|Family History Conference Devotional
Where Generations Meet
August 3, 2004
Elder W. Rolfe Kerr
Of the Seventy
I greet you today with honor and respect for the commitment you have shown to this great and redeeming work of the Lord. As you well know, the three-fold mission of the Church is to proclaim the gospel, perfect the Saints, and redeem the dead. Your presence at this conference is evidence of the influence of the spirit of Elijah in your lives and of your continuing love for all of our Father in Heaven's children. Your participation signals your desire to do all within your power to assist in their redemption in the kingdom of Heaven. This great effort is centered in the enormous family history program of the Church and in the inspiring work performed in sacred temples.
The theme of your conference, "Where Generations Meet," should evoke in each of us special memories, profound gratitude, and a piercing desire to know more and to do more in fulfilling our sacred responsibilities. We have been given a celestial charge to seek out and identify our kindred dead and to ensure that all of their temple ordinances are performed for them. In doing this we are given opportunity to see and understand where generations meet. My wife and I have prepared special seven-generation family history binders for each of our children and their families. We thrill with the realization of the great work already accomplished by faithful family members. However, we tremble some with the realization of much yet to be done. Our family history records reveal family lines ranging from those appearing to have come to dead ends at the seventh generation to those which go back to the fourteenth century.
It boggles the mind to contemplate where generations meetpast and future. I am more student than instructor when it comes to family history, but allow me to explore just a few settings where I believe generations have met in the past or will meet in the future. Consider with me the meeting of the generations in the following venues:
- The Council in Heaven
- Family Experiences
- Family Records and Research
- The Computer Screen
- The Temples
- Those Special Meetings from across or beyond the Veil
- The Second Coming of Christ
1. The Council in Heaven
In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism we read: "The Council in Heaven, sometimes called the Grand Council, refers to the meeting of God the Father with his spirit sons and daughters to discuss the terms and conditions by which these spirits could come to earth as physical beings. . . . One purpose of the heavenly council was to allow the spirits the opportunity to accept or reject the Father's Plan of Salvation, which proposed that an earth be created whereon his spirit children could dwell, each in a physical body. Such a life would serve as a probationary state 'to see if they [would] do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them' (Abr. 3:25)" (1:328).
John A. Widstoe said: "In our preexistent state, in the day of the Great Council, we made a certain agreement with the Almighty. The Lord proposed a plan, conceived by him. We accepted it. Since the plan is intended for all men, we became parties to the salvation of every person under that plan. We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves but measurably, saviors of the whole human family. We went into a partnership with the Lord. The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father's work, and the Savior's work, but also our work. The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation" (in Archibald F. Bennett, Saviors on Mount Zion , 1112).
The Savior said: "And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn. . . . Ye were also in the beginning with the Father" (D&C 93:2123). We knew the Father, and He knew us. And I believe we knew each other. We were in attendance in that Grand Council when the foundations of our mortal existence were established. I believe that there were meetings of the generations there.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves. And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy" (D&C 130:12). This suggests a meeting of the generations in the post-mortal state. But what of the sociality and the meeting of the generations in the premortal state? Elder Bruce C. Hafen and his wife, Marie, wrote: "The conditions of pre-mortal life were evidently not unlike the sociality that exists among us here. Each of us had a distinctive identity and gender. . . . Therefore, our associations together in mortality and the idea of continuing our associations after death naturally sound both attractive and familiar to us" (Bruce C. Hafen and Marie K. Hafen, The Belonging: The Atonement and Relationships with God and Family Heart , 13). I believe that same sociality which exists among us here in mortality will exist among us there in immortality. I also believe that at least to some degree, that same sociality which exists among us here in mortality also existed among us in our premortal state. I believe the generations met there.
2. Family Experiences
Now consider the meeting of the generations in family experiences. I am thinking of the birth of our first child, a daughter born October 13, 1961. Interestingly, our daughter's great-grandmother Margaret Elizabeth Hodson Pack died on that same day. I feel and have felt through the years that the two of them met in transition, albeit briefly. I can picture my grandmother meeting my daughter and giving advice to her in a meeting of the generations. Another of our daughters gave birth to twin girls about seven years ago. The waiting room outside the delivery room was electric with anticipation as three generations of the family waited to meet the two new additions to the fourth generation. President Boyd K. Packer said, "It takes a pretty good meeting to be better than no meeting at all." These delivery room meetings may not be memorable family history experiences, but in the eternal scheme of things no meeting of the generations could be more important.
