Monday, December 22, 2014

Is Moving the New Gathering?

Many of the primary sources I work with are filled with descriptions of recent converts leaving Tennessee for the land of Zion. My own great great grandfather described how how he and his companion helped load wooden boxes of personal items so they could be picked up by teamsters the following morning. Converts would write about the things they could not sell; the land and homes they left behind and the livestock that only sold at the very last minute. While the process of gathering to Zion came to an end over one hundred years ago, people still leave Tennessee for Utah, and the surrounding states.

There is perhaps no other religion  where our collective identity is tied to a modern place. (OK, maybe Judaism. But the connection for them is a mix of modern and ancient) I have been part of many discussions in the foyer (what else do you do in that awkward second hour of church if Ardis isn't your Gospel Doctrine Instructor) where the subject of places in Utah come up almost as if we were talking about a city a mere 50 miles away. (Really? All of you have been to the same shoe store at City Creek Mall? None of you live anywhere near there.) Perhaps only a fifth at best of our ward have relatives in Utah, but many more have visited. It would be like a random group of Catholics comparing notes on a gellato shop outside St. Peters Basilica. Or like everyone in a small town in Oklahoma knowing about the same tourist shop on Times Square, but only because they go to the same church.

I know we get missionaries from Utah on a regular basis. Every couple months a new set passes through. We have two sets right now. One current missionary even worked at a shoe store in City Creek. Anyway, we get to know them, and they get to know us. It ties us to the west in a way that only a church that know how to do things by proxy could do. 

So last week as friends loaded up a trailer with their treasured possessions and the missionaries helped move dressers and boxes of tools, clothes and toys, one missionary joked that he was sad he could not help them unload at the other end, like many of the former Tennessee missionaries were planning to do for this family when they arrived. I pointed out that there are many examples of missionaries doing just that. They shepherded immigrants on train rides to Utah or Colorado and then returned to their mission in the south. We all agreed the current mission president would not approve such a plan.

While my friends headed west because of an accepted job offer, and not because they felt the desire to gather with the saints, they go with a level of comfort built upon a shared culture, religion and friendship. Between relatives, returned missionaries, friends and ward members they've never met (the EQ moving service), there were just under a dozen people at their new home waiting to help them unload. It was done in 10 minutes flat I'm sure. [actually it took an hour, but they are in a third floor apartment] We'll miss them, and they might miss us.

Their experience, regardless of where they were moving to or from, has become part of what joins us together in service. From 1847 to 1869 thousands of Mormon converts walked (or road) across Nebraska and Wyoming to gather with the saints. They didn't get their on their own. Everyone had help. They went in wagon trains for mutual protection, or borrowed money from the PEF, or later by train at discounted rates negotiated by Church authorities. Now we help by loading trailers. The helping is part of the community. We don't build barns for each other, or harvest each other's fields. But we help for the same reasons early pioneers helped each other. It is part of what it means to be Mormon.

The trailer is loaded. All that is left is the group photo.
Check out their video blog about the move at The Youngblood American Dream. What took my ancestors several weeks, took this family, a few days.

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