The 22nd of September is a special day for me. I read some of the Book of Mormon as a young teenager, but I read it completely and finished it during the night of Sept. 21-22, 1982 - the same night in 1823 the Angel Moroni first appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith. I joined the Church a year later on Sept. 22, 1983, and I was married to my wife, Kathy, in the Washington Temple on Sept. 22, 1984.
When I was a young boy, the Church historic sites were my own special, private places to go. Even though I was not a member of the Church, I would ride my bike to the Sacred Grove and Hill Cumorah. Whether my friends or family members knew that I was doing this, I don't know.I found I could ride my bike to the Sacred Grove and be alone. There was a distinct feeling of peace and love there. I also loved the Hill Cumorah. I loved being by the statue and walking through the trees. I was fortunate because the sites were so close.
When I asked adults about the Mormon Church, they would say, "Well, they're nice people, but it's not our religion." But I knew there was something special there.
When I was older I ran a clothing business right in the middle of Palmyra. When the Grandin Building (where the first copies of the Book of Mormon were printed) opened as a Church visitors center across the street, I introduced myself to the first couple who was there, and told them they had a friend and not to worry if it took a little while for people to come in. Elder Wilton Lines turned out to be a wonderful friend.
While I was studying about the Church, I would talk with Elder Lines about it, about life, about anything. I would also go to the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center and talk with the missionary couples there. I learned a lot about the sites by taking the tours. One time, the elder in charge asked me to watch the center for a few minutes. Some people came in and I gave them a tour. At the end, they thanked me and said they had enjoyed the tour and learned a lot. They called me "elder," but I told them, "I'm not an elder; I'm not even a member of your Church. I'm just watching the place for my friend." One of the ladies said, "Oh, I'm so embarrassed. I've been a member of the Church all my life and I didn't know some of the things you were talking about." When the missionary came back, he said, "Yes, Chuck is one of our missionaries who just hasn't bothered to join the Church yet." I got a kick out of that.
When Elder and Sister Lines left, a local stake missionary became one of my best friends, and I received the lessons in his home and joined the Church. Less than two years later, I became a stake missionary. We had a great group of missionaries and were able to baptize quite a few of the people we taught. I've loved every calling I've ever had, and I've tried to exercise faith and do whatever I was given. One of the things I had the opportunity to do is work as the supervisor in charge of the grounds at the historic sites. I had a lot of experiences in that position.
A member of the First Presidency was at Hill Cumorah on one occasion when some visitors wanted him to give a blessing for someone in their family. They were told that any elder who honored his priesthood could give as good a blessing. I thought that was just wonderful. Time and time again, the elders who were assigned to Hill Cumorah would come and say, "Chuck, can I take one of your boys
from the grounds crewT to give a blessing?" One of the priesthood holders would stop mowing or whatever he was doing, wash his hands, and help give a blessing.
I consider my contact with the historical sites a factor that changed my entire life, and I am very, very fortunate. I used to watch the sun rise at the Sacred Grove and watch the sun set at Hill Cumorah. The love and the feeling of awe and power that you get when you kneel alone in the Grove. What a blessing! I know the Lord Jesus Christ lives, and that He is the Savior and Redeemer of the world, and that He shall return. And I know that the Church is true, and that we will have the opportunity to live with our Father in Heaven again.
- Chuck Collie is gospel doctrine class president in the Palmyra Ward, Rochester New York Palmya Stake.