Stake conference for the Chattanooga stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was held this past weekend, with 13 congregations and some 4,000 members participating. The conference was held with a limited number of in-person attendees due to COVID-19 sensitivities. Many, including friends and neighbors, joined by Zoom.
Highlights included talks from Atlanta Temple President Rene Alba and his wife, temple matron Kathleen Alba. President Alba spoke about the importance of building our foundation on Jesus Christ. Quoting Helaman 5:12, President Alba said, “And now…remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” Both President and Sister Alba encouraged everyone to come and partake of the blessings of the temple where we learn more about the ways of the Lord and the Father’s plan of happiness for us.
President Kent Vaughn, 1st counselor in the Knoxville Tennessee Mission and his companion, Sandra, also spoke to the congregation. President Vaughn taught about the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-3) and our need to add drops of oil to our lamps by daily living the doctrine of Christ, even in uncertain times. He also shared that gathering Israel helps us to add drops to our lamps. We should stay spiritually prepared for the Lord’s coming, he taught. Sister Vaughn reiterated the great blessings that come from temple worship.
Sister Wendy Casto, second counselor in the Stake Young Women’s presidency, talked about how the Savior is our hope. “He is all knowing, all loving and knows what is best for us,” she said.
Kevin Ward, grandson of Phil Smartt, spoke about how everyone deserves to know about the gospel of Jesus Christ. He leaves tomorrow to serve a two-year mission in Madrid Spain where he will help gather Israel.
The choir favored the congregation with a rendition of “It is Well with My Soul” after which President Kurt Johnson, 2nd counselor in the stake presidency, spoke of his gratitude as a convert and of how the The Lord helps strengthen each of us in our trials.
President Bruce Tidwell, 1st counselor in the stake presidency, spoke about how Christ will bring us home but we have “to move our feet and be willing to move toward Him.”
Stake President Jason Isaacson concluded the conference. He spoke of how Christ gives “beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:1-3). He began by sharing how many lives were lost in the Chattanooga area during the Civil War, about the fire of 1871 that destroyed downtown, of floods and winds that have wreaked great havoc. But, he spoke also of the creation of the Southern States Mission, first from 1831-1861 and again in 1875-1898.
The Southern States mission was a training ground for some who would later serve as prophets and apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These included Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, George Albert Smith, LeGrand Richards, B.H. Roberts, Rudger Clawson and others.
According to Scholars Archive at BYU (History of the Southern States Mission, 1831-1861), “When Joseph Smith designated ‘gathering places’ for his followers, approximately fifty per cent of the Southern Saints joined the emigration movement to Missouri, Illinois and Utah.” In short, “One of the earliest and most fruitful fields of…proselyting activity became known as the Southern States Mission – an area of thirteen southeastern states” – Tennessee included.
As President Isaacson went on to teach, “The Lord didn’t leave this area in ashes, and He won’t leave us in ashes, either. Instead, The Lord takes the ashes of our lives and makes us better than we ever were, more beautiful than we could ever imagine. Jesus Christ heals us. He makes us temples unto the Most High God. He saves us because we are everything to Him.”
President Isaacson then quoted President Nelson, prophet. “Our message to the world is simple and sincere: we invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior, receive the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy, and qualify for eternal life” (Nelson, Let Us All Press On, 2018). “This is also our message to our friends and neighbors,” President Isaacson said.
We invite all to let Jesus Christ “give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:3).