Think now of another family experience where generations meetaround the family dinner table. It was around the Kerr table that I first heard the stories of my parents' childhood and of their first meeting and ultimate courtship. I learned first of the conversion stories and early pioneer experiences of my great grandparents around our dinner table. It was there that I learned of how dearly my father loved his missionary experiences in Great Britain. Extended family dinners brought a closeness to aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents that is a part of the accumulation of my family history. May I share just two or three of the many stories that are such an important part of that family history. Each of these stories illustrates for me the spirit that I believe is behind the selection of your theme, "Where Generations Meet." At least for me, hearing of these ancestral experiences gave me opportunities to meet many of those who are at the very foundation of my family history.
One of the most heart warming, yet heart-rending stories I remember is that of my great-grandmother Sarah Ann Meeks Harding. Sarah Ann heard the message of the Restoration at age 14 in Chesterton, England, near Cambridge. Her parents stood in strong opposition to her desire to be baptized. Her interest only increased, and one day when she was returning home from her daily activities, her father met her on the doorstep with a small bundle of some of her belongings. He thrust the little bundle into her hands and said, "If you join that church, you will never set foot in my home again." She never did see the inside of her home again. Even several years later as she and her family were preparing to leave England for America, her requests to bring her children and bid her parents farewell were denied. From her has sprung a huge progeny of faithful Latter-day-Saints.
The second story I would share with you may be classified as folklore, defined in part as "legends, tales, traditions, myths, and widely held but unsupported notions." This story of my great-grandfather John Pack and my great-grandmother Ruth Mosher Pack may be a widely held but unsupported notion. Ruth Mosher was the third of eight wives sealed to John Pack. John Pack had various business interests in Salt Lake and the Bountiful area and also a farm and ranching operation in Kamas, Summit County. As the story goes, most of the wives and families lived in Bountiful. But Ruth Mosher and her family spent most of their time in Kamas. It is said that Ruth was the only one of the wives tough enough to deal with the Indians and the cold Kamas winters. On one of John Pack's visits to Kamas, he was preparing to leave to return to the Salt Lake Valley. He had pulled his wagon into the barn where there was hanging a recently butchered beef. Some of the children saw that he was loading the beef into his wagon. They ran and told their mother who grabbed a butcher knife and marched to the barn. There she confronted her husband and with the knife delicately placed under his chin said, "John Pack, you take one strip of that beef to those frizzies in the city, and I will cut you limb from limb." Needless to say, the beef stayed in Kamas. And, so did Ruth!
There are so many more of those dinner table stories that I would love to share, but I will spare you by imposing only one more of them on you. My father was called to serve in the British Mission in 1928. The opposition to the Church and the missionaries was bitter and constant. The weather was also bitter and constant. He became very homesick and felt that he should return home. This feeling stayed with him for several days and then one night he had what he called "The Missionary Dream." He dreamed that he was excused from missionary service and was returning home. With great anticipation he approached the family home expecting a warm welcome from his parents. His mother saw him coming down the lane and ran to meet him. As they approached each other, instead of the warm embrace he expected, his mother stopped short and said, "What are you doing here?" He woke up with a start and was so relieved to find himself still in the mission field that he never had another homesick day the rest of his mission. In recent years I have gotten much milage out of that story with homesick missionaries.
Let us in this generation never lose the dinner table as a regular place where generations meet. Let the legacy of our families live on through the excitement of stories that can be shared at the dinner table. We all love a story, and our children and grandchildren are especially appreciative and attentive when memorable stories of their own heritage are shared with them.
Family reunions are another traditional family setting where the generations meet. Among my most vivid childhood memories is the anticipation I felt each summer as we planned for the annual Kerr Family Reunion. While much of the anticipation was related to my hero worship of a very athletic and charismatic cousin, I was impressed with the realization that a brother and a sister of my grandfather would be there. Because my grandfather died before I was born, meeting and visiting with his siblings somehow seemed to fill a void. It seemed to allow me to meet a missing piece of my life. There were a few occasions when we had five generations of the family assembled. Where do generations meet? Certainly at family reunions!
