The national convention of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, held at This Is the Place Heritage Park and surrounding areas Aug. 25-27, brought descendants of the Prophet Joseph Smith and Emma Smith together with descendants of Brigham Young to continue in healing "the rift."
"Eyes Westward" was the theme for the convention. Chairman Ted Pierce spoke about the statues of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young at Nauvoo, Ill., and at This Is the Place Heritage Park.
"These statues, which stand in both locations, show Brigham and Joseph, standing side by side," Pierce said. "Their families, and ours, can do the same through forgiveness. This is a message we can all take to heart."
Gracia N. Jones, who participated in the convention programs, was the first descendent of the Prophet to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She has since been joined by almost 200 cousins.
Jones and one cousin, Michael Kennedy (the first descendant to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood since Joseph), have organized their family with the goal of uniting them, offering knowledge of the gospel their ancestor held so dear and making amends. (Visit their site at www.josephsmithjr.org to learn more.)
After the martyrdom, Emma’s heart was broken and Brigham Young was called to lead the Saints west. Misinformation and rumors caused Emma, in her pain, to hold onto a grudge, which continued through generations of her family. Details about "the rift" can be found in the following Mormon Times article.
Jones and Kennedy have been compiling a pedigree of the Prophet’s descendants and hope to gather all of them into the family organization. Doctrine and Covenants 109: 68-70 reads, “O Lord, remember thy servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., and all his afflictions and persecutions. Have mercy, O Lord, upon his wife and children, that they may be exalted in thy presence, and preserved. Have mercy upon all their immediate connections, that their prejudices may be broken up and swept away that they may be converted and redeemed .”
Kennedy contacted the Brigham Young Family Organization and asked its members to write what has since become known as the "Healing Letter." When this idea was presented to Mary Ellen Elggren, past president of the Brigham Young Family Association, she was dumbfounded that there was an issue that needed resolving.
While willing to accept the request, she was not sure how to approach it. After much prayer and preparation, the words came to her.
“I merely acted as scribe," she recalled.
Brigham Young’s descendants were invited to the Joseph Smith family reunion in Nauvoo, Ill., in 2007. There, the “Healing Letter" was read and accepted, and a copy given to each member of the Smith family.
At that reunion, the Smith family stayed at the Nauvoo House, which they nicknamed “Grandma’s house.” They cooked together, played together and got to know one another. Jones is in the fourth generation from the Prophet, and Kennedy is in the fifth. Their task of gathering their family together brings rewards as more and more family members attend their reunions.
After the story about efforts to heal the rift was told at the Sons of Utah Pioneers convention, a musical number written by Clive Romney was sung by Robert Clawson Shields (acting as Brigham Young) and Tammy Simister Robinson (acting as Emma Smith). These are words from the song:
“No matter how the wound was opened, it’s up to me to help it heal. And though I can’t see it, he’ll show the way, for to heal all wounds is his will.”
The Smith family presented a necklace, which is steeped in symbolism, to Elggren at the convention in behalf of the Young family. A replica of the Prophet's ring hangs at the center, a ring he wore as he taught the meaning of eternal families. While traveling, Joseph Smith wrote these words in a letter to Emma: “My dear Emma, my heart is entwined around you and those little ones. I want you to remember me. Tell all the children that I love them and will come home as soon as I can. Yours in the bonds of love. Your husband, Joseph.”
“The wonderful miracle of family history is becoming familiar with our ancestors, their lives, desires and hopes for their families," Pierce said. "Faith needs a base, a platform on which to grow. We need to make sure that platform is strong and capable of supporting all the coming trials."
Said Elggren: “If there is a rift, for heaven’s sake, build a bridge.”
For more information on the Sons of Utah Pioneers, see www.sonsofutahpioneers.org.
Jan Tolman writes about the Relief Society and its history, as well as the role of women in the church, at www.ldswomenofgod.com/blog. She has written more of her thoughts on the convention on her blog.