Monday, August 31, 2009

Reflections on my Mormon Past from my Orthodox Present

This essay is intended for my Mormon, Orthodox and Christian families.

Original Post: August 31, 2009
Last updated: December 2, 2009

Salt Lake City Mormon Temple

Kiev Orthodox Monastery

Chapter One: Early Years
Chapter Two: Four High Council Encounters
Chapter Three: Santa Fe Stake Reorganized
Chapter Four: Russian Easter at Long Beach Third Ward
Chapter Five: Angry Granddaughter
Chapter Six: Stake Presidents I have known
Chapter Seven: Other notable Mormons I have known

To be added upon....

CHAPTER ONE. Early Years
My late father was baptized Nikolai Nikolayevich Kovalenko in a Russian Orthodox ritual in infancy in 1903 in Ukraine, but there is no evidence he was ever active. In fact, he once told me near the end of his life in 1964 that he considered himself an atheist in his early years before and during the Russian war years of 1917-20 when he was a boy soldier. This was because he could not believe in the kind of God proclaimed by Russian Orthodox believers in his country. That was a time of great unrest and tumult in the Russian empire against a corrupt church and an oppressive government.

Thus, Dad had no meaningful religious training before being caught up by the White Army during the Russian Revolution and civil war, becoming a refugee afterwards and finally leaving his family and country for good.

The Russian revolutionary eruptions in the early 20th century in 1905 and 1917 were caused by a deep religious foment during the 19th century, which produced such great writers as Pushkin, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekov and others. This foment was mirrored in America by religious revivals in the early 1800s that inspired Alexander Campbell, Joseph Smith and the Mormon experience, but in a different manifestation. In both declared Christian countries this religious foment reflected a lost sense of spiritual authenticity.

Out of such circumstances and post war consequences, my Orthodox-born agnostic/atheist father came to America in 1922, eventually traveled west and converted to Mormonism in Salt Lake City circa 1929. In 1932 he traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, where he met and married my mother, a descendant of Mormon pioneers.

The Mormons gave Dad stability, if not identity, plus an extended family and a new vision for life. He embraced Mormonism with enthusiasm, but not without reservation. Even though it was not a perfect fit, he stayed with his Mormon family and adopted religion to his dying day, leaving his family a mixed legacy of commitment, creativity and uncertainty. The Mormon preoccupation with genealogy allowed Dad to give his two sons an interest in their paternal roots, albeit with an agenda of conversion to the Mormon version of “the one true faith”.

I was born in 1933 with the last name “Kregg” (Dad’s second name change after coming to America) and my brother Virgil was born a year later. We were both reared in Phoenix in an active Mormon community without the slightest knowledge of Orthodoxy and very little knowledge of our Russian/Ukrainian heritage. It wasn’t until I joined the US Army early in 1953 to be trained as a Russian interpreter that I encountered the Russian Orthodox tradition by joining a Russian student choir, becoming a soloist and learning to sing the traditional chant “S nami Bog” (God is with us). That experience sowed the seeds of Orthodoxy that would take root over 5 decades later.

I was a quiet child and teenager and took my Mormon upbringing seriously. At age 16 (1950), I experienced a first sense of spiritual calling which seemed to have nothing to do with Mormonism. It frightened me and I repressed the memory. It would resurface 41 years later.

During elementary school years, my brother and I attended the local ward Primary program and my fondest memories were of loving, gentle women such as Ruth Stapley, Lottie Sorenson, La Priel Smith, Phoebe Openshaw and aunt Florence Clawson. They became loving maternal role models. They also taught me a song, which colored most of my early life:

“A Mormon boy, a Mormon boy, I am a Mormon boy. I might be envied by a king, for I am a Mormon boy.”

Obviously, such songs were meant to influence children with a sense of high self-esteem and they had qualified success with me and apparently unqualified success with my brother.

