that there is no better place to find a wife than in Latte-Day Saint Sacrament Meeting. Incidentally, Ellsworth Brown also married a girl that he met at that same meeting on that day.

In April of 1944, I found myself in Stalag Luft One, a Prisoner of War camp near Barth, Germany. Prior to arriving with other captured airmen at the camp, I met a great young returned missionary, Lieutenant Robert D. Matheson, who had also been shot down. We decided after reaching Barth that we would canvass the camp to locate those who were Church members. We found six of them and decided to hold Sacrament Meetings. We had no handbooks, no Doctrine and Covenants, and no Book of Mormon. We did have a Bible. Subsequently, we were able to obtain a French translation of the Book of Mormon, which became our course of study. Brother Matheson had served in the French Canadian Mission and was able to read the Book of Mormon for us. I mention the Book of Mormon because at our first meeting we had to recall from memory the Sacrament prayers and we were very relieved when a month or so later we confirmed that we had been using the correct wording as we blessed the sacramental emblems.

Our first meeting was the most memorable. All of us in our testimonies expressed thanks for being alive and for the Gospel that brought us together. One of the testimonies stood out above the others in my memory and I relate it as nearly as I can remember it being told by Lieutenant Blaine Harris from Idaho. He said: "Upon being assigned as the pilot and therefore the captain of my crew I prayed fervently that if we were shot down, I would be able to save all of the members of my crew. On the fateful day when our airplane was hit and it became my duty to give the command to bail out of the ship one of my crew members in the rear section of the plane exclaimed, 'The ball turret gunner's parachute has burned up."' I should explain that the ball turret gunner had to leave his chute in the waist of the airplane because his battle station would not accommodate both him and his parachute. Lieutenant Harris said the thought came to him instantly that he should have two men bail out with one parachute. He told them to hook one snap of the parachute to the harness of each of them and jump out together. He ended his testimony by expressing gratitude for being inspired to be able to save all ten of his crew members:

Of the numerous meetings I attended at Brigham Young University, one stands out in particular. We were privileged to have President George Albert Smith speak to us. All I can recall about his speech was his testimony. It was so strong that it thrilled my whole soul. Afterwards two young nonmembers applied for baptism.

One evening during one of my breaks from college, I attended Mutual in my home ward. A few minutes before the meeting commenced the Young Men's Superintendent explained to me that the person assigned to give the Inspirational Talk would not appear. He asked me to fill in. I felt inadequate and definitely unprepared so I turned him down. Later that evening I related the incident to my mother. She sadly asked me, "Haven't I taught you better than that? Don't you know that the Lord would have helped you say something worthwhile if you had been faithful?" I know she spoke the truth. As my father often said regarding acceptance of Church calls, "You should say 'yes' and worry about it later”.

My first job after graduating from college was at the University of California at Davis where it was my privilege to serve as a counselor to Bishop Glen P. Lofgreen of the Woodland Ward. Our ward was small and keeping it organized was a challenge. One time we needed to choose a President for the Young Women's Mutual improvement Association. We had spent parts of previous meetings without coming to a decision as to who should be called. After going through the names of the sisters in our ward several times, praying about and discussing the situation and qualifications of most of them we still had no confirmation as to whom the Lord would call. I felt that I should excuse myself and privately pray about the matter, because I feared I might be the one holding back the inspiration. In the quiet part of the building I pleaded with Heavenly Father as the counselor in charge of the Mutual to give to the Bishop the name of the person to call. I returned to the meeting. Bishop Lofgreen picked up the ward list and one by one we discussed each woman on that roster. At about half way through it he read a name and a definite warm feeling of assurance came over me. I looked at the Bishop and could tell that he had received the same manifestation. We had in past meetings repeatedly passed over Sister Lofgreen's name who was the Lord's choice. Many times I have felt impressions concerning church callings, but this was the strongest and the sweetest. I can truthfully say I was in the presence of a good Bishop when he received a direct revelation from our Heavenly Father.

While we lived in Davis, I was chosen to serve as a High Councilor and during the afternoon session of conference, the new presidencies and the newly appointed High Councilors were invited to sit on the stand. At about ten minutes into the meeting, I was informed that my wife urgently needed to see me in the foyer. I hastily left the meeting and soon located my wife, who was very distressed. Our sons, age 5 and 3 had asked to go to the rest room and only the 5 year old had come back. A frantic search of the vicinity had proven fruitless so after many inquires and great concern, I went to the nearest police station to report my lost child. To my relief my son was there eating an ice cream cone that had been given to him by a kindly cop. He had been arrested several blocks from where the conference was convened. The little child had started to walk to our house, a mere fourteen miles away. When asked why he had left he said he was tired of the meeting. The only thing I remember about the conference was this scary incident and the great relief of finding our little boy unharmed.

