Last October, during General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced the building of twelve new Temples, all over the world.
When President Nelson announced the construction of those twelve Temples, that was the most to be announced at one time, until Sunday, when eight new Temples were announced:
Pago Pago, American Samoa
Okinawa City, Okinawa
Tooele Valley, Utah
Moses Lake, Washington
San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Additionally, just days ago, Kuwait officially recognized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Church now joins a growing number of Christian congregations found in Kuwait.
“We are grateful to the Government of Kuwait and in particular to His Highness, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al -Sabah, Emir of Kuwait, for his exemplary leadership in allowing freedom of worship in the State of Kuwait, in particular for the expatriate workforce,” said Bishop Terry Harradine, leader of the Kuwait Congregation.
“We appreciate the assistance and guidance of the Kuwait Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs for their assistance in promoting religious tolerance within the country.”
Also during this week’s General Conference, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints released their 2018 Statistical Report, which I’ve included below as a reference.
Wards and branches 30,536
Total membership 16,313,735
New children of record 102,102
Converts baptized during 2018 234,332
Full-time missionaries 65,137
Church-service missionaries 37,963
Temples dedicated during 2018
(Concepción Chile and Barranquilla Colombia) 2
Temples rededicated during 2018
(Houston Texas and Jordan River Utah) 2
Temples in operation 162
With the dedication and opening of the Rome Italy Temple, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints now has 162 operating Temples worldwide. The closest Temple to El Paso is found in Juarez, Mexico.
Personally, I look forward to the day we have a Temple in either El Paso, Texas or Las Cruces, New Mexico.
In August of 2018, President Russell M. Nelson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints accounted that the Church has launched a major effort to use the full name of the Church, rather than terms such as LDS, Mormon or anything that detracts from the full name of the Church.
“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints,” said President Nelson. “We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so.”
When President Russell M. Nelson made this announcement a style guide was released that read, in part, “Please avoid using the abbreviation ‘LDS’ or the nickname ‘Mormon’ as substitutes for the name of the Church, as in ‘Mormon Church,’ ‘LDS Church,’ or ‘Church of the Latter-Day Saints.”
On Tuesday, the Church began changing the name of Church ran websites, social media properties, mobile apps and more.
According to a statement released by the First Presidency, the following changes have gone into effect:
The name of the Church was given by the Lord Himself when He instructed: “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:4). To be true to that charge, we are changing the names of many of the Church’s global communication channels as follows:
LDS.org will become ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
The missionary-focused website Mormon.org will be changed to ComeUntoChrist.org.
Church social media accounts will emphasize the name of the Savior’s Church.
Over time, many Church communication channels in English will become part of ChurchofJesusChrist.org. In coming months, Church websites and social media accounts in other languages will be adjusted following a similar pattern. More detail can be found below or at Newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
This is a complex effort in numerous global languages and much work remains. We encourage all to be patient and courteous as we work together to use and share the proper name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world.
Jesus Christ is at the center of His Church and we will be blessed as we strive to make Him the center of our lives.
Russell M Nelson Dallin H Oaks Henry B Eyring
A Short History of the Name of the Church
Doctrine and Covenants 115:4 reads, “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have always felt this was the true name, as given by Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith, at Far West, Missouri on April 26, 1838.
In the Book of Mormon, as an example, the disciples of Jesus Christ could not agree on just what to call the Church. What Jesus Christ answered was, “take upon you the name of Christ,” The Church was then organized in 1834 as the Church of Christ.
Then, in 1834, the Church adopted a resolution to change the name to the Church of Latter Day Saints in order to distinguish it from other Christian denominations of the time. Finally, in 1838, the Lord Jesus Christ revealed to Joseph Smith what is contained in Doctrine and Covenants 115.
Since the restoration of the Church, critics and others have sought to call the Church and its followers by other names – Mormon, LDS and others.
