Elder and Sister Watts

Elder and Sister Watts

Hill Cumorah Visitors' Sites Mission Statement

"Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life."
3 Nephi 5:13

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Waiting for the Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra is like waiting for Christmas.  It is anticipated and talked about for months before it arrives. As the time draws near for the pageant to take place there is a sense of frenzied excitement.  We are as excited as everyone else, espcially since we have never seen the pageant before. This year the pageant will be held on July 9,10 and 13-17. 

In just 8 more days it will be time for the dress rehersal and then the official pageant begins!  The Hill Cumorah Pageant is the largest ourdoor theater presentation in the United States.  The storyline of the pageant includes 10 scenes from the Bible and the Book of Mormon and a cast of over 700 actors and actresses of all ages.  These cast members come from all over the United States and pay their own expenses while they are here in Palmyra; for a little over two weeks.  Their expenses include, travel, food, lodging, etc.

Our friends from the Rochester 2nd Ward, the Schwendimans, play important roles in the success of the Pageant.  President Schwendiman is the Pageant President and has served in this capcity for 4 years.  Sister Schwendimen is in charge of making sure the cast of over 700 and the support personnel are fed each day.  (That makes feeding Young Women at camp seem easy!)

About two weeks ago we saw the first visible signs on the Hill Cumorah that the pageant is coming.  A large crane was brought in and eight large light poles were installed on both sides of the Hill Cumorah that will eventually become the stage.

In the meantime, all of the Site Missionaries are being trained to handle the large groups of tours that are beginning to arrive.  This is one of three bus tours that arrived while we were working at the Smith Farm last week.  When we have this many tourists arrive at once we have learned to modify our tours to accomodate large group numbers.  Things worked out very well and we thought everyone had a very good experience!

Our weekly Site Meetings are now devoted to helping the missionaries become prepared for the large crowds that will arrive at our sites during the Hill Cumorah Pageant.  Below, one of our veteran missionaries, Elder Hamblin, instructs a small group of missionaries how to work at the Peter Whitmer Visitors' Center during pageant and when other large groups arrive during the summer.


Last week the Pageant work crew arrived.  This volunteer crew consists of 22 young men ages 17 - 19 who are first year crew members.  Another 4 crew members are former missionaries and also returning crew members that serve as team leaders.  Additionally, there are a few adult leaders that return each year to supervise the crew.  These young men are divided into missionary companionships and have devotionals each morning before going to work setting up for the pageant.  Familes of pageant support personnel have also started arriving and helping with things like painting props (below).


The entire cast is divided into cast teams.  Each cast team will meet throughout the day when not rehearsing.  They meet under these colorful tents for instruction, recreation, and relaxation.  These teams will also board buses and visit the sites, do community sevice projects, attend the temple,and receive training on how to greet and welcome the audience each evening before the pageant begins.  Elder Watts is standing at the podium in the Study Shelter where the Missionary Cast Trainers will instruct the cast.  We have been working with 6 young Sister Missionaries for the past 10 weeks to prepare them to train the cast on how to welcome and interact with the audience prior to each performance.


Zions Camp is where many of the volunteers that lead pageant committees stay  the week prior to and during pageant.  This would include people like the pageant presidency, those in charge of security, medical care, food, costumes, etc.  A small number of cast members will stay here too.  Most cast members stay in nearby motels, campgrounds, or college dormitories.


The work crew is making good progress in assembling the giant stage on the hill.  We took a break from cast training practice yesterday and went out to Hill Cumorah with our cast training missionaries.  It sure got us all excited!

Coming next week:  More behind the scenes of the Hill Cumorah Pageant!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Now that we have enjoyed the art gallery, we will exit the Visitors' Center and go out into the log home.  This is the log home that the Whitmer Family built and lived in from 1809 until April of 1831.  This log home is a recreation of the original home.  It is built on the same location with logs from buildings in the area from the early 1800's.  Many local Church members and friends from other faiths played major roles in building the log home.  The home is furnished with authentic period antiques.

On Tuesday, April 6, 1830, approximately 60 people gathered in this room to formally organize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Following the meeting several of those in attendance expressed a desire to be baptized.  The Whitmer home became Church headquarters for the next year.

The room below is the only other room on the main floor and was Peter Whitmer, Sr. and his wife, Lucy's bedroom.  The article of clothing on the bed is a quilted slip worn by the women to keep them warm in the winter.

