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Missionary Moment: The Healing Letter Between Joseph’s and Brigham’s Descendants

Written by Darcy KennedyCreated: 28 April 2011

It is amazing how the Lord quietly brings about his purposes by touching a heart here or giving an idea there.  His work often goes forward without notice by the world as we respond to these gentle promptings.  Once in a while it is sweet to share these miracles and rejoice together.

One such miracle began in February 2007 when Michael Kennedy contemplated their upcoming 2007 Joseph and Emma Smith family reunion.  Michael told his wife, “I feel I am supposed to contact the Brigham Young family to ask them to write a letter to the Joseph Smith Jr. family that would apologize for the ill feelings that some of the descendants of Joseph and Emma have toward Brigham.  However, once I have this letter I don’t know how to present it to our family.”

Sometimes this is how the Lord works, he sends an idea, but often does not send all the details of how to carry out the ideas.  He allows us to exercise our faith and efforts to seek further inspiration; then things often come together precept upon precept, line upon line.  Darcy, Michael’s wife, told him to, “Ask for a representative from the Brigham Young family to come to our reunion and present the letter.”  From the time Michael mentioned this need there was never a thought that it would not take place, it was just how, when and who.

A couple of weeks went by as Michael tried many different avenues to contact the Brigham Young Family.  On a fluke, Kari Robinson, the Historian for the Brigham Young Family Association, came upon Michael’s email to the Brigham Young web site.  She felt impressed to contact Michael.  Conversation with Kari triggered Michael’s memory of them having met some years earlier in Quincy, Illinois.  The mayor and leading citizens of Quincy were preparing to have a celebration where they wanted to invite the Church and descendants of Brigham Young and Joseph Smith to be part of their town commemoration as they reenacted the Saints crossing the Mississippi to find sanctuary after the expulsion from Missouri due to Governor Bogg’s ‘extermination order’.  Kari and Michael had walked together leading that parade. After listening to Michael explain what he felt was needed, Kari understood what Michael was asking, and she paved the way.  She contacted Mary Ellen Elggren, President Elect, of the Brigham Young Family Association and shared Michael’s request along with the purpose and reasons.

Kari invited Michael and Darcy to attend a Brigham Young Family Association board meeting on May 24, 2007 only 3 weeks prior to the gathering of Joseph Smith’s family where Michael hoped to formally present the Young family’s response.  Meanwhile, Mary Ellen Elggren pondered the request and wondered how to respond.  After doing some research, she fasted and prayed for direction.  While feeling perplexed and wondering what she could write which would fulfill the request, words suddenly began to come into her head which she realized were not her own thoughts.  She ran to her computer and began typing as fast as she could to keep up with the words flooding her mind as if they were being dictated.  The result was an amazing letter from the Brigham Young family to the Joseph and Emma Smith family.

Mary Ellen Elggren, Pres. Brigham Young Family & Michael Kennedy, Pres. Joseph Smith Jr. Family

At the board meeting Michael and Kari introduced the subject to the rest of the members.  Mike explained what efforts had taken place to gather the posterity of Joseph Smith Jr., and the depth of prejudice against Brigham Young shrouding their minds.   He said that he felt an ‘apology’ letter from the Brigham Young family would help undo a great amount of that prejudice. As he continued, most at the meeting were on the same page immediately, except one man who wanted to know why it was that the Smith family needed such an apologetic letter when all of this took place so long ago.  Gracia Jones, another descendant of Joseph Smith, and Chief Historian for the Joseph Smith Jr. and Emma Hale Smith Historical Society, was present with her husband C. Ivor Jones, Vice President to the organization. Gracia explained that it wasn’t really an apology, but a bridge to connect the two families who had been such close friends in the past.  Michael later explained that he knew an ‘apology’ was not the right term he wanted, but it was the only word that would come to him since the beginning of this quest.  At some point, since Mary Ellen was unavoidably absent that evening, Kari read the letter to the group.  Upon hearing the letter, and once explanations were given, the consent was unanimous.