My wife and I were called on a Labor Mission to New Zealand where my primary responsibility was to supervise land reclamation for a farm to be used for teaching agriculture in the Church College of New Zealand. Among the faithful Maori people we attended many interesting meetings.

One of my assignments was to be an advisor to a Home Sunday School in a rural community named Mangatangi. During my tenure in this assignment, Tangi Paki, the head of the tiny branch died from pneumonia. As I approached the humble Paki home on the Sunday following his funeral, I felt quite apprehensive that the meeting might be poorly attended and poorly organized. To my pleasure, however, I found the people present and the humble home set up as before. The Sacrament table was ready, the hymn books distributed and the chairs arranged. All was in readiness. Tangi's twelve year old son, Percy, had faithfully prepared everything. The last time I saw this responsible boy he was serving a building mission for the church.

A few months prior to his death, a baby girl was born to Brother and Sister Paki. Tangi asked me if I would bless the child at the next Fast and Testimony meeting. As Brother Paki and I took the babe in our arms, I whispered to him, "What shall I name her?" The answer surprised me. He said, "Whatever you wish, Elder." Somewhere in New Zealand I suppose a middle-aged Maori woman who has my dear wife's given names is raising a family of her own.

Not long after Tangi Paki's demise, a nonmember relative of the Paki family passed away in Mangatangi. I was asked to participate in the funeral. When I arrived at the Pa, the people were arguing about how to proceed. The men were shouting at each other, women were crying, and children were running hither and thither. I wondered how I could bring some serenity to the scene. My dilemma was short-lived. A faithful, respected member of the family who bore the Melchizedek Priesthood entered the premises and immediately a hush fell over the crowd. My friend took over and conducted a beautiful, dignified service. The power of the Priesthood on that occasion was manifest in glorious majesty.

During my days at Mangatangi I tried my best to convince a dairy farmer named Jim Connors to be baptized. He faithfully attended meetings for many months, listened intently to the lessons, and appeared interested in the Gospel, but remained unconverted. A short time later as a High Council visitor I attended the Pukikohe Branch of the newly organized Auckland Stake. I formed a very negative opinion of the green elder who spoke in Sacrament meeting but I forgot about him until almost two years later when as a counselor in the recently created Hamilton Stake Presidency we visited the Thames Branch not far from Jim Connors' farm. There on the steps of the little chapel a smiling Jim Connors greeted me and proudly announced that he was now a member of the Church. When I inquired as to the circumstances of his coming into the Church he told me that the very Elder I had felt wouldn't be very successful had baptized him. He went on to inform me that when this Elder was assigned to work in the Thames area, he had stayed on the Connors' farm. He volunteered to assist Jim with his chores. As they milked, groomed, fed, and cared for the cows this Elder's humble testimony and actions prepared the way for Brother Connors to feel the Spirit and become converted. Others undoubtedly contributed to the conversion process, including a great wife, but the prime mover was an Elder whose effectiveness I had grossly and unfairly underestimated. The words, "Judge not," were forcibly impressed upon my mind.

Each morning while I was the Crew Leader on the farm and the landscape areas at Temple View, we held a study class and followed it with a short meeting during which I gave the assignments of the day. One morning following an unsatisfactory performance I scolded my crew for their inattention to duty. Afterwards I felt that perhaps I had been too hard on them so I started the next crew meeting by saying, "I hope you will forgive me for my harsh words.." One of the crew members interrupted me. "It's all right, Elder" he said. "We don't pay attention to you anyway." Actually my crew accomplished many good things, so they must have listened part of the time.

Among the Saints who labored to build the New Zealand Temple was a deaf mute, Hata Tipoki. Everyone respected him for his devotion. How surprised we were when in a Sacrament Meeting held soon after the dedication, it was announced that Brother Tipoki would be one of the speakers. This good brother bore a testimony of Thanksgiving in words clear enough for all of us to understand. I was told that he had not spoken before that time.

The Temple and the College buildings were completed, shining monuments to the great efforts of the Labor Missionaries, some of whom had served for five to ten years. These dedicated Saints served without pay, and their loved ones at home supported them by providing them with ten schillings (one dollar and forty cents a week) for spending money and twice that for the married folks. President George R. Biessinger called a meeting of the Building Missionaries to announce a change. Some would be retained on a small salary to build chapels, while still more people would be called to fill unpaid missions for the program. When the calls had been unanimously accepted, a disappointed Sam Beazley, who had already served about ten years, asked why he was not permitted to continue. Elder Biesinger said, "Sam, I would gladly have extended your mission, but I want you to go home and find a nice girl and get married”. A few weeks later Sam cameback into the program, accompanied by a smiling bride.