“I do like this new direction,” said Tanya Richardson of using the full name of the Church. “It will, as President Nelson said, place our focus on Jesus Christ.”
“I’m grateful that we are now focusing on the true name of the Chruch,” said Matt Gonzales, member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the one behind The Boy Who Had 7 Talks Comic Books
“Mormon was used as a derogatory term in the 1800’s which grew on all of us and became a cute nickname. But we aren’t Mormons per se. We don’t worship Mormon or Joseph Smith for that matter. We worship Jesus Christ the Son of God. He means everything to use. And, we want the world to know we are His disciples and this is His church.”
“I was at first a little bummed about the name change, but that was only because I might be the laziest person and it was only because I didn’t want to type out a long URL,” says Alexandra M Dean, a former Missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who served in El Paso.
“But, I’m so completely happy we’ve finally made the change! I cannot express the piece that comes with remembering Christ and I think this change is meant for us to do just that: remember Him. I think it’ll be a good change for the world to associate us with Christ and not just with Joseph Smith or Mormon, who are both important but definitely not the founder of this Church.”
It will be hard for many, members and non-members alike, to embrace the change to the full name of the Church, but over time, it will become second nature and help keep the focus of all on Jesus Christ.
Social media: Several Church social media accounts will consolidate and give greater emphasis to the name of the Savior’s Church. These social media channels will publish content more focused on living and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A new Facebook group has been established to build community and better inform individuals about Church news and updates. This
group is called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Inspiration and News.” This group is designed to be a place
of community and connection for Latter-day Saints.
The Church’s Twitter account display name will continue to be called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” with the
username of @ChurchNewsroom and will be the primary source on social media for news from the Church.
Mobile Apps: Many of the Church’s mobile apps will be renamed to align with recent direction from Church leaders regarding the naming of Church products.
“I don’t like the cross or ‘torture stake’ as we call it,” said Mr. Clark, who is a Jehovah’s Witness.
“Let me paint you a picture whereby I will give you the explanation as to why,” Mr. Clark began. “Imagine one of your beloved family members died a violent death. For the sake of this explanation, we will say they were either killed by a drunk driver or killed in a drive-by shooting. Would you hang a photo of the car crash or their body on your wall?”
The Crucifix – the cross – is seen as a superfluous aspect to their faith. They know that Jesus Christ was put to death, at the behest of the Sanhedrin, on a cross. Denominations, like the Baptist, some Lutheran churches, non-denominational churches do not display a Crucifix in their sanctuary.
Some don’t even display a cross at all, like the Church of Christ or the Jehovah’s Witnesses in their Kingdom Halls.
For others, it’s a very vivid, ever-present reminder of the one who died for them.
“I see the Crucifix as a point of focus,” says Fr. Thomas, a Franciscan Friar with whom I often discuss religion and religious beliefs.
“You see, Christ not only died for us, but he also died in our place,” Fr. Thomas said. “He took our sin upon him and willingly bore our punishment so that we would not have to die within our sin thus earning eternal condemnation.
There is a bit more, says Fr. Thomas, as to why liturgical churches have a Crucifix and not a simple, unadorned cross.
“Canon law dictates we have a Crucifix that is visible during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” said Fr. Thomas. “This is to remind us, again, of that sacrifice Jesus made on the Altar of the Cross.”
“When I look at Jesus on the Cross,” says Bertha Ortega, a resident in El Paso’s Lower Valley, “it makes me uneasy. Jesus was taken down when He died. He’s been resurrected. For me, the cross should be bare as He is up in Heaven now.”
With over 2 billion Christians in the world and an untold number of denominations, there are going be varying views of what the Cross is and isn’t. With most Christian denominations subscribing to the Easter story and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ upon the cross, it has made the Crucifix one of the most recognized pieces of religions icons upon earth.
