1979
The Church Comes Alive in Kirtland, Ohio
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“The Church Comes Alive in Kirtland, Ohio,” Ensign, Dec. 1979, 69–70

The Church Comes Alive in Kirtland, Ohio

Church leadership and headquarters moved out of Kirtland, Ohio, about 140 years ago. But now the new Kirtland Ward is getting a meetinghouse, the Church has purchased a historic site, and missionary work is fruitful.

A hallmark of Church growth in Kirtland, the town where the early Saints built the first latter-day temple, was the October 14 groundbreaking for a future stake center. President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve gave the dedicatory prayer and officiated.

The groundbreaking came only a few days after the Church officially purchased one of the most historically significant sites in Kirtland, the Newel K. Whitney Store. The first two missionaries to serve fulltime in Kirtland in 140 years moved into the Whitney Store in January 1978. Now, several sets of missionaries later, converts are being baptized and townspeople are asking to be taught.

President Benson’s remarks at the groundbreaking service reflect the changes that have come to Kirtland since the leaders left in the late 1830s. He referred to a prophecy in Doctrine and Covenants 124:83 that states Kirtland would be scourged after the Saints left, but would be built up later.

“I think that this prophecy is being fulfilled today,” President Benson said at the groundbreaking service.

President Benson quoted an 1841 letter from Hyrum Smith containing the prophecy that Kirtland would be “polished and refined” (Times and Seasons 1:589, 1 Nov. 1841).

“The scourge that was placed upon Kirtland in that prophecy is being lifted today,” President Benson said. “We have a new day here, and a great opportunity and a great day ahead of us. I’m sure of it, because I have been pondering this. I’m sure that there is a new day, that the Lord is looking in on the people of this community.” Later, in the dedicatory prayer, President Benson asked the Lord to lift the “scourge.”

The groundbreaking received attention from the news media in nearby Cleveland and helped to make the Church better known throughout the area.

The Church has also gained increased visibility through the recent development of the Whitney Store as a historic site. In the last year, thousands of visitors, many of them nonmembers, have toured the store and seen a slide presentation prepared by the Ohio Cleveland Mission.

The Whitney Store has not yet been restored to its 1830s condition. A missionary couple has lived at the store, and two other missionaries who live near Kirtland work at the store full time. The missionaries tell visitors to Kirtland about the events that occurred at the store—Joseph Smith living there for a few years, and many revelations now in the Doctrine and Covenants being received there.

They also tell of the spiritual events that occurred at the Kirtland temple, which was acquired by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the 1880s and, now restored, is open to visitors.

However, visitors to Kirtland aren’t the only ones showing interest in the Church and its Kirtland history. Kirtland residents are increasingly more receptive.

The first two missionaries in Kirtland in 1978 discussed history with the residents and made many friends, but they didn’t tract initially.

Now, however, Elders Kevin Pyfer and Kenneth Jon Baldwin are tracting Kirtland—the second time the town has been tracted since the Restoration. “Now we’re setting up appointments, teaching people, and putting articles in the town newspaper,” says Elder Pyfer.

And, even more important, the missionaries feel that “the heavens have been opened to our investigators.”

Elder Pyfer says the work remains challenging, but the feeling in Kirtland is changing. “In Kirtland there’s a warm feeling, a warm reception.”

Mission President Joseph H. Young describes Kirtland in three words: “It’s coming alive.”

Elder Ezra Taft Benson shovels dirt during the groundbreaking service for a meetinghouse in Kirtland, Ohio. (Photography by Edna Davis.)