“A Stake in Kirtland—Fulfillment of Prophecy,” Ensign, Dec. 1983, 67–68
Kirtland. The name recalls past triumphs and tragedies for Latter-day Saints. But the focus was firmly on the future recently when a new stake was created there. It was the first time since the early 1800s that there has been a stake in Kirtland, Ohio.
President Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve presided at the creation of the new stake October 16. He told those assembled for the service, “I promise you as a servant of the Lord that as you unite in moving the work of the Lord forward in this part of the Lord’s vineyard, your prayers will be answered and you will be magnified even beyond your natural talents.”
The original Kirtland Stake was the first organized in the Church, on 17 February 1834, and the Prophet Joseph Smith was its president. “This was headquarters of the Church for seven years. Here the first temple of the Church was erected in modern times. From this place the gospel was first carried to foreign lands,” President Benson recalled.
Kirtland played a pivotal role in Church history. It was there, in the temple, that the Savior appeared, that Moses, Elias, and Elijah committed sacred priesthood keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, under the Lord’s direction, so work of this gospel dispensation could be carried out. It was there that nearly half the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were given.
President Benson noted that the Lord finally withdrew his blessings from the early Saints in Kirtland because they were not obedient to his commandments. “But I rejoice because I feel there is a new spirit in this beloved Kirtland area and in all of the entire state of Ohio,” he continued. “The Lord made it very clear when he said, ‘I, the Lord, will build up Kirtland.’ (D&C 124:83.) Today we are witnessing the fulfillment of that promise.”
The 2,400-member stake, formed by restructuring units in the Cleveland and Akron stakes, includes eight wards and branches in northeast Ohio.
Just four years ago, on 14 October 1979, President Benson presided at the groundbreaking for the Kirtland chapel, which is now the stake center. On that occasion, he referred to a prophecy of the Lord written 31 October 1841 in a letter from Hyrum Smith to the Saints still in Kirtland. It warned them to leave because they would not be able to possess their lands in peace, “yet your children may possess them, but not until many years shall pass away; … and then I will send forth and build up Kirtland, and it shall be polished and refined according to my word.”
Elder A. Theodore Tuttle of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Executive Administrator for the Church’s North Central Area, conducted the business of the conference, under President Benson’s direction. He noted the presence of many past and present leaders from the Cleveland, Akron, and other nearby stakes. Then he commented, “There are others who look in on this scene with tenderness and emotion.”
Elder Tuttle explained that as the living identify and perform ordinances in behalf of the dead, these ancestors will “assist us from beyond the veil.” But, he added, because of what transpired in Kirtland’s past, “more—much more—will be expected of us in the future. We can either talk about the faith and sacrifice of the early Saints, or we can emulate their faith by our actions.”
President Benson and Elder Tuttle attended two special gatherings for some of these descendants. At the first, family members organized a Samuel and Susanna Kimball Whitney family association, named for the parents of Newel K. Whitney, called as bishop at Kirtland in 1831, and later as presiding bishop. At the second meeting, members of the John Johnson family met President Benson for a luncheon and tour of the farm where Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon received the revelation that is section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 76].
Karl Ricks Anderson, Regional Representative for the Cleveland Region, commented that fostering of such family associations, to join families from the East and the West, is a prime objective in efforts to bring the gospel to descendants of the early Kirtland settlers.
The president of the new Kirtland Ohio Stake is Zane F. Lee, who is assisted by Walter C. Selden, first counselor, and Robert A. Payne, second counselor.