During my senior year in high school (1950-51) I was one of several Mormon teen-age priests called to participate in an experimental stake (local) procelyting mission as a junior companion. My senior companion was Trent Rogers, a large, powerfully built and committed man whose profession was operating heavy construction equipment. I loved and admired Trent. He became a role model for me, which was the basic objective of the experimental program. That is, it was intended to provide promising young Mormon men with augmented, mature spiritual companionship during their formative years. My father was not a strong leader nor involved much in my life in those years from the perspective of caring and concerned Mormon leaders. The local mission call was a well conceived and effective youth program, for which Mormons are well known.

My mother, a totally committed Mormon without the questions or the flexibility of my father, assumed a de facto family leadership role in my formative years, directly and indirectly. This would become a mixed blessing after the death of my father in 1964. Throughout most of my early and middle life, she typically positioned herself as the private secretary to church ecclesiastic leaders. The first such position that I recall was as the transcribing secretary for Phoenix Stake Patriarch Orlando C. Williams, who pronounced a patriarchal blessing upon me when I was just ten. That was an unusually early age for such a directive blessing, which more normally was given to youth in their middle or late teens. Later leaders who engaged Mother were several bishops and stake presidents, one of which became a regional representative. She seems to have had ecclesiastical ambitions for her sons early in their lives.

After high school I attended BYU for the year 1952 until I quit school to return home intending to marry my girl friend, Vonda Squire. While at BYU I took a quarter of Russian, which would eventually qualify me for Russian interpreter training at the Army Language School (ALS) in Monterey, California.

At the ALS I came into contact with Orthodox Russians for the first time. At no time then or later did they ever proselyte me or anyone that I knew of. Their attitude seemed much like that of the Jews. “Orthodoxy manifests itself; it does not try to explain itself”, wrote Orthodox priest, martyr and Saint Pavel Florensky in his 1922 magnum opus Iconostasis.

CHAPTER TWO. Four High Council Encounters
From Army Language School days beginning in 1953 and subsequent years to April 1966, my personal, professional and spiritual life underwent dramatic changes primarily in dealing with, coping with and trying to understand the Mormon ecclesiastical enterprise. The result was four encounters with Mormon high councils.

First Encounter
The first Mormon "High Council" encounter came in a dream the night of April 2-3, 1966, while on the way to visit relatives of my wife-to-be in the San Francisco Bay area.
3 April 1966
Carmel, CA
0515... I become aware of lying face down, naked, between two metal posts on some kind of altar. Many men are milling around, members of the Mormon priesthood (in their temple robes), going about their business in preparation to experiment with me. I'm being groomed or prepared for something. I accept the situation without question.

Then, one man comes over, having recognized me, and asks, "How was Mazatlan?" (Up to this time everything had seemed impersonal.) I reply, "Oh, there were some complications and we haven't made it yet. It's still pending." Another brother (familiar face, reddish hair, one who curries favor with leaders) looks up a little surprised and asks if my first name is Gene.

I acknowledge this and then realize he now knows who I am and of the stake action taken against me. I watch him go over to Brother Kenner, the presiding authority, and whisper in his ear while looking and pointing at me. Brother Kenner looks up at me angrily and with a fierce look gestures quickly with his right thumb (like the umpire in a baseball game) for me to get out immediately.

Frightened, I get up and begin running away, still naked, and feel like Cain fleeing. On my way out I hear angry voices behind me. Someone shouts, "I'll kill him! I'll kill him!" Another voice interrupts (the voice of Ferren L. Christensen). Emphatic and calm, he says, "No one In this church ever better be found killing one of these!" ...

I awoke deeply distressed.

This dream did not make sense until the following May (1966). While on a Mothers Day phone call to my mother, two local stake high councilmen, whom I did not know, knocked on the front door of the Laguna Beach house I was living in. I opened the door but could not talk to them, since I was still on the phone to Mother. Without a word except to verfy my name, they handed me an official-looking envelope and left.