It was my privilege to be with Elder Spencer W. Kimball part of the time when he organized the Hamilton, New Zealand Stake. Prior to calling the Stake Presidency, Elder Kimball interviewed all of the existing Auckland Stake and New Zealand District officers of the area from which the new Stake was to be carved. After calling Maurice Pearson and me as Counselors in the Presidency, Elder Kimball put us to work. For two days he kept us busy on the phone arranging for interviews and ushering people in and out of his presence. I have been privy to the proceedings of several Stake organizations, but this was done more thoroughly than any other. I was so busy that my strength was almost exhausted. Apparently he also felt the strain as well. One afternoon he said, "Brother Ririe, I need some rest. Will you call me in fifteen minutes?" As I closed the door so he could have some privacy, I observed that he had lain down on the carpet and was already asleep. At the appointed time I awakened him and that great human dynamo resumed his labors. By the time he left us on his way to Hawkes Bay, New Zealand where he would organize the sixth stake in Oceana in a six week period, he had held hundreds of interviews, spoken several times in conference and given us the most wonderful orientation meeting on Stake Organizational functions one could imagine. President Kimball asked church members to "lengthen their stride." I know from experience that few, if any, of us will lengthen our strides enough to match his whirlwind performance.

We were holding a Branch Conference in Tokoroa. The chorister selected a hymn that the members had obviously not sung before. For all I know, it might have been one that no one but the composer and the hymn selection committee had ever sung. Noting our difficulty, the chorister decided at the conclusion of the second verse to delete the rest. He signaled for us to stop, but everyone, including the pianist, was looking intently at their song books. The chorister walked down the aisle to take his seat but after he passed several rows of chairs, it dawned on him that the congregation was still attempting to sing the hymn, so he walked back up to the stand and conducted the remaining verses. Only President Wendell Wiser and I noticed the little drama as it played out. As the strained notes wafted heavenward, President Wiser sat with his song book completely covering his face so the people wouldn't notice that he was laughing. He needn't have done so.

One of the best meetings of my life was when my eldest son Jim reported his mission. During his mission he had written home and asked us to fast and pray with him that an investigator might join the Church. We often did this. He told us in his report that all eleven of his converts came into the church after his and our participation is such a fast.

In Sacrament Meeting in our ward we answered the request of Sister Pauline Rice that we fast in behalf of her son, Billy Joe, who was serving in the Uruguay Mission. His asthma was so bad that the Mission President contemplated releasing him. After the fast, his health improved and Joe finished a successful mission. As an added bonus for his service he later married his fine, devoted wife, a native Uruguayan.

One night in the Second Ward, a young married woman who was about to depart with her family from our Ward gave a very inappropriate Sacrament Meeting talk. As I debated which was the lesser evil, to stop her and alienate or embarrass her or to let her continue to speak questionable accounts of her private life, my great counselor, Brother Bruce Green, broke the tension by whispering to me, "You can't win 'em all." Fortunately she concluded her talk soon thereafter to the relief of everyone, and especially me.

One of the most satisfying meetings I ever attended was in our own Stake Center. The exact date I do not know, but in it the First Presidency letter of 8 June 1978 was mentioned which announced that all worthy men regardless of race or color could have the Priesthood and enjoy every blessing flowing therefrom. Tears welled up in my eyes as I contemplated the impact of this revelation given to the world through the Prophet President Spencer W. Kimball. My prayers and those of many Saints had been answered.

Remarkable coincidences occur when Mormons attend meetings in foreign lands As Sunday School class started in Beirut, Lebanon, I was asked by the teacher to introduce myself. I said, "My name is David Ririe, now of Salinas, California, but formerly of Ririe, Idaho." The teacher replied, "You won't believe this, but I am Brother Parker from Parker, Idaho. Ririe probably has five hundred people in the town and Parker is even smaller."

The Church has made it possible for me to attend many wonderful Firesides. A while ago President Howard W. Hunter spoke at one of them and it was carried by satellite to young people throughout the church. Sister Ririe and I were attended in our Salinas, California ward chapel. As President Hunter started his address in the Marriott Center of Brigham Young University, angry words were heard and the meeting was interrupted. President Hunter, who had been ordered to read a message by a detractor who had threatened to injure him, continued his inspiring message with calmness and poise. From President Hunter's demeanor one could not have guessed that such an incident had occurred. It was some time afterward that I learned the dramatic details.

My message is that attendance at church-sponsored meetings is a great privilege. We should attend with reverence, thankfulness and anticipation. Who knows what great experience may come to us, what inspiring words might be spoken, or what great lesson we might learn if we are where we should be when we should be there? Conversely, a loss of testimony and spirituality will occur in our lives if we attend reluctantly, critically, or sporadically.

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