July 22-July 25, 2021
When we had the opportunity to spend July 4th at Mount Vernon a few years back, I felt nothing could compare in historical richness and spirit, but I was wrong. Spending Pioneer Day in Nauvoo exceeded our previous experience in every way. Studying the D&C from our current setting has connected us to the places, people and events in a way not experienced previously. To be where so many of the key players in the restoration came together for a time touched me on an emotional level. I feel inadequate to share what we felt and experienced in three days. There is one thing I’m more sure of than ever. Joseph Smith was the prophet of this dispensation. He possessed powerful spiritual gifts that allowed him to connect with Heaven in the process of laying the foundation of all we enjoy and hold dear. I love, admire, and feel greater gratitude for the fortitude, ingenuity, faith, integrity, and pure goodness of the early saints, some of whom are my ancestors.
The AOA missionaries are given permission once a year to visit Nauvoo. This year our trip happened to include Pioneer Day. We traveled there along the “Mormon Trail” in reverse. Traveling in air-conditioned cars on paved highways, with beautiful weather and a better than average supply of snacks, didn’t exactly replicate the experience of those we wanted to better understand and honor. But—the contrast of their trip and ours left us with a sense of awe and made us grateful indeed.
Our first stop was Garden Grove, Iowa. Church leaders directed men to build a way station there to serve the 1000’s of weary and destitute pioneers who would stop for a time between 1846 and the spring of 1848. Cabins were erected, wells dug, grounds were fenced and plowed, crops were planted, and people were chosen to remain and oversee the camp.
Parley R. Pratt wrote, “…We enclosed and planted a public farm of many hundred acres and commenced settlement, for the good of some who were to tarry and of those who should follow us from Nauvoo. We called the place ‘Garden Grove.’”
We felt the residual Spirit of the small cemetery that provided a resting place for those who could not continue. This historical site remains as a testimony of the early saints faith in God, His prophet, and Zion.
Our second stop was the Prairie Trails Museum in Wayne County, Iowa. The artifacts displayed within the three buildings gave an accurate sense of life in the pioneer era and decades beyond. One wing is dedicated to the early ‘Mormon saints” who blazed a trail through Iowa despite constant rain and sticky, unyielding mud. It was along this trail that the song, “Come, Come, Ye Saints” was penned by William Clayton.
Once in Nauvoo, we checked into the historic Woodruff Hotel, near the Nauvoo Temple. Its beginnings were visible as early as 1847 and it was expected to serve as the “Temple House” building. After the saints were expelled from Nauvoo, it fell victim to mob vandalism, but was reconstructed in 1871 and is among the city’s revered landmarks.
We were delighted by the “Sunset on the Mississippi” performance that evening, followed by the “Trail of Hope” re-enactment down Parley’s Street after sunset. It is significant that President Hinckley changed the name of this area of Nauvoo from its previous label “Trail of Tears.” The stories of faith we heard convinced us that these saints may have shed some tears, but their bright hope was the principle that sustained their faith through all that followed. They truly saw Zion and the Lord’s promised blessings from “afar off” with such surety that it was almost as though they already enjoyed them. (Heb. 11:13)
The young performer at the last vignette seemed particularly immersed in the character she portrayed. Her performance touched my heart. We later learned that she had received word that her mother had passed earlier in the day from COVID. Yet, there she was doing what the Lord had called her to do when she had sufficient reason not to. Clearly, it is hope and faith that continues to sustain faithful saints today as well.
July 23rd began with some pondering time along the Mississippi River. Something I can’t explain draws me to that river. Perhaps it’s the power it holds or the good it has provided civilization through the years. Whatever it is, I sense something on a spiritual level when I am near its shore. We journeyed up the river to the place we stayed with some of our children and grandchildren a few years ago and the memories it invited were sweet.
Later on, Darrel and I participated in several tours where we heard the life stories of several early saints in Nauvoo. We heard of a bakery established by a man who was not a baker as an effort to help his neighbors profitably sell their wares. We learned of Brother Browning, a skilled blacksmith and gun maker, who didn’t patent his work because he wanted to share what he had discovered freely with others. We learned of a tin shop whose owner taught many his trade while paying them as apprentices, so they could care for their families.
Nauvoo was a time of respite and healing for the saints who had suffered much in Missouri and been driven from that state. It was a place of temporary peace and beauty. It was as close to Zion as most of them ever experienced, yet they had to build it from a swamp. Each story was further evidence that they understood and lived the principle of consecration found in D&C 82:19. Every man and women truly sought the interest of their neighbors and did all things with and eye single to the glory of God. The principle of tithing powered the success of Nauvoo because it was freely lived with exactness, generosity and love. I felt inspired to be quicker to observe the needs of others and quicker to follow Elder Ashton’s counsel to “to provide strength to the weak, (“succor the weak”), to provide encouragement to those who are exhausted or discouraged (“lift up the hands which hang down”), and to give courage and strength to those with feeble knees and fearful hearts.” (Nov. 1991 Ensign and D&C 81:5)
One story that I will long remember is that of the Nauvoo Temple architect named William Weeks. He and his wife, Elizabeth had ten children, and together they buried seven in their childhood. Having ten children made that story very too close to home, and the thought of losing seven on them was too painful to consider. But the association aptly framed his devotion to his call to work with Joseph to design and oversee the building of a temple that would offer ordinances making forever families possible. It also illuminated their joy as Joseph received and introduced the concept of baptisms for the dead. It is fascinating to see how the Lord prepares each of His children, personalized opportunities to accept the gospel and share in the promised blessings. Looking back, I see many of those in my own life.
Carthage Jail was our last stop before heading back to Adam-ondi-Ahman. The Spirit is strong there and witnesses that something eternally significant happened within its walls. Perhaps if we had a record of the eight men’s conversation for the two days prior to the martyrdom, we could better understand what they knew about eternity that allowed them to face death with dignity, faith, and peace. Of those eight, four were sent on errands by the prophet and thus their lives were preserved. They found solace in the scriptures, prayer, testimony and sacred hymns as a pattern for us all. There is no greater witness of truth of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than what transpired within the walls of that frontier jail on June 27, 1844. Elder Holland said it best in his Oct 2009 Conference Address entitled, “For the Safety of the Soul.”
Six of the 2021 Elders shared a story from their pioneer heritage during sacrament meeting. Each family has their own stories of faith and miracles. There is no shortage of them in this church. One Elder is the “pioneer” in his family, yet his life and conversion holds “miracles” designed to lead his path to AOA. Evidence of God’s life is so apparent when we have eyes to see and hearts to believe. May our capacity for such things increase! We invite all to consider the legacy of those who went before, as well as the legacy we hope to leave behind this week.
Our Love: Elder and Sister Kenison
- One barge on the Mississippi River with 15 units carries as much cargo as 150 semi-trucks!
- Nauvoo is the home of 8 Belgian Horses and 11 Percherons. (For Bethany)
- There were ten wards in Nauvoo at the time of the Joseph Smith. Each ward was assigned to a day to move work on the temple forward and thus the men paid gave one day in ten as a tithing of their time to the Lord.