“It represents, it typifies a certain brand of hate,” says Rebekah Reich, a student Pastor on assignment in El Paso and Juarez. “It represents the displeasure Pontius Pilate had towards the people of Palestine. Knowing he could have simply freed Jesus, he decided to fan the flames of religious discord. It also expresses the hate the Jewish class had towards anything new or expressing a more universal form of love. The Crucifix, as a result of this, is a device of hate.”
The Crucifix, in my opinion, is an ever-present reminder of faith. To know that Jesus Christ decided to follow Heavenly Father’s plan, knowing full well it would open Heaven to us and end the perpetual sin offering, is an amazing testament to His and Heavenly Father’s love.
But is having the Crucifix, or cross present in our homes, our churches, or around our neck required of us?
“In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul indicated that the ‘preaching of the cross … is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:18). We understand through this scripture that the meaning of the cross is much deeper than just a symbol or outward sign, especially for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” wrote Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
“It is the preaching of what happened on the cross that is more important than the symbol of the cross.”
The Crucifix, in my opinion, is an ever-present reminder of faith, but not necessary to express or show our faith. To know that Jesus Christ decided to follow Heavenly Father’s plan, knowing full well it would open Heaven to us and end the perpetual sin offering, is an amazing testament to His and Heavenly Father’s love.
None-the-less, the Crucifix is an amazing expression of love towards Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Throughout the centuries many artists have carved, cast, or created some of the most beautiful Crucifixes I’ve ever seen.
What follows are some of my favorite representations of the Crucifix and Crosses in El Paso, Las Cruces and Juarez.
What does the cross mean to you? What is your favorite Crucifix? Let me know at email@example.com
This is part of my Year of Faith series. If you would like me to come out to your church, or place of worship, send me an e-mail, or call me at 915-201-0918.
This piece was one that could have taken so many different directions. There are so many stories from this one interview that I would love to share with you. Stories of life in Mexico, working on a ranch, working with Gordon Romney when he lived in El Paso.
There’s the story rabid cats and dogs, or one of the Pratt children chasing down a guy that was peering into her window. There are stories of the busloads of people that would show up at their home looking for a place to sleep as they went from Mexico or South America to the Temple in Albuquerque, New Mexico – there are just so many stories I didn’t know what to share!
So many stories!
While talking to the Pratts, I was struck by their marriage, their life when they first met, how and when they finally married. That story, this one part of their life, that’s what I’ve decided to share.
Seventy-three years of marriage. That’s a long time – 73 years. I’ve only been married for two years and cannot even begin to fathom seventy-three years of marriage. Vera and Gerald Pratt have been married that long, seventy-three years!
Vera and Gerald met in Mexico while living in the Colonies.
The Colonies is an area of Mexico, near the Sierra Madre Mountains that was found by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The towns making up the Colonies were originally in Chihuahua and Sonora. In 1912 the Colonies were evacuated during the Mexican Revolution. That led many Mormons to come to El Paso and found the first LDS Church in Texas.
At sixteen Gerald Pratt left the Colonies to help his uncle on a cattle ranch that his father and uncle leased. Vera remained in the Colonies until she graduated High School and then moved to Arizona to attend Arizona State.
When Gerald celebrated his eighteenth birthday, he joined the Merchant Marines, serving until after the war.
How does one stay married for so long? “It’s easy,” says Vera.
Gerald had a different answer: “Just live it.”
“Live it and enjoy it,” says Vera. “We have seven children, and they are all wonderful. They are all happily married. And we have 37 grandchildren, and currently 87 great-grandchildren and counting. We’ll have three more by November.”
So just how did the Gerald meet Vera? It all started with a bus ride.
“In high school, I met this handsome guy,” Vera says of Gerald as she takes his hand. “…who was in the military who came to the Colonies to see his old teachers and his friends.”
Vera was on her way to spend the weekend in Dublan, Mexico, with one of her friends.
“I got liberty, exactly three years from the day left,” says Gerald. “I got home on the Monday’s train…[and] spent time with my dad and mother. Helped my dad do some stuff on Friday. I caught the bus up to Colonia Juarez. Spent the day with the students I remembered, and the teachers.”
