Elder Kimball’s Apostolic calling had several main components: the “long-distance” telephone call from Pres. J. Reuben Clark Jr.; the mountain-top experience in which Elder Kimball received, after much mental anguish, spiritual confirmation and assurance; his visit with President McKay; and his sustaining and ordination. The journal entries below, with a few other items, describe these. I have underlined what seem to me critical and precious portions—especially that received on the mountain above Boulder Colorado. A church email account is needed to access the diary.
Autobiographical account, “My Call to the Apostleship”
If I could only have the assurance that my call had been inspired most of my other worries would be dissipated. I knew if the Lord had revealed to the Brethren that I was to be one of His leaders, that He would forgive all my weaknesses and make me strong. I knew full well that He knew all the imperfections of my life and He knew my heart. And I knew that I must have this acceptance before I could go on. . . . Never had I prayed before as I now prayed. What I wanted and felt I must have was an assurance that I was acceptable to the Lord. I told Him that I neither wanted nor was worthy of a vision or appearance of angels or any special manifestation. I wanted only the calm peaceful assurance that my offering was accepted. Never before had I been tortured as I was now being tortured. And the assurance did not come.
. . . I threw myself on the ground and wept and prayed and pleaded with the Lord to let me know where I stood. I thought of my Father and Mother and my Grandfather, Heber C. Kimball, and my other relatives that had been passed from the earth for long years and wondered what part they had, if any, in this call, and if they approved of me and felt that I would qualify. I wondered if they had influenced, in any way, the decision that I should be called. I felt strangely near them, nearer than ever in my life. …
Again I lay on the cool earth. The thought came that I might take cold, but what did it matter now . . . there was one great desire . . . to get a testimony of my calling, to know that it was not human and inspired by ulterior motives, kindly as they might be. How I prayed! How I suffered! How I wept! How I struggled! Was it a dream which came to me? With this new experience came a calm like the dying wind, the quieting wave after the storm is passed. I got up, walked to the rocky point and sat on the same ledge. My tears were dry, my soul was at peace. A calm feeling of assurance came over me . . . doubt and questionings subdued. It was as though a great burden had been lifted. I sat in tranquil silence surveying the beautiful valley, thanking the Lord for the satisfaction and the reassuring answer to my prayers. Long I meditated here in peaceful quietude, apart, and I felt nearer my Lord than ever at any time in my life. …
I told him [Pres. McKay] how weak I felt and how impossible it seemed that I could ever grow to fit into a group of such holy men. I told him that while I had had many testimonies of the power of God and some sacred and special manifestations, none of them had been visions or appearances or manifestations of the magnitude that I had always felt were necessary for one to receive so that he could be a “Special Witness of the Lord Jesus Christ.” As he unfolded the scriptures to me I felt that probably all of the Brethren had received special testimonies and manifestations in different degrees which were sacred to them, but that it was not absolutely necessary for an Apostle to have seen personages nor to have heard voices. [Pres. McKay relates story of the doubting Thomas from the New Testament.]
President McKay asked if I had a testimony. I told him that every fiber of my being bore testimony to the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He gave me a great deal of comfort and eased my mind and assured me that I was called of God to the work. I told him of my concern over my relationship to President Clark and he assured me that it was not known until after the appointment had been made, but after the choice had been approved by the Council, President Clark had asked of President Grant and President McKay: “Did you know that Spencer is my kin?” To which they had replied: “We were not aware of that fact.” So this eased my mind.
It was pretty steep and jagged and difficult to climb but with the help of an oak cane, I made it to the top where a cross had been planted. I reached the house after five hours, coming back with the positive assurance that there was no mistake—that the brethren were inspired—that the Lord had a work for me to do—that I might overbalance all my weaknesses by the weight of the good and service I could render—that I was ready to make any sacrifice necessary—dedicating the balance of my life to the work of the Lord.
. . . I wrote my diary and rested till 8:30 and went to see President McKay. He was most gracious. He confirmed the appointment that I was chosen as an Apostle to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Sylvester Q. Cannon. There is another [Ezra Taft Benson] to be chosen. This will make me 11 in the present quorum. He was so kind—I told him of my experience on the mountain. Asked him about special manifestations to apostles. He assured me that such was not necessary (quoted John 20:25-31).
