Thomas and Ana Coburn: New York and Pennsylvania Historic Site Leaders

Thomas and Ana Coburn: New York and Pennsylvania Historic Site Leaders. The Coburns testified of the power in the Church historical sites. (Sarah Cartwright)

Thomas Coburn and his wife Ana Coburn have dedicated their lives to serving the Lord. 

Their service has spanned multiple continents and included a mission to Colombia, President Coburn’s service as a mission president in Argentina and as a counselor in a mission presidency in Chile, followed by his service as a temple sealer in Utah. Now they are serving together in upstate New York, where President Coburn presides as the New York and Pennsylvania Church historic sites president.

“It’s been a great experience to serve in the church, as young missionaries in Colombia, seeing the growth of the Church in South America, and now coming back here to the cradle of the Restoration has been quite a journey,” President Coburn said.

As the historic site president and companion, the Coburns oversee the missionaries serving at the individual sites. These sites include the New York-based Smith family farm (including the Sacred Grove), Whitmer farm, Harris farm, Hill Cumorah and the Grandin Building, and the Pennsylvania-based Priesthood Restoration Site.

The purpose of the sites has evolved over the years, President Coburn said. While it once had the purpose of proselyting, they are now used to establish a testimony of what happened at each site.

“Our missionaries are not proselytizing. They are testifying of the Smith family, eternal families, the reality of a Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ and of the divinity of the Book of Mormon,” President Coburn said.

The Value of the Historical Sites

The Hill Cumorah, where Angel Moroni directed Joseph Smith to the gold plates. The Coburns testified of the power in the Church historical sites. (Kris Boyle)

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints flock from all over the world to come see the roots of the Restoration, from the site of Joseph Smith’s First Vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ, to where the gold plates were buried, to where the Church was officially organized. Members of the Church make great sacrifices to visit from places both near and far. The Coburns testified of the power in these historical sites, and why visiting them matters.

“People come to these sites, feel the Spirit and power here, and they know that the things that they’re hearing [and seeing] really happened here. It’s such a privilege to be here every day,” Sister Coburn said.

The Coburns testified of the power the sites will have on anyone who enters, whether they are a member of the Church or not. President Coburn said he has seen nonmembers come through and get emotional because of what they are experiencing.

“[These sites are] part of our heritage,” President Coburn said. “It’s part of our legacy as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and every member in the world can lay claim to this.”

Called to Serve

After the Coburns’ faithful service in multiple missionary capacities, they rested at home in Bountiful, Utah, waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic and preparing to turn in mission papers.

“We received a call from Elders Cook and Renlund to come visit with them…there was never any doubt that we’d accept [the call],” President Coburn said. “It was very humbling that the Lord would consider us to be here.”

A Day in the Life

Every day looks different for the Coburns, and they both emphasized how different their leadership experiences in Palmyra are compared to when they oversaw a mission in Argentina 30 years ago. Similar in a lot of ways and different in others.

While they had their four daughters with them and spent much of their time apart in Argentina, they are now blessed to do everything together.

“Unlike the average mission, we don’t have an office. Our kitchen table is the office,” President Coburn said.

Much of their work consists of companionship assignments, planning meetings, training for the missionaries, interviews with missionaries and delegating tasks to senior missionaries, such as making sure mission vehicles are taken care of.

The missionaries that come to the sites and live under the Coburns’ supervision are only missionaries at the historical sites for a few transfers before heading off to where they will be serving the rest of their missions in different states and countries. President and Sister Coburn expressed deep gratitude to be able to work with these missionaries for the short time they get them, and they are grateful the missionaries get the unique experiences at these sites President Coburn called “the cradle of the restoration.”

A Testimony of the Book of Mormon

The Coburns agreed that a testimony of the Book of Mormon is where the power of the gospel resides. President Coburn explained that while it doesn’t happen often, the missionaries will have people in their site tours who try to discredit Joseph Smith because of his imperfections.

“All it takes is to say, ‘I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I have read the Book of Mormon, and it is true. Have you read it?’ After that, the fight is over,” President Coburn said.

Converting to the Church at 16 years old, Sister Coburn shared that a life with the Book of Mormon is better than the life she had without it. Describing the Book of Mormon in one word, she chose “everything.”

“Everything that brings me closer to the Savior. Everything for me to feel the Spirit. It teaches me everything I need to know,” Sister Coburn said.

When it really comes down to it, the Coburns said that without the Book of Mormon, they would not know Christ.

The Coburns’ faithful and willing service ties right back to their favorite Book of Mormon scriptures.

Sister Coburn’s is Helaman 5:12, especially the first sentence: “…remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation…”

Having Jesus Christ as her foundation has made her life more solid and secure, Sister Coburn said. It is her driving force in everything she does.

President Coburn’s favorite scripture is Mosiah 3:19: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord…willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

“That’s my quest, to become a saint through the atonement of Jesus Christ, to be meek, to be submissive, to be willing to submit myself to all things that Heavenly Father seeks to inflict upon me,” President Coburn said.

The Coburns’ lives express their faith in submitting their wills to the Lord’s as they continue to serve the Him, dedicating their time and talents to His sacred work, being driven by their faith in the Book of Mormon.

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