Church News and Events

Elder Ballard Speaks at Anniversary of Historic Kirtland

  By Marianne Holman, Church News staff writer

  • 22 October 2013

The Newel K. Whitney store—an original building—is a highlight for many visitors to the historic village in Kirtland, Ohio.  Photo by James Dalrymple.

Ten years after President Gordon B. Hinckley walked the paths and dedicated the historic village of Kirtland, Ohio, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve met with Latter-day Saints and community members to celebrate the rich heritage of the Church’s first gathering place.

“It’s really an honor to be able to come here on the 10th year after the great effort that went forward to improve the village of Kirtland,” said Elder Ballard. “The great feeling that I have about Kirtland is that Joseph Smith walked under the influence and guidance of heaven and was directed here.”

Although the Whitney store and home are original and date back to the 1820s, it has been a decade since the Church finished renovations—including moving an entire road—and construction of a visitors’ center and historic village including a sawmill, ashery, schoolhouse, and replica of the John Johnson Inn.

“We are excited to celebrate the 10th anniversary of historic Kirtland,” said Karl Ricks Anderson, historian and Kirtland Ohio Stake patriarch. “President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Kirtland sites in 2003. One of the things that he prayed for in the dedicatory prayer is that people would come from all over the world to hear and walk the sacred sites and gain a testimony of the truthfulness of the Restoration.”

Over the past 10 years the historic village has seen more than a half million visitors, and this year alone there have been visitors from many countries and nearly every continent. On average, the sites see around 60,000 visitors each year, and this year there were 20,000 visitors just in July.

“To feel the spirit of the visitors’ center village—the historic Kirtland village—and to have an Apostle come, it was really choice to feel of all of those things and to appreciate what the early Saints went through as the Church was beginning,” said Elder Robert E. Sorenson, director of the Historic Kirtland Visitors’ Center. “How blessed we are because of the early Saints who began the Church here in Kirtland, and what a blessing it is to be here and share some of that history as people come through. … With the anniversary, those feelings were heightened.”

To celebrate the anniversary, members of the Church and community gathered at the sites to visit with each other during a short reception. Guests then traveled to the close-by Kirtland Ohio Stake Center to hear the words of Elder Ballard, Elder Robert C. Gay of the Seventy, Elder Sorenson, and Brother Anderson and to hear recognitions from community members. The weekend also included a stake conference and a special meeting on Sunday morning in the Kirtland Temple with the youth in the stake. Many of the remarks reflected on the important role the village has played in the community to invite others to draw nearer to Christ.   

After a meeting in the Kirtland Temple for the youth, Elder Ballard, third from left, stands with, from left, Jenny Young, President Michael B. Haymond, Joyce and Karl Anderson, Elder Robert C. Gay of the Seventy, Susan Selden, and Elder Walter C. Selden, an Area Seventy. Photo by Tyler Ford Anderson, ©IRI.

“There are great lessons that come—remarkable lessons that come—from Kirtland,” said Elder Ballard. “The revelations that came here—over half of the Doctrine and Covenants was received, the marvelous opening of the heavens and the explanation of who we are, where we come from, why we are here, what are God’s commandments and why—come out of this Whitney store and other places here in Kirtland. The heavens were opened. The pentecostal experiences at the Kirtland Temple were second to none in religious history. When we think ‘Kirtland,’ we think that heaven was walking here with people.”

Elder Ballard’s connection to Kirtland goes beyond his assignment to visit as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. For him, as a descendant of Hyrum Smith, walking the historic paths is like walking through a page of his personal history.

“When we walk anywhere that Hyrum or Joseph walked, [I] think about the very fact that somehow I might be able to grab their coattail on the other side of the veil and have any connection with that kind of faith, with that kind of testimony, with that kind of integrity, that those two great prophets had. … Kirtland has a very deep meaning for me and my family. … I have been here many times, and every time I come I have the same feeling: this really is hallowed ground because it’s no small thing to realize that Joseph Smith, the prophet of this, the dispensation of the fulness of times, walked these streets, lived here for over seven years, raised part of his family here. It is sacred ground.”

Elder Ballard said that one of the most important assignments of Church members—no matter how long they have been a member or where they are located in the world—is to gain an understanding of “our history.”

“Whether you are a brand-new convert or whether you are a descendent of early pioneers that actually experienced these things in Kirtland, it is important for every member of the Church to know how the hand of the Lord actually took the hand of Joseph Smith and Hyrum and the others and moved them through the experiences that they had to establish the Church and kingdom of God once again upon the earth,” he said. “This little valley … has much of our history; our doctrinal history, our revelatory history [all] stems out of this small village named Kirtland.”

This small room on the top floor of the Whitney store is where the School of the Prophets met in the 1830s. Photo by James Dalrymple.

Although the village visually takes visitors back in time to the 1830s, it is the lessons of faith and dedication to the gospel doctrines and truths that guided the early Saints then that should guide members today.

“We have a primary charge, a primary responsibility as members of the Church … to declare without hesitation that the fulness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored and the prophet of this, the dispensation of the fulness of times, is the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Elder Ballard said. “All of the teachings and doctrines, commandments, ordinances that are essential for eternal salvation are once again upon the earth. That is the great message that we have to declare to the world. …

“Today is a day of hastening, hastening the work. We have 80,000 missionaries scattered throughout the world today. They can’t do it alone, but the membership of the Church should be charged. Think about Kirtland. Think about Palmyra. Think about Nauvoo.”

There is a strength that comes from looking to those who have gone before, and the historic village is one way for current Church members to feel of the testimony and strength of early Church members.

“[Kirtland] has been preserved to strengthen the members and to bring nonmembers closer to the Savior,” said Elder Sorenson. “We feel that it is a real honor to be here. We get to know who the early Saints really were and their willingness to give their all to serve the Lord.”

•James Dalrymple contributed to this report