3. Family Records and Research
Leaving the family experiences, may we now consider where generations meet through family records and research. Family records, including among other things such resources as books, journals, and personal histories, provide a rich repository of information which gives us a sense of linkage to our ancestors. We will remember President Packer's "Get a cardboard box" message as the most basic and helpful starting place. May I cite just a few special "meetings" I have had with some of my ancestral generations by reading from sources originally found in a cardboard box.
Looking at a 1925 LDS Business College Yearbook I found the graduating class to have a brief personality description under each picture. Under my mother's picture was this description: "Great modesty often hides great merit." They could not have described my mother more accurately.
Davis Bitton wrote the biography of my great-grandfather John Pack, whom I referred to earlier. It is entitled The Redoubtable John Pack. Redoubtable is defined as (1) causing fear or alarm, formidable; (2) inspiring or worthy of awe or reverence; (3) fearful, the opposite of timid or shy. Bitton describes John Pack this way: "There seems to be no way of denying that John was looking out for his own rights, that he was tenacious, that he did not give up easily, and that he was abrasive. If disruptive is the right adjective to describe his repeated attempts to assert his leadership role, then that too is a trait hard to deny. Abusive, selfish, tyrannicalthese are stronger terms and are probably unnecessarily severe. At least John denied such guilt. (Yet, it appears these terms were used by some to describe him.) . . . But there is another side. . . . John had a tough exterior. Some people never got beyond it. He was not everyone's favorite person. But he had many good qualities, too. Those who were willing to go beyond first impressions and give John a chance found him a person of integrity and energy and courage, the kind one liked to have on his side." Bitton quoted John Chislett, who described John Pack this way: "At first I thought of him somewhat arrogant and overbearing in his official capacity, but as I became better acquainted with him and studied his character more, I found that he was kind and gentle at heart, and that his harshness of expression was more attributable to his earnestness and zeal in the Church than to any real tendency to tyranny" (201).
Orson F. Whitney's History of Utah records an event in John Pack's life during the difficult Missouri years. We read: "They were barely established in their new home when the mob troubles began. Mr. Pack, having received word from his sister Phoebe, residing some distance away, that her husband was dead and she and her children sick, started with his wife for that place for the purpose of bringing the afflicted family to his own home. When near the crossing of Grand river, a mob of twenty-five men on horseback came from a side road, formed a line in front of and behind them and demanded to know if they were Mormons. They answered in the affirmative, and were then told that they were prisoners. They were taken by their captors several miles out of their road to a camp in the timber where were five hundred armed men, under the command of Sashiel Woods, a Presbyterian minister. They first examined the contents of his valise, but finding nothing by which to condemn him as a 'Mormon Spy,' the mob leader next demanded that he deny that Joseph Smith was a Prophet. The prisoner refused to do so, whereupon Woods asked someone to volunteer to shoot him. Mr. Pack then arose and addressed the crowd in such a way as to cause them one by one to go away, leaving him alone with their leader. Again, Woods requested that someone shoot him. Then, a voice from back in the trees called out 'Ah, let the dd Mormon go.' They were released and threatened that they would be killed if they returned that way. They heeded not the threat, but returned with their sick relatives along the same road" (4:5052).
You would perhaps be interested to learn of this same great grandfather's unique scheme of naming some of his children. From May 1853 to February 1860 he and his plural wives had 13 of their children whose names were successively:
Two other facts about John Pack which are of real family interest are that he was with Orson Pratt, Erastus Snow, and others who formed the advance party which entered the Salt Lake Valley ahead of Brigham Young and the others of that first pioneer company. Also, there is a small stone monument on the corner of Second North and West Temple in Salt Lake City which memorializes the location of the first classes of the University of Deseret, the predecessor to the University of Utah. Those classes were held in the cabin of John Pack.