It was pretty steep and jagged and difficult to climb but with the help of an oak cane I made it to the top where a cross had been planted. I reached the house after five hours coming back with the positive assurance that there was no mistake— * that the Brethren were inspired—that the Lord had a work for me to do—that I might over balance all my weaknesses by the weight of the good and service I could render—that I was ready to make any sacrifice necessary in dedicating the balance of my life to the work of the Lord. * [At this point Elder Kimball inserted a page where he wrote, also in longhand,] “So much of my spiritual experience I have not related. Some day maybe I can tell it all.
The Spencer W. Kimball biography (by Ed and Andrew Kimball) has this wording that was approved by President Kimball before publication:
How I suffered! How I wept! How I struggled! Was it a dream which came to me? I was weary and I think I went to sleep for a little. It seemed that in a dream I saw my grandfather and became conscious of the great work he had done. I cannot say that it was a vision, but I do know that with this new experience came a calm like the dying wind, the quieting wave after the storm is passed.
Oscar W. McConkie Jr. Autobiography
when Spencer W. Kimball was president of the Safford Arizona Stake, he got a telephone call from President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. calling him to the holy apostleship in 1943. He move to Salt Lake. He had four children. His next-to-youngest, Andrew Eyring Kimball, was in high school. Andy and I become close friends. We were in and out of each other’s houses.
I was a young man when Elder Kimball told me about his call. He told me about his worries. Was he apostolic material? Vice for the call was from his cousin [Pres. Clark]? He did not feel that he measured up to his grandfather. He told me of his going to the top of a mountain near Safford [Boulder, CO]. He poured out his soul in prayer. His prayer was answered. He was indeed to be an apostle. His grandfather and others were there. (p. 95)
Oscar W. McConkie Jr. interview, (by Mark L. McConkie) June 26, 2017
President Kimball told me about his call from President Clark and how he didn’t feel like he was apostolic material. He wasn’t like his grandfather Heber C. Kimball. It very much bothered him. So he determined to go up and have special prayers. He climbed up a mountain near Safford, Arizona. He prayed to know whether he should be an apostle. He didn’t tell me everything that happened on the top of that mountain. But he told me this much: He said, “When I came down from the mountain, I knew that I was an apostle. My grandfather himself was there, with others.”
Sister missionary account
A less-well-substantiated account comes from a narration left by a Sister missionary whose grandson recorded that President Kimball shared this following at a missionary meeting where the Holy Spirit was in extra strong abundance: “This [apostle] revealed an additional and dramatic detail about how that witness came. President Kimball . . . saw the Lord Jesus and heard from the mouth of the Savior Himself the soul-cheering affirmation, ‘I have called you to be my witness to the world. Doubt not, but be of good cheer.’” (https://www.familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/5299320 Accessed 7/12/2020)
April 1978 General Conference
President Kimball again adopted the words of another to express his own similar special witness: “ ‘I know that God lives. I know that Jesus Christ lives,’ said John Taylor [George Q. Cannon], my predecessor, ‘for I have seen him.’ I bear this testimony to you brethren in the name of Jesus Christ.” (The use of President Taylor’s name was an error, with President Kimball actually meaning President George Q. Cannon, as he had in the earlier address.) These testimonies support the account of the sister missionary quoted above.