Not knowing the nature of the contents, I explained to Mother that a letter had just come under official LDS stationery. She was eager to hear what it said, so I opened and read it aloud. It was notification of my excommunication and Mother was horrified! It was the worst news she could have imagined and she thought I saved the letter to read to her at that moment to torment her. There was nothing more to say to her; denials would mean nothing.

After hanging up I examined the date on the letterhead. It was April 2, 1966, and then looked in my dream journal for any possible dreams on that date. I discovered the dream above and it suddenly made sense.

Notice the question in the dream about "Mazatlan". That nails the connection! Mazatlan in Mexico was the place Lawrene and I had decided upon to get married to make our lives legal. Unfortunately, a legal snag developed and we discovered that the first legal day possible would be the following year on April 6.

Thus, this first outer encounter on Mothers Day 1966 had an inner counterpart a month earlier and hundreds of miles away.

Second Encounter
By September 1968 my marriage to Lawrene had become legal and our son Michael was almost two. I was given opportunity by stake president Ferren L. Christensen to appeal the 1966 excommunication and to face the High Council, none of whom I knew. But they were gentle and kind with their questions. After an hour or so of Q & A, one councilman exclaimed, "Why is this man out of the Church?" and invited me to rejoin. I thanked them but replied that my purpose was to set the record straight and to deliver to the stake president the original document [the revelation on the Negro] dated 25 July 1965 and say, "President, my job has been to survive long enough to get this document into your hands and out of mine. Whatever you do with it now is up to you."

After again thanking President Christensen, his two counselors, and the twelve high councilmen for their consideration, I bade them goodbye and left, never expecting to return to the institution.

Third Encounter.
It is July 1975. Laguna Beach Bishop Rondel Hanson has just presented me to the Newport Beach Stake High Council as a candidate for rebaptism [see blog "Grand Canyon Baptism", June 27, 2009] President Ferren L. Christensen has given permission for my 17-year-old son Nicholas to stand with me as personal witness. My mother, Christensen's private secretary, sits fearfully just outside the door of the council chambers. This HC is not friendlyl and begins an intense interrogation. "Do you still claim to be a prophet?" one man asks angrily. I reply that I cannot deny my experiences. Other challenging questions are voiced from around the room and the situation doesn't look promising.

Into this tense atmosphere Ferren Christensen suddenly interrupts, exclaiming: "Brethren!! This man has had irrefutable experience! You cannot require him to deny what he has experienced and knows!"

All councilmen become silent. The one who originally challenged me (who eventually became stake patriarch) says quietly, "I would never want to be found opposing the Prophet." Hesitantly their hands gradually rise until they are all up and I am silently and unanimously received back into full fellowship. Nick and I leave the council chambers quietly and pass by Mother's desk. I hear her quietly say to herself "Oh ye of little faith."

President Christensen gives me the privilege of choosing the date and circumstances for the rebaptism. I have asked that it be performed by my son Nick (a priest in the LDS Aaronic priesthood) in the Pacific Ocean just below the beach house on the morning of July 25, 1975. This is the tenth anniversary of the revelation received early in the morning of July 25, 1965, which original document I had delivered into the hands of Stake President Ferren L. Christensen in a September 1968 rehearing.

From today's perspective (August 2009) it seems there was unfinished business with Mormon ecclesiastics in those days and the Holy Spirit opened their ecclesiastical doors to accomplish it.

Fourth Encounter
On June 6, 1992, I again faced a hostile high council. This time it was Ventura Stake. Stake President Richard S. Bryce, who professionally was the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff, became accuser, prosecutor, judge and jury. His high council was generally quiet and acquiescent, except for one or two questions by only two councilmen. Although it is doctrinally mandated in the Doctrine and Covenants that six council members are to be assigned as defenders and six as prosecutors, I could not tell who was which and no one informed me on the matter. After I objected to the legality and lack of fairness of the proceedings, I was allowed to have one friend sit with me for support. He was Dr. Rex C. Mitchell, a university professor of management and an expert in recording board meeting procedures. Rex and I had been best friends since 1958, where we first met at Berkeley First Ward. He knew me well and quickly realized the abusive nature of the interrogation and began to take notes on anything he could find to write on, not realizing he would need to capture the event. His notes were eventually published and they speak for themselves.

