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RELIGION

Local Mormons plan low-key celebrations

Pioneers in spirit: Rich church history will be on display

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    From left, Wendy Carey, Fritz Griffioen, and Toledo Stake President Kenneth Eddington at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Perrysburg.

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    People celebrate the state’s Mormon heritage during the Pioneer Day parade in Salt Lake City. Residents commemorate the date in 1847 when Mormon pioneers ended their treacherous journey from Illinois and discovered the Salt Lake Valley.

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    Utah res­i­dents com­mem­o­rate the date in 1847 when Mor­mon pi­o­neers ended their treach­er­ous jour­ney from Il­li­nois and dis­cov­ered the Salt Lake Val­ley. Thousands of people flock to Salt Lake City for the annual parade and celebration.

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Pioneer Day tends to be a big deal in Utah, where the orig­i­nal mem­bers of the Church of Je­sus Christ of the Lat­ter-day Saints ar­rived in 1847. The an­ni­ver­sary of that ar­rival each year sparks pa­rades, fire­works and more.

Ex­pect a dif­fer­ent cel­e­bra­tory fla­vor in the pic­nics and bar­be­cues of north­west Ohio.

“There are a lit­tle bit fewer of us here,” said Bishop Dan Brav­ard, who leads the Toledo 1st Ward in a pas­tor’s role, “so we scale it down.”

The Toledo Ohio Stake, which cov­ers 12 con­gre­ga­tions in north­west Ohio, counts just fewer than 4,000 mem­bers on its rolls, Pres­i­dent Ken­neth Ed­ding­ton said. (A stake is com­pa­ra­ble to a di­o­cese in other de­nom­i­na­tions.) About 50 mis­sion­ar­ies, who might be recog­niz­able by their com­mu­nity ser­vice or door-to-door faith mes­sage and who are as­signed to an area for a pe­riod of 18 months to two years, are also ac­tive in the re­gion cov­ered un­der the stake. Lo­cal meet­ing­houses can be found in Toledo, Per­rys­burg, and Bowl­ing Green.

Pioneer Day falls an­nu­ally on July 24 and in­vites Mor­mons to re­flect, in part, on the pi­o­neer­ing spirit that car­ried orig­i­nal church mem­bers west­ward and con­tin­ues to shapes the faith com­mu­nity to­day. Mr. Ed­ding­ton and Fritz Griffioen, who is sec­ond coun­selor in the stake, said about half of the con­gre­ga­tions in north­west Ohio are or­ga­niz­ing pic­nic-style gath­er­ings this month to cel­e­brate.

In Utah, Pioneer Day is a state hol­i­day. Banks and busi­nesses are closed, en­abling large-scale fes­tiv­i­ties not un­like the Fourth of July. In Ohio, church mem­bers tend to push cel­e­bra­tions to a more con­ve­nient week­end.

At the Toledo First Ward, for ex­am­ple, Bishop Brav­ard plans to re­flect on Pioneer Day themes at this week­end’s Sac­ra­ment Meet­ing. A cook­out will fol­low on July 29.

The St. Marys Branch, in St. Marys, Ohio, will also host a bar­be­cue on July 29.

Tr­ish Far­rer, a mem­ber of the Toledo 1st Ward, said she typ­i­cally at­tends the ward pic­nic with her fam­ily. She wants to in­still an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the church pioneers in her four young children, just as her parents did with her.

(She recalled one memorable Pioneer Day, at a church event as a child, in which she dressed up in pioneer clothing and churned her own butter.)

Mrs. Farrer, who grew up in Iowa and Southern California, also spent many childhood summers with family in Utah. She and her husband moved to Maumee about three years ago, when her husband enrolled in the the surgical residency program at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center.

She can see differences in the way Pioneer Day is celebrated in Utah. 

Of the 15 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints globally, approximately 2 million live in Utah, according to statistics provided by the church. That compares to approximately 61,000 in Ohio.

“It was so fun going to all the parades and being a part of the celebration,” Mrs. Farrer said. “It is much different celebrating there than anywhere else. It felt very real being in the very place the Mormon pioneers first settled.”

While Mr. Eddington and Mr. Griffioen described Pioneer Day as a light-hearted celebration, rather than a somber or sermon-heavy day on the religious calendar, it recalls a serious period in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. Early church members were fleeing religious persecution — and not for the first time since the church began to take shape under Joseph Smith in the 1820s in New York — when they embarked on a difficult, 1,300-mile journey from Nauvoo, Ill., to Utah’s Salt Lake Valley in the winter of 1846.

The growing body of believers had fled to Nauvoo in the winter of 1838, after being driven out of Missouri. At its height, Nauvoo rivaled Chicago as the largest city in the state, according to a historical account provided by the church. But there, too, they found tensions heightening. In 1844, Smith and his brother, Hyrum, died at the hands of a mob.

Brigham Young, another early church leader who would lend his name to the prominent university in Utah, led the early body of believers to the Salt Lake Valley.

When the church refers to “pioneers,” historically, it recalls the church members who made this journey with Young and to those who followed before the installation of the continental railroad. Genealogy is important with the church, and in some cases, church members today can trace their ancestors back to these early pioneers.

When Mr. Griffioen reflects on Pioneer Day, he said he allows the word a wider connotation. His parents converted to the church, as Toledoans, when Mr. Griffioen was an infant.

“When I would hear pioneer stories … they were neat stories but I couldn’t exactly relate to them because I had no pioneer ancestors,” he said. “I’ve always thought of my parents as being, at least from a spiritual perspective, pioneers for me, because they were the first members of their family to join the church, which of course led to me and my siblings and others to be part of it.”

He said he thinks of more recent converts to the church in the same way, pointing out, for example, that the church now recognizes “Jose” and “Maria” as its most common names. Among those first pioneers, the most common names were “John” and “Mary.”

That’s not to say Mr. Griffioen ignores the historical pioneers, who might call to mind images of bonnets and covered wagons. He compared his gratitude for the “people who went before” to the gratitude someone might feel toward the Founding Fathers on the Fourth of July.

It’s something he said he’s come to appreciate more over the years.

“You don’t quite appreciate that when you’re a kid, when you’re excited to eat a hot dog and see your friends,” he said.

Contact Nicki Gorny at: ngorny@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.

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