When the day was over, and he was heading back home, he caught the bus. Sitting behind the driver, and facing the other side of the bus, he caught his first glimpse of Vera.
“I was busy talking to the driver,” recalls Gerald. “Finally, I turned to see what was happening, and right in front of me was this vision. First time I ever saw her.”
At that moment, when he first saw Vera, he knew he was going to marry her.
“I did,” says Gerald, “but she didn’t.”
Gerald was so smitten with Vera that he was bound and determined to see her, to follow her.
“That same night everybody was going to the movies, I went along,” says Gerald.
“We walked to the movie,” added Vera.
“I went along, but she wouldn’t consider it a date,” Gerald said.
“He asked if he could take me home,” says Vera. “I said, ‘my mother taught me I go home with the one I went with, thank you.’”
It was then that Gerald asked her if he could see her the next night. She told him that she had a date with his best friend. She did postpone with Gerald’s friend and went with him.
For Gerald, it was love at first sight. He knew, without a doubt, that Vera was the one. Vera, on the other hand, didn’t know for quite a while that Gerald would be the one for her.
“He was a sailor,” says Vera. “Sailors have the reputation of having a girl in every port. Besides, his neighbor, who had grown up across the street from him was a good friend of mine. She told me that he was a wolf.”
We’ve all heard the stories, watched the movies starring Frank Sinatra and how sailors would juggle girls across the world at different ports-of-call. Vera, knowing full well how sailors were decided to remain cautious and distant.
When Gerald shipped back out, that whole year at sea, all he could think about was Vera. That vision he first saw on the bus filled him and drove him right back to her and the Colonies when he was back stateside.
When he returned, when Vera was a senior in high school, she began to Gerald for who he was. He wasn’t a wolf, or on the make. So, she began to let her defences down. Eventually, they were engaged.
“I wore the engagement ring and didn’t date other boys for two years,” recalls Vera.
Then, she began to worry. Maybe she was wrong about Gerald.
“One time he came over, he knew what he was taking, he knew the load was hazardous. He was not sure he was going to come back. So, he decided it would be best to break the engagement.”
Vera gave both rings back to Gerald.
“He said, ‘I can’t take these with me. I’m going back overseas tomorrow,’” Vera remembers.
Gerald had asked that she take the rings back home with her to the Colonies and give them to his mother. For Vera, that was the hardest thing she had ever done.
“He had not told his mother that we were not engaged anymore,” she says. “It was a very, very difficult thing.”
I can only imagine how hard it was, telling Gerald’s parents that they were no longer engaged. However, it doesn’t end there! Vera would see Gerald again.
“I was teaching, in the fall, I guess it was early November, and after school, I got on my horse,” says Vera. “As I passed my uncle’s store, there was a new truck, and a man unloading lumber. As I got closer, I recognized it was him. He’d gotten out of the service and gone into the trucking business with his brother. I stopped and said ‘hi.’”
As soon as he finished unloading the truck, he went right off to see Vera at their home.
“Immediately we became engaged again,” says Vera.
Not long after, during her Christmas vacation, they were married. The rest, as they say, is history!
Just sitting with Vera and Gerald Pratt, you can not miss the love they have for each other. All through our conversation they would hold hands, touch each other. They are still just as smitten today as they were over 75 years ago. Thiers is a love for the ages.
And the fact that they have been sealed in a Temple, knowing their marriage will be one for all eternity makes it all the better.
I asked one more question about their marriage: if they could pick one point in their marriage, and label it as the best, what would that be?
“Oh,” says Gerald, “the first seventy-three years.”
What advice and council do they offer for the rest of us?
“I think honest in all things is very important,” says Gerald. “Even sometimes it hurts. But, it hurts more if you don’t clear things up.”
That’s very true. We need to be honest to our spouse, to our family. I’ve seen too many marriages fall apart because of secrets, or “white lies” that grew into insurmountable obstacles in marriage.
