Juvenile Instructor » Guest Post: Russell Stevenson, The Prophetess: Rebecca Mould and the Origins of Mormonism in Ghana
 


Guest Post: Russell Stevenson, The Prophetess: Rebecca Mould and the Origins of Mormonism in Ghana

By: Amanda - June 24, 2013

Note: This post is part of our series on International Mormonism.  Russell Stevenson is a freelance writer born and raised south in rural western Wyoming. He received his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and his master’s degree in history from the University of Kentucky. He has taught history and religion at Brigham Young University and Salt Lake Community College.  He has a forthcoming biography on Elijah Ables, which will be available this afternoon.

In 1964, Abraham F. Mensah, a schoolmaster visiting Great Britain from Ghana, first came into contact with the Mormon church through literature given to him while he was visiting a Sufi friend living in St. Agnes, England.[1] Feeling his conversion granted him authority to establish ecclesiastical units, he began to disseminate Mormon teachings upon returning to Ghana in 1967.  One Ghanaian convert, John Cobbinah, recalls meeting Mensah at a table he had set up where he “preached to anyone who would listen.”[2]

Mensah’s first converts included Joseph Johnson and Rebecca Mould.  Both were members of the Acadwa Church in Ghana, Johnson claimed to have had “wonderful revelations” confirming the truthfulness of the Mormon church, including a vision of “numerous angels with trumpets singing songs of praises to God.”[3]  There is no clear record of Mould’s conversion experience; however, the title given her reveals her spiritual credibility among the men: The Prophetess.[4]

Mensah, Johnson, and Gould proceeded to establish congregations throughout Ghana. After joining the Church in 1967, she immediately attracted a devoted following of approximately 50. They met in a member’s home and held vibrant worship services that included “drumming, dancing, clapping of hands, [and] collection.”[5]   Some men “doubted the true organization as was then set up, the leadership being the women.”[6] Mould saw herself as a professional preacher.   When the congregation relocated in 1971, they built the “wooden structure” they called the “temple hall” on land she owned.[7]

Mould’s worship services were a syncretic blend of American Mormonism, Ghanaian Catholicism, and charismatic Pentecostalism.  Calling themselves the “Devine [sic] Order of Mount Tabborar,” the congregation alternatively gave “victory prayers, read texts by Joseph Smith, and sang hymns.  While congregation sang hymns, the Prophetess administered ritualistic “cleanings” during which adherents believed “all my sins shall wash away.”[8]  They did not separate for special Relief Society or Priesthood meetings.   They eventually hired an Anglican choir director to assist with their music and acquired “red graduation hat-and-gown outfits” for their attire.[9]

When Mould established her congregation’s steering committee, she did not model it after the manner of traditional Christian congregations but in the spirit of a secret fraternal order.   During the committee’s first meeting at the Temple Hall, she committed her followers to absolute secrecy, “warning that any member who reveals the secrets of the Committee’s meetings goes against the laws of God.”[10] While Mould was building her congregation, the leading male members of the faith were attempting to consolidate their ecclesiastical authority. The Constitution delineated how the Church will be governed, including a discussion of the character of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods and how they are to function.  At no point do the men suggest that the priesthood would exclude either gender or any race from its membership.   The Melchizedek Priesthood “has the right of presidency, and power over all the offices in the CHURCH in administering spiritual things.” [11]  Even still, Mensah recognized Mould’s leadership over her congregation.[12]

Mensah proposed electing a national “high council” of “Twelve Apostles” to guide its affairs.  Mould was elected to the council with no dissenting votes.[13]   In addition to her pioneering efforts in the Church, Mould’s ownership of church property might have also bolstered her position within church government.   According to the 1969 constitution, a member “may donate his/her property or a part of it to the Church, and that Member may be appointed an administrator of such property for the benefit of the Church. “[14]

By the time Mormon officials lifted the priesthood ban in summer 1978, Mould’s congregation provided her an income and a spiritual life for her congregation of would-be Saints.  But when American missionaries arrived that fall, they arranged for her peaceful removal from her position.  The missionaries gave her a special badge, courtesy of President Spencer W. Kimball and called her to be the Relief Society President, replacing her with branch president, Charles Ansah [15]  Though unenthusiastic, she publicly maintained that she had “”no objection to the new arrangements,” urging her rattled followers to “be calm and cooperate.”[16] But the rumor mill churned, and it wasn’t two months before everyone the American missionaries knew that she was thinking twice about her new calling.[17]

By fall 1979, Mould was wholly reliant upon the charity of the Sekondi branch members. Mould—frustrated and angry—gave up the charade as soon as the Americans left.   The Sekondi congregation had been meeting on her property in her chapel.   The branch presidency offered to resign; with her ongoing attempts to undermine their authority, it wasn’t a functional branch anyway.  Mould finally acknowledged,  that “when it came that LDS could not recognize a woman to do the work of God or to lead a Church… she could no longer continue with L.D.S Church.”[18] According to her executive secretary, she split the branch in two.

