It is high summer in Nauvoo which means busloads of tourists, minivans packed to the brim with children and several family reunions every week. In my early childhood, my mother’s family would meet in Holden, Missouri to decorate family graves at the local Baptist cemetery and then cool off in the Community of Christ congregation. On my father’s side we would road trip to a beautiful town in Ontario, Canada, or Michigan to meet up with the Canadian side of the family.
My first memory of attending a Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith family reunion was in Nauvoo some 20 years ago. Around midnight on a humid summer night we sat in darkness in the Smith Family cemetery, watching the fireflies and listening to long distant cousins reminisce about their ancestors and each other. Fifty years ago in 1972, official Smith Family reunions were established between the various branches of the family. The idea was to get to know each other without ecclesiastical pressure. As noted in both the Saints Herald and Salt Lake Tribune “the reunion had nothing to do with church.”
Over two hundred family members ranging in age from 91 down to babes in arms met on Friday and Saturday August 18-19, at Nauvoo, Illinois in response to an invitation dated April 6, 1972 signed by W. Wallace Smith (descendant of Joseph and Emma Smith, Jr.), Joseph B. Smith (descendant of Samuel Smith), and Willard R. Smith (descendant of Hyrum Smith).
Speakers at the reunion included F. Mark McKiernan, Dr. Richard L. Anderson, Dr. Truman Madsen, Dr. Paul M. Edwards, Lynn E. Smith and Mrs. Janann Payne. “The papers were well received and carefully avoided the explication of areas of religious or doctrinal controversy.”
In my Presidential Address in September, we’ll briefly explore an earlier Smith Family reunion in Salt Lake City attended by Frederick Madison Smith at the invitation of President Joseph F. Smith in 1904. In a letter to his son Edward, Joseph F. wrote that “We have not mentioned any of the differences of our views on religion, so that his visit may be as pleasant as possible.”
Navigating relationships in 2022 with friends and family in an ever more polarizing landscape is complicated. I hope you find in the reunions and gatherings you attend this summer the places and people you treasure. And make memories that will last for generations.
See you in September!