Thus, the unfinished ecclesiastic business seemed finished to me by bringing such abuses into the light. More excommunications of the Mormon intellectual community began, which were highlighted by the notorious purging of "The September Six" the following year 1993. Indeed, the Shadow side of the Mormon ecclesiastical enterprise began to reveal its true nature.

CHAPTER THREE. Santa Fe Stake Reorganized
On August 29-30, 2009, the Santa Fe Stake of "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" (Mormon) underwent a major reorganization. I was there. For the first time since it was originally organized in 1981 by Apostle Boyd K. Packer, an apostle from Salt Lake City came as the presiding authority to make the change. This time it was senior Apostle Russell M. Nelson, MD, age 84, who before he was called into the Quorum of the Twelve in 1984, was an internationally celebrated surgeon at the University of Utah Medical Center.

After nine years in office, Stake President Russell T. Pack, along with his two counselors, members of the High Council and other stake officers were released and replaced.

My purpose for attending this particular stake conference was to see if I could discern any subtle changes in Mormon hierarchical attitudes since i had been excommunicated in 1992 and my subsequent years-long one-on-one dialogue with the stake president, Russell T. Pack. I wanted to determine if there was any evidence that the institution, as represented by senior apostle Elder Nelson, had yet become aware of its "shadow", and if so, that it was capable of acknowledging it as the Orthodox Church in America has done this past year. I saw no evidence of this at the time.

In any case, the conference moved me in many ways. The first person to greet me upon arriving at the back of the almost-filled culture hall and stage was senior high councilman Walter Chamberlain, 89, who would be released with others later in the meeting. Walt is an old friend from the 1960s in Southern California. He once accompanied me on the organ in at a Pasadena stake conference in fall 1965. I sang an aria from The Elijah : "If with all your heart you truly seek me, ye shall surely find me...".. Walter, a long-ago convert to Mormonism, is truly a Christian man in my experience of him.

But something became very clear to me in reflecting on the some of the things said by four speakers, especially the out-going stake president. The other speakers that impressed me were the two visiting authorities and SP's wife.

Here is my recent letter to the now former SP sent October 2, 2009:
Dear Russ,
I attended your final stake conference in August on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Perhaps you have been able to relax for a while since your release. Allow me to mention six things that stand out in my memory. First, were your wife’s short, heart-felt remarks on Saturday, which touched me with their simplicity and humility. They were all about love: for the Lord, for you and family and for the members of the stake.

Second, was the warm personal, self-effacing greeting from Walter Chamberlin in the back of the culture hall, who was the first person I met on Sunday morning. (BTW, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you, but Walt and I knew each other as far back as the fall of 1965. He accompanied me then on the organ at a Pasadena stake conference in an aria from The Elijah, which begins: “If with all your heart you truly seek me, you will surely find me…”).

Third, was a moment in your remarks when you spoke of your love for the Savior and your voice broke. Those few seconds touched me more than anything I have heard or read from you before. Then, when you spoke of your desire to go on a mission next spring with your wife, I found myself wishing there was something I could say to you that would bless you in that intent. I would dare say only say this: if those you meet really felt your love for them as you expressed it for the Savior on that Sunday conference morning, then you cannot help but be successful. I wish I had felt such love from you during these past years we have known each other. Obviously, you have not felt mine. Therefore, would you not say there is work to be done here? I had hoped to invite you and Marion to our annual parish dinner last month at the United Church, but didn’t have the courage. Perhaps that can be remedied if you and Marion would accept my invitation to attend the Sunday Liturgy someday at our parish and sing with us. Also, would you and your wife accept Birgitta’s and my invitation to dinner some evening in the near future--before your mission?