Honest, faith in Heavenly Father, and the willingness to show love. That’s what will keep you married for seventy-three years.
How did the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormon Church, get its start? How did Joseph Smith conclude that he had to start a Church? When you ask around, the answers vary from person to person.
“Don’t know how they got their start,” said Maria Escalante of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “I think it had to do with something like wanting freedom.”
“They have this thing about God having to show Himself to them,” says Bobby Tovar. “Something about God telling them to start a Church.”
Quite simply, it started with a question and prayer. It started with Joseph Smith, a fourteen-year-old boy, desiring to know which church he should join.
New York State, like most of the country, was undergoing a religious revival. In cities across the country, church membership was going up. New churches were built; ministers were going out into public squares and spaces to preach the doctrines and beliefs held by their denomination.
Each feeling they were doing the will of God and helping to expand His kingdom.
For a boy of fourteen, it was a turbulent time. “What is to be done,” Joseph Smith had often said to himself. “Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any of this be right, which is it, and how shall I know?”
It was after pondering questions such as these that a young Joseph Smith found himself reading from James 1:5 “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
That passage of scripture spoke to Joseph Smith in such a way that left him with clear guidance of what he should do next. Joseph decided that he had one of two choices: follow James, and ask God what he must do; or, should he remain, as Joseph Smith put it, “remain in darkness and confusion.”
There are more than a few people who have decided to throw stones at the Mormon Church, or any Church for that matter, over how they began. Each denomination, though differing in belief, all hold to a common set of scriptures, the Bible, but approach the interpretation of them differently.
During Joseph Smith’s childhood, in New York, the order of the day seemed to be one denomination saying they were right, they held all knowledge, and every other church was wrong and in error. Imagine how confusing that could be for a boy of fourteen years of age.
“Palmyra was a town with great religious excitement,” said Robert Dinsmoor. “Great religious revivalism is going on, particularly involving the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, and the Baptist Church.”
The town of Palmyra, during the time of Joseph Smith, and even today, is a place of deep religious roots, and sentiment. Today, as then, where the two main roads cross, there are four churches: Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopalian.
So, what did Joseph do? He decided to pray.
Joseph Smith decided that he needed to follow the direction found in his reading of James. He took himself away from all the noise, the ministers who were clamoring for attention and membership growth and found a quiet spot in the woods. Once there, and for the first time in his life, Joseph prayed vocally unto God to know His will.
What Joseph Smith did is not all that radical, or unheard, or new. The New Testament, in Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all things shall be added unto you.”
By searching, by praying, Joseph was seeking out, first and foremost, the Kingdom of God. By seeking, by praying, he received his answer.
As Joseph Smith was in the woods, earnestly praying to Heavenly Father, he began to feel despair and darkness. To him, it seemed, the enemy had come to drag him, as Joseph Smith recounts, to ruin.
Then, “it no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound,” recounted Joseph Smith. “When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other – “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”
This is where most people I’ve spoken to begin to have problems.
“He says that God and Jesus came to him,” says Chew Lopez. “That’s never happened to anyone.”
“Who has seen Jesus?” asks May Stewart. “No one. No one has seen Jesus after his death and His going up into heaven.”
“When has God ever appeared? I’ll tell you,” said Jake Dewall when we were discussing this, “never.”
When talking about this, the beginning of the Mormon Church, God not appearing to anyone is the one objection I hear the most. To me, that is a very closed-minded, narrow approach to what has been written in the Old Testament.
Genesis 12:7 it says, “The LORD appeared to Abram…” You’ll also read this in Genesis 17:1 and 18:1.
We have God appearing in the burning bush when He was talking to Moses. We have God talking about when he appeared to Jacob in Genesis 35:1. In 1 Kings 3:5 we have the God appearing to Solomon in a dream. These citations beg the question of when did God stop appearing to people on Earth?
