Latter-day Saint Video Vault: “Overview of Church History” Not Fancy, But Effective

Overview of Church History
The name says it all. Get an energetic overview of church history from beginning to the present day (1998) with visuals of church history locations. Rated "E" for Everyone.

Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube. Join Jared Jones every other Friday as he breaks down one of these classics.

Welcome back to the Vault everyone! As we begin our study of the Doctrine & Covenants and church history I wanted to find something fun and helpful. It’s all part of the service we provide here at the Vault.

As I searched, I found a short film creatively titled Overview of Church History. It is—spoiler alert—an overview of church history. It is mostly designed for seminary or youth Sunday School but I found the length and pace could work for almost anyone as I watched it with my 7- and 9-year old children.

The film starts with a push in on the Salt Lake Temple and a host asks “What do you know about church history?” Not gonna lie, he has a bit of a car salesmen vibe and a VERY long tie. A “these sacrament trays are priced to MOVE” vibe. Our exposure to him is short lived as we are thrown into a rapid-fire slide show of church history visuals past and present.

The salesman comes back and teaches us how easy it is to keep track of church history if we break it into 6 key periods. He stands in front of a green screen as large tiles representing each color drop down and jumps across a map as he explains the time periods.

  1. Beginnings (1820-30)
  2. Two Church Centers (1831-38)
  3. Nauvoo (1839-46)
  4. The Church in the West (1846-98)
  5. Expansion (1899-1951)
  6. The World-Wide Church

The film then walks through each period. Instead of the adult host we have youth narrators that explain key points of history and relevant church statistics—often while walking through actual church history locations. Each section ends with a slide summarizing key events and statistics. The narrators’ polo shirts correspond with the color assigned to each period. “Beginnings” is green so the narrators have green polos and so on. Nauvoo was assigned red. Thankfully all the red shirts are still with us at the end.

Beginnings: A young man and woman show us the sacred grove, the Hill Cumorah and the Susquehanna River. We learn there were 39 sections of the D&C received during this time with a total of 280 members at the end of the period.

Two Church Centers: This period took place while the church had population centers in both Missouri and Ohio. The Saints dealt with persecution and great keys were restored in the Kirtland temple. We receive 87 sections of the D&C and grow to 18,000 members.

Nauvoo: The Nauvoo period was an exciting one for the church. They build a beautiful city on a bend of the Mississippi and organize the Releif Society. We see one of the narrators standing on what was left of the foundation of the Nauvoo Temple. Little did they know it would be built again years later. We also see narrators at Carthage Jail and learn of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.

The Church in the West: During this time prophets guided the church without formalized revelations added to the D&C. The church receives Section 136 and then Official Declaration 1 which ends the practice of polygamy. Membership grows to 270,000 and Saints spread out in the west to colonize the exotic lands of California, Nevada and Paris—Idaho.

Expansion: Missionary work expands throughout the world. We see narrators walking through Welfare Square as the church’s welfare program began during this time. Church membership reaches 1.1 million.

The World-Wide Church: At the time of the creation of this film church membership reaches 10 million. Official Declaration 2 allowing all worthy males to receive the priesthood is added. Temple growth accelerates with small and large temples.

The Salesmen returns and walks us quickly through the 6 periods again and reminds us that with the viewers help the best moments of church history are yet to come.

We hear a quote from President Hinckley in October 1997 General Conference.

“The time has now come to turn about and face the future. This is a season of a thousand opportunities. It is ours to grasp and move forward. What a wonderful time it is for each of us to do his or her small part in moving the work of the Lord on to its magnificent destiny.”

As President Hinckley speaks we see visuals of temples, missionaries and a young woman speaking in sacrament meeting. The film ends with President Hinckley’s final words.

Overview of Church History is what it says it is. The brief length and fast pace do a good job of delivering a lot of information without being too dense. I finished it having a good sense of the flow of church history from start to finish. Definitely a different approach than the Saints books which are great albeit a bit more dense than this snackable format.

Thoughts, Musings & Trivia

  • Probably not interesting or notable to anyone but me, but the young man who summarizes key points at the end of each section is Chris Bentley. I went to high school with him. He was the Drama Sterling Scholar (an academic honors competition run by the Deseret News) and I was the alternate. He directed me in a production of Othello at Provo High School.

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