Helga Meiszus was one of 15 children who attended Sunday School each Sabbath morning at the Latter-day Saint Tilsit Branch in northeastern Germany in 1929.
Each meeting opened with a hymn, a prayer and another hymn before priesthood holders administered the sacrament for the benefit of children who did not attend sacrament services later in the evening. Those in attendance then recited a scripture together and practiced singing.
To help the meeting run smoothly, Otto Schulzke, the branch president, hustled to do whatever was needed, from conducting meetings to leading the music.
After singing practice, curtains were hung to divide the hall into classrooms for adults, youth and children, where each group learned about gospel subjects.
When the classes were over, everyone gathered together again for closing remarks, a hymn and prayer.
The historic scene, recreated from church records and told through the eyes of 9-year-old Helga, is featured in the third volume of “Saints: The Story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and helps to illuminate the least known period of church history, said Jed Woodworth, a general editor and the lead historian.
“What’s revolutionary about this, even though it feels like kind of a humdrum scene, is never before have we glimpsed Sunday School in East Prussia,” Woodworth said. “We have never had that kind of scene in our history before.”
“Saints: The Story of The Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days Volume 3, Boldly, Nobly and Independent, 1893-1955,” will be released on Friday, April 22, in 14 languages.
Printed copies will be available for purchase as soon as possible from the church’s online store and at retail outlets. The digital version is also available for free on the church website and in the Church History section of the Gospel Library app.
The 760-page book is the third in the church’s official multivolume history written in an easy-to-follow, narrative style. Volume 1 was released in September 2018 and Volume 2 was published in February 2020.
The first two volumes focus on the early Restoration as the church build temples in Kirtland, Ohio, Nauvoo, Illinois, and Utah, but also included stories about the church in England, Scandinavia and the Pacific Islands.
Most of “Saints, Vol. 3” covers the continuing growth of the global church by featuring the lives of Latter-day Saints in Europe, Asia, Africa, Central and South America and Oceania. The volume concludes with President David O. McKay dedicating the first temple in Europe.
“Readers will find themselves rejoicing, and at times aching, as they learn about the experiences of Saints around the world,” said Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy who serves as Church Historian and Recorder. “In this new volume we get the first glimpses of temples blessing members of the church outside of North America, and we see the powerful influence that the ordinances in those temples have on the Saints.”
What readers of ‘Saints, Vol. 3’ can expect
The third volume picks up following the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893 and tells the story of the Saints as they enter the modern era. During this time the restored gospel spreads around the world, hastened by innovations in transportation and communication, while church members face economic hardships, a worldwide pandemic and two world wars, ending in 1955 with the dedication of the Bern Switzerland Temple.
“There is a lot of institutional history that is kind of submerged in the stories,” said Lisa Olsen Tait, a general editor of the series. “To me, one of the real accomplishments of the book is to pack so much of that kind of history that people might find dry and uninteresting if they just read a straight narrative of it, but to show how people lived it, how they experienced the changes and what it meant.”
Readers will appreciate meeting new characters and experiencing their stories, said Scott Hales, a general editor and lead writer for the series.
“In this era, since it is so unfamiliar to our readers, they get to meet characters they have never heard of,” he said. “I think they will be surprised by the richness of the stories.”
Here are some of the people and events readers will learn about:
- Inez Knight and Jennie Brimhall, the first sister missionaries.
- The courtship and marriage of Leah Dunford and apostle John A. Widtsoe.
- Hirini Whaanga, a missionary in New Zealand.
- The martyrdom of Rafael Monroy and Vicente Morales, Latter-day Saints in Mexico.
- The lives of Latter-day Saints during World War I.
- The 1918 Spanish influenza.
- President Joseph F. Smith and his vision of the redemption of the dead.
- The lives of Latter-day Saints during the Great Depression.
- The lives of Latter-day Saints during World War II.
- The dedications of temples in Laie, Hawaii; Cardston, Alberta; and Mesa, Arizona.
These true Latter-day Saints stories are “captivating” and “enthralling,” said Angela Hallstrom, a general editor.
