It was the summer of 2013 when members of the Cambria Ward, Queen Creek North Stake, Queen Creek, Arizona, were met by an unexpected sight. On entering the church building, they were greeted by a full-sized Christmas tree standing in the foyer.
Bishop Steve Slade had been considering different ways to generate interest in family history and temple work. He said his hope was to have “everybody in the ward excited about it or excited enough that they’re going to start asking questions. That, right there, will start the process.”
It’s hard to know when inspiration will strike. For Bishop Slade, it was during a tidal wave of “Christmas in July” promotions used by retailers. He had an idea, and soon a specially designed family history initiative was being crafted.
Bishop Slade shared his concept with the members of the ward council, and after some thoughtful consideration, they were ready to champion this cause. Leaders of each auxiliary accepted responsibilities in support of crafting a new family history initiative for the ward.
Sunday came, and members arrived at church. The addition of the Christmas tree in the lobby of the building was obvious. Not only was the timing unusual, but the tree was also completely bare except for sign on the top that read “Families Are Forever” and a photo of a temple.
Bishop Slade explained that Christmas and ward families would unite by creating one remarkable tree! He challenged members to find an ancestor’s name needing temple ordinances. Each time a ward member found a family name and took that name to the temple, an ornament would be added to the tree.
The ornaments were constructed out of a round piece of paper with a snowflake print. On each ornament was printed the name of the ancestor found, the person who performed the temple work, and a picture of the temple where the work had been completed.
The goal was to complete the work for 500 ancestors of ward members. That meant 500 ornaments would be hanging from the tree on Christmas Day.
The members of the ward were unsure what they were to do at first because they were largely unfamiliar with how to find and take a family name to the temple. But each member received personal support as needed. Short, fun tours of FamilySearch.org were provided for first timers on the website, which for the Cambria Ward, meant most members. This simple, personal overview helped answer many questions, concerns, and misconceptions about family history.
The initiative showed signs of positive results. The temple snowflakes with names began filling the tree, and temple and family history experiences were a growing theme in testimony meetings. New excitement and appreciation for family history increased as the weeks went on.
Bishop Slade explained that his plan was basically “to get everybody to feel the spirit of Elijah.” He continued, “If they could just do an ordinance for a family member on the other side, it was worth it.”
On Christmas Day, 581 snowflakes adorned the tree! This incredible ward had the faith and humility to learn something new and surpassed their goal. Mission accomplished!
Sister Slade was thrilled by the response and grateful for the youth’s participation. “The youth are now realizing it’s their family,” she said, “it’s their name, it’s them helping their family, and [it’s] the whole process [of] perfecting us all.”
Bishop Slade now serves as the ward family history leader, and the snowflakes are back! The ward is doubling its efforts with a new goal of 1,000 temple snowflakes. This special ward is on its way to be blessed with 1,000 experiences, and ward members are becoming saviors on Mount Zion.
Designate an area on your tree at home for your own family ornaments, and add your own family names. Be as creative as you wish to represent each of your ancestors. Fill the Christmas season with family!