It was beautiful.  All members of the Brigham Young Family Association board approved the letter prepared by Mary Ellen and agreed to send three representatives to the upcoming Smith reunion to present it.  A peaceful feeling filled Darcy’s heart, and she suggested the letter be called the “Healing Letter.” A short time later they received the official copy:  With tears Michael and Darcy Kennedy looked at this beautiful document on parchment bearing the names and signatures of not one, but ten—including the officers of the Brigham Young Family Association Board, and the officers of the Brigham Young Granddaughters Association. What a thrill to watch the Lord’s work unfold.

Realizing this letter would not only begin to impact a change within the minds of the descendants of Joseph and Emma, Michael felt this letter, once presented, would also have a great impact amongst the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints.  Michael felt impressed to call upon a good friend of the Joseph Smith family, Michael Watson, then Secretary to the LDS Church’s First Presidency.  Brother Watson, who was very well acquainted with the history of prejudice and conflict which had been in place for so many generations commented, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Michael felt the Spirit replying that it was time for healing to begin.  Whereby, Brother Watson responded, “Would you mind if we took a look at the letter?”  After making a couple of small editing changes, the First Presidency gave the document their blessing and approval.

Three individuals were chosen to represent the Brigham Young Family Association: Mary Ellen Elggren, Kari Robinson, and Peter Kennedy (no relation to Michael).  The spirit witnessed the caliber of their sacrifice and the impact their attendance at the reunion would have.  All were painfully aware that at this late date air fare was at a premium for the Brigham Young descendants, but they also understood this sacrifice was heaven’s request.  Each knew the inspiration for this could have been given a year ago and all could have been easily put in order well in advance, but this was to be a sacrificial pledge.  Our hearts were full to the brim with gratitude to the Brigham Young family and to the Lord witnessing once again that this is His work, not ours.

Nauvoo House where Emma lived the last part of her life

During the reunion in 2007, the Smith family stayed in Grandma Emma’s home more commonly known as the Nauvoo House.  Kim HerreraMichael and Darcy Kennedy’s daughter-in-law, was reading her scriptures on the bank of the Mississippi River early one morning.  She found this scripture about the Nauvoo House where the family was staying: “And now I say unto you, as pertaining to my boarding of strangers, let it be built unto my name, and let my name be named upon it, and let my servant Joseph and his house have place therein, from generation to generation” (D&C 124:56, emphasis added).  This week with Smith family members staying in the Nauvoo House, Joseph and Emma’s family literally “had place therein, from generation to generation.”

The Smith family members gathered to stay in the Riverside Mansion, known as the “Nauvoo House” and now as “Grandma’s house.”  They became unified as they carried their bags off the bus inside and made their beds.  Emma’s posterity cooked together in her kitchen. They slept in her home and gathered in the dining room to share meals and later play games into the night.

Their laughter filled Emma’s home.  The sound of children running up and down the stairs, and the sight of babies being bathed in the big sinks brought to mind Emma’s era when Alexander’s children would come to visit.  Each night as the lights were turned on the glow of love and unity lit up Grandma Emma’s home and the windows shone with a warm glow. Sounds of conversations, expressions of joy for being with family members, love and light spilled out onto the street and over the Mississippi River.   One descendant stood in Emma’s bedroom and with great emotion said, “I feel something here.  I don’t ever want to leave.” The prophecy was being fulfilled, as three and four generations of Emma’s ‘children’ (her posterity) played in her home along the banks of the Mississippi.  One could only imagine Joseph and Emma’s feelings as they witnessed from above their family gathering in their home.

Descendants of Joseph Smith in front of “Grandma’s House”, the Nauvoo Mansion

Additionally, LDS descendants of both Brigham Young and Joseph Smith Sr. families gathered in a prayer circle in the temple Joseph had built the Nauvoo temple.  It was a great healing moment to have these two families once again joined together in sacred prayer.

