Within one year of the organization of the Church, the Lord commanded the Saints to gather to the Ohio area (see D&C 37:3). Since that time, the Latter-day Saints have gathered to different locations as they have sought to follow the living prophet and establish safe places to live. In this lesson, students will learn that the Lord gathers His people to strengthen them and to prepare them to receive greater blessings, including the blessings of the temple (see D&C 84:4).
Display the map “The New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio Area of the USA” (Church History Maps, no. 3), located at the back of the Doctrine and Covenants, or another map of this area.
Invite students to identify the general locations of the following significant events of the Restoration: the First Vision (Manchester, New York), the restoration of the priesthood (Harmony, Pennsylvania), and the organization of the Church (Fayette, New York).
Then ask a few students to take turns reading aloud from the following statement:
“Sidney Rigdon, a former minister and newly converted member from the Kirtland area, and a nonmember friend named Edward Partridge were anxious to meet the Prophet and learn more of the teachings of the Church. In December 1830 they traveled more than 250 miles to Fayette, New York, to visit Joseph Smith. They asked him to seek the will of the Lord in relation to themselves and the Kirtland Saints. In response, the Lord revealed that the New York Saints should ‘assemble together at the Ohio’ (D&C 37:3). At the third and last conference of the Church in New York, held at the Whitmer farm on 2 January 1831, the Lord repeated his directive [that Church members move to Ohio]. … This was the first call in this dispensation for the Saints to gather together. …
“… Some 68 members from Colesville were on their way to Ohio by mid-April 1831. Equally obedient to the Lord’s command were 80 Saints from the Fayette Branch and 50 from the Manchester Branch, who left their homes in early May 1831. … By mid-May all the branches of the Church from New York had been able to travel by ship across Lake Erie to Fairport Harbor, Ohio, where they were met by fellow Saints and taken to destinations in Kirtland and Thompson townships. The great gathering of latter-day Israel had begun” (Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , 17–19).
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 38:31–33 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify ways the Saints would be blessed if they obeyed the commandment to gather to Ohio. Students should identify four blessings: (1) they “might escape the power of the enemy”; (2) they would “be gathered unto [God] a righteous people”; (3) they would receive God’s law; and (4) they would be “endowed with power from on high.” You may want to suggest that students number these four blessings in their scriptures. (Note: Identifying lists in the scriptures can help students recognize key points that the Lord or the prophet is emphasizing.)
Write the following on the board: The Lord gathers His people to protect them and to strengthen them spiritually. You might point out that in the scriptures, the doctrine of gathering is often connected with protection. “A connection is a relationship or link between ideas, people, things, or events, and the scriptures are full of connections” (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water” (Brigham Young University fireside, Feb. 4, 2007), 4, speeches.byu.edu).
Explain that just as the Lord took ancient Israel to Mount Sinai and gave them His law, so He instructed the Latter-day Saints to gather to the Ohio so that they could receive His law in this dispensation (see D&C 38:32). In Ohio, the Lord began to reveal His law to the Church (see the section heading to D&C 42). Then ask:
How does gathering with those who share your beliefs and standards help protect you from the power of Satan?
How does receiving God’s laws help strengthen us spiritually?
What do you think it means that in Ohio the Saints would be “endowed with power from on high”?
Explain that the promised blessing of being “endowed with power from on high” began to be fulfilled when the Kirtland Temple was completed five years after the Saints gathered to Ohio. Heavenly messengers visited the completed temple to restore to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the keys and authority necessary to perform sacred ordinances. Spiritual manifestations were poured out upon numerous Saints at the time of the temple dedication. And a small number of Saints received temple washings and anointings in the temple. A few years later in Nauvoo, the promise of being endowed with power was further fulfilled when the ordinances of the temple endowment were introduced to the Saints. Display the following statement given in Nauvoo by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and ask a student to read it aloud:
“What was the object of gathering the … people of God in any age of the world? … The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 416).
In what ways have you observed that God blesses the Latter-day Saints when they gather and build temples as He has directed?
