Latter-day Saint Life

Why the Church created a special African American congregation 50 years ago

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Mark Louis Weinberg, ChurchofJesusChrist.org

In October 1971, Elders Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and Boyd K. Packer, under the direction of the First Presidency, established an official congregation of Latter-day Saints unlike any other the Church had ever seen or has seen since.

As reported by Newsroom, The Genesis Group was set up as a dependent branch of the Church. This move was a response to a request from three Black Latter-day Saints—Ruffin Bridgeforth, Darius Gray, and Eugene Orr—to better serve the needs of African American Latter-day Saints in Utah.

The group’s official Facebook page uses the following quote from Darius Gray, who once served as president, to describe their purpose:

Genesis was, and is, a unique unit of the Church. We are like no other Church organization but our existence was brought into being by the direct actions of the First Presidency and The Quorum of the Twelve. We are not an auxiliary like the Relief Society but we are more than a ‘fireside’ while less than a ward. What fireside has a presidency set apart to a specific purpose? What fireside has its own auxiliaries? . . . Genesis is by design not like any other unit of the Church but there is beauty in that special calling. There is also responsibility. We exist and serve at the pleasure of the leadership of the Lord’s Church. Our purpose is the Lord’s purpose—we help to bring souls to the Restored Gospel.

Today the group has a three-person presidency and exists as a space where Black members can meet monthly with others who look like them, share their frustrations and their faith, and worship in a more vocal and style (complete with shouted “amens,” applause, and exuberant praise hymns). Their Facebook page also boasts more than 4,000 members.

► You may also like: Former NFL player called to serve in Genesis Group Presidency

To celebrate the 50-year anniversary of this historic group, a special Church devotional was held on Saturday, October 23 in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.

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Singer Alex Boyé performing with The Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir at the Genesis Group 50th Anniversary Devotional on October 23rd, 2021.
Credit: ChurchofJesusChrist.org

“We are grateful for your example of inviting all to come unto the Savior,” President Ballard said in a prerecorded message. “You have been especially effective in including those who may feel marginalized in some way and in creating understanding among many not of our faith. You’ve helped others look forward in faith to a day when the people of the Lord truly will be of one heart and one mind. … The gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to unite us. We are ultimately more alike than we are different. As members of God’s family, we are truly brothers and sisters.”

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis, Jr., who served as an adviser to the Genesis Group when he was an Area Seventy, said during the fireside, “It has been one of the blessings of my life both to be with African Americans through my association with Genesis. … I worship differently than I did before. My love for God has been enhanced and increased because of my association with the good people that I know through Genesis.”

The fireside also featured remarks from Genesis Group president Davis Stovall, Darius Gray, and other early Genesis Group leaders, as well as powerful musical performances from Alex Boyé and the Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir.

You can watch the Genesis 50th Anniversary Devotional on ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

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