Mary Ellen Elggren (President), Kari Robinson, Peter Kennedy presenting the ‘Healing Letter’

The most important part of the reunion was on the last night when Mary Ellen Elggren with Kari Robinson and Peter Kennedy at her side, stood up to explain and read a letter to the posterity of Joseph and Emma from the Brigham Young Family Association.  Mary Ellen explained that when Michael called and asked her to participate and to help heal the grudges and bitterness that existed in the Smith family toward Brigham Young, she was shocked.  As far as she knew, Brigham had left Emma with a hotel, farm and several properties.  He had tried to leave her well cared for.  She explained that after the saints went west, Brigham had his hands full trying to establish everyone in Utah.  She had no idea there was animosity between the families.  She then said she had fasted and prayed to know what to do to help heal these animosities.  She told how the words to a letter came to her.  She said that even though she wrote the letter, she was not the author.

Mary Ellen Elggren then read the tender plea, the “Healing Letter,” from the Brigham Young Family Association asking everyone to put aside any existing misunderstandings between the two families and re-establish a bond.  Mary Ellen stated that Brigham and Joseph loved each other and like Emma, Brigham’s dying words were the repeated name of his greatest friend and mentor, Joseph.  She explained that the Young family has “committed themselves to do whatever is needed to publish to the world their deep regard for Emma Hale Smith and her noble life.”[1]

A copy of the letter was given to each member of Emma’s family present.  Copies have since been mailed to all other descendants of Joseph and Emma as well as descendants of Brigham Young.  We believe the “Healing Letter” has come forth in this generation to help bring about what was prayed for by the prophet Joseph Smith, in his dedicatory prayer at the Kirtland temple in March 1836:

The Healing Letter

Doctrine and Covenants 109:

68 O Lord, remember thy servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., and all his afflictions and persecutions—how he has covenanted with Jehovah, and vowed to thee, O Mighty God of Jacob and the commandments which thou hast given unto him, and that he hath sincerely striven to do thy will.

69 Have mercy, O Lord, upon his wife and children, that they may be exalted in thy presence, and preserved by thy fostering hand.

70 Have mercy upon all their immediateconnections, that their prejudices may be broken up and swept away as with a flood; that they may be converted and redeemed with Israel, and know that thou art God.

At the time this prayer was given, the Smith family was tightly united; but within a decade, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was driven to the west.   The Smith family became divided, and afflicted by deep divisions and for many generations prejudice existed not only in the Smith family toward the leaders of the “Utah church” as they called it, but also among some members of the LDS Church toward Emma.  Prejudices exist in many families. The healing that began between the Smith and Young families at this reunion is an example to all families of how old wounds can be healed, ancient offenses soothed over, and unity can exist again generations later.  Those who have participated in this experience feel it is a miracle orchestrated by a loving Heavenly Father.  Verse 57 of section 124 tells how the covenants Joseph and Emma made, apply to their posterity.  “For this anointing have I put upon his head, that his blessing shall also be put upon the head of his posterity after him.” Joseph and Emma received their own endowments in Nauvoo and were sealed together for eternity.[2]  These covenants with God impact generations.

The Young family continues to do what they can to remove any remaining prejudices toward Emma.  A few months later, in September 2007 at “This is the Place Park” in Salt Lake the Brigham Young family held their own family gathering.  This same letter was read to them and supported by these descendants who unanimously agreed to its resolution.  Additionally, descendants of both families gathered in the temple Brigham Young had built, the Salt Lake Temple.  A special prayer was as needed here and to the amazement of all, not only did descendants from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young gather, but were also joined by Hyrum and Samuel in the prayer circle.  A circle so large that it circled the room and to testify the Lord was orchestrating these events all participants learned at the conclusion of the prayer the officiator in the prayer circle was a direct descendant of John Murdock, Julia Murdock’s father.  Truly, the Lord remembers and keeps his promises. Darcy Kennedy whispered with great joy, “This is the beginning of the healing.”[3]

As Joseph told her in her dream, “Be patient Emma; you shall have all of your children.”

Emma’s Last Dream

Before Emma’s children can be gathered, prejudices must be removed as Joseph himself prophesied as he dedicated the Kirtland Temple in 1836.[4]   It is an example for all families to put aside old traditions of animosity and be united as one.