The Prophetess largely disappeared and/or was written out of traditional Mormon accounts of the origins of Mormonism in Ghana, though Emmanual Kissi does give her passing mention in his work.[19]  A full history of Mormonism in Ghana—or West Africa—is a story that remains to be told.

 



[1] Accounts differ as to where he was first exposed to Mormonism; several accounts suggest that he received literature from a white woman while visiting Great Britain, though another account suggests that he was baptized a member in the United States. He likely received literature from Joseph Dadzie, “The History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ghana and Takoradi District,”  CHL. See also John Cobbinah, Fireside Address, 1995, typescript of notes by Matthew Heiss, Church History Library.

[2] John Cobbinah, Fireside Address, transcript, Provo, Utah, 1995, CHL

[3] Joseph Johnson, Autobiography, CHL.

[4] Abraham Mensah, Letter to Rebecca Mould, March 1, 1972, CHL.

[5] “History of the Church in Ghana,” CHL.

[6] “The History of the Church in Ghana,” CHL.

[7] Inaugural Minutes, July 8, 1971, CHL.

[8] Kweikuma Program, n.d., Program, CHL.

[9] Janath Cannon Journal, May 27, 1979 , CHL.

[10]Inaugural Meeting Minutes, July 8, 1971, CHL.

[11]Constitution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Ghana], April 27, 1969, CHL

[12]Clement Osekre, Letter, September 11, 1972, CHL.

[13]Accra Meeting Minutes, ca. August 1972, CHL

[14]Constitution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 27, 1969, CHL.

[15]Summary of events, ca. December 1978, CHL.

[16]Meeting Minutes, December 24, 1978, CHL.

[17]Reed and Namoi Clegg, Letter, February 27, 1979, CHL

[18]Meeting Minutes, November 18, 1979, CHL

[19] Emmanual Kissi, Walking in the Sand: A History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ghana (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 2004), 30 fn12.

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7 Comments

  1. Russ, this is an interesting account. I find it particularly interesting that she initially accepted ecclesiastical authority bu then split the branch. Do we have writings between her and Mormon authorities? How did she think about her relationship with the Mormon church prior to establishment of Mormon ecclesiastical authority in Ghana?

    Comment by Amanda — June 24, 2013 @ 10:00 am

  2. Great work, Russell! Really interestering.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — June 24, 2013 @ 10:34 am

  3. We do have some letters and meeting minutes, which shed some light on her transformation. After she joined, she fit comfortably within the hierarchy that the Ghanaians were establishing for themselves. They had a couple tiffs, but they never dealt with matters of authority but with deviation from what the Accra leaders thought to be church orthodoxy.

    She began to question the American leaders’ pretty soon after she was removed from office, but even then, I think she was torn. Neither of the sister missionaries serving gave any indication that Mould was having troubles; one of them taught her “I Am a Child of God” and found her charming. So I think that Mould was actually trying to get on-board, but being forced to give up your livelihood while the Church still used your property was a pretty bitter pill to swallow (and in fairness, the newly-called Ghanaian male leaders were tired of her owning the property too–knowing her personality and some rather passive-aggressive measures she took, she probably didn’t let them forget it).

    Comment by Russell — June 24, 2013 @ 11:27 am

  4. Excellent work, Russell. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — June 24, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

  5. It is because of excellent posts like this one that JI is one of the few websites in my favorites list. Good stuff, Russell!

    Comment by Jacob — June 24, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

  6. Nicely done, Russ. This is really a fascinating and important story. Thanks.

    Comment by Christopher — June 24, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

  7. I’ve always felt sad about Rebecca Mould’s connection with the Church as it transferred from one of unofficial, strong authority to gendered official downgrade. It ties into the Church and the relationship with cultural traditions versus institutionalized practices and how we assimilate the both. I understand completely where she is coming from – without guidance from the Church for many years, it would be difficult to have what you’ve waited for finally come but then realize what that change entailed.

    Comment by Ardis S. — June 27, 2013 @ 12:48 pm