You could not have possibly been so shocked as I was. Even after I heard Pres. Clark telling me over the long distance telephone, I still just knew it couldn’t be true—that I must still be dreaming. Each morning as I get up I seem to think it was just an impossible dream from which I will soon awaken. When there were so many thousands of great men, capable men, strong stalwart men in the Church and then for them to select me, I tell you I was really puzzled. When I realize how nearly I have worshipped all the brethren of the Quorum all these years of my life and then to try to visualize and place myself in that group frightens me. I have always thought of myself as one of the lowly ones—the weakest of the weak and I know my limitations and then to think of me being called! Well, we talk about it but I still can’t realize it. …
Pres. Clark called me long distance on July 8th just as I came home to lunch. Since that day I have lost about 18 pounds. I have fasted and prayed and prayed and prayed. I have slept poorly and after two months just beginning now to be able to sleep as late as 6:.30 in the morning. Many a night I have hardly slept at all. …
At Salt Lake I avoided everybody that I knew until I should have a chance to talk to Pres. McKay for I had almost convinced myself by that time that I had misunderstood Brother Clark and that there was a mistake. I was fasting my third day by the time on the 15th that I contacted the Presidency. They were so kind and had such a sweet influence. They assured me that I was not to be a secretary in the P.B.O. [Presiding Bishopric’s Office] or an office boy or even an Assistant [to the Twelve] and practically took my breath when they confirmed that I had heard aright and that I was to be number 11 in the Quorum of the 12. I was almost overcome with my insignificance. They built me up and assured me that it was a call from the Lord and that all the Quorum was unanimous and happy about it.
The great opportunity which is coming is so much greater that I do not feel it a sacrifice. Though I must confess that this has been a trying two months for us all. Elder Harold B. Lee, who has just been here to Conference said he had only one night to walk the floor and go through the experiences, but I have had about seventy and I still have not had a really good night of sleep. There are so many adjustments to make and so much that is new to think about and plan, and the worry about my incapacities and limitations and all. I am going to be very happy now when I shall be deep in my new work. …
Don’t worry. Though I have my weak moments, I am resolute and determined to accept this call and determined to do my utmost to meet every requirement. I feel so weak and incapable but I will work hard and pray much for the qualities I need to make me worthy and able to do the work.
I am not complaining but you must know that this is not easy for Mother [Camilla] and me. If you could have walked with us down the mental trails of anguish the past two months you would know what I mean. … I have lost 18 pounds in these two sleepless months. Your mother and I have gone and are going through an unparalleled experience of our lives. I am writing this letter at 4:45 a.m. to you. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not minimizing the glory of this great call. On the contrary it is so great and glorious that I am finding it so difficult to rise to it. I feel so weak and helpless and impotent and insignificant. It is so much above and beyond me that I have felt a thousand times I could not reach it. It has not been easy. We have realized that we must revolutionize our lives. …
Journal, September 14, 1943
Had a long talk with Brother Lee who encouraged me and built me up.
I went to the Church offices and reported. They told me I would be assigned room 211 and it would be furnished new. I had a brief visit with Pres. McKay who told me he would in the conducting of the Conference present us to be sustained at the Friday pm session. I visited Pres. Heber J. Grant to pay my respects. He drew me to him and kissed me and visited with me cordially. He was so friendly and human and yet almost divine. Now 61 years of service for the Church. He is a great man and inspires me with his power. How grateful I am for this association of an intimate nature with this great Prophet in his declining years.
I called on Pres. Clark. He was not crowded so much and he talked long and intimately to me. Mostly regarding my future association with the Church and the brethren and what would be expected of me. There seemed to be no reserve and he seemed to place himself on my equal. He also is a great man as also Pres. McKay. I am electrified with the very presence of these men of power. These Prophets, Seers and Revelators. A privilege to be on intimate terms with such strong leaders! I visited with others of the Quorum and did a little work in my temporary office.
Went to the offices of the Church early for my first meeting with all the Quorum of the Twelve. Pictures were taken for the papers. … At 2 pm the first session of the Conference began. I had been in my locked room for a final prayer before this great experience. Bro. Benson and I sat on the first row in the audience. … Immediately after the opening exercises the General Authorities were sustained and with the Twelve Apostles were the names: 11, Spencer W. Kimball: 12, Ezra T. Benson. How weak I felt! How humble I was! How grateful I was when Pres. McKay said the voting was unanimous. I seemed to be swimming in a daze. It seemed so unreal and impossible that I—just poor weak Spencer Kimball could be being sustained as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and tears welled in my eyes again as I heard myself sustained as an Apostle, a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator to the Church.
We were called to the stand and took our places with the Twelve Apostles. I was next to Bro. Lee who squeezed my arm in welcome. Thousands of eyes were upon us appraising, weighing, honoring us. What a sublime moment to feel that here were the great leaders of the Church upholding accepting and sustaining us. Thousands of them representing the entire Church.
Mingled feelings of joy, ecstasy, fears, humility.
After some other talks I was called on for my maiden talk. How I reached the pulpit I hardly knew. What a moment. A sea of upturned wondering expectant faces met my first gaze. I began: My beloved Brethren etc. … I must have taken about 15 minutes. I lost track of time and I poured out my appreciation and gratitude and bore testimony. As I took my seat I felt I had failed and continue to tell myself that I had failed as Bro. Benson gave his simple sweet spirited testimony. The balance of the meeting was a blur except I remember how Bp. Ashton and others paid tribute to the two new Authorities and their humble testimonies.
Journal, Letter to children, October 6, 1943
The greatest moment of my life, perhaps, was the instant that 7000 hands were raised to sustain me as an Apostle. I am looking forward to tomorrow for still a greater moment when President Grant will place his hands on me and actually ordain me an Apostle.
The greatest day. Today I was ordained an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. The least in the Kingdom. I reached the office early, locked the door and had my prayers.
At 8 we attended my first meeting with the Quorum of the Twelve and the Assistants. We sat in order of seniority and attended to the business. At 10 am we went with the members of the Quorum of the Twelve to our first meeting with the Presidency. I went fasting. Since Pres. Grant hardly felt able to go to the Temple the meeting was held in the office of the First Presidency in the Church Office Building [now the Church Administration Building]. The First Presidency, Pres. Grant (Pres. Clark was in Chicago) and Pres. McKay, all the 10 members of the Council of the Twelve and we two and the Presiding Patriarch with Joseph Anderson, secretary, were present. The opening prayer was a gem by Richard R. Lyman. After a brief statement by Pres. McKay I knelt at the feet of Pres. Heber J. Grant who sat and ordained me an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and set me apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and conferred on me all the gifts, keys, blessings, powers of the great calling and gave me a beautiful blessing with promises. The hands of everyone present except Bro. Benson and Bro. Anderson joined on my head during that blessing. What rapture, what bliss and joy unspeakable! What a responsibility. What an opportunity. Then I helped the others in assisting Pres. Grant as he ordained Bro. Ezra T. Benson an Apostle. What an honor there to help ordain a younger Apostle.
Pres. Grant sat and talked to us for perhaps an hour charging us with our responsibilities and blessing us. He then retired and we went to the Temple. [A line and a half redacted.] and had our meeting. The Sacrament was administered to us and after the business we were called on for a brief expression. I poured out my gratitude for the confidence my Brethren had in me; for the great opportunity of the new work. My love and esteem for them all and my testimony of the gospel.
The luncheon in the temple was splendid. The whole period of the entire service was a sacred benediction to the prayers of ordination. The whole of the services were quite subdued and inspirational. I told the Brethren in my talk that I had certainly this day tasted heaven, and that little did I ever dream that such great privileges and honors would ever come to me. Surely the Lord was pleased with all the proceedings for His calm sweet spirit was manifested.
As I write the date above I am reminded of the hectic day of 1943 which was July 12th. It was a long interminable day spent in Albuquerque N.M. enroute to Denver and Boulder to see you and your family. It was a never ending day of conflict in which it seemed that all the powers of the evil empire were combined to convince me that I was not qualified, able, worthy, nor sufficiently endowed to undertake the great work to which I had been called three days earlier by Pres. Clark on that never-to-be-forgotten telephone call from Salt Lake to Safford. With a rather well established inferiority complex already, I was not hard to convince. … It was another sleepless night at your home that night and maybe you remember my slipping out very early and spending the morning alone on top of the mountain above your town where I continued in a battle of anguish, then near noon finally peace came and an assurance came to me that I had been called by proper authority by the Lord; that I was, at least in some measure, acceptable to the Lord for the work; and that if I would remain faithful that I might be able to make a contribution to the work of the Lord.
8- A year ago today Pres. Clark called me by phone to announce to me my call to the apostleship.
11- A year ago today, July 12 was an endless one spent in Albuquerque N.M. enroute to Boulder Colo and Salt Lake City. The mental anguish and inward conflicts were bitter and the day seemed an eternity. See also my letter of this date to LeVan.
12- I was remembering all day my experiences of the July 12, 1943 enroute to Denver, spent in Albuquerque as above.
13- Have been thinking all day of my experiences of July 13, 1943. . . . I was under tremendous emotional strain. . . .
14- I am ever conscious of the anniversary date. My early rising at Boulder, my ascension to the top of the mountain, my spiritual experiences there, the peace that came to me there; my flight by plane to Salt Lake and the long endless evening and night waiting for my appointment with Pres. McKay the next day.
Pres. Stayner Richards presided and called on each of us for experiences or testimony or something and the contributions were excellent. I told among other things part of my experience on the mountain in Colorado a year ago, after receiving my call to the Apostleship. And though I consider it a very sacred spiritual experience which I do not wish to tell often, yet I felt impressed to tell it here. The men all commented on it and seemed to have been moved by it.
Boulder Colo. Up at 5 am I began to re-live my unusual experiences at this place July 14, 1943. As in 1943 I followed my footsteps of that early morning in July 43. Up the hill, past the Sanitarium South and West up over the little backbone. At the top I nearly stepped on a coiled rattler. I dropped a twig on him to get him to move to ascertain if he really was a rattler. I think he sensed I was not an enemy and he slid slowly onto the rocks hardly raising his tail. On up slowly, resting often up the same ridges, same coves, same rocks all the time re-living that (now year off) morning in ’43. Finally at the top of my sacred mountain I found my cross of July ’43 was broken. I found a cross beam and carried it up the hill (remembering the Savior as he carried his cross up Calvary) and fixed it the best I could. I found an altar for my prayers, then lay down on the same slab and slept for a while. It was a beautiful day and a marvelous view from the cliff rocks and a pleasant morning. The valley was beautiful and green with the little lake mirrors. I came down and back to the Hotel at 11am.
8- Two years ago today came the call to the Apostleship. How well I remember the details of that day! The call from Pres. Clark, and my movements and thoughts throughout the day as I was so shaken emotionally and so shocked. Still I could not believe it.
9- Today two years ago was a hectic day following my call to the Apostleship of the day before. How could I ever measure up to the great calling, I kept asking myself? Sale of business, sale of home, leaving the native land, my friends, all have some place in my thoughts but I was most completely absorbed with the weakness of my position, my seeming inability to ever see myself in a position of that magnitude.
14- 2 yrs ago today I flew to Salt Lake from Denver, and had my wonderful spiritual experience on the mountain above Boulder, Colo.
15- It was two years ago today that my call was made known to the world, that the radio and papers heralded it afar. It was a difficult day with joy, fear, exultation and trembling all mixed.
My mountain. I visited my mountain near Boulder, Colo. This place sacred to me. I spent some hours on its top.
3rd Anniversary of MY call. It was three years ago today at noon that I received the telephone call in Safford Arizona, from Pres. J. Reuben Clark Jr. which called me to the Apostleship. And here I am in Hawaii spending the entire day in the Temple of God celebrating that eventful day. How well I remember that day with its surprise and the shock that came and the tears I shed and the upset to our program [lives] and the incomparable honor that came to me that day. …
It was a solemn occasion. Elder Cowley and I concluded with testimonies, our wives having borne theirs with the others. I told very briefly of my call 3 years ago today. Little did I think 3 years ago today that today I would be visiting the missions in the Pacific as an Apostle of the Master and spending the day in the temple of the Lord.
It was five years ago today—that memorable day—that Pres. Clark for the Presidency called me to the Apostleship. How well do I remember that fateful day—that awesome day when a call came to me that was to wholly change my life—it meant selling my home, giving up my commercial ventures and business, leaving my native land and my old friends and all I had known to go into a new work for which I felt so miserably incompetent. But I have gone forward and done my best and have had a small measure of success, I hope, but a great measure of joy and happiness and delight.
9- Five years ago today. I remember so well, was a very difficult day. I tried to work at my office with little success. I could not tell anyone of my call of the day before. I was most distracted as I contemplated the monumental work before me and my limitations to take upon me such a great undertaking. I could neither eat nor sleep nor get my mind on my work. It was an interminable day.
10- That week, five years ago was such a transformation in my life and living that it is indelibly impressed on my mind. I remember that 5 yrs ago I left with the family for El Paso, there to hold meetings with the ward Sat night and Sunday; there to perform [a marriage]. … I remember the most solemn conversations of Eddie, Andrew, Mother and myself during that 250 miles journey, concerning the uprooting necessitated by a move to Salt Lake, and all the changes that would take place. The boys did not want to go. Half belligerent, they felt like it would be asking too much of them to leave friends and conditions to which they were used.
Six years ago today was the day of my experience in the Colorado mountains when I fasted, climbed to the top of the high mountain to ‘be apart alone to pray.’
Caught a bus to Boulder and through the day, relived many of my experiences of July 15, 1943 when Camilla and I had come to Boulder to visit Spence and Kay and their one child, Barbara. I asked a young man on the street where to find a cab. He said he would take me to one, but instead I asked him to take me up to the institution at the foot of the hill and would pay him the taxi fare. I then climbed over the first hill and down the little valley as I did nearly 13 years ago and then climbed the mountain above to the highest peak where I was 13 years ago. This took most of the morning. I was fasting since yesterday afternoon. This was a delightful and sacred morning alone in solitude with my thoughts and prayers. About 1 o’clock I left the top of the mountain and followed down the easy path and walked all the way back down to the city bus. . . .
This is the 14th anniversary of my call to the Apostleship. What a great day was that! What a change in my entire life: change in location, change in friends and close associates, change in work. How glorious have been those 14 years. It was noon when the telephone call came and brought to me the great privilege and opportunity and concern; fear of my inabilities and weakness and limitations—fear that I would never be able to measure up. It has been an eventful and delightful 14 years packed full of experiences challenging and satisfying. 14 years of travel from the iron curtain to the Islands in the Pacific, Hawaii; from Eastern and Western Canada to the Panama Canal; from Main to California and Seattle, from Pacific to Atlantic numerous times; from Narvik to Nice and Vienna. Many thousands of missionaries I have interviewed, visited in their missions, taught and counselled, as well as set apart. Hundreds of Stake conferences and many mission conferences and thousands of people I have spoken to and warned and taught; numerous couples and individuals have been in my office with marital problems, moral troubles, mental difficulties and aberrations of every kind. It has been a satisfying joy to see many emerge from the clouds into the sunlight. What a glorious 14 years. . . .
14- It was 14 years ago today that I had the unusual experience on the mountain near Boulder Colorado . . . and my flight over to Salt Lake City to see the brethren. . . . Today fourteen years ago I visited with Pres. McKay and Pres. Grant and was announced to the Church and the world as an appointee as an Apostle. This was truly one of the great days of my life.
[Buenos Aires] We spent the evening in a more delightful experience in testimonies and music and a very inspiring evening. . . . The testimonies were warm and inspiring. … In my testimony, I assured them that we shall triumph in our work and never will all of the Twelve be apostate. The Church must and will go on. I told them some of our experiences in the Holy Land; my feeling with regard to my position, and it was not me but the position that was honored. What a world this would be if all the people were like this group of folks. Camilla’s expression of love for me was touching. … I told them about my call though not all of the details.
Today is the anniversary of my week of call to the Ministry in my Apostolic calling. Twenty-three years ago last Friday was the day the weight of the new responsibility came to me, when President Clark called me at noon to say that I had been called to be one of the Twelve Apostles in the Lord’s Church; it had floored me, and I had been overwhelmed. . . . I had been unable to work or read or sleep or settle down. It was a terrific shock and an overwhelming responsibility. . . .
Twenty-three years ago, on that interesting but almost terrifying Wednesday, I got out of bed real early, slipped quietly out of the house and climbed up my mountain, … But here on this mountain I found a degree of relief and composure through some spiritual manifestations and experiences, and in the afternoon I caught the plane and flew to Salt Lake City. . . .
And then twenty-three years ago today, which was on Thursday, I went to the Church Offices and met President David O. McKay, … President McKay assured me that all was right and I had been called.