Our pioneer legacy

The date was April 6, 1830.

The setting was the small farm home of Peter Whitmer Sr., in Fayette, Seneca County, N.Y.The occasion was a meeting organized by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, by revelation, to officially organize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Those present in addition to Joseph and Oliver, were Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer Jr., David Whitmer and Samuel Smith, the six who became the first members of the Church. There were perhaps nine to eleven others present. The six had previously been baptized following the restoration of the priesthood. But they were baptized again once the Church had been formally organized, baptism being the gateway to official membership in the Church. Joseph and Oliver were sustained by the vote of those in the meeting to be ordained as the first and second elders of the Church, respectively.

Of the occasion, Joseph Smith wrote: "We . . . laid our hands on each individual member of the Church present, that they might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and be confirmed members of the Church of Christ. The Holy Ghost was poured out upon us to a very marked degree, some prophesied, whilst we all praised the Lord, and rejoiced exceedingly." (History of the Church 1:78.)

Move now to the date of April 6, 1997.

The setting is the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. Thousands are gathered in the Tabernacle, with countless others on the grounds, in nearby overflow halls, and millions are tuned in by television, cable, radio and satellite transmission.

The occasion is the annual general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Those present include the three members of the First Presidency; the Apostles of the Quorum of the Twelve; 84 members of the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy; the 134 newly sustained Area Authority Seventies in the just-organized Third, Fourth and Fifth Quorums of the Seventy; the general presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary; and officers and leaders from many nations of the earth. By its broadcast outreach, the conference is heard by many of the more than 9,700,000 members of the Church in 140 nations and 21 territories and possessions worldwide.

What marvelous growth has taken place. Could those early members have had any comprehension of what the Church would become? Perhaps not, but certainly Joseph Smith did. Wilford Woodruff heard him say on one occasion that those then present ". . . know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon his mother's lap. You don't comprehend it. . . . It is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America - it will fill the world. . . ." (See Conference Report, April 6, 1898, p. 57.)

After describing the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830, the late President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: "In the manner here described, there came into the world a power destined to grow and expand until it shall fill the earth, for it is the `kingdom which shall never be destroyed . . . and it shall stand forever.' " (Essentials in Church History, p. 80)

Because this conference is in the 150th anniversary year of the arrival of Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley, much was said of the trials and tribulations of the early members of the Church as they were persecuted, mobbed, tormented and driven from place to place until they finally found refuge in the semi-arid deserts of the Great Basin.

Because this is the true Church it will continue to grow to fill the whole earth in spite of opposition. Lands not now opened to the Church will feel the hand of the Lord and the gospel message will penetrate every ear and continue its upward growth until the Great Jehovah shall be sent again to usher in that great millennial era.

Who can doubt after hearing the testimonies and witnesses borne in this conference that this is the work of Jesus Christ, that He has called His chosen servants to lead His earthly kingdom, that Gordon B. Hinckley is truly the successor Prophet to Joseph Smith, and that a merciful God is extending His love to all His children everywhere?

Much has happened in the Church in 167 years, and while we must never forget the past, we must recognize that the future growth of the Church is our current responsibility. In concluding the conference President Hinckley said it best: "Ours is a great inheritance. But the past is behind us. It is the future with which we must be concerned. We face great opportunities and great challenges. . . . The work will not be . . . hindered. God is at the helm. We will seek His direction. We will listen to the still small voice of revelation. And we will go forward as He directs."

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