Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Church History Trip

Now that we live in the midwest and we're within driving distance of several church history sites, we decided to take an extended Labor Day weekend and go see some stuff. I had no idea that such an ill-prepared, last minute trip would make such a deep impact on me. I LOVED it...all of it. My gratitude for the pioneers of my religion, and my faith in its founder, have been redoubled. I just hope my kids understood or appreciated some small degree of all that we experienced. Anyway, we brought Grandma Wellman (she loves this stuff as much as I do), and Scott took a few well-worth-it days off. I'll do my best to document the highlights (it may take a couple of posts)...


This is an area in Missouri where the early members of the church tried to build a settlement after migrating out of Kirtland, Ohio. They had a strong population and temple underway when local Missourians drove them out. All that's left there now is the cornerstones of the temple that had been laid in the ground, and a monument that the church has built nearby. This was our first stop.


The church has only purchased this property and made it available to visitors within the last year, so there is no monument or visitor's center erected yet. But we felt a special reverence in this place, knowing what took place there. This was a little settlement on Shoal Creek, about 17 miles outside of Far West where early church members had built a grain mill and a black smith shop. Missourian mobs singled out this community because of their small numbers, rode in armed and on horseback and shot and killed all the men and boys. The women and young children fled and hid in the wooded hills behind the creek. When it was safe to come out, they had to bury their loved ones in the fastest possible way and chose to lower them all down the well, then moved on to join up with the larger body of church members. We were using our imaginations to picture where the mill and the well might have been, then Hanna found a little green bottle by a rudimentary memorial slab. Inside there was a map that revealed everything we wanted to know...including the names of the people who had died. We were very moved...at least, those of us who grasped the significance were. The rest of us just got muddy in the creek :)


Next we went to see a beautiful green valley below Spring Hill, Missouri that would look like nothing more than lush farm land to someone who wasn't a member of our church. But the significance of this place is linked to a prophecy received by Joseph Smith that Adam (you know, the one married to Eve) gathered his posterity there in his old age and admonished and instructed them before he died. I had heard stories about this place since I was young. It was really cool to see it with my own eyes. The surprising thing to me was that so much beautiful land remained so raw and wide open and uninhabited...almost like God was saving it for something ;)


This was our last stop on the first day of touring. It's the jail where Joseph Smith was imprisoned on charges of treason against the Missouri government. He and three other church leaders were held there for 5 months, awaiting trial. The church has built a pretty impressive museum that encases the jail itself. We learned a lot of interesting details about all that happened. The most sad and interesting to me was that while those men were waiting out their days in that jail, their wives and children and all the members of the church were being driven from the state to avoid being exterminated. When the men were finally released, they had to go looking for their families and found them across the Mississippi river in Illinois.


This was another budding Missouri town where the church tried to put down its roots but got out before they really got going. The church now has a visitors center/museum there and again, temple cornerstones nearby. This stop was a lot more educational than entertaining, but luckily the museum had a kind-of play room for the kids.


I don't even want to write about Nauvoo because I wont be able to say with words how being there made me feel. It was my favorite stop on the trip. It kind of gives you that spooky feeling you get in a ghost town. But this place doesn't have scary ghosts...it has spirits. Good ones. And it makes you wish you could live there when it was alive and bustling and all the people were busy building. Nauvoo was the largest settlement that the early members of our church were able to build, and they stayed there for the longest time. Long enough to complete the temple they always wanted. The population in Nauvoo got up to 19,000 (that's 3 times bigger than the town I'm living in now). It was at the time, the largest city in Illinois. And once again mobs and locals and government leaders persecuted them and drove them out. So, 19,000 people got up and walked out, crossed the river and headed west, and left their homes, stores, shops and temple...empty. Now much of it has been rebuilt and preserved. And as you walk through the streets, you feel the happiness of the people that lived there, for all the success they had in their growth and their industry and all the joy they had in their dance halls and in their temple. But you also feel their sorrow, for having had to leave it behind and in all their travels, still not finding peace and rest and freedom from persecution. It just stirred up a lot of emotions for me...particularly pride in my posterity.

So, my Uncle Rus and Aunt Karen are serving in the Nauvoo Mission, and they kindly let us come and stay with them while we were visiting. They even more kindly took our kids so we (Scott, mom and me) could go to the temple. We had a very moving experience there and the kids had a blast playing pioneer around the town with Aunt Karen :)


This was the last stop on our church history trip. It was also a very powerful experience. Carthage Jail is one of the only buildings we saw that hadn't been rebuilt or restored or replicated. The exact same building was still standing in the exact same spot. The original railing was still on the stair case. The upstairs room still had a bullet hole in the door where mob members shot through and hit Hyrum Smith in the face, killing him instantly. We sat in the room and looked out the window where Joseph Smith fell to his death. It was a little overwhelming to listen to the historical account, while standing in the place where it occurred. I had a very solemn feeling after leaving there. I was both sad and sure. Sure that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, because the church I belong to now could not have risen out of such meager, impossible beginnings, if he were merely a man.