“The First Methodist Sermon … in the Mormon Temple,”: Religious Activity in Post-Mormon Nauvoo

By June 11, 2008

Mormon historians’ various analyses of Nauvoo usually include a line or two about what became of Nauvoo after the Latter-day Saints left town.  In The Story of the Latter-day Saints, James Allen and Glen Leonard summarized post-Mormon Nauvoo by explaining that after the Saints headed west, “the temple was shamefully desecrated by mobs; finally, in October 1848, an incendiary set fire to that magnificent sacred structure. It was so weakened that the north wall came down, and after a tornado hit in May 1850, all but the front wall fell and the stones were hauled away to be used for other purposes.”[1]

Glen Leonard’s more recent and much more exhaustive Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise discusses in some detail the “new citizens” and the anti-Mormons who inhabited the city in the years immediately following the dispersion of the Mormons. He explains that the new citