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Home | Tag Archives: mormons

Tag Archives: mormons

Video+Gallery+Story: A Question and Prayer – Joseph Smith and the Mormon Faith

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.

As part of my research for this article, I reached out to Robert Dinsmoor, who shared with us the history of El Paso’s First Ward, the first Mormon Chapel in Texas.  

“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
right.

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.
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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 steven@stillgoingsomewhere.com  Follow me on FacebookTwitter  and Instagram

Video+Gallery+Story: The First Ward, The First Mormon Chapel and El Paso

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.

If you would like to hear the audio of my interview with Robert Dinsmoor you can follow one of the two links: Hear it on Soundcloud or YouTube

Would you like us to write about your church? If so, send an email to news@epheraldpost.com

Black and white photos provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and are used by permission. Color photos by Steven Cottingham.

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