ALPINE — They call themselves “Band of Brothers.” And no, they have nothing to do with BYU football.
A ward in Utah County is using singing, social media and the programs of the church to create a culture of brotherhood and point young men toward missionary service.
In the Mountainville 4th Ward in the Alpine West Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are 30 priests, ages 16-18; 28 teachers, ages 14-16; and 10 deacons, ages 12-14. The ward has 23 missionaries serving around the world.
“I haven’t counted the kids in our Primary,” said John Anderson, a former Young Men leader in the ward. “But suffice it to say, with all these budding young men, the ward has literally turned into a missionary factory.”
The name “Band of Brothers” was born in the summer of 2008 while the Young Men were winding down a week of outdoor activities and service around a campfire. As they reflected on their fun bonding experiences, they began to share their testimonies, Anderson said.
“As I listened to their testimonies and watched tough tears flow, it occurred to me that these priests were literally a band of brothers and would forever share a bond because of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Not long after that experience, the Young Men organized themselves into a choir and began singing at sacrament meetings as well as in stake conference. They wear white shirts, dress pants and a red tie with the initials “B. of B.” They have sung such hymns as “I Stand All Amazed,” “Called to Serve” and “God Be With You,” along with the Primary song “I Hope They Call Me On a Mission.” After each meeting, the LDS teens turn in their ties. When one leaves on his mission, he gets to keep a red tie.
“One thread that ties these priests together is their singing appearances in church. It’s a stirring sight,” Anderson said. “No, they are not all singers, but when they sing these moving missionary-themed songs, they achieve a unity and a spiritual synergy that makes these priests better together.”
Despite the large numbers and a wide variety of interests, talents and pursuits among the young men, having a “culture of caring” and “subtle diversity” have contributed to quorum success. Many of the priests have also excelled in sports, academics, music and other activities.
Now that so many are serving missions, parents of the missionaries have created a “Band of Brothers” Facebook missionary page where the parents can post photos and excerpts of letters from Mountainville 4th Ward missionaries in an effort to remain in contact.
The page’s description reads, “With anywhere from 23-28 members of this quorum serving at any given time this is a powerful organization and a strong affiliation of friendship and brotherhood.”
The Facebook page is loaded with letters, as well as preparation-day photos in foreign countries and of baptisms and groups of missionaries in front of temples.
On Aug. 18, 2011, Chase Cottle opened his mission call: “I am going to the Texas San Antonio Mission speaking Spanish!”
On Aug. 30, 2011, a message from Elder Brayden Matheson read, “Today is my last day in the MTC! I will be taking off to California tomorrow! To my Brothers in the MV4, prepare now!”
Next to a picture featuring a family dressed in white clothing, a message from Elder Levi Gifford, serving in Houston, reads, “This is the family I promised I’d find before I came to this earth.”
Anderson said the cool thing about the Facebook page is reading detailed reports directly from the missionary’s letters.
“It’s addicting to hear the specifics,” he said.
“You get details you that you normally wouldn’t get unless you are in on their emails, and it sparks great discussions. The advantageous benefit is that youth are into Facebook and when they see these guys on missions, it’s cool and they can’t wait to get there.”
Anderson was released from his calling in the Young Men a while ago, but the tradition carries on with president Kelly Larsen and Bishop Sean Collins. Both men have sons on missions, and Anderson’s son just received his call to El Salvador and Belize.
“We know we’re not the only ward that does stuff like this,” Anderson said. “There are fantastic youth groups everywhere. But this has been such a magical time, a sliver of a peek into the lives of the missionaries you normally wouldn’t get. It’s a great tool.”