My wife and I first learned of her great-great-grandfather's missionary service in a missionary zone conference in Iceland in 1998. We were there as a part of a mission tour. The mission president had prepared an information binder for the missionaries. Included in it was a listing of all the mission presidents who had presided over missions in which Iceland had been included over the years. There on the list was the name of Ola Nillson Liljenquist, my wife's great-great-grandfather, who had served as president of the Scandinavian Mission from 1876 to 1878. We later found this information also recorded in a biography prepared by one of his descendants. We learned that he had previously been called to serve as a missionary in the Scandinavian Mission in 1859, shortly after his emigration to the United States. The records indicate that he was the first native-born Scandinavian to return to serve as a missionary, as well as the first native Scandinavian to serve as mission president. Though born in Sweden, he later moved to Denmark and obtained citizenship there. Over a period of five years he went before the passport office in Copenhagen numberless times vouching for several thousands of converts seeking appropriate credentials to emigrate to America. He wrote: "At first, when I presented my name in security for such persons or families, it was with great difficulty that permissions were granted, but before I emigrated in 1857, the magistrate officers told me they would rather take my name in security than that of many a wealthy man, for we took care of our poor, and they had had no trouble with anything that I had signed. They grew very friendly indeed and one of these gentlemen who was often my friend in need, said to me as he finished making out some nine hundred passports, 'Mr. Liljenquist, if you should get into a better heaven than I, would you think of me?' " (Hacking, Leverne Liljenquist, and Ola Nillson Liljenquist, 1989).
It is clear that the establishment of communications networks with close and distant relatives and others will greatly extend the reach of our generational meetings by taking advantage of the family history research and work done by others. I am confident that the personal experiences of many of you assembled here today include faith-promoting and wonderfully satisfying experiences where the world of your family history has been opened up to you through chance or seemingly unlikely contacts. Could I ask how many of you have had such treasures come into your possession from unlikely sources?
4. The Computer Screen
The computer screen has become perhaps our most prolific venue for generational meetings as we have gained experience with Family Search, PAF, the Ancestral File, IGI, and other computerized resources. The Internet has become a marvelous tool of research and communication allowing for the gathering and sharing of information. The generations are meeting on the computer screen, but we are just scratching the surface. In the months ahead we will be hearing much more from the Church and Family History Department about this. We can anticipate significant developments in the future.
5. The Temples
It is within the walls of the temples where some of our most heart-warming meetings with past generations occur. Taking the names of our own kindred dead to the temple gives us a linkage and sense of "meeting" that we find in no other way. I would hope that even when we stand as proxy for persons unknown and unrelated to us we can still focus on those names as individual sons and daughters of God and as distant relatives, indeed, brothers and sisters related and linked across the generations. One of the most inspiring and heart-warming generational meetings I have ever witnessed involved just two generations. Picture it in your minds eye: a father and mother dressed in white, kneeling at the sacred altar in a holy temple. Their six-month-old adopted daughter is brought into the room and placed on the altar between them. This little angel, so recently come from her premortal experience, is sealed to her parents for time and for all eternity. This two-generation meeting became a three-generation meeting with both sets of grandparents in attendance. I am confident that there were other unseen representatives of earlier generations also present.
The creation of eternal family units and the sealing of familiesliving or deceasedbrings profound and poignant reality and meaning to the theme "Where Generations Meet." I believe that the hearts of the fathers (and the mothers) are turned to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers (and their mothers) more in the venue of the temple than in any other place.
6. Those Special Meetings from across or beyond the Veil
The next venue for the meeting of the generations that I will discuss is those meetings which occur across or beyond the veil. The specifics of these meetings are rarely appropriate discussion topics. They are too sacred to be exposed in a temporal setting or to be imposed on the spiritually unprepared. The story is told of a good brother who in visiting with President Marion G. Romney is reported to have said, "Isn't it wonderful that we have so many glorious spiritual manifestations here in the Salt Lake Temple?" To which President Romney apparently responded, "Yes, and we would probably have a lot more if people wouldn't talk about them so much."
Scripturally speaking we have numberless accounts of these across-or-beyond-the-veil generational meetings. Joseph F. Smith's account of his vision of the Savior's visit to the spirit world as recorded in the 138th section of the Doctrine and Covenants is a marvelous example. Listen as I read just a few verses where he describes what he witnessed from across the veil. "As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. . . . They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death." He continued: "And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them; But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead." And then he saw "the Prophet Joseph Smith, and my [his] father, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and other choice spirits who were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great Latter-day work, including the building of the temples and the performance of ordinances therein for the redemption of the dead." He said, "I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead" (D&C 138:11, 16, 2930, 5357).
