In a replica of the log tabernacle where it occurred 150 years previously, Church members and other community residents on Dec. 27 re-created a defining moment in Church history.
The occasion they re-enacted was the sustaining of Brigham Young to succeed Joseph Smith as president of the Church.In December 1847, President Young had returned with other Church leaders from the new settlement in the Salt Lake Valley to Kanesville, Iowa, the temporary settlement where the bulk of the Church membership still resided. There, on Dec. 5, the Quorum of the Twelve reorganized the First Presidency to consist of President Young as president, Heber C. Kimball as first counselor and Willard Richards as second counselor.
A general conference of the Church was held in Kanesville Dec. 25-27, 1847, in a log tabernacle, constructed for the purpose by 200 men in only 17 days under the direction of town founder Henry Miller. In a solemn assembly on the third day of the conference, the new First Presidency was sustained by the general Church membership.
In present-day Council Bluffs - which includes historic Kanesville - that log tabernacle has been replicated by Kanesville Restoration Inc. President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the reconstructed replica on July 13, 1996.
Within its log walls, some 385 people gathered for the Dec. 27 commemoration. In a scenario written by Stephen Brockway, a high school drama director and member of the Kanesville Ward, the solemn assembly was depicted by actors representing the eight apostles present for the occasion: Presidents Young, Kimball and Richards; and Elders Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, Ezra T. Benson and Amasa Lyman. (The other members of the Twelve were away on assignment.)
Brother Brockway's script was condensed from the minutes of the original solemn assembly and from journal entries. Some of the practices depicted may have seemed unfamiliar - even quaint - to today's Church members (frequent shouts of "hosanna" and "amen," and seconding of motions, for example.)
Even so, the re-enactment gave a definite sense of the significance of this event, which opened a new era in the Church and set a pattern for subsequent such solemn assemblies wherein successors to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young have been sustained.
It also portrayed the joy felt on the occasion. "This is the best day that I have seen in my life," declared Terry Patience, Kanesville Ward, in the role of Brigham Young. "This is a heavenly day, a day of rejoicing in Zion!"
After the death of Joseph Smith, the Church had been governed by the Quorum of the Twelve as a body, with Brigham Young as president of the quorum. In the role of Elder Orson Pratt, Jim Kaiser of the Kanesville Ward gave an explanation for the action taken in reorganizing the Quorum of the First Presidency: "The time has come when the Twelve must travel to the ends of the earth where they can preach the everlasting gospel. The Twelve cannot be in one place, the headquarters. They must be abroad, where they can have their eyes on the far corners of the earth, channeling people back to headquarters, where they can have those great and heavenly scenes opened to their view, where they can gather to the ensign of Zion. The Church must have a Quorum of the First Presidency. Brothers and sisters, the time has come when we must act upon this."
As part of the re-enactment, "Come, Come, Ye Saints" was sung by the congregation. The 1847 solemn assembly was the first occasion when the hymn, written on the plains of Iowa by William Clayton during the pioneer trek, was sung at a conference of the Church.
In a program following the re-enactment, Kanesville Restoration Pres. Monte C. Nelson unveiled a painting, "Passing the Keys of Authority," by Bill L. Hill of Mendon, Utah. The painting depicts the eight apostles in the Kanesville Tabernacle, with their arms raised to the square to sustain the new First Presidency. Brother Nelson said that when he commissioned Brother Hill to do the work, the artist had requested pictures of the apostles at their precise age in 1847 and all information that could be gathered about their personalities and physical builds. (The painting was reproduced in the Dec. 20 Church News, accompanying an article by Ronald K. Esplin about the First Presidency reorganization in Kanesville.)
Elder Blair S. Bennett, Area Authority Seventy for the North America Central Area of the Church, brought greetings from the First Presidency and General Authorities of the Church.
"On July 24, 1847, the first company of Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley," he said. "We have celebrated that this year. . . . But I would suggest to you there is nothing in 1847 which transpired that is more significant from an ecclesiastical standpoint than that which we have commemorated today."
During the previous 31/2 years, the Twelve had presided over the Church, during which they had completed and dedicated the Nauvoo Temple, administered the endowment to a host of faithful Saints, evacuated Nauvoo, sent missionaries to and administered the Church in Great Britain, organized the Mormon Battalion, and found their way to a new home in the West, he noted.
Now, the time had come to reorganize the First Presidency so the Twelve could be freed to fulfill their responsibility to be witnesses in all the world, Elder Bennett explained.
He recounted that on Dec. 5, 1847, nine of the Twelve met in the home of Elder Orson Hyde, "about six miles from here," and after discussion, effected the reorganization.
Quoting from the journal of Elder Hyde, Elder Bennett read: "Men, women and children came running together where we were and asked us what was the matter. They said that their houses shook and the ground trembled and they did not know but what there was an earthquake. We told them there was nothing the matter - not to be alarmed; the Lord was only whispering to us a little, and that he was probably not very far off. We felt no shaking of the earth or of the house, but were filled with the exceeding power and goodness of God. We knew and realized that we had the testimony of God within us."
Elder Bennett noted that the actions of the Kanesville conference were ratified once again in the Kanesville Tabernacle on April 6, 1848; in Salt Lake City on Oct. 8, 1848; and finally in Manchester, England, in October 1848, with the largest attendance of Saints in the world at that time.
"We witness today and commemorate this day what happened in the tabernacle 150 years ago today," Elder Bennett said.