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Visit to Joseph Smith’s birthplace brings feelings of ‘deep reverence and appreciation’ to church leaders

President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, walk at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial in Sharon, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.
President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles walk at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial in Sharon, Vt., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SHARON, Vt. — Hours after walking the quiet, rustic paths marking the significant sites around the birthplace of 19th century Prophet Joseph Smith, President M. Russell Ballard traveled to Boston and spoke with government and community leaders about the worldwide 21st-century influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the church, spent Saturday contemplating the life and work of Joseph Smith, born in Sharon on Dec. 23, 1805.

Sitting not far from a memorial built a century ago and in front of replica hearth in Sharon, President Ballard spoke of his “deep reverence and appreciation” for this place and the prophet it honors.

“I hope when that day comes, if I get a chance to meet (Joseph Smith) on the other side, that I can tell him that even sitting at the fireplace of the cottage where he was born was a very important spiritual time in my life,” he said.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, called the site sacred.

“Tucked back in these trees came to the Earth the Prophet Joseph Smith,” he said, speaking of the baby born in “humble circumstances” who would “change the course” of history.

“It is the feeling, it is the feeling that makes the difference here,” he said. Recognizing the 16 million Latter-day Saints in countries across the globe who also honor Joseph Smith, he added: “All of us can feel the spirit of what is here in our lives wherever we are.”

Hours later, President Ballard joined Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, NBA executive Danny Ainge, Harvard professor Roger Porter, businessman Kevin Rollins and the Rev. Eugene Rivers in a bustling hotel in the heart of Boston. The group also included Elder Christofferson and Elder Randall K. Bennett, a General Authority Seventy.

In contrast to the quiet morning spent in rural Vermont, the meeting in Massachusetts’ capital city included discussions on the state of politics, the impact of social media, the power of strong families and the importance of religious freedom.

“Trying to get the simple messages of peace and joy and happiness and how you find them is very difficult today,” said President Ballard.

The conversation turned to family, and President Ballard shared what he has learned in 91 years of living: “When you get as old as I am, family is everything,” he said.

The Rev. Rivers called it an honor and privilege to meet with President Ballard, Elder Christofferson and Elder Bennett and learn more about the “disciplined, focused organization” they lead.

When leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints call, he said, “it is a phone call you take and it is a request that you satisfy, given who they are. … You are going to respond just out of respect for the extraordinary work they do around the planet Earth.”

He also wished to thank the church for its support of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies.

“Where else could I go on a Saturday afternoon … and meet Danny Ainge,” he quipped.

The meeting marked a busy day for the Latter-day Saint leaders, who also participated in a missionary broadcast and conducted media interviews in Vermont and spoke at the Cambridge Stake Center to millennials in Boston. During the Boston devotional, President Ballard; Elder Christofferson and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson; and Elder Bennett and his wife, Sister Shelley Bennett, each shared their testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith.

President Ballard, the great-great-nephew of Joseph Smith, said earlier in the day that he can’t visit New England without having “deep affection and love” for the early church leader.

Of Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum Smith, President Ballard said, “When I see them and see what they did and what they gave, then I feel obligated to do everything I can to declare and to teach the gospel is once again upon the Earth.”