When Christopher Columbus discovered a new world in 1492, he opened the way for the restoration of the gospel.
Now, 500 years later, members of the Church in Columbus, Ohio - a city named after the famous explorer - are finding the quincentennial celebration has opened a way for them to lay foundations of friendship in the community."In the past year we have clearly demonstrated that Mormons are an important part of the community and that the community can count on us to reach out and assist and do our part," said Elder D. Richard McFerson, regional representative of the Columbus Ohio Region. "There is no lack on the part of the saints, both adults and youth, to render community service."
Columbus, situated near the center of Ohio where the Olentangy and Scioto rivers meet, is home to more than 8,500 members of the Church who live in three stakes with 16 wards and eight branches.
"We have a very strong second generation Mormon community now where families that were here in the early days, pioneers much like Christopher Columbus, stayed and raised their families," Elder McFerson added. "Now their children are staying and raising their families here, too."
Columbus, the state capital, was established in 1812 and incorporated in 1834 and is the largest Columbus-named city in the United States. The 1990 Census put Columbus as the largest city in Ohio, with a population of 632,910.
A green and lush community, Columbus has been recognized in several national magazines as an attractive place to live.
Several Church members, including Elder McFerson, are prominent community leaders and have helped the Church gain more acceptance in the area. Elder McFerson is president of Nationwide Insurance, a large insurance organization in the country. E. Gordon Gee, a member of the Riverside Ward, Columbus Ohio Stake, is president of Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in the country. Dr. Samuel Kiehl, a member of the Scioto Ward, Columbus Ohio Stake, is head of emergency services at Riverside Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the Midwest.
"Other members have stepped out and done their part in the community," Elder McFerson added. "Because of that the Church has a good name and reputation here."
Throughout 1992, the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America, the Church has worked hard with the community to celebrate the founding and the city's namesake, he explained. The city will officially celebrate the anniversary on Oct. 12, Columbus Day.
This past summer the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, on a tour commemorating the 500th anniversary of the voyage of Columbus to the Americas, performed in Columbus July 23 at the Veteran's Memorial Auditorium to a sell-out crowd of 3,900.
"We were really proud to have the choir here," Elder McFerson remarked. "The majority of those in attendance were non-members. The choir's visit left a lasting memory on the community."
Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka presented the choir with an official proclamation, welcoming them to the city. The mayor then co-hosted a reception after the concert for community leaders. Ohio Gov. George Voinovich also sent the choir a proclamation.
Then almost a month later, members performed in "Christopher, the Musical of Discovery" from Aug. 20-22 at the international amphitheater of AmeriFlora '92, a worldwide floral exposition which is the centerpiece of the city's anniversary celebration.
About 6,500 people attended the musical during the three-night show. "As a Church, this was our contribution to the quincentennial celebration in Columbus," Elder McFerson explained. (Please see Church News, Aug. 8, 1992.)
The play tells the story of Columbus' voyage to America and the struggles he faced in finding support for his journey, taking the audience to the point when he discovers land.
The musical was produced jointly by Columbus' three stakes and included a cast of 85 people. It was written by Barney W. Cornaby, with R. Don Oscarson as lyricist and Maughan W. McMurdie as composer. (Brothers Oscarson and McMurdie are known for their work in writing and composing the Church musical in Nauvoo, Ill., "City of Joseph.")
"Members of the Church in Columbus are proud to have had the choir visit and then to participate in `Christopher.' Elder McFerson remarked. "It has renewed their faith. These are opportunities that are not everyday occurrences."
In addition to the celebrations, members have spent 1992 in service to the community, said Pauline Morello, director of public affairs for the Columbus Ohio Region.
"Our priesthood leaders wanted to make our quincentennial celebration one of service," she remarked.
One service project included an unusual partnership with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the Mid-Ohio FoodBank and the Church. More than 50 Church members spent a night in August canning the first harvest of green beans grown on prison farms.
The project came about after Pres. Kenneth G. Petersen of the Columbus Ohio East Stake wanted to utilize down time at the Church regional cannery for community service. The stake offered cannery services to the food bank if the food bank had the produce to can.
The food bank contacted the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to see if it would be interested in growing vegetables at Central Ohio Correctional Institution farms for the food bank.
Everything came together and members canned green beans for hundreds of needy families throughout Central Ohio, Sister Morello remarked.
"This project is a win-win for everyone involved," said Reginald A. Wilkerson, director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. "Prisoners at institutions in Chillicothe, London and Marion raised the beans. The LDS Church had the canning operation and volunteers. The food bank has the need. This is just one of the food projects our inmates are involved in to help the needy."
Sister Morello continued: "This was an excellent way to become involved in our community. Our willingness to help has been well received by the other charities in Columbus."
In the Columbus Ohio North Stake, members will be introduced to a theme of community service as part of stake conference in October, said Pres. Denis W. Stoddard.
