175th General Conference

    167

    By Ivy Sellers

    Only six people attended the first conference of the church. It was a simple meeting. God?s first prophet in this dispensation spoke and all who were present shared testimony of the Restored Gospel.

    The day was April 6, 1830 and those in attendance were Joseph Smith Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer Jr., Samuel H. Smith and David Whitmer.

    One hundred and seventy-five years later, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered for another conference, and this time they numbered 12,275,822 million. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Smith?s birth. A yearlong celebration will begin May 6-7 with a commemorative event at the Library of Congress.

    All this because of the faith and humility of a 14-year-old farm boy from upstate New York named Joseph Smith.

    Though he did not organize church conferences formally as a biannual tradition as practiced today, Smith greatly influenced the depth of doctrinal understanding and knowledge the church has today.

    Professor Grant Underwood, research historian for the Joseph F. Smith Institute, said one of Smith?s greatest contributions was the sermons he gave ? particularly those given in Nauvoo, Ill., in the early 1840?s.

    The most famous of his sermons was given April 7, 1844, and is referred to as the ?King Follett Discourse.? Underwood said it is the ?most doctrinally-meaty discourse? we have from the Prophet. It contains doctrine about the creation, the plurality of gods, etc.

    In the days of Nauvoo, members of the church would gather in a grove of trees for conference. There were no tape recorders, only note takers; there were no microphones either.

    ?The [speaker] really had to be able to belt it out,? Underwood said.

    Records vary when it comes to the number in attendance at these conferences, but the numbers were in the thousands, and at times, historians recorded the presence of more than ten thousand.

    Concerns of the prophet during those meetings were much the same of those of today, Underwood said. Things like the reverence of the crowd, children goofing around, and teens coming to church for purely social motives were preoccupations that weighed on his mind.

    ?I think of a very spiritually sensitive individual who at the same time was very much a real person with passions and emotions,? Underwood said.

    ***

    Smith was the fifth of eleven children born to Joseph Smith and Lucy Mack in Sharon, Vt., on Dec. 23, 1805.

    Described by one historical account as ?tall, athletic, and energetic,? but also as one who ?contemplated and [was] even-tempered,? young Joseph was well-liked and respected by those around him. A handsome boy with blue eyes, he learned to work hard on the farm and obeyed his parents.?

    In the spring of 1820, he was living with his family in Palmyra, N.Y., during what history would later refer to as the ?Second Great Awakening,? ? a time of religious revival and enthusiasm. At this time he became greatly confused by the many churches of the day, each of which claimed to be the true church of God.

    At a young, he knelt down in a grove of trees and asked God in prayer which of all the churches he should join.

    What followed is an experience known as the ?First Vision? during which the boy Joseph received a visit from God the Father and his son Jesus Christ. He was informed that not any of the churches was right and that through him the true church would be restored.

    As a prophet, Smith made many contributions to the building up of God?s church once again on the earth. Major examples would be the translation of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the restoration of the priesthood, and the official organization of the church.

    He served the church as their leader and prophet until his martyrdom at Carthage, Ill., where he sealed his faith with his blood.

    ***

    In honor of Smith?s 200th birthday at the end of this year, the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City has a special exhibit dedicated to honor his life and work.

    Most of the documents on display have never been shown before, said Gary Boatright, supervisor of museum operations.

    He said the documents include his personal journal, original transcripts of the Book of Mormon and transcripts of revelations received mainly while the prophet was in Liberty Jail.

    The Museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is free.

    ***

    More of the prophet?s life and contributions a conference is being held discussed today in a special conference titled, ?Joseph Smith and the World.?

    Speakers will address Joseph Smith?s worldview and impact on various parts of the world.

    The annual conference is organized by the International Society ? an organization concerned with international professionals, said Paul Hyer, executive director of the society.

    The conference is from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will take place in the Garden Court.

    Hyer said anyone who wishes to attend is welcome.

    ***

    At the close of the semiannual general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Gordon B. Hinckley close the two-hour long morning session by recounting the life and work of Joseph Smith.

    The doctrines and practices unique to the LDS church ? including priesthood authority for men, eternal families and baptisms for the dead ? were born of Smith?s revelations, President Hinckley said.

    The founding first prophet and its current prophet of the church share similar personality traits, Underwood said.

    Referring to Joseph Smith, he said, ?A great man ? a man that we can best relate to by thinking of Pres. Hinckley ? very accessible, warm. In any case I think he seems to us like a kindly grandfather figure ? not intimidating, just warm, personable, like he?s a loved one.

    ?And I think that?s how Joseph Smith came across ? only younger.?

    What: Special Conference ?Joseph Smith and the World?

    When: Today, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

    Where: WSC Garden Court

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