The Prophetess: Rebecca Mould and the Origins of Mormonism in Ghana

Mar 13, 14 The Prophetess: Rebecca Mould and the Origins of Mormonism in Ghana

This article was originally published at Juvenile Instructor

Note:  The image at left is of a representative West African Relief Society Presidency

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.

This piece is based on a larger work, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Documentary History of Blacks and Mormonism–the first volume to tell the story of blacks of Mormons through a global lens. Forthcoming summer 2014.

 


[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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Russell Stevenson

Russell Stevenson is an independent researcher who also moonlights as an instructor at Salt Lake Community College. He has been studying Mormon history online and in the archives for nearly twenty years. He learned his first lesson of historical analysis from his father: if you're going to drink water from a river, drink it from the source, not after all the cows have waded in it.

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2 Comments

  1. THomas Hatton /

    Russ, that was really interesting, dude. I enjoyed reading it. I found that the more isolated branches in my mission (in the Dominican Republic) had a bit of a syncretic blend, and women played a much more substantial role in church affairs. It was refreshing.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  2. Seriously Russell, I can’t wait until you full work is published. So crazy interesting.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

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