Explain that not long after the New York Saints had gathered to Ohio, many false newspaper accounts and rumors misrepresented and maligned the Church. During this time, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation about a designated gathering place of peace and safety.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 45:62–67 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify the Lord’s purposes in commanding the Saints to gather toward “the western countries” (D&C 45:64). Consider asking the following questions:
What did the Lord say was “even at your doors”? What does the phrase “even at your doors” mean to you?
What did the Lord want the Saints to do as they assembled together into the western countries?
Why were they to gather their riches? (Explain that the word inheritance refers to land they were to purchase where they could dwell and worship the Lord.)
What was the Saints’ land of inheritance to be called?
Explain that in the scriptures, the word Zion can have several meanings. Sometimes it refers to the people of Zion and describes them as “the pure in heart” (D&C 97:21). Elsewhere Zion refers to the entire Church and its stakes (see D&C 82:14). The word Zion can also refer to specific geographic locations. In Doctrine and Covenants 45:66–67, Zion referred to a physical city that the Saints would establish and gather to, sometimes called the New Jerusalem (see also 3 Nephi 20:22; 21:23; Ether 13:1–8; Bible Dictionary, “Zion”). Discuss the following questions:
How did the Lord describe the New Jerusalem, or Zion? (Students should identify the following doctrine: The New Jerusalem would be a place of peace, refuge, and safety, and the glory of the Lord would be there.)
In what ways has being a member of the Church provided you with the safety and peace found in Zion?
Explain that at the close of the fourth conference of the Church, held in June 1831, in Kirtland, Ohio, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith and other elders to travel in pairs approximately 900 miles to Missouri, preaching along the way (see D&C 52, verse summary). After arriving, the Prophet received a revelation identifying Missouri as the “land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion” with Independence, Missouri, identified as the “center place” (D&C 57:1–3). Over the next couple of years, hundreds of Latter-day Saints, eager to build Zion, moved to the Jackson County area of Missouri. Unfortunately, conflict grew between Church members and other citizens of the area and the situation eventually turned violent. The Saints were forced to leave their homes in Jackson County in November and December of 1833.
To illustrate the efforts of the Saints to gather to additional places of safety and peace, display the map “The Westward Movement of the Church” (Church History Maps, no. 6), located at the back of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Explain that the Saints were eventually forced to leave Kirtland, Ohio, as well as locations in western Missouri. In 1839, the Saints began gathering to Nauvoo, Illinois, where they established a large city. But shortly after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the members of the Church were again forced to leave their homes. They moved to the Rocky Mountains and established settlements throughout western North America, with Church headquarters established in Salt Lake City.
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 115:5–6. Then ask:
According to these verses, what blessings are promised to those who gather to the stakes of Zion? (Answers should include the following truth: We gather to the stakes of Zion for a defense and for a refuge against evil.)
In what ways can the stakes of Zion provide Church members with a defense and a refuge in their own homelands?
When have you felt strength and protection as you have gathered with the Saints in your own ward or branch?
To help students further understand what it means today for Church members to gather in stakes of Zion, display the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and invite a student to read it aloud:
“In the early years of this last dispensation, a gathering to Zion involved various locations in the United States: to Kirtland, to Missouri, to Nauvoo, and to the tops of the mountains. Always these were gatherings to prospective temples. With the creation of stakes and the construction of temples in most nations with sizeable populations of the faithful, the current commandment is not to gather to one place but to gather in stakes in our own homelands. There the faithful can enjoy the full blessings of eternity in a house of the Lord. … In this way, the stakes of Zion are ‘for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth’ (D&C 115:6)” (“Preparation for the Second Coming,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 8).
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985):
“Now, the gathering of Israel consists of joining the true church and their coming to a knowledge of the true God. … Any person, therefore, who has accepted the restored gospel, and who now seeks to worship the Lord in his own tongue and with the Saints in the nations where he lives, has complied with the law of the gathering of Israel and is heir to all of the blessings promised the Saints in these last days” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , 439).
What have you seen happen to the number of temples the Church has built in your lifetime?
How have you been blessed by membership in a stake or district of Zion? How have you been blessed by the holy temple?
Conclude by asking students to consider what they might do to help others receive the spiritual protection and strength that comes from faithful participation in the stakes of Zion and worship in the holy temple. Invite students to act on the promptings of the Spirit they may have received.