Vintage Ensign: Hartley’s “Mormon Sundays”

The Church’s internet publication of Richard E. Turley’s September Ensign article on the Mountain Meadows Massacre got me thinking about issues in the past that I have really enjoyed. Perhaps my favorite article was written two years after I was born, by William Hartley.

Hartley is an excellent historian and has published in various scholarly journals, as well as being a regular contributor to Church magazines. His “From Men to Boys: LDS Aaronic Priesthood Offices, 1829-1996” (Journal of Mormon History 22 [Spring 1996]: 80-136) is one of those must-reads that deserves a post of its own. In 1978 the January Ensign included his “Mormon Sundays: A historian looks at how we’ve observed the Sabbath since 1830,” which shows that Turley’s forthcoming article isn’t, perhaps, as foreign to the magazine as a decade’s worth of content might suggest.

The lead paragraph gets to the gist of it:

How was the Sabbath kept during Joseph Smith’s lifetime? Have we borrowed Sabbath ideas from others? What kinds of public worship services took place before we had spacious, temperature-controlled meetinghouses? Why were priesthood meetings shifted from weeknights to Sunday? Why was fast day changed from the first Thursday to the first Sunday of each month? How has administration of the sacrament varied? How have previous generations defined proper and improper Sabbath conduct?

To be sure, Hartley writes for his audience and assures the reader that all the changes are the fruits of modern revelation. Changes and trends are dramatically simplified, so you won’t find the full details that you will from his scholarly papers, which renders some of his assertions a bit naive. Still, it is a wonderfully enjoyable piece. It is also an historical piece in its own right. Written before the formulation of the three-hour block in 1980, Hartley anticipates some future flexibility in Sabbath scheduling:

Recently the Church issued special handbooks for smaller units of the Church–small branches, groups, and families–which permit the combining of Sunday School and sacrament meetings, and let Relief Society sisters meet while the brethren are in priesthood meetings.

So, here is to Camelot II and the phoenix of history.


  1. I think the September Ensign article about the Mountain Meadows Massacre you refer to in your first sentence was actually by Richard E. Turley Jr. and not Glen Leonard.

  2. Do you see a “Camelot II” coming on based on the September 2007 Ensign article? If that is true, are we really sure that Camelot I ever ended?

  3. john f, camelot I had a pretty abrupt and public end.

  4. So do you really think this is Camelot II?

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree Hartley is terrific. I would love it if someone would post a synopsis of From Men to Boys, because I often have occasion to cite that article when responding to questions about modern priesthood offices. It’s a great article.

  6. John,thanks for catching that. I have updated the post. I don’t think there is a real Camelot II yet…but maybe. I’m hopeful that the digitization effort will change things. We have things like Selected Collections and I am hopeful. There will never be the open access of the Arington years, but the pendulum is swinging.

  7. John Wiliams says:

    That 1978 Sabbath Day article looks interesting.

  8. Those were the days. It would be nice to see more in the Ensign that would allow readers to sample both recent research and older but significant scholarship languishing in the more scholarly journals.

  9. Does anyone know anything else about the ‘sacrament being withdrawn for a time” (several years) in the 1850’s that is mentioned in this article?

  10. claire, that was during the Mormon Reformation and Brigham canceled public church meetings for almost a year (if I remember correctly). Should be noted that regular church attendance wasn’t really a hallmark of the saints until the 20th century. A goo place to go for information on the reformation is Paul H. Peterson’s “The Mormon Reformation of 1856-1857: The Rhetoric and the Reality.” in vol. 15 (1989) of Journal of Mormon History pg. 59-87. His thesis has more info but isn’t available for free on the internet.

  11. Costanza says:

    The sacrament was withdrawn for about six months beginning in November 1856, although public meetings continued, especially meetings for rebaptisms. J., regular Sunday meetings, in addition to the Thursday fast meetings, were being held in most Mormon communities by the mid-1850s. See another of Hartley’s articles for detail on that: “Common People: Church Activity in the Brigham Young Era,” in Ron Walker and Doris Dant, eds., Nearly Everything Imaginable: The Everyday Life of Utah’s Pioneers. Also see Ron Walker’s “Going to Meeting in Salt Lake City’s Thirteenth Ward, 1849-1881: A Microanalysis,” in Davis Bitton and Maureen Beecher, eds., New View of Mormon History: Essays in Honor of Leonard J. Arrington.