Fourth, were the remarks by the man from the Council of the Seventy, especially his story of the miraculous event during the Katrina disaster, where “the Lord used the LDS Church to fill the order” of ten thousand medical supply kits that the Red Cross had inadvertently failed to deliver.

Fifth, was Russell Nelson’s call for all the children to stand and sing a song to give him a memory to cherish. This delighted and reminded me of the theme from a magazine article I read a year ago:

"Imagine that our grandchildren could live in a world where the full blossoming of their individual and collective talents and creativity is at the center of society's attention."

Sixth, was a reminder of how well organized and efficient LDS administration is. I was impressed how you conducted the meetings and how efficient the parking was.

Finally, I want to make you aware of some recent notes from a new friend, Harvey, who is a Lutheran minister and educator in South Carolina whom I met recently at an OCA [Orthodox Church in America] conference in Atlanta. In subsequent correspondence we shared candid views about Orthodoxy, Mormonism and Christianity in general and he surprised me by zeroing in on your question to me in a footnote of my 2008 Sunstone paper [an early draft of which was sent to you for comments] regarding the CREEI process, which I did not answer well. Had I known Harvey’s questions at the time you queried me, perhaps your and my communication would have taken a different tack. Here is his response to your question regarding how I would respond to D&C 50:13-31 for LDS students. Harvey writes:

"In the meantime, I want to send you the questions I posed related to the footnote on page 10 of your presentation to the Sunstone Symposium. Here is what I wrote in the margins as I was reading the paper:

"1. Does this imply the Spirit is limited in how it speaks the truth to us? The Spirit cannot use dreams as a vehicle of truth?
2. An additional question: Who are we to limit the Spirit and the ways in which God chooses to reveal truth to us?
3. If dreams in fact can be shown to be edifying in human spiritual experience, then why would anyone discount them?

"I see nothing in the excerpt from Doctrine and Covenants that precludes the possibility that God and the Spirit can and do speak through dreams. Scripture is full of examples where this is precisely what occurs."

Russ, you recently expressed fear that my interest in sharing dreams with you was to abuse you. I don’t know how you could come to that conclusion, since dreams is a subject I not only value, but revere—in anyone! There is no other person I can think of who knows me and has experienced my workshops and seminars or private serious discussions of the process, who would think that.

Kindly allow me to ask you to reconsider your conclusion.

CHAPTER FOUR. Russian Easter at Long Beach Third Ward
This is an incident of twenty years ago that seems to have set the scene for my recent conversion to Orthodoxy.

Russian Easter
“Is it permitted?”
Ask our two Moscow guests
On a Long Beach bench
As sacred emblems pass our way
“We are not members
Of your church.”

“Yes,” I whisper,
“All are Christians
And believers here.”

Then we three as one
With tear-stained smiles
And Slavic souls communing
Took thus the broken loaf
And through the Ancient date
A Mystery rose to fuse
The Awful Fission.

Long Beach
30 Apr 89

Commentary on Russian Easter.
In early April 1989, before the fall of the USSR, while married to Barbara and living in Long Beach, California, a telephone call came from Marina in Moscow. Marina was the young woman who had been our tour guide in Russia the previous January. She had just received permission to leave the Soviet Union for the first time and wanted to stay a few days with us on her first trip to America. Marina came with her best friend, Lena. Our home was their first stop outside Russia.

We learned that both young women were members of the Russian Orthodox Church and they had scheduled to be in our home during Russian Easter (April 30). Since Easter for Russians is their most important holy day, I took them to the closest Russian Orthodox Church for services. This celebration in their tradition occurs at midnight on Easter morning.

