COURT HOUSE – Imagine a 12-year-old, searching for the truth. They attend different churches and hear the same Scripture passage interpreted in several ways. They witness their mother’s spiritual fervor and devotion as she prays in a grove of trees near their house. Out of the myriad of Protestant churches, which one is the true church?
That was Joseph Smith’s life in Palmyra, New York, in 1817. America was young, flexing new industrial and agricultural muscles after defeating Great Britain two years before, in the War of 1812. Emotions ran high from the floor of Congress to religious revivals in rural and urban areas.
The Smith family endured hardship after three years of crop failure and poor business ventures. Young Joseph suffered a debilitating bone infection at age 7. The Smiths looked for higher truths to guide and sustain them during life’s struggles.
Joseph Smith grew concerned for his soul as he entered early adulthood. In 1820, he claimed to see Jesus and God the Father in a vision, telling him that his sins were forgiven and the true church would be “restored” on the Earth.
According to tradition, Smith was visited by the Angel Moroni, in 1823, revealing the location of two golden plates buried near Smith’s home. The inscriptions on the plates were later translated by Smith into, what is called, the Book of Mormon. Thus, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - more commonly known as the Mormon church - was born. Smith conducted the first worship service in the spring of 1830.
Two local members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shared their beliefs with the Herald, shedding insight on the ongoing search for truth.
Scott Jett, 56, has deep roots in North Wildwood. His family came from Maryland to historic Anglesea, in 1915, and remained.
“I went to a couple of different churches growing up,” Jett explained June 24, in a phone interview. Before the tragic death of his father in a hunting accident, Jett’s parents had “several acquaintances” that were part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregation. The church met, in Cape May, at the time, near the canal.
Jett said he “never looked back” after his baptism, in the mid-1970s. He and his wife, Juanita, are active in their church, leading a men and women’s group. Their day begins and concludes with reading the Bible and prayer.
“My faith is the central part of my life,” Jett said. Jett, as North Wildwood’s city clerk, relies on the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen him in his many tasks and obligations.
According to Jett, misconceptions abound regarding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“A lot of people don’t realize that we are Christian,” Jett said. The Bible is revered and the word of God, while the Book of Mormon is regarded as another testament of Jesus Christ.
What is the Book of Mormon, and why is it important?
Tom Berry, 61, branch president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Court House, explained the text was translated from ancient symbols into English by Smith. The text centers on the account of Jews, known as the Nephites and the Lamanite, who settled in North America 600 years before Jesus’ birth. Berry said the narrative relates the triumphs and defeats of both groups.
Berry’s position, as branch president, is similar to the office of pastor. Besides managing the Cape May County and Millville airports, Berry prepares sermons and tends to the spiritual needs of the congregation.
“My mother was a member of several congregations, searching for the right thing,” Berry said. His family was baptized and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in 1968.
When Berry moved to Cape May County, in the 1990s, Jett was branch president. Berry held the position for the past five years.
What are the hallmarks of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
According to Berry, the faith is built on four cornerstones:
* Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, according to the Bible. He is the savior of mankind through his atoning death on the cross.
* Joseph Smith is the prophet who helped restore the true church. Until Smith’s vision, the true church was lost after the death of the 12 apostles who followed Jesus.
* The Book of Mormon.
* The restoration of the priesthood of God.
Based on these cornerstones, members carry out missionary work and humanitarian efforts. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is worldwide, spanning 160 countries and 31,000 congregations.
How did Mormons come to Cape May County?
Smith allegedly preached, in New Jersey, around 1840, four years before his murder, in 1844. Many believers left the state to follow Brigham Young to Utah in search of religious freedom.
Scholars differ over where the first church was established; i.e., Toms River, Mount Holly, Tabernacle, or Jersey City, but most believe Hoernerstown is the site. Congregants most likely migrated south in the mid-1800s.
The Court House congregation did not move into the present location until the 1980s.
Despite persecution and controversy within, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seeks to further its mission at home and abroad. Jett believes the world’s problems would be solved if the teachings of Jesus were believed and obeyed.
“He (Jesus) carries our weakness and sorrows,” Jett said. “He helps us.”
Berry said faith is more than following a list of rules; it is an active pursuit of what one knows to be right.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at email@example.com.