In April 1967, my employer transferred our family to Cleveland, Ohio, just 20 minutes from Kirtland. Having lived the first 29 years of our lives in Utah, we were excited to live in "the Ohio."
On our first day, a beautiful Sunday morning, we drove into Kirtland and parked our car behind the historic Kirtland Temple. After helping my wife and two children out of our car, I quickly locked the door, and then realized the keys were still in the ignition. While my family waited, I nervously crossed the street and entered a building of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to ask for a coat hanger that I might bend to lift the lock inside the car.Two friendly RLDS brethren insisted on going with me to help. So began our "Kirtland years" and a deep love for our RLDS friends and this rich historic Ohio soil.
Our past 30 exciting years here have seen major changes come to Kirtland. The miracle of Church growth is evident as our small 1967 ward has grown into seven wards and four branches. Our lives have become centered in Church history sites.
We pick apples and strawberries for our stake welfare farm in the same fields where Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered. We picnic in the quarry where so many worked long days and hours to quarry stone for the temple. We compete in skipping flat shale rocks in the beautiful Vermillion River at the spot where Parley P. Pratt was pursued by an officer and his bulldog "Stu Boy." We eat in a favorite restaurant where Joseph, Emma and other early Latter-day Saints stopped to water horses and, undoubtedly, also ate. We attend stake meetings within the sight of the temple in Kirtland.
One of the milestone events here was the building of our beautiful new Kirtland stake center in 1984. Our joy to have this edifice was great.
However, late in the night of our second daughter's wedding reception in May 1986, a call came informing us that our stake center was set on fire by an arsonist. We watched in horror as this beautiful stake center burned to the ground early on that Sunday morning. We watched the community react with shock. They stood side by side with us. I remember standing there as a man approached me and offered his back hoe and his services for 60 days to help in cleaning up the debris and starting over.
My heart was touched as a fellow businessman approached me even as the building was burning and pled: "Please don't leave Kirtland again. We know you were burned out once, but this is an act against our whole community, not you." The local newspaper picked up this same feeling as the front page headline read, "Kirtland's Church at the Bottom of the Hill Burns!"
We have felt relationships with the RLDS Church, which owns the Kirtland Temple, warm over the years. I was especially overwhelmed when the RLDS Church's stake president called shortly after the fire started to offer their meetinghouse for our use until ours was rebuilt. The RLDS Church allows us to use the Kirtland Temple on occasion. We have likewise seen relationships in the community become close as missionaries and members clean and prepare strawberries for the annual Strawberry Festival or clean fish for the annual Kiwanis fish night. We also provide a choice site for Kirtland's community Christmas display.
We have had many sacred experiences here over the years. Many center around visits by Presidents Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter and Gordon B. Hinckley.
On President Benson's visit here in 1979, he felt to lift the scourge mentioned in D&C 124:83. My heart raced and I thrilled as he declared. "Now is the time to . . . look forward to great progress in this part of the Lord's vineyard." In 1986, just two weeks before he was sustained as president of the Church, President Benson stirred a small group in the School of the Prophets room upstairs in the Whitney store. He seemed to gain strength as he stood and read, where it was given, the scripture that was to become a hallmark of his presidency, ". . . remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon." (D&C 84:57.) We will never forget his love and feelings for Kirtland and the descendants of early members who stayed here.
Our greatest spiritual experiences over the years have probably come in the Kirtland Temple. I seldom enter the temple, which I have done hundreds of times, without being overcome by a beautiful spirit reminding me of the unparalleled events of the Restoration there.
What a privilege to attend a Christmas Eve program and sing Christmas carols where the Savior, Elijah and so many others appeared. Easter sunrise services held in the temple are reminiscent of the Savior's declaration there, "I am he who liveth!" Could one even imagine the thrill of sitting in the temple in 1992 as the Tabernacle Choir sang in the four corners and down each side, "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning"?
One year later, Elder M. Russell Ballard conducted the first sacrament meeting presided over by our Church in that edifice in more than 130 years. The lower floor of the temple was filled with the North America Northeast Area presidency, mission presidents, stake presidents and temple presidents and their wives. I don't think there was a dry eye. I sensed in part what early members described happening there.
Living near the Kirtland Temple for 30 years and having frequently walked Kirtland's streets, hills and places of history, I have sensed the unspoken sacredness of this area. On Sinai the Lord told Moses to remove his shoes, for he stood on holy ground. As I have become acquainted through history with Kirtland's early Saints, the "Moseses and Aarons" of the 1830s, I have come to understand that they likewise walked on holy ground. The Lord made Kirtland holy the same way as He made Sinai holy. The early members here also consecrated the ground with their sacrifices.
As I have visited the Kirtland Temple and stood on those sacred spots, my testimony has increased with each trip and the Spirit has whispered the quiet assurance that God and Christ live and that Joseph was truly a prophet. Keys were given here to prepare us for Christ's second coming. Yes, this truly is the land of the Restoration!
Karl Ricks Anderson is the family history adviser for the North America Northeast Area. He is a former stake president and regional representative.