Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

He patterns his life after mottoes found in scriptures

King Benjamin was a boyhood hero of new general authority
Published: Saturday, May 27, 1989

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Elder Spencer J. Condie, newly called to the Second Quorum of the Seventy, has tried to pattern his life after mottos found in the scriptures.

These mottos have usually been a verse that seemed appropriate for the challenges encountered at certain points in his life. The former professor of ancient scripture and sociology at BYU can hardly relate an experience without sharing a scripture defining the lesson learned. If appropriate, he will emphasize his point with humor, for Elder Condie may take the gospel seriously, but he doesn't take himself too seriously.With wire-rimmed glasses and graying black hair, the 5-foot, 8-inch Elder Condie looks the part of the academician. But friends and family say he feels comfortable in almost any setting, whether meeting with foreign dignitaries or a farmer from his native Franklin County in Idaho.

"I can't think of anyone who doesn't like him," said Phillip Kunz, a professor of sociology at BYU and Elder Condie's friend for 20 years. "He's an excellent teacher. He's energetic, friendly and enthusiastic. He seems to be well read on a lot of things. People like to go to lunch with him and talk to him."

But what stands out most about Elder Condie's personality, said friends and family, is his sense of humor. Before a faculty lecture at BYU a few months ago, Elder Condie played the piano and played popular melodies while changing the words to entertain his audience.

His mother, Josie Peterson Condie, said this sense of humor was inherited from his father, Spencer Clausen Condie. Over the years, both could keep the family laughing, she added.

Spencer Joel Condie was born in Preston, Idaho, population about 4,000, on Aug. 27, 1940, about the time World War II was starting in Europe. He denies any causal relationship between the two events.

As a toddler, he refused to let things stand in the way of his insatiable curiosity. "I wrote in his baby book that if I could channel his determination and drive in the right way, he could amount to something," his mother said.

When Spencer was 4, he began spending his days with his grandparents. His mother had been recruited to teach school because of a teacher shortage caused by the war.

"Grandpa used to tell me about his missionary experiences," Elder Condie remembered. "He was 40 and had a family when he was called to the Northwestern States Mission. He told of holding street meetings in such places as Wenatchee, Wash., and Butte, Mont. Then he would read to me out of the Book of Mormon. King Benjamin became my hero. I wanted to grow up to be just like him."

Another hero was Matthew Cowley, whose spiritual depth and sense of humor captivated Spencer. Once following a stake conference, Spencer, 10, waited in line to shake the apostle's hand.

"After I shook his hand, I started to cry," Elder Condie recalled. "I cried all the way home. It was embarrassing. My mother pulled me aside and said I had nothing to be ashamed about. She explained that the feeling was a confirmation of the Spirit. It was the first time I received that surge of the Spirit."

When he was 15, his family moved to the "big city of Pocatello, Idaho," which had a population of about 26,000, he recalled. It was a big change from the sheltered confines of Franklin County. "I walked into the hall of the high school and saw a cola machine and thought I was in Sodom and Gomorrah," he remarked.

As a teenager, he began writing, directing and acting in MIA roadshows, his mother said. "He was always right in the middle of everything." In high school he and a friend wrote a musical performed by the school's music department during the year. He also directed and acted in the musical.

At this time (the mid-1950s) Elder Condie recalled his father coming home one night with groceries, complaining about the high price of butter. "I asked him why he didn't buy margarine," Elder Condie related, noting there was nationwide surplus of dairy products at the time. "Dad said, `As long as Elder Ezra TaftT Benson is the Secretary of Agriculture, we'll buy butter.'

"As if our one pound of butter a week would make a difference," Elder Condie marveled. "That experience taught me to always follow the counsel of the prophet and Church leaders. Maybe we build the kingdom of God one pound of butter at a time - one home teaching visit at a time, one visiting teaching visit at a time, one family home evening at a time."

At age 17, Elder Condie was called as a stake missionary. He and his senior companion, George McComber, "were too young to be scared to talk to people." They taught a lot of discussions, but most of the people weren't baptized until after he left on a full-time mission. Elder Condie surmises that an overconfident attitude, along with an inability to challenge people to be baptized, may have hampered their success.

"I learned it is not the missionaries, but the Spirit, that is the instrument of conversion," he said.

