Event to hail Joseph Smith, church growth
(November 3, 2005) — PALMYRA — An all-star lineup of experts on Joseph Smith and Mormonism will gather in Palmyra this weekend to talk about the fast-growing faith’s contributions to theology and culture.
Several symposiums have been planned around the country to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Smith’s birth, but none will have more impressive speakers — thanks in part to this area’s historical significance.
Nearly 250,000 people visit the area every year to see Hill Cumorah, where, according to the church, a young Smith spoke with God and received the sacred writings of the Book of Mormon. Nearby are historic places such as the Book of Mormon publication site and the Peter Whitmer farm, where a handful of men formally organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“With so many historical sites, a stake here and a temple, the temptation was too much,” said Elder Larry C. Porter, considered one of the top historians on the New York era of the church and a participant in the symposium.
Symposium organizers also were able to entice Richard Bushman, the author of one of the most respected biographies of Smith, and a long list of other heavy hitters, including Sheri L. Dew, who is president and chief executive of Deseret Book Co., the Mormon church’s publishing arm, and a popular speaker.
“We’re thrilled with the positive response we got,” said David Cook, who as president of the Palmyra stake holds a position similar to that of a Roman Catholic bishop. Some speakers had to be turned away, Cook said, but that’s something he hopes will not happen to potential audience members.
“We’re expecting probably 1,000 people, and we’ll have overflow available,” he said. In addition, the symposium will be broadcast to all stakes in upstate New York, including Buffalo, Syracuse and Ithaca.
All of the sessions will be open to the public, but organizers ask that children attend only Friday night’s multimedia presentation. Saturday’s lectures are intended for an adult audience.
Porter taught church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University in Utah before being assigned to the Palmyra area historical sites as a missionary. His dissertation 35 years ago dealt with the history of the church in New York and Pennsylvania, something he has continued to study and will talk about on Saturday.
Like the other speakers, he’ll try to develop the historical Smith, seeking to offer insight into the central figure behind one of the fastest-growing religions on Earth.
“Joseph Smith rose from a modest background to found the largest indigenous Christian church in U.S. history,” Porter said, and it’s a church that now numbers 12 million throughout the world.