“God, our loving creator, has in the past, and will continue in the present, to appear to His children on Earth,” says Brother Michael, a Franciscan and teacher back in New York City.
“I will not speak beyond my scope of knowledge,” said Brother Michael, “I want to keep it to the topic of God appearing to others. Why would anyone, regardless of faith, or denominational belief deny that God is making appearances to man, like the gift of prophecy, has come to an end?”
(Brother Michael is speaking of the belief among some denominations that miracles, prophecy, and other events found in the Bible have ended, or are not found in our world today. Many denominations believe that these came to an end with the ascension of Jesus or the passing of the Apostles)
“God,” says Brother Michael, “is infinite. He is all-powerful. Who’s to say He didn’t appear to Joseph Smith? Who’s to say He’s not appearing to someone right this moment? We must not ascribe our limited abilities to a God who is not bound by limits!”
The whole reason Joseph Smith hid away in prayer was to ask of God what church if any, he should join.
The answer he received was to join none of them.
For Joseph Smith, three years would pass before he had another Heavenly visitor. During that time, Joseph would go about his daily life. Farming, working with his hands, putting food on the table. That may have been Joseph’s daily life. There was to be more, after that first vision.
During those three years, Joseph faced ridicule and persecution for saying he had seen both God and Jesus Christ in the forest. People would mock him. Others would say he was possessed. Still, others would tell him to deny what he had seen. Through it all, Joseph Smith stood fast.
Then, Joseph Smith prayed again. This time, he wanted to know his standing before God. He wanted to know, maybe, why all of this was happening to him. Why people were mocking him, and not believing him.
While praying, the Angel Moroni appeared to him.
“He called me by name,” wrote Joseph Smith, “and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.”
“Moroni,” Robert Dinsmoor said, “is the last prophet in the Book of Mormon.”
“[Moroni] repeated various scriptures to Joseph Smith, including Malachi, including dealing with the prophecies of Joel, and dealing with a matter that Joseph Smith was to do,” said Robert Dinsmoor.
Three times, throughout the night, Moroni would appear to Joseph Smith, giving him instruction on what he should do, and how he should carry out those instructions. During these visits, Moroni told Joseph Smith of the Golden Plates on which, what is now called the Book of Mormon are written.
It was during the next day that Joseph Smith to Hill Cumorah and searched out the area where the Moroni had told him the plates were buried. When he unearthed the plates, he found that he could not lift them. No matter what he did, or how he did it, he could not take them out of where they rested. He was told, in the visions of the night before, that he could not be able to take them until the time was
Each year, at the end of the year, Joseph Smith would visit the place where the plates were hidden. At each visit, during those four years, Moroni would speak to Joseph Smith, and provide instruction for the what Smith was to do in the very near future.
Then, the time came for Joseph Smith to remove the plates and begin translating them. He unearthed them one final time and was able to remove them.
“People all around were hearing rumours that Joseph Smith might have some golden plates or be able to get some golden plates,” said Robert Dinsmoor. “There were people, Joseph Smith let the Methodist Minister know about his vision of Heavenly Father and Christ, so there was a lot of opposition coming towards the Smith family.”
“Prophets, as found in the Old Testament, did not have an easy lot,” says Brother Michael. “Many were despised for that special relationship they had with God. Many were accepted, yes. Many, still, were despised. Even Jesus was not all that welcome in His home city.”
Brother Michael, though not a Mormon, says it’s easy to see how Joseph Smith, nor the message he was delivering would be accepted right away.
“Jesus Christ has said that no prophet is accepted in his hometown,” shares Brother Michael. “The human condition is such that when sinful society is confronted by God, through His prophets, about their sin, they are most inhospitable.”
The same was true for Joseph Smith. As he was translating the Book of Mormon, as he was gathering those who would become the first members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, he was reviled, persecuted, and hated.
“Imagine,” says Brother Michael, “if a prophet were called by God today. How would they be treated? I know the LDS Church feels that their leaders are prophets, called of God. Look at these men, how does a sinful world treat them, react towards them and their message?”
