Warm smiles, handshakes, and a spread of pastries and juice welcome folks as they enter the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage (KCAAH). On this Friday morning, members from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are embarking on a tour of West Louisville to learn more about the community’s initiatives and needs. Elder B. Todd Bright welcomes the group, explaining that when members of their church reached out to the poorest ZIP codes in West Louisville to extend a hand in service, they were asked to first learn about what was already happening. He emphasizes that service is a core tenet of the LDS faith and that this tour is a key first step in joining up with the West End’s important work.
The director of the KCAAH, Aukram Burton, also welcomes the members. He shares that genealogical research is of great importance to both descendants of slaves and Latter-day saints; Burton says he traveled to Utah to the FamilySearch Library to learn more about genealogy. The remainder of the day, church members and other local representatives travel by bus to various sites, including Goodwill Industries, Dare to Care, the Boys and Girls Club of Kentuckiana and Simmons College. The group shares lunch at their Shawnee Branch Building.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church) was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, who lived in west New York, where he experienced his First Vision. The First Vision is regarded by Latter-day saints to be the most significant event since Christ’s resurrection. The tradition holds that God the Father and Jesus Christ visited Smith, inspiring him to renounce all other existing sects of Christianity in favor of founding a new, truthful one. Smith became the first president of the LDS Church. Today, the LDS headquarters is in Salt Lake City, Utah, where over 2 million people are LDS Church members. According to the Church’s reported membership statistics, it is the fourth-largest Christian denomination in the United States.
Latter-day saints believe that God the Father created the universe, and that Jesus Christ, his son, was sent to Earth to offer a perfect example of ministry. They profess that Christ’s death redeemed our sins and that the Holy Ghost comforts, guides and confirms the Truth to baptized believers. The Church places importance on the nuclear family, worshipping and learning in community, physical health, and service to others. Special covenants, such as marriage, take place in Temples, which are separate from everyday church buildings. The LDS Church’s four main scriptural texts include the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Sunday services are called sacrament meetings, where local LDS members can gather to sing, pray, hear sermons from other members, and take the sacrament to remember their Savior, Jesus Christ.
The following Sunday after the West Louisville tour, the second ward of the Louisville LDS church gathers for their sacrament meeting. Today is a special children’s program offered by the youngest community members. The rows of benches are filled with young families dressed in their Sunday best. The sanctuary is reverently quiet except for the exuberant noise of babies and toddlers, who are not reprimanded, only gently redirected with smiles and hugs. After the sacrament is shared, the remainder of the meeting is devoted to the children’s expression of their faith through written reflection and song.
The children recount their most meaningful spiritual experiences: being baptized, attending sacrament meetings, and hoping to visit Temple someday. They sing songs about how loved they are by their families, God the Father, and Jesus Christ. Each adult facilitating the program is brought to tears when speaking of the community’s love for their children. The little ones sing that Jesus Christ was once a child like they are, someone who experienced exactly what they are experiencing, and who loves them infinitely.
Learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here.