The Real Elder Price
The Real Elder Price, Part 6: The Dedication
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of essays that examines the real world of Mormon missionaries and the real Elder Price. Read the author's Introduction.
Comedy, particularly satire, tends to simplify and exaggerate characters and content. So it's no surprise that LDS Church leaders, as depicted in The Book of Mormon Musical, are either goofy or tyrannical—and capable of teeter-tottering to either extreme. In the satire, the mission president is an implacable hard-liner. When it's clear that the African converts haven't received the orthodox gospel from the missionaries, but something profanely different, the president explodes. He pronounces the missionaries all failures, and then declares that he's sending them ignominiously home. The same guy who had gushed that these teenaged ministers had "become Africa" is now in a rage, and fulfilling every fear provoked by the "spooky Mormon Hell dream." All he lacks is a pitchfork and a tail.
In real, unexaggerated life, I know a lot of currently serving and former mission presidents. The one I know best is my father. I remember well when he got a phone call inviting him and my mother to Salt Lake City for something. For a week, we Blair kids were left to speculate about what our father was being asked to do. Finally, we had a family meeting, and Dad reported what had happened.
He and Mom had been invited to talk to Elder Dallin Oaks, sustained by Mormons as an apostle. As it happens, Elder Oaks is also a family friend, someone we have joked with, eaten cake with at wedding receptions, and greeted at funerals. But in this setting, he was acting in that apostolic assignment. He told Dad that the Church was ready to open a mission in the Baltic States, which had been behind the Iron Curtain since the 1940s, and asked if Dad, with Mom at his side, would preside over it. They both agreed, not mentioning the other things in their lives that would make such service difficult. (Two of my siblings would marry during my parents' time in the Baltics. Mom returned for one of the weddings, but we Blair kids represented our parents at the other.) There would be no financial compensation for this service; the three years were consecrated time.
|President and Sister Blair in the Baltics|
For my husband, Bruce, and me, the experience of witnessing my parents being set apart for this assignment was awe-inspiring. When Elder Oaks entered the room, it was with a power that distinguished him from Dallin Oaks, the attorney and friend with whom we laughed in everyday associations. This was no social gathering, but as serious and as sacred as when Christ sat in Peter's boat and asked him to "thrust out a little from the land" (Lk. 5:2).
My uncle John Groberg, functioning as Elder Groberg, placed his hands on his sister's head, and pronounced a blessing of comfort. Mom was desperately insecure about leaving her home and family. He told her she could do this thing, and that she had been prepared in ways she didn't realize.
Margaret Blair Young is the president of the Association for Mormon Letters and has published eight books—six novels and two short story collections. Three of the novels were co-authored with Darius Gray and give the history (documented) of Black Latter-day Saints. She and Gray made the documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, which is currently under contract with the Documentary Channel and showing nationally. She has written six encyclopedia articles and other scholarly papers on Blacks in the western United States, and particularly Black Mormons. She teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University.