None living will ever forget where they were and what they were doing on this day 21 years ago. Those memories are so vividly etched in our minds that it is hard to imagine it was that long ago. Life changed that day! The signs of the times have become more evident. How blessed we are to be living in this chosen, favored land as we experience the realities of the winding up scenes prior to the Savior’s 2nd Coming. God bless America!
Darrel and I are enjoying the cooler fall weather and savoring every day. The distance from Sunday to Sunday is frighteningly short, yet each passing week offers something important to our purpose here.
Monday was Labor Day, so it was essentially a day off. I was grateful for the time to get the August history and work report drafted. That evening we gathered with the other missionaries for perhaps our last barbecue at the “Grand River Beach.” The weather was beautiful and being among friends like those serving here always lifts our spirits and increases our gratitude. Those friendships are among the most treasured things we take with us when we leave.
Tuesday the Sisters took a fieldtrip, which we’ve been encouraged to do to increase awareness of our presence along with where and who we serve. We traveled to the Conception Abbey in Conception, Junction, Missouri. Interestingly, it is a monastery and active seminary for students preparing to live as monks. I found a feeling of peace and a measure of the Spirit there— indicating to me that these are sincere disciples of Christ who live strictly according to their beliefs. We had a guided tour by a member of the faculty. Families or groups of no more than 100 can reserve a retreat on their 960 acres facility.
Our guide mentioned that candidates must first get a 4-year degree in philosophy and then another 4-year degree in religion to receive the Catholic priesthood. I thought of our grandsons who already hold the priesthood of God and the experiences they have from the time they are eleven. That privilege, power and blessing are available to so many more of God’s sons in our faith and I feel that is just what He intended. We observed a portion of their daily Eucharist, which celebrates the Last Supper and provides the emblems of their sacrament for those attending. The organ and vocal music was moving.
This Benedictine monastery was founded by the Swiss Engelbery Abbey in 1873 and became an abbey in 1881. The Abbey’s church was dedicated in 1891. The murals that line the Basilica are inspiring. They were created by the monks between 1893 and 1897. In 1892, two monks who had studied art at the monastery of Beuron in southwest Germany arrived. This opened the way for the Basilica’s redecoration after the damage of the 1893 tornado was repaired. Conception Abbey was the first church in the United States decorated with Beuronese art which looks and feels very Victorian to me. In 1999 Conception Abbey completed a $9 million Basilica renewal project that spanned two decades, and I can attest that the results were spectacular.
This short video will give you a glimpse inside. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNxZL-ZVUQI
On Friday we joined the Spring Hills Ward for a date night in celebration of President Nelson’s 98th birthday. They had a potluck appetizer menu and an activity that included some of President Nelson’ recent and most powerful counsel. The group gathered at the pavilion here at Adam-ondi-Ahman and we enjoyed meeting and getting acquainted with a few members. We live within their ward boundaries, but since COVID we no longer meet with the wards and branches, so we felt this was a special treat.
Perhaps the highlight of our week was a tour in Richmond, Missouri that featured “The Whitmers’ final journey of faith.” For some reason I feel drawn to David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses, and feel a twinge of pain in my heart each time we stand at his gravesite because he is the only witness who never returned to the Church. I was anxious and primed for this experience which was essentially a Whitmer cousin reunion. There were only a handful of us who were not direct descendants of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Elsa Musselman Whitmer. These good people, not of our faith, recalled with some proud that the majority of the Book of Mormon was translated in Peter and Mary’s home. The Church was officially organized in their home as well. Mary was in reality the first witness of the plates of gold and the only female witness. Their son David was one of the three witnesses. Their son-in-law Hiram Page, and four of their sons were among the eight witnesses.
