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Who We Are

Joseph Smith, Jr.

A Brief History

Our denomination originated in the early nineteenth century in New York state, an area experiencing a great deal of religious enthusiasm. Joseph Smith, Jr., a young teenager, tried to sort out where he stood in the confusion of conflicting religious claims and prayed to God in search for the truth.

In the years that followed, Joseph Smith, Jr . had what he later described as significant religious experiences. In response to these experiences he was instrumental in organizing the church on April 6, 1830, in Fayette, New York. Shortly thereafter he and a small group of members moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where a dynamic minister, Sidney Rigdon, and some of his followers joined the infant church.

Kirtland represented an effort by the church to create a religious and social community to serve as the base for spreading the gospel message into the world. Today the Kirtland Temple stands as a monument to the efforts of these faithful people.

While the Kirtland experiment grew, missionaries visited Jackson County, Missouri, designated by Joseph Smith as the center of God's earthly kingdom (Zion) in 1831. Increased tensions between the Saints and local residents resulted in church members moving northward from county to county. The Jackson County experience was tragic, yet it provided a lesson in tolerance both for the Saints and for the native Missourians.

Saints from Jackson County and the Kirtland experiment, which was nearing financial collapse in the depression of 1837 - 1838, joined to form a new center at Far West, Missouri.

In 1839 the church was evicted entirely from the state of Missouri. The Saints founded Nauvoo (Illinois), the "city beautiful," on the banks of the Mississippi River. The town grew rapidly with Joseph Smith, Jr. as its spiritual and secular leader shaping a social, religious, and political community. Internal confusion and conflicts with the surrounding communities grew as Nauvoo increased in size. On June 27, 1844, an angry mob broke into the Carthage, Illinois, jail and killed Joseph and his brother Hyrum who had been imprisoned there.

Following Joseph's death the church was in a state of confusion and disorganization for several years, and divided into factions. The largest group moved westward to the Great Salt Lake Valley under the direction of an influential church leader, Brigham Young. Smaller factions scattered in all directions.

The Reorganized Church came into being in the 1850s. The "Reorganization" believed that Joseph Smith, Jr. had designated his eldest son, Joseph III, to be his successor as president of the church. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was organized on April 6, 1860, at Amboy, Illinois, under the leadership of Joseph Smith III. His leadership spanned 54 years marked by wisdom and sensitivity. His presidency saw the church grow from a small fragmented group to a church of over 70,000 persons with representation throughout the United States and in several other countries. Since April 1920, the official corporate headquarters of the RLDS Church has been in Independence, Missouri.

In 1915, Frederick Madison Smith succeeded his father in the presidency. He emphasized the social expression of the gospel, advocating the establishment of Zionic conditions merging both spiritual and temporal dimensions. After his death in 1946, Frederick M. Smith was succeeded by his brother, Israel A. Smith.

Israel A.Smith's twelve years of presidency were marked by a postwar, post-depression search for stability and growth. However, due to his pastoral caring personality, the period provided a growing unity unprecedented in the church's history. It was highlighted by an increased missionary emphasis and progress toward completion of the Auditorium in Independence, Missouri, the headquarters building Frederick M. had conceived and begun many years earlier.

In 1958, W. Wallace Smith became the third of Joseph III's sons to follow him in the presidency. His presidency experienced the expansion of the church into other Western and non-Western cultures. The 1960s and 1970s were marked by evaluation of program and message and the adoption of a more decentralized style of church administration.

In 1976, W. Wallace Smith designated his son, Wallace B. Smith, to succeed him as president of the church after a two-year period of preparation. Wallace B. Smith was ordained to the office in 1978 and presided over the church's sesquicentennial celebrations in 1980.

W. Grant McMurray was ordained president of the church at the 1996 World Conference and Stephen M. Veazey was ordained president of the church at the 2005 conference and currently presides over the church.

More History

May 9, 2001
Updated August 25, 2008

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