There were eight Whitmer children and those living at home slept upstairs as did Joseph and Emma Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

Another bed was in the common area of the second floor.  The feather and down mattresses were held up with ropes strung from one side of the bed frame to the other.  When a person went to bed he or she would tighten the rope so the bed wouldn't sag at night.  Hence the expression, "Sleep tight!"


These next two pictures show the upstairs room where Joseph and Oliver worked on completing the translation of the Book of Mormon, with Oliver acting as scribe as Joseph translated.

Joseph and Oliver worked from morning to night and in about one month, June 1, 1829 to July 1, 1829 the portion of the Book of Mormon translated at the Whitmer farm was completed.

Regarding this work Joseph Smith said, "The Standard of Truth has been erected, no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposed of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done."

This completes our virtual tours.  Next we will be sharing behind the scenes information about the upcoming Hill Cumorah Pageant.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The Whitmer Farm Visitors' Center Art Gallery is one of our favorite parts of this site.  William Whitaker of the Art Department at Brigham Young University was commissioned to paint pictures depicting the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for the first Ensign magazine.  They appeared in that magazine in January 1971.  These original pieces of art are now on display at the Peter Whitmer Farm Visitors' Center.

On the morning of Tuesday, April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery met in an upstairs room to prepare for the important events of the day.  This drawing shows them in the same room where they had completed the translation of the Book of Mormon the year before.


Joseph Smith, Sr., the Prophet's father was among those who took part in the events of the day.  He was the first to hear and believe his son's account of the visit of the Angel Moroni.

There were between 40 and 60 guests at the organizational meeting, some coming as far as 100 miles away.  Many of the women of the Smith and Whitmer families, the wives, daughters, and daughter-in-law were present.

One of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, Martin Harris, sold part of his farm to pay for the publication of the book.  He came from Palmyra to attend the meeting.


Additional chairs were brought into the main room of the Whitmer home to accommodate the growing crowd as preparations for the meeting were completed.  (It seems the Priesthood still put up and take down chairs today!)


Joseph Smith, 24 years of age, presided over the meeting.  At his side was Oliver Cowdery, who had shared many of Joseph's greatest spiritual experiences.

The meeting opened with solemn prayer.  The room was crowded with the Prophet's family and friends.  We no longer kneel in prayer in our public meetings, but we kneel in personal and family prayer and often in council meetings.


Establishing the principle of common consent, the six official participants voted to organize the Church and to sustain Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as presiding officers.  In addition to Joseph and Oliver were Joseph's brothers, Hyrum and Samuel Smith, David Whitmer and Peter Whitmer, Jr.


Joseph ordained Oliver to be an Elder in the Church of Christ (as it was initially called); then Oliver ordained Joseph to the same office.

As it was in Christian meetings in New Testament times, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was part of this first meeting of the restored Church.


Several people who had been previously baptized were confirmed members of the Church.  Joseph and Oliver also ordained a number of men to offices in the Priesthood.


Some time that day, baptisms by immersion were performed nearby. Although Joseph and Oliver had been previously baptized, they repeated the ordinance to signify they were now members of the official church.


Several other people who had attended the meeting later applied for baptism and were received into the Church.  Those receiving baptism were Martin Harris, Joseph Smith, Sr., his wife Lucy Mack Smith and others.


The Prophet's father, baptized on the day of the organization, was later confirmed a member of the Church and given the gift of the Holy Ghost.


The Church organization chart here re-emphasizes the same organization, principles, and ordinances as the Church when organized by Christ during His ministry.  Jesus Christ is still at the head of the Church, and now Thomas S. Monson is the current prophet today, with the same responsibilities as Peter had during Christ's day.

We hope you enjoyed this beautiful art gallery as much as we do.  Next we will go out to the recreated farm home of the Whitmers.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Welcome to the Whitmer Farm Visitors' Center.  This is one of the 4 Sites where we serve here in New York.  It is not right in Palmyra, but is in Fayette, New York, about 27 miles southeast of Palmyra.  We are happy to have you here on tour today!


This is the beautiful Fayette Ward Chapel and Whitmer Farm Visitors' Center. It was completed and dedicated on April 6, 1980 on the 150th anniversary of the organization the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This foyer and the rest of the building are built in Greek Revivalist architecture reminiscent of a house of worship at the time the Church was organized in 1830.