Later that same Russian Easter Sunday, out of interest and curiosity, both Marina and Lena wanted to experience a typical Mormon sacrament meeting and came with my family and me to Long Beach Third Ward. As the bread tray passed along to us sitting on that hard wood pew (Russian Orthodox members always stand in their churches), Marina leaned over to me from my right and whispered, “Is it permitted? We are not members of your church.” She was clearly absorbed in the service and hanging on every word.

Without thinking, I replied spontaneously, “Of course! We are all Christians and believers here.” And with that simple declaration the three of us, Marina, Lena and I, took the bread together.

Shortly after that moment, I began to realize that I had just taken the sacrament for the first time in a way different than I’d ever taken it before. Now, together with these two eager, enthusiastic and sincere believers, albeit from an old, alien and ailing culture, we took the sacrament as fellow believers! All distinctions between us disappeared. And in some mysteriously new and wonderful way, I experienced that ordinance of eating that broken bread together as something more transcendent than at any time previous.

With our Russian friends, I realized that I was more than a member of the Mormon Church. In this realization I began to experience an extraordinary sense of freedom to participate with any other believer in any other worship setting. The setting, itself, became insignificant. The institution became insignificant. It no longer mattered whether it was formal or informal. What became significant was acknowledging membership in a community of believers. By that simple act of taking bread together distinctions were obliterated, and I realized I had joined a far more fundamental and universal spiritual community!.

Several days later the deeper irony of that unplanned moment began to dawn on me. As I have said before, up until then I had been preoccupied with and focused on a Mormon Mission to Moscow. I had invested over thirty years of preparation into a completely Mormon-centered enterprise. Now, in one spontaneous moment of providential good humor, I experienced a Moscow Mission to Mormons! I felt my thirty year preoccupation transform in a moment—as if in a twinkling of an eye. In that moment I felt open to whole new universes of Good News! In that moment a new understanding of a universal law began to awaken in my consciousness. And it has taken time to begin to apply this new understanding—this subtle but major shift in my personal values—to practical reality.

CHAPTER FIVE. Angry Granddaughter
Yesterday and today (October 3 and 4, 2009) Birgitta and I received angry letters from my granddaughter Annie, recently married and now living near London with her new husband Scott. Her reaction to and rejection of a recent request from me for help regarding our priest Fr. John was a great surprise and shock. This was especially remarkable to me, since she recently served a Mormon mission to England where she met her husband.

Her letters surprised both Birgitta and me, because they gave no evidence of the Christian compassion, forgiveness or understanding that she once represented and taught in England. She is obviously in good standing with her church, because she was allowed to marry in the Mormon temple in London. Inadvertently, she exemplifies why mainline Christian churches do not consider Mormons to be Christians.

Yes, she is angry now and expressing it clearly to me and my wife, citing many reasons which center around her sense of feeling abandoned or ignored by her unworthy grandfather. Nevertheless, even though this has been a shock to us, we may actually be on the edge of getting to the truth of our family process and to a deeper understanding of the purpose for being on this planet. Annie may not ever read this blog series, even though it is dedicated to her and her siblings and cousins, but I am encouraged by this process of blogging as an opportunity to tell one's story and to be held accountable for it.

Perhaps Annie's mother, siblings and cousins will read these words one day and decide to flesh them out into something more authentic, meaningful and human than I am able to manage at present. If so, they are invited--as are any others, whether they love us or hate us--to vent freely and completely their complaints about yours truly on this forum. I pledge to listen and hear any such complaint and to respond with the core qualities Joseph Dillard presents in his IDL process. These are: confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, peace of mind, and witnessing. Any who choose to respond may score my responses from 0 to 10 in each case. (For reference, see the general IDL process here.)

Please do not fear to test me on this. Yes, I will be candid. No, I will not avoid any responsible challenge or query.

One additional comment from me: as a believing follower of Jesus of Nazareth, I take great comfort from his declared purpose in the scriptures that he was sent not to the righteous, but to the sinners, of which I am clearly one in the communion of the Orthodox who say and sing this at every service of the Divine Liturgy.

