By J. Frederick (Toby) Pingree
Forty years ago in 1974 I was a new transplant to the San Francisco Bay Area, working in Orinda, California and living in nearby Walnut Creek. I was a partner in a small accounting firm whose senior partner was in the presidency of the Oakland Stake.
One day, I overheard my partner and the stake president discussing a new publication that struck us all as being “outside the Mormon box.” The major players at the upstart periodical were mostly members of the stake located in or around Berkeley. The stake president seemed more puzzled by Sunstone’s presence than alarmed. With Dialogue being birthed across the Bay in Palo Alto (I was an enthusiastic subscriber), what was the need for another alternate Mormon voice in this part of the country?
Fast-forward 10 years. I had heard virtually nothing about Sunstone during seven years in Walnut Creek and three years in Quito, Ecuador as a mission president. But by then, Sunstone had migrated to Utah and blossomed from a hit-and-miss copier publication to a slick New Yorker-style magazine that sponsored a big symposium in Salt Lake each year and regional ones in other major cities.
One month after I got home from my mission presidency, my daughter hauled me up to Salt Lake to attend the very memorable 1985 Symposium. It was being held in the aging, but still graceful, Hotel Utah. I listened to papers about treasure seeking and salamanders along with the ever-present panels on polygamy, feminism, and race relations. It was three solid days of heady stuff, addressing all aspects of Mormonism. I’ve never missed a Salt Lake Symposium since then. I came to cherish each symposium and each publication. They have challenged me, elevated my emotions, and promoted my faith.
However, I never imagined that my involvement with Sunstone would go beyond being a listener, door monitor, and occasional session chair until the day I received a call from Gene England. He asked me to join the board of directors because they “needed” me. I protested that I was neither an academic, intellectual, nor recognized writer. What could I possibly have to offer? But Gene insisted, and I found I couldn’t refuse.
At the first board meeting, the method in Gene’s madness became clear when it was revealed that the Sunstone Foundation was years behind in filing required IRS and other government reports. I had my work cut out for me.
Within six months of my joining the board, two board chairs had to resign for personal reasons and I was again approached to fill a position I considered myself ill prepared for. I initially demurred, but once again Gene prevailed and for six years I chaired the Sunstone board of directors. All those with whom I served, both staff and board members, contributed far beyond the call of duty. The two editors who served during my term, Elbert Peck and Dan Wotherspoon, were very successful in producing exciting venues to explore Mormon faith and practice. It was pure intellectual euphoria to work with them.
One of my most satisfying contributions to Sunstone was the “Why I Stay” session, though it was not a thoughtfully conceived act. One day I overheard a BYU graduate student opining that some people should either stop bellyaching or get out of the Church. I got angry. The Church was just as much mine as it was hers and I knew that there was a strong tradition of presenting differences of opinion and belief in the Church. So I put together a panel at the next Symposium where five participating, dues-paying, recommend-holding, faithful, but non-traditional members of the Church would state their reasons for not following this student’s departure wishes.
We will hold the twelfth annual “Why I Stay” panel this year though I will not be responsible for it. I am now in my ninth decade on the planet and am finding it hard to keep up with the march of time.
I still eagerly open each issue of Sunstone and Dialogue for another feast of reading. Though I find the fare nourishing, the authors are becoming largely unknown to me—I used to be personally acquainted with the majority of them.
While it is depressing to face evidence of one’s looming demise, it is comforting to know that Sunstone is in good hands and that my posterity will likely have a place in which to engage intellectually with Mormonism should they choose to do so.