July 1, 2008

Without Purse or Pig? Brigham's Missionary Wage

Brigham Young
August 31, 1856

Much early LDS missionary folklore[1] revolves around the concept of preaching the gospel "without purse or scrip." While most missionaries today pay their own way in a flat sum of money to a common account, thus equalizing the cost no matter where in the world they serve, the first missionaries of this dispensation depended completely on God and the kindness of strangers. They took great pride in not preaching for hire, and their faith was strengthened as they depended on the Lord as instructed by the revelations given to their prophet, Joseph Smith, and the commands to disciples found in the New Testament.[2]

In this discourse, after hearing the testimonies of some returned missionaries, Brigham opined on his early missions including some financial aspects. Brigham relates his thoughts as a stream of consciousness, hence the run-on sentence. This is a good example of the extemporaneous nature of many of Brigham's discourses:

I came into this Church in the spring of 1832. Previous to my being baptized, I took a mission to Canada at my own expense; and from the time that I was baptized until the day of our sorrow and affliction, at the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum, no summer passed over my head but what I was traveling and preaching, and the only thing I ever received from the Church, during over twelve years, and the only means that were ever given me by the Prophet, that I now recollect, was in 1842, when brother Joseph sent me the half of a small pig that the brethren had brought to him, I did not ask him for it; it weighed 93 pounds.
And that fall, previous to my receiving that half of a pig, brother H. C. Kimball and myself were engaged all the time in pricing property that came in on tithing, and we were also engaged in gathering tithing, and I had an old saddle valued at two dollars presented to me, and brother Heber was credited two dollars in the Church books for one day's services, by brother Willard Richards who was then keeping those books.
Brother Heber said, “Blot that out, for I don't want it.” I think it was crossed out, and so was the saddle, for I did not want it, even had it been given to me. These were the only articles I ever received in the days of Joseph, so far as I recollect. I have traveled and preached, and at the same time sustained my family by my labor and economy. If I borrowed one hundred dollars, or fifty, or if I had five dollars, it almost universally went into the hands of brother Joseph, to pay lawyers' fees and to liberate him from the power of his enemies, so far as it would go. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars that I have managed to get, to borrow and trade for, I have handed over to Joseph when I came home. That is the way I got help, and it was good for me; it learned me a great deal, though I had learned, before I heard of “Mormonism,” to take care of number one.
In relying on the kindness of strangers, Brigham said he was confident in his ability to secure goods or lodging, so long as he had the privilege of introducing the elders himself:
For me to travel and preach without purse or scrip, was never hard; I never saw the day, I never was in the place, nor went into a house, when I was alone, or when I would take the lead and do the talking, but what I could get all I wanted. Though I have been with those who would take the lead and be mouth, and been turned out of doors a great many times, and could not get a night's lodging.
But when I was mouth I never was turned out of doors; I could make the acquaintance of the family, and sit and sing to them and chat with them, and they would feel friendly towards me; and when they learned that I was a “Mormon” Elder, it was after I had gained their good feelings.
More on "preaching without purse or scrip" from this discourse to come. 


"Folklore" is used here not as referring to fables or falsehoods, but in the academic sense of "traditional beliefs, practices, customs, stories, jokes, songs (etc.) of a people, handed down orally or behaviorally from individual to individual" (About.com). These can be based on truth or imagination. For more on Mormon folklore see Mike Wennergren, "Folklore plays role for LDS," Deseret Morning News, October 6, 2007; William A. Wilson, "Mormon Folklore," Encyclopedia of Mormonism. 

For example, see D&C 24:18; 84:78, 86; Mark 6:8; Luke 10:4; 22:35-36. This sermon contains several reminiscences from Brigham on preaching without purse or scrip which will be displayed in the next few blog posts. In addition to Journal of Discourses accounts, folklore on preaching without purse or scrip has been transmitted orally, in Church publications, and in missionary journals. For example, President David O. McKay related his father's experience of being called on a mission in 1881, thus having to leave a wife and children behind with little means to live (see "Some Personal Notes," The Improvement Era, October, 1968, 2). Eugene England wrote of the fascinating diary account of Joseph Millett, called in 1852 by Brigham Young to serve in Nova Scotia. The 19-year-old boy traveled without purse or scrip, and recorded miraculous healings, and instances where money was somehow provided to fund his journey (see England, “Without Purse or Scrip: A 19-Year-Old Missionary in 1853,” New Era, Jul 1975, 20).


Anonymous said...

I actually consider that our missionaries still preach without purse or scrip. The "without scrip" has become even stronger lately. Even though missionaries do have apartments and money to live on, the materialness of life is not forefront, and they are in some sense in a vow of "poverty".


LifeOnaPlate said...

I see what you mean, but still, as a missionary in Wisconsin I had a debit card with funds provided each month (albeit money from my savings or my mother.) I see this as different from going out to preach in faith that money will simply be forthcoming.

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