The Mormon Church is one of the fastest-growing denominations in the country, and followers are trekking to Vermont for the founder’s 200th birthday.
SHARON, Vt. – Television producers huddle with audiovisual technicians, a worker in the next room polishes a bronze statue and ”Wet Paint” signs dangle almost everywhere.
Preparing a birthday party for a prophet is no easy task.
At Smith’s birthplace, preparations are underway for a television tribute that will originate there Dec. 23, the day of Smith’s birth.
Church president Gordon B. Hinckley will host the event, which will be broadcast to church sites around the world and carried on satellite television networks. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir will provide music from Salt Lake City.
”We revere and love the prophet,” said Ken Johnson, a church elder who is six months into an 18-month church assignment in Sharon, giving tours and helping to manage the birthplace memorial. “This whole year has been a time of celebration.”
Smith was born in Sharon on Dec. 23, 1805, the fifth of 11 children. In 1816, the family moved to Palmyra, N.Y., where Mormons believe he had the visions that led to the founding of the church. Smith, persecuted for his beliefs and actions, was killed by a mob in Illinois in 1844.
Today, the Mormon church has a worldwide membership of 12 million and is one of the fastest-growing denominations in the country.
The bicentennial of Smith’s birth has been celebrated in a series of conferences and scholarly articles on Smith’s life and beliefs, and has also brought renewed interest in his birthplace.
”We have had a lot of members of the church come,” Johnson said. In July there were 8,000 visitors, which is 3,000 more than the same month last year, he said.
The town of Sharon is roughly 15 miles north of White River Junction, along the Vermont-New Hampshire state line, and Smith’s birthplace is a few miles up Dairy Hill Road.
Visitors may feel they are lost as they climb the hill, but a sign at the gate says: ”Welcome to the Birthplace of the Prophet,” and the sound of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir fills the woods, coming from speakers hidden about the hillside. The site is relatively modest, with a 38 1/2-foot-tall granite shaft that was erected a century ago, and a welcome center completed in 1961 that holds several exhibits about Smith, a small theater and a hearthstone from the old homestead.
This year, a larger-than-life bronze statue of Smith was added to the site.
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