My great-grandmother Ruth Mosher Pack has shared with her posterity one such "across-the-veil" meeting, which I think appropriate to share in this setting. Ruth Mosher was baptized when she was 20 years old in a hole that was made in the ice in the St. Lawrence River. When she was 10, her family heard that Mormon elders were to speak in the vicinity. Her parents were greatly opposed to this and forbade any of the children to go to hear them. Nevertheless, Ruth ran away and attended the meeting. She later said that even though she was only 10 years old, she would never forget the feeling that came over her. She was so filled with the Spirit of the Lord that the words of the elders just thrilled her. She knew from that moment on that the gospel was true. May I read from her account of a very special "meeting" she had much later. "When I was 19 years old, I was visited by my sister, who had died a short time previous. Not having the courage to speak, I covered my face. This happened several times and it was often in my mind. After I became a member of the church, I prayed earnestly that if it were necessary for my sister to speak with me, she might return and I might have the courage to speak to her. Soon she came again to my bedside just after daylight. I said to her, 'Hannah, in the name of the Lord, what do you want of me?' She said, 'I want to speak with you about the Gospel. You and your posterity are the only ones to do work for our kindred.' I said, 'Have you heard it preached and by whom?' Yes, she answered, 'by the elders who have died. I have received it. I want you to promise to do my work.' All fear had left my mind as soon as the first words were exchanged. I asked, 'Are you happy?' As happy as I can be,' she replied, 'until you do my work. I am in prison with spirits who are waiting for their work to be done for them' " (History of Ruth Mosher Pack, 12).
7. The Second Coming of Christ
May I now project your minds forward to a future time where generations will meet. To do so I will draw upon some thoughts I used in another setting. For you who may have viewed that presentation, consider this to be appropriate "Moroni-like" repetition. To all of you, I hope it will be thought provoking and helpful. In a recent general conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks addressed the importance of our preparation for the Savior's Millennial return. He said, "While we are powerless to alter the fact of the Second Coming and unable to know its exact time, we can accelerate our own preparation and try to influence the preparation of those around us" (Ensign, May 2004, 7). This thought should cause each of us to consider more seriously the state of our own preparation. Is not the Second Coming going to be a marvelous occasion where generations meet?
Think with me of another prophet-leader who many generations ago made similar appeals to his people to prepare for the coming of Christ. In this case, it was to prepare for His "first coming," rather than His "second." We read in the Book of Mormon of the marvelous address King Benjamin delivered 124 years before the birth of Christ. He taught of the birth, life, and mission of the Savior. He projected the thoughts of his people toward the meaning and significance of the atoning sacrifice Jesus would offer for all mankind, and he challenged them to live and believe and rejoice "even as though he had already come among them." He said, "And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy even as though he had already come among them" (Mosiah 3:13). Even as though He had already come among them!
I would ask you, first, is it possible for us in 2004 to look to the Savior's Second Coming even as King Benjamin, 124 years before the birth of Christ, urged his people to look to the Savior's first coming? And, is it possible for us to live now, "even as though He had already come among us?"
Elder Bruce R. McConkie captured the full meaning of what I am trying to say when he wrote: "Be it known that it is the privilege of the saints today to separate themselves from the world and to receive millennial blessings in their lives. And any person who today abides the laws that will be kept during the Millennium will receive, here and now, the spirit and blessings of the Millennium in his life" (The Millennial Messiah, 682).
I challenge each of us to live in such a way as to be worthy to be present for that glorious occasion where generations of our families will meet at the Savior's Second Coming. But, I also challenge each of us to live now so as to be worthy of those blessings in this lifeeven as though He had already come among us.
I bear witness of the Savior and the divinity of His life, of the reality of His Resurrection, and of the certainty of His Second Coming. He is the author of this great work in which we are involved. May we, as we are engaged in this inspired and heaven-directed family history work, be more conscious of the occasions "Where Generations Meet." In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.