On Monday, October 5, 2009, Cathie wrote from Facebook...
Do ex-Mormon friends count for comment? I read your blog and , as always, find your writing excellent. I think that you do a great job authentically expressing your feelings and growth. I am sorry that you have to experience the pain of angry relatives, as we all do at times. If people could give up having to have things their way and let everyone live their individual truths without expectation and condemnation then we may be able to all get along. It has been my experience, however, that my old Mormon friends only want to bring me back into the fold. They never want to listen to what my experience was that brought me to this point, which totally blows my mind. We have some issues in our family also, mainly with Tom's evangelical, fundamentalist Christian son and daughter-in-law that think we are demon possessed. Imagine that?! I wrote some of it in the first (latest) note on my wall.

Why was she so angry, anyway (in particular)? Is she upset because you left the LDS church? I can't have Mormons on my FB. It doesn't work. I hate to be like that, but I just can't seem to keep my mouth shut yet! :)"

Cathie, thanks for being candid! That's the kind of directness and honesty I want. My erstwhile favorite granddaughter Annie, who now lives in London with her new husband, was angry for my having asked her and her English family to help verify a London address in a scam thing that took in our local priest. I had no idea it would launch long held resentments that I was totally oblivious to. But the truth of feelings got told and that is authentic. Up to now I had been troubled by this girl's phoniness. Her anger isn't phony! And that's progress!

CHAPTER SIX. Mormon Stake (and mission) Presidents (and counselors) I have known

Ferren L. Christensen
Major influence.
Met first in 1956 at Laguna Beach Ward, where he was bishop and I attended with wife, Betty, and first born child Kathy. Just after discharge from US Army after a classified, covert military intelligence assignment. I was angry, highly motivated to get an education and unable to speak about the experience I'd just come back from overseas. It was Ferren who introduced me to President David O. McKay at the Laguna Beach Ward in summer 1957. In April 1979, while living in Provo and having just finished Terry Warner's six weeks experimental BYU Moral Values seminar, I dreamed of Ferren for the first time. The last contact I had with Ferren was just before his death in early 2007, not long after having dreamed of his wife Glennie. He disclosed to me that he had shredded all his papers having anything to do with his ecclesiastic service.

Ivan B. Cutler Counselor stake presidency. University of Utah research director. (1960-64)
Major influence: recruited me from UC Berkeley in early 1960 to U of Utah graduate Ceramic Engineering program and helped me successfully win a three-year NDEA Title IV fellowship for graduate research.

Wilford W. Kirton, Jr. University of Utah stake president (1960-63)
Minor influence

Oscar W. McConkie, Jr. First counselor to and law partner of Wilford Kirton (1961-1965)
Major influence: Set me apart as stake missionary in 1961with an astounding blessing. Was responsible in helping me and family legally change our name from Kregg to Kovalenko. In fall 1965 he instigated a secret Congressional investigation into my military background as a test to my veracity, which I didn't learn about until ten years later.

Morris A. Kjar University of Utah Stake mission president
Major influence. Called me to serve a one-year stake mission in 1961. Extended that mission for a second year to serve as his second counselor in 1962-3. In September 1965 he arranged appointments to see Harold B. Lee, Joseph Fielding Smith and other high Mormon ecclesiastics. In my interview with Harold B. Lee I was astonished by his immediate reaction to me when I walked in the door of his office. He began by shouting orders at me and I thought immediately of my dream of him the previous May 1. See that link for details of this fiery encounter.

Barry P. Knudson San Diego stake president (1965)
Major influence. Was first Mormon Church ecclesiastic I approached in seeking Church support for psy war research program in January 1965. Began first excommunication proceedings in August 19965.

John K. Carmack Los Angles stake president (1975-1978)
Moderate influence. Active correspondence after rejoining Church in 1975.

Richard S. Bryce, Ventura California stake president (1992)
Major influence: Instigated and presided over excommunication proceedings in spring 1992.