We saw a descendant of Hiram and Catherine Page, whose surname is Page. Our hostess, Princess Barchers Coughlin, was a fourth great granddaughter of Peter Sr. and Mary Musselman. She was well prepared, very scholarly, and completely respectful of our faith. Darrel and I were asked to give the opening and closing prayers, which we felt was an honor. My concerns about David were laid to rest after learning of his valiant life and his extreme commitment to his testimony of the Book of Mormon. Both are still evident in his posterity although most follow the persuasions of the Church of Christ or Whitmerite Church which was organized by David. William C. McLellin claimed Joseph left leadership of the Church to David and encouraged him to step up and lead it. Whitmer agreed and gathered others to his cause, but he never joined the main body of his followers in Kirtland and the church dissolved until 1870s when David Whitmer reorganized his Church of Christ. Whitmer died in 1888, but the Whitmerite church continued on. The church published its own edition of the Book of Mormon under the name, The Nephite Record and published a new edition of the Book of Commandments.
We visited the Pioneer Cemetery in Richmond where the Three Witnesses Monument stands. Peter and Mary Whitmer are buried there as is their son, Jacob Whitmer, and several of his children and grandchildren. Oliver Cowdery, who married Elizabeth Whitmer, is also buried there. It was humbling to be in the presence of the posterity of the Whitmers; men whose contribution to the restoration of the Church is supremely significant. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leased the ground where the cemetery is when they learned of its existence and found it neglected and in ruins following the tornado of 1878. Their first lease was for 50 years at the cost of $50. The most recent lease was for 100 years for an equally nominal fee. I’m guessing that lease will extend way beyond the Savior’s 2nd Coming and the resurrection of many good people buried there.
We visited several sites that were tied to the Whitmer family and learned more of their story. My favorite story came when we stood at the David Whitmer homesite. The home was a two-story, seven room structure. Oliver Cowdery, his brother-in-law, had the printer’s copy of the Book of Mormon manuscript. Prior to his death he gave it to David, who kept it under a bed in a small room at the back of his home. When the tornado tore through Richmond in 1878, David’s home was destroyed. His neighbor’s house was literally blown through his home. Interestingly, among the shambles of this structure, the manuscript was found unharmed. He felt it was a miracle and so do I. David left the manuscript to his grandson, who sold it to the RLDS Church in 1903 for $6000. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently purchased it as part of a package from the RLD/Community of Christ Church in 2017.
I never tire of standing at the statue of Alexander Doniphan at the courthouse in Richmond. Joseph Smith said it best, “I’ve never met a more righteous gentile!” I’m guessing Alexander is Elder Doniphan by now. I was saddened to learn that Alexander has no living descendants. Both his boys died before the age of 18 under tragic circumstances. His wife had a stoke while burying their last remaining son and never really recovered. Alexander’s private life was difficult, yet that did not define him or limit his contribution to his fellow men, particularly his fellow Christians.
We were pleased to learn that one parcel of ground in Richmond, that was part of the Jacob and Elizabeth Whitmer farm, still belongs to one of their descendants. Six generations of Whitmers have raised their families on the same ground making it a “centennial farm” in the State of Missouri.
Darrel and I had our picnic lunch near the ground where the log cabin jail that housed Joseph Smith and other early leaders stood. These men were arrested in Far West and ended up in Richmond awaiting a trial, prior to being moved to Liberty Jail. This is where Joseph stood in chained majesty and rebuked the guards as described by Parley P. Pratt. Parley claimed it was the only place on earth where he had seen “dignity and majesty…as it stood in chains, at midnight, in a dungeon, in an obscure village of Missouri.” We felt an element of that dignity and majesty as we recalled that event and the love we have for the Prophet Joseph.
After serving here, we have learned much about Joseph. Our testimony of his prophet call and the sacrifices he was called on to make to restore the gospel and establish the foundation of the Church are more real to us. We have visited the places where he sacrificed so much. We have walked where he walked. We are confident he is aware of this sacred land and is as anxious as we are for the return of our Savior to this place that he and we love so much.
Have a wonderful week! Our love, Darrel and Karen Kenison