  12. Costanza says:

    Oh, and Peterson’s dissertation is available through BYU’s electronic thesis and dissertation database.

  13. I’ve heard/read about the cessation of meetings, and have found interesting the role of Sunday meetings, and meetings of any type. The article in the OP specifically refers to the sacrament being “withdrawn for a short period to help the Saints consider seriously the meaning of their church membership” which I thought interesting… wondering what meant. Doesn’t look like there is a footnote to refer to. It caught my eye because I have a pet issue about circumstances around taking/not taking the sacrament. Thanks for the references.

  14. Also see Heber C. Kimball’s sermon published in JD 4:80-82.

  15. Nice pulls, Costanza. I perhaps should have been a bit more careful in my wording regarding meeting attendance. By the fifties, there were regular meetings, but low turn out numbers were fairly common. Priesthood meeting attendance was well below 10% if I remember correctly at the turn of the century and I think Hartley said that in some of those pioneer chapels less than 50% attendance was fairly normal during the 19th century. So, yeah, we had meetings, but I think that it is fair to say that regular meeting attendance is a later hallmark of the Saints. (Though I guess with inactivity rates that are often high, it may not be a hallmark still…).

    Thanks for catching the mistake about Young canceling meetings. I want to say that he did though, at some point. Was it during the Utah War? or am I just hallucinating?

    I just checked and while BYU has Petereson’s masters thesis on the Word of Wisdom, they don’t have his dissy available.

  16. Costanza says:

    J., you’re right about attendace rates, then and now. You’re also right about Peterson’s dissertation. It must have been Howard Searle’s dissertation I was thinking of that is available online. I used them all when I was writing my own dissy, so I guess they all sort of ran together in my head. I know alot more about the Mormon Reformation than I do about the Utah War, but I think that they did cancel meetings during the “move south.”

  17. Thanks for introducing me to William Hartley. This post leads me to wonder what other Ensign articles from the 70s and 80s (90s?) might be worth looking up. Sure, I could browse through 20 years of back issues online, but I thought some of you might be able to point to some good stuff from the earlier days of the Ensign, the kind we might not find today. It would just be fun to quote some unexpected material and be able to say, “Hey, it’s from the Ensign,” sort of like Michael Hicks defending the singing of “Amazing Grace” in Sacrament Meeting because, hey, it used to be in the church hymnnal.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    Joanne, one trick is to check out the January and September issues, which tend to have more substantive matter due to the beginning of seminary and GD curriculum years.

    Barry Bickmore once went through the Ensign and noted the more substantive pieces of relevance to apologetics. These resources are now incorporated into the FAIR Topical Guide.

  19. Another thing you might do is look up authors of interest in the Studies in Mormon History bibliography (a wonderful tool) and filter for the Ensign.

  20. Here are two other bibliographies:

    Smith Institute articles, 1980-2003

    History Division publications (see pp. 20-34) (for reasons that are unclear to me, a number of listed Ensign articles are not available on

    A few articles I found interesting from the 1970s:

    William Hartley, “Samuel D. Chambers,” New Era, June 1974.

    William Hartley, “Deacon Power,” New Era, May 1975.

    Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, “Jane Manning James,” Ensign, August 1979.

    Glen Leonard, “Early Saints and the Millennium,” Ensign, August 1979.

    Leonard Arrington, “Latter-day Saint Women on the Arizona Frontier,” New Era, April 1974.

  21. Thanks so much. I wonder why some of those articles are not available on Not to jump to thoughts of a conspiracy, but a couple of times, articles have been replaced (censored?) in the CD-ROM version of the Ensign. The News section of the November Sunstone issue did a brief write-up on two of them. Could be nothing more than a permissions issue, but it makes you wonder what’s going on!

  22. Some time ago I started a list on missing church magazine articles on, and one thing jumped out at me: articles by Maureen Ursenbach Beecher published in the 1970s were consistently unavailable. Don’t know why.