This marks the beginning of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. When Joseph Smith began to translate the plates into what would become the Book of Mormon, he began to see this as a restoration of the Church in the fullness of time.
Joseph Smith would later pray for, and receive the restoration of the priesthood, beginning with the Aaronic Priesthood. He and Oliver Cowdery would receive instruction from John the Baptist, and they would baptise each other. Temples would be founded; a migration
would begin for the Saints to move west, to Utah.
Eventually, Joseph Smith would be arrested, and martyred (what else would you call having a bunch of people, armed to the teeth, shooting at you while you are locked in a cell?)
There is so much more I could write about the beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There’s so much I left out of this article! I do invite you to take the time to watch the video above with Robert Dinsmoor.
The larger part of the video is a presentation he made that talks about the start of the Church, as well as giving you a glimpse into historic sites along that journey.
This story is part of my Year of Faith series. If you would like to have me come out and learn about your church, call me at 915-201-0918 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
My sister used to live on Douglas Avenue, just down from Copia. Several times a week I would pick her up from work and drive her home. It was during that first trip I noticed the church building that was right across the street from her apartment.
The building is constructed of red brick, has marble like windows, and a cupola. Looking at that building, for the first time, I became intrigued. I wondered who built it, and when. And that’s where the questions died.
I had forgotten about the building until about a month ago when I found myself back in that neighborhood.
This time around, when I saw the building, that is when I noticed that it was designated a historical landmark. Also noticed that it was one of the chapels that belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
I took photos of the building that day, and when I returned home, I began to look at them. A quick Google search showed just enough to make me want to know more. Google tends to do that to me, shows me results that only produce one or two lines, and that drives me out of my seat, and into the real world to learn more.
This past Tuesday I sat down with Robert Dinsmoor, attorney and former District Judge here in El Paso, who has a wealth of knowledge of the building and the history of the Mormons in El Paso.
We meet in the main room of the Chapel, where they hold sacrament meetings. The room itself, like all LDS chapels, are bereft of decoration. From Wade Richardson, former Bishop of El Paso’s Redd Ward, I learned that this is so the people attending church can focus on the message, and not the architecture.
But the architecture of First Ward is what drew me in.
“The Church really started in El Paso in 1876,” Robert began. “That is when the first Missionaries arrived here. There were seven of them that came, and they were going to be going into Mexico. But they stayed here during that winter in January of 1876.”
At that time, El Paso was on the other side of the river. What we had were Franklinville and Magoffinsville. After the winter, the Missionaries who arrived went down into Mexico.
In the late 1890’s Isaac Pierce moved up from the colonies down in Mexico. He moved up to Juarez and ran a lumber mill. His son, Arwell moved over to El Paso in 1906, as well as a few other Mormon families. In 1912 there was a significant change, the revolution in Mexico.
During the revolution, the Mormons who were living in the colonies were, as Robert says, for the most part, driven out of Mexico. So, they came to El Paso.
At the time, El Paso’s population was just a bit over ten thousand. The numbers of Mormon refugees who came to the city? Between three and five thousand. Some of the research I have, because of my conversation with Robert shows the number closer to five thousand.
Image, if you can, a city of that size taking in that many people. The stress it could have placed in the city, and its resources. The conflicts that could have occurred. But, we are talking about El Paso, a city known for its hospitality and welcoming spirit.
By 1915-1916 the first branch of the Church was established here. Philip Hurst was the first branch president. By 1918, that branch became a ward (a branch is a small group or church. A ward is larger than a branch.)
During this same time, some of the individuals who had come up from Mexico began to return. One of those who came up during the revolution was Mitt Romney’s father, George W. Romney.
A tent city was established so that the Mormon colonists would have a place to stay. Others were invited into homes, and others could move to different parts of the country with the railroad providing free passage to any Mormon who had family anywhere the train stopped.