That may have been one of the reasons that Ether 12:26-27, which speaks of humility, weaknesses and strengths, became his motto as a missionary in the South German Mission. He served as a counselor to Pres. Blythe Gardner and learned how to help the missionaries by teaching and strengthening them as they strived to help the people they taught.

After his mission, Pres. Gardner advised him to contact Brigitte Dorothea Speth, who also served in the South German Mission. Sister Speth had been born in what is now the German Democratic Republic, but had later immigrated to Canada with her family. Heeding his mission president's counsel, Elder Condie looked up Dorothea and 1 1/2 years later, they were married on June 5, 1964. They have five children.

"I had met him in the mission field," she recalled. "He was a very outstanding missionary. He exhibited leadership qualities and had the talent to communicate with people."

Sister Condie, reared in a strong LDS family that survived the trials of World War II in Germany, has helped him "try harder to be the man I ought to be," Elder Condie said.

"When we were still newlyweds, I was in graduate school and came home one night very tired. I crawled into bed, laid there a few minutes and felt a thump on my chest. My wife said, `You forgot to say your prayers.' Later, I was serving as a stake president and had just finished saying my prayers when she said, `That was kind of a brief prayer for a stake president.' "

The couples' early years were spent near college campuses as Elder Condie earned a bachelor's degree from BYU, a master's degree from the University of Utah and a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. The Condies hadn't been in Pittsburgh long before he was called as an early-morning seminary teacher.

"That was one of the hardest callings he could have had," his wife remembered. "I know he didn't hesitate to accept it."

Elder Condie said the class helped keep him grounded in the gospel while attending school. His motto for graduate school was to seek first the kingdom of God. (Matt. 6:33.)

After earning his Ph.D., he returned to BYU and continued to serve in the Church as a bishop, stake president and regional representative. During the last few years, his colleague, Phillip Kunz, said Elder Condie became more and more oriented to the needs of other people. "He has no sense of trying to acquire material things or honors for himself," Kunz said. "If you want to borrow a book from him, he'll just say, `Take it, you probably need it more than I do.' "

"He will drop anything if somebody calls or needs some help," added his wife. "He can't say no."

She said he always brought home strangers in need of a place to stay. Six years ago it was two German students who couldn't afford housing. They stayed two months. On another occasion a young man from Honduras, lacking in funds, lived with them for four or five months.

In 1984 the First Presidency called him as president of the Austria Vienna Mission. He supervised the work in Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Greece. His motto then was Moroni 9:15 - "God has not ceased to be a God of miracles."

"And we saw some miracles," he said.

One occurred in Hungary, where missionary work floundered until Hungarian television broadcast a four-part mini-series on the Church.

Dozens of requests for information poured into the mission office. Elder Condie compiled a list and prayed to know which people to go to first. The guidance came. "Some of the requests we followed up on immediately were in out-of-the-way cities we might have ignored," he explained.

He and a Hungarian member, Karl Trinkle, traveled to Hungary and began checking out on the inquiries. Elder Condie taught those who spoke English or German, and Trinkle instructed those who spoke only Hungarian.

"Much to my dismay, Brother Trinkle would finish each discussion by singing a rousing chorus of Hungarian folk songs that had absolutely nothing to do with the gospel," Elder Condie said, smiling. "As I traveled back to Austria, I wondered what impression these people would gain about the Church after hearing him sing. Then I realized they probably would conclude that man is that he might have joy."

Three of the first six people baptized were physicians. Many others also were converted, and the capital, Budapest, now has a branch bulging at the seams.

With his call as a General Authority, he hopes to continue to help build the Lord's kingdom in Europe or wherever he is sent. "Now my motto is D&C 12:8 - `And no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care.' "

*****

(ADDITIONAL INFORMATION)

Elder Spencer J. Condie

- Born: Aug. 27, 1940, in Preston, Idaho, to Spencer Clauson and Josie Peterson Condie.

- Family: Married Brigitte Dorothea Speth; parents of Brigitte, 22; Stefanie, 20; Heidi, 17; Christel, 17; and Craig, 13.

- Career: BYU professor of ancient religion and sociology.

- Education: B.A., BYU; M.A., University of Utah; Ph.D, University of Pittsburgh.

- Church callings: Stake missionary, seminary teacher, bishop, stake president, mission president, regional representative.