Ray Martin, Santa Fe New Mexico stake president (1993-1996)
Moderate influence: Befriended and helped me with relationships to Church when I first moved to Los Alamos after marrying Birgitta in 1993.

Russell T Pack, Santa Fe New Mexico stake president (2005-present 2009)
Major influence [See here for correspondence dialogue]

CHAPTER SEVEN. Other notable Mormons I have known.
David O. McKay
I first met David O. McKay in Laguna Beach in summer 1957. My second contact was in January 1965. Last was in fall 1965, when I wrote a poem to him called Nathan't Cry. In 2005, after reading Greg Prince's biography of McKay, I inquired of the LDS Church archives department if there was anything in Pres. McKay's personal memoirs that was not in Prince's book. They sent me an email scan of Nathan's Cry as the only thing of mine in McKay's personal papers. Of all the things he could have kept, this for me was the most important!

Harold B. Lee
My first experience with Harold B. Lee was in May 1965 in a dream I call "May Day! May Day!
The second and last experience was the following September 1965, which felt eerily like my dream. In fact the dream prepared me for this encounter. Morrie Kjar set up the meeting and when I walked into his office, he started shouting orders at me in very much the same voice I had heard in my dream.

Lowell L. Bennion
The patron saint and mentor of liberal, reflective Mormons.

Henry B. Eyring, Sr.
Dean of the University of Utah Graduate School when I was a grad student there in the early 1960s. Eyring senior was also on my doctoral dissertation committee. See here for two anecdotes I remember.

Neal A. Maxwell
First met Neal when he was a bishop of the University of Utah stake and my friend Rex Mitchell was his first counselor. Rex and I were members of an early dialogue group consisting of Eugene England, xxxx Olivier, Xxxxxx, Rex and myself. Neal came to speak to us once and made us aware of our revolutionary posture. He was also good friends with Bert Todd, my first Russian teacher at BYU in 1952.

Albert Todd
Todd was my first Russian teacher when I attended BYU in 1952. Prior to that time he had been one of two LDS missionaries ejected from Czechoslovakia for spying. It is well known that Neal Maxwell once worked for the CIA. Bert probably did, too, which is probably why he was ejected during his mission to Eastern Europe. Bert eventually became the official translator for well-known Russian poet Evgeny Evtushenko. Later he became chairman of the Slavic Languages Department at Harvard.

Delbert L. Stapely
My stake president when I was a boy growing up in the Phoenix stake. He was my mother's employer at the O. S. Stapely Company in Phoenix before he became an apostle. He and Harold B. Lee were close associates when he asked to read my correspondence with Howard Salisbury, a very close friend of Lee.

T. Bowring Woodbury
I met T. Bowring Woodbury only once. The occasion was an emergency priesthood blessing late one night in February 1964 prior to my defending my doctoral dissertation. His blessing undoubtedly saved my academic career. See here for that story.

Samuel W. Taylor
C. Jess Groesbeck
Thomas Rogers
Gary Browning
G. Eugene England
Terry Warner
Sherman D. Brown

1 comment:

  1. Do ex-Mormon friends count for comment? I read your blog and , as always, find your writing excellent. I think that you do a great job authentically expressing your feelings and growth. I am sorry that you have to experience the pain of angry relatives, as we all do at times. If people could give up having to have things their way and let everyone live their individual truths without expectation and condemnation then we may be able to all get along. It has been my experience, however, that my old Mormon friends only want to bring me back into the fold. They never want to listen to what my experience was that brought me to this point, which totally blows my mind. We have some issues in our family also, mainly with Tom's evangelical, fundamentalist Christian son and daughter-in-law that think we are demon possessed. Imagine that?! I wrote some of it in the first (latest) note on my wall.

    Why was she so angry, anyway (in particular)? Is she upset because you left the LDS church? I can't have Mormons on my FB. It doesn't work. I hate to be like that, but I just can't seem to keep my mouth shut yet! :)"