"We are going to take our Saturday leadership session and adult session and meet briefly to receive assignments for the night to serve in the community. We have made arrangements to work with shelters in the area to do such things as provide food and meals and clothing.
"Our focus for the upcoming year is Christlike service. We decided we talk enough and we needed to go out and do and experience a bit of the life of the Good Samaritan. The Savior was a doer. We should also be doers of the word."
Wards and branches in the Columbus Ohio Stake have been involved in service projects as part of their ward conferences.
Members of the Jackson Branch spent a day picking up litter around Hammertown Lake. In a letter to the branch, Jackson City Mayor John T. Evans said: "In this world, when many people don't seem to care about the way our country looks, it is nice to know that there are people (especially in our town) who are willing to do what they can to make it a nicer place to live."
Members of the Riverside Ward collected and distributed more than 2,000 pounds of clothing and several thousand dollars of food items to a local homeless shelter and food pantry.
Many Relief Societies throughout the region have also been involved in service as part of their sesquicentennial celebration.
The Zanesville Ward Relief Society in the Columbus Ohio East Stake has done volunteer work at a city school, helping teachers by tutoring students and having reading time in groups.
The Relief Society of the Westland Ward, Columbus Ohio Stake, furnished treats for home-bound cancer patients to be taken to them by their visiting nurses from the Columbus Cancer Clinic. Sisters made items such as cookies, brownies, muffins and fudge, and wrapped each treat individually.
"The best part about planned service projects of this type is it gives the sisters the confidence to go forth individually volunteering their time and talents to the community," said Janilee Nader, Relief Society president in the Columbus 5th Ward, Columbus Ohio East Stake. "There is a great deal of need in our city and our sisters are responding to that need."
The youth have been involved in their own service projects as well. Youth from the Columbus Ohio Stake assisted the Ohio Historical Society in recording information from grave markers as part of their youth conference.
More than 100 young men and women copied vital statistics from head stones in 27 remote cemeteries. Because many of the markers had deteriorated and were difficult to read, the youth applied shaving cream to the head stones which improved legibility without defacing the surface of the marker.
In all, 4,500 names were recorded from more than 4,100 markers. The names will form the basis of a publication by the historical society. The names have also been entered into the Church Personal Ancestral File. Once they have been processed through the Temple Ready program, the names will be submitted, and youth hope to perform work in the Washington Temple in 1993.
Young men and women in the Columbus Ohio North Stake spent youth conference this year cleaning up parks in Columbus. Last year the youth painted the home of a needy non-member in a community north of Columbus.
"There is a really good community spirit here on the part of members," Elder McFerson said. "Stakes assist in the local projects for their communities and try to reach out and be good community members."
"In addition to the good we are doing in the community, our secondary focus was and is to get the name of the Church out into our cities," Sister Morello remarked. "Through the tremendous amount of service that was done, the visit from the Tabernacle Choir and `Christopher,' most people in the community have now heard of the Church, and we expect more doors to be opened for the missionaries. We are a caring people, and the city of Columbus now knows it."
Pres. Hugh S. West of the Ohio Columbus Mission, said: "We've had a very good increase in baptisms in the Columbus area in the last two months. How much is due to the choir visit and `Christopher' we have no idea, but there has been an increase in baptisms. We had the largest number of baptisms during the last 18 months in just these past two months."
Pres. West noted that much of the mission's success has come with students attending Ohio State University. The mission includes 150 missionaries, with 90 of those missionaries serving in stakes in the Columbus area.
Substantive Church growth this century in Ohio didn't really occur until 1925 when the state became part of the Northern States Mission and proselyting missionaries came to town, said Mary Katzenbach, in a history she wrote about the Church in Columbus.
In 1925 as membership increased, members met in homes, then rented a room in the Masonic Lodge and eventually purchased a house near Ohio State University. Members ended up moving the house and building their own chapel on the site that year.
The first stake was organized in 1962. Since then the Church in Columbus has grown to not only include the three stakes and a mission within its boundaries, but also a bishop's storehouse and a cannery.
Elder McFerson noted that members of the Church in Columbus are proud of their commitment to the temple and to family history. Temple trips to the Washington Temple, more than 400 miles from Columbus, are common for members in the area.
Members of the Columbus Ohio Stake spent Sept. 17-19 at the Washington Temple with the 425 in attendance performing about 10,000 total ordinances, said Pres. Richard N. Christensen, first counselor in the stake presidency.
On Sept. 18 alone, stake members performed more than 4,000 ordinances, including 1,601 endowments. "This was a record for the Washington Temple, an equivalent to an average week's work for the temple," he explained.
"We think nothing of taking an eight-hour bus ride or car ride to our temple," Elder McFerson said. "This year more than 1,000 members will have visited the temple. That is a pretty big commitment when you realize how far away it is." - Sheridan R. Sheffield