“We think of the sacrifices made when the pioneers crossed the plains, but there are stories of sacrifice and courage that occur, for example, in Europe during and after World War II,” she said. “I think readers will be absolutely blown away by the faith and fortitude of members in Europe during this time. That will be absolutely inspiring to our readers.”
How FamilySearch saved ‘Saints, Vol. 3’
When Woodworth was introduced to the “Saints” project in 2015, he discovered a big problem.
The church’s archives did not have a good source base for the years 1900-1950.
“The main reason was the archives were not professionalized during this time and they weren’t gathering material, but the big reason is that many of the sources that we might have used for this book were in private hands and they never made it to Utah,” Woodworth said.
“As a consequence, we had to go out and find stories ... and locate characters that would tell the story that we knew was there to be told. It was actually a big challenge. The way it has worked out, the stress and the strain of trying to locate the right characters, is even more joyous for us because of the challenge of locating source material.”
Many times those working on the “Saints” team would find the name of a person in a history, letter or journal, then search for that name in FamilySearch memories to see if their descendants had shared any documentation from their lives.
“For the most part, that was a very successful tactic,” Hales said. “ We were able to find many, many documents by contacting family members that we discovered on FamilySearch memories. I don’t know that this volume could have been written as well as it was, and as efficiently as it was, without memories.”
The team used this method to find Jeanne Charrier, a younger, single, French-speaking Latter-day Saint woman who received her endowment in the Swiss Temple following its dedication.
“It was right as we were trying to end the book,” Hallstrom said. “She was one of those examples of a character who you feel like just came down from heaven and fell in your lap.”
‘Saints, Vol. 3’ during the COVID-19 pandemic
Much of “Saints, Vol. 3” was written during the pandemic lockdown of 2020.
Add in the current conflict in Ukraine, and the stories told in the volume feel more relevant now than when the project started, Hales said.
“It’s remarkable to me that we have lots of lessons to learn from this book, to help us cope with our world today,” he said.
“We had no idea how timely this book would end up being,” Olsen said.
Writing about courageous Latter-day Saints and how they helped one another during events like the Great Depression and World War II became a source of strength for Hallstrom during that isolation of the pandemic.
“These stories of Saints rescuing each other temporarily and spiritually in communities all around the world, I think is really powerful,” she said. “They are a great reminder to us today of why our communities as Latter Day Saints, our wards and our branches, are so important.”
“Saints, Vol. 3” was produced during a time of difficulty, challenge and struggle, when the team was separated, but the team still felt heaven’s help throughout the process. In a small way, their experiences mirrored the contents of the book being written.
“We were scrambling, but at the same time in the midst of that scramble, we enjoyed the blessings of heaven. We had manna come down to us repeatedly,” Woodworth said. “Our prayers were answered and we were able to find what we needed in the middle of that scarcity. ... We weren’t losing loved ones or jobs like some characters, but we did have our own struggles, and so I’m proud of this book for that reason.”
How is the multivolume series of ‘Saints’ resonating with readers?
Woodworth, Hales, Hallstrom and Tait can all share positive anecdotes about how the series has resonated with readers.
“It’s appealing to people of all ages,” Hales said. “We’ve been pleased with the success of the series so far.”
Woodworth knows of seminary teachers who are sharing and discussing parts of “Saints” with their classes.
Hallstrom knows several Latter-day Saint returned missionaries who have become fans of the series, whether they listen to the audio version or read it cover to cover.
“I think one of the reasons is because ‘Saints’ is something they can read while they are on their mission, but then it turns them on to church history,” she said. “Now they have a real interest in church history, and are also grateful for the context that it gives them while they are doing missionary work. They feel better prepared to answer questions.”
Additional ‘Saints, Vol. 3’ resources
In connection with the release of the third volume of “Saints,” the church has published new Church History Topics in the Gospel Library, providing more details for readers who want to delve more deeply into church history.
The church will also launch the third season of the “Saints” podcast, which goes behind the scenes to tell more about the people and events in the books. A new episode will be released each week. James Perry, a British historian, will host the podcast this season.
Previous seasons of the podcast have reached hundreds of thousands of listeners.
When will ‘Saints’ Vol. 4 be published?
The estimated release for “Saints, Vol. 4” will be in 2024. It will start off in 1955 and bring the reader to the recent past, when temples dot the earth.