In 1918 the First Ward was established, and it was the first ward in Texas. A ward is the larger of two local congregations, with the branch being the smallest.
During this time, they began to meet in different homes around the area. After a time, they began to meet in the old Odd Fellow’s Lodge, which once stood where the scoreboard is at Chihuahua stadium.
On Sundays, when they would meet for Church services, they would meet on the first floor. The second floor was a pool hall. “Sometimes, from what I read,” says Robert, “it made interesting verbiage during church services.” I can imagine the language, and how those attending church would react when they heard this!
In the 1920’s Arwel Pierce began to look at buildings in different parts of the West: California, Arizona, other places. He, and others wanted to know what works well for the chapels, and what doesn’t work.
They wanted to build something, I can imagine, that would stand out as well as be functional. They bought the property located at 3625 Douglas Street, and then they were ready to build. However, the Great Depression started in 1929. “But,” said Robert, “that didn’t deter them.”
In October of 1930, they began the work on the Douglas Street Chapel.
One aspect of construction and funding that really stood out for me was that, even though people were having a hard time to meet their basic needs, members of the Church would give one day, out of every three days wages to the building fund. This was, you must remember, during the great depression.
October 24, 1930, they began the ground work. On Christmas Day 1930 they laid the corner stone. “That they did it on Christmas day I think meant great significance to them,” said Robert. “Because they wanted to show on the day that we celebrate the birth of the Savior was born that the Church was going forward.”
There is a photo of the corner stone after it was placed. For me, seeing that picture answered a few questions for me. I always wondered about corner stones, and what they looked like without the rest of the building.
That corner stone, according to Robert, is also a time capsule. Enclosed within it is a copy of the Book of Mormon, newspapers from the day and certain other memorabilia. When I spoke with Emily, and another lady (My call recorder didn’t capture the whole call. So, I apologize) from the Church History
Department they said that, during the renovation of the Chapel the corner stone was left intact. So, I am interested in the future, when that corner stone is opened.
On May 24th , 1931, the Chapel was dedicated. Heber J. Grant was the president of the Church at that time, and he came down for the dedication. He is in one of the photos below. Look for the one taken outside, and for a very tall man, the Bishop of the Ward is standing next to him, holding a child.
Other notable individuals were present at the dedication was the mayor of El Paso, Ray E. Sherman, who gave a speech. The President of the Chamber of Commerce. I also learned there were also many from the community who were in attendance.
An interesting fact about how, and when LDS Chapels are dedicated is that it is not done until the land, building, and construction is paid. Once everything is paid for, in full, then space can be dedicated, and not before.
In the 1950’s First Ward had an extension added to the building. This extension was both upstairs, and in the basement, adding additional rooms and classrooms for the growing church. They also added bars to the windows, not because of crime, but because of the basketball court. The balls kept breaking the windows.
About the building itself, what used to be the Bishop’s office has the original fireplace. This was the only room that was heated at the time and was used for consultations with the Bishop.
The organ, though not installed before the dedication, is there. Well, the pipes are. The organ was removed to be refurbished and will be returned soon.
In the basement, at the foot of the stairs, is an old safe that is part of the original construction. I learned, from Robert, that for the longest time there was no way for the Church to deposit monies collected on Sundays. That led to the safe being installed.
In the central part of the Church, where the meetings are held, the woodwork is all original. It is the same solid woodwork that was created during construction.
During restoration, the local Church, under the direction of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints History Department, attempted to keep everything the same or bring back what was there in the 1930’s, like the style of carpet in the meeting house.
It is a fascinating building. Robert shared with me something that was said by President Heber J. Grant.
President Grant said that as far as he was concerned that this (First Ward) was one of the finest chapels of its size. It’s also the only Chapel dedicated by the President of the Church outside of Utah.
If you ever find yourself in this neighborhood, take a moment to stop by and look around. It is a beautiful building, and one of the hidden treasures of El Paso.
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