Three men were allowed to witness the plates from which the ancient records were translated and to see Moroni, an angel and ancient prophet that gave the plates to Joseph Smith.  They also heard the voice of the Lord saying, "These plates have been revealed by the power of God.  The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear."  These three men, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer testified of this event for the remainder of their lives.  Later, in Palmyra, 8 more witnesses saw the plates.


Peter Whitmer, Sr. and his wife Mary moved to Fayette, New York in 1805 and by 1819 they had built a small log home on their farm of 100 acres.  Peter and his sons were highly respected in the community, each holding elected or appointed positions.  The Whitmers were a hardworking family who followed convictions based upon deep religious feelings and were a great help to Joseph Smith.

Peter Whitmer, Sr.

The map below helps understand the relationship of events leading to the organization of the Church.  Joseph and his wife, Emma,  left Palmyra and went to Harmony, Pennsylvania so Joseph could translate.  Oliver Cowdery came to Palmyra to teach school and while boarding with the Smith family learned of Joseph Smith and his vision.  Oliver received his own witness of the truthfulness of these events and went to Harmony to meet Joseph Smith.  He became his scribe and was the scribe for most of the translation of the Book of Mormon.  They eventually came to the Whitmer Farm here in Fayette, to finish the translation.


The chart below establishes the need for a restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  From Adam's day and always, God has shown his love for us by calling prophets.  At times, through the ages, people chose to ignore the prophets and lived in spiritual darkness or apostasy.  Each time the Lord again called a new prophet to restore His Gospel.  This was the role of Joseph Smith in our day.


When Jesus Christ lived on the earth he established His church in a pattern with apostles, a prophet and head of the church, Peter, Seventies, and important ordinances, offices, and attributes of the Lord's Church, such as continuing revelation.  The chart below illustrates that organization.


These illuminates of the First Vision and Joseph Smith receiving the gold plates are based upon stained glass windows in chapels in Brigham City, Utah and Santa Monica, California. These events are endpoints of the great apostasy, but beginnings of the Dispensation of the fullness of Times.


This bronze sculpture, "The Moment After," depicts the moment after Peter, James, and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood to Joseph Smith.  Oliver Cowdery kneels behind Joseph.  This interpretation in bronze was done by Trevor Southey in 1980.

The bronze sculpture sits on top of a time capsule with items placed in it on April 6, 1980.  The capsule will be opened on April 6, 2030, the 200 anniversary of the organization of the Church. Some items in the time capsule include the dedicatory prayer of the three buildings on the Whitmer farm, copies of talks given that day, a souvenir program, copies of Church magazines and auxiliary handbooks, photos taken at the events of the conference and more.


Here once again we have the same pattern of the Church that Jesus Christ established while he was on the earth.  With the restoration of the Gospel, the pattern is exactly the same, only the people are different (Joseph Smith is the prophet instead of Peter, etc.).

We hope you have enjoyed this part of the tour of the Peter Whitmer Farm and Visitors' Center.  Next we will visit the Whitmer Farm Art Gallery.  We are so thankful for the miraculous events that took place at this Sacred Site and testify that they are true.


For those who might be interested, here are scriptures from the Bible supporting the Church Organization Charts at the Peter Whitmer Farm in Fayette:
Apostles: Matt 10:2; Mark 6:30; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2, 26
Seventy: Luke 10:1, 17
Lay Priesthood: Matt 4:19, Mark 1:17
Continuous Revelation: Matt 4:4; Prov 29:18; Matt 16:17-18; John 16:13; James 1:5
Growing Scripture: The Synoptic Gospels and Acts 50-60+AD; The Epistles 50-65AD
Members Called Saints: Rom 1:7; 15:25-31; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 8:4; Eph 1:1, 15, 18; Phil 1:1
Baptism by immersion: Matt 3:6, 16; Mark 1:5, 10: Acts 8:37-39; John 3:23; Rom 6:1-6,
Gift of Holy Ghost: Matt 3:11; John 3:5; 7:39; Acts 1:5; 2:4; 8:15; 19:2; 1 Cor 6:19; Heb 6:4
Eternal Marriage: Eccl 3:14; Matt 16:19; 18;18; Mark 10:0; 1 Cor 11:11; Eph 5:31
Spiritual Gifts: Luke 1:16; Acts 1:8; 2:17; 7:55; 11:17; 1 Cor 11:11; Eph 5:31
Sacrament: Matt 26:26-27; John 6:54; Acts 20;7; 1 Cor 11:26
Blessing of Children: Mark 10:16