Sunday was a cold, crisp day in Manteca. It was probably much like 172 years ago this month when Sam Brannan visited the area.
Brannan had headed west under direction of Brigham Young to establish a colony in what was then Alta California. The one-time publisher of the New York Messenger had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints several years earlier. Young was the second president and LDS prophet.
Brannan had a group of 200 men join him on his trip around Cape Horn sailing from New York to Yerba Buena that would later be rechristened San Francisco.
Brannan had sent a company of 20 men with supplies up the San Joaquin River in a bid to establish a settlement in the interior. They landed near what is today Mossdale Crossing where the massive 1.2 million square-foot Mayfair distribution center is now under construction just down Interstate 5 from the Tesla manufacturing plant.
They moved down river and found what they hoped would be the proverbial promised land for a new LDS settlement just up from the confluence of the San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers amid thick riparian oaks woodland harboring Tule elk, California grizzly bears, geese and a plethora of wild animals from rabbits to foxes. Near present-day Caswell State Park is where the 20 men built a central house, cleared and plowed fields, and planted wheat and potatoes in a place they called New Hope.
Mother Nature did not cooperate. Heavy January rains in 1847 caused the rivers to burst their banks creating a flow of water that reached three miles in width at one point. Brannan was summoned from San Francisco 172 years ago. After a church meeting to hear grievances due to the flood and how the company was being led, Brannan soothed dissension by setting aside the house and farm to be used by the 12 LDS Apostles. The undoing of the colony ended up being a subsequent potato crop where the centers were all rotten due to the excessive water.
On Sunday, one of the current 12 Apostles Elder Neil Andersen, serving under the 17th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Russell M. Nelson, was at the Manteca stake center on Northland Road for the stake conference covering wards in Manteca, Tracy, Ripon, Lathrop, and Mountain House.
Those gathered in the stake center were the heart and soul of their communities — laborers, doctors, city leaders, lawyers, teachers, truck drivers, peace officers, farmers, and more — basically those who toil in every walk of life. More importantly there were families.
Across Manteca on Sunday morning gathered in other houses of worship were Catholics, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Muslims, Presbyterians, and other various faiths. The day prior Seventh-day Adventists gathered and earlier in the week so did Jehovah Witnesses and those belonging to the Baha’i Faith.
Look beyond the surfaces of any of those religions and churches and you will find a common truth.
They help weave the fabric of communities together using the thread of faith.
Deny it if you must, but the foundation America was built on relied heavily upon an underpinning of faith — both divine and secular.
Given how the Age of Skepticism in some quarters has turned into an all-out assault on all religions it is not politically correct these days to give the role of churches their due in building and sustaining not just communities but civilization itself.
There’s no defense for those that twist words and faith to do evil. But that should not obscure the bigger truth about the boundless good that those in faith do whether they are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Protestants, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Catholics or others.
Believing in a higher authority, building on those who went before us and being in their debt, sharing, conforming, reaching out to the less fortunate, and helping build a common community for all — the benchmark of virtually every religion — is viewed by some as an act against humanity these days when you could argue churches are what helped keep the all-encompassing concept of humanity flourishing on this earth.
That doesn’t sweep the warts and checkered history under the carpet. There are dark impulses everywhere because the 7.53 billion currently walking on the face of the earth are flawed creatures called humans. And you’d be hard pressed to find a religion that hasn’t gone astray from its own principles over the course of history.
To expect anyone who gathers in a house of worship to be perfect misses the entire idea behind organized religion. We gather because we are not perfect. We are fallible. We are human. We gather to work toward who we should be.
As a society we are all too quick to focus on the aberration. We go nuclear on the Boy Scouts when we discover that a 40-year-old murderer was once an Eagle Scout but we ignore the millions upon millions act of kindness and goodwill done by almost every other Eagle Scout ever to live.
In a way, it’s a compliment. The expectation is that those who are touched by the church — any church — in a meaningful way will go forth on a straight path never straying and certainly never going off the deep end.
Some 172 years ago the floodwaters may have forced the retreat from New Hope, but there is little doubt the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is part of the foundation that makes Manteca strong.
Their handiwork outside the church can be found everywhere whether its helping with a free community Thanksgiving dinner, supporting the Boys & Girls Club, being advocates of public education, or in a multitude of ways to numerous to list on this page. They do this while raising their own families, helping others through the impressive church welfare plan, and strengthening faith in God.
What was happening on Northland Road Sunday morning — brothers and sisters gathering to worship, strengthening bonds, and striving to better persons — was repeated all over the city in venues ranging from the Crossroads Grace Community Church that has architecture that’s prompted some to reference Kennedy Airport in New York and the soaring steeple atop the traditional pitched gable roof protecting the stone floor and numerous stained glass windows of St. Paul’s Methodist Church to the Glory Worship Center that resembles a single family house in size and shape.
Take away the churches and you rip apart the soul of a community and severely damage its heart.
They are doing more than the work of a greater being. In the secular world they are building stronger communities, stronger families, and stronger individuals.
It’s why 20 men who worshipped using the Book of Mormon made their way 172 years ago to the wooded wilderness nine miles south of where Elder Andersen offered his testimony of faith Sunday.
And it’s why hundreds of men, women and children crowded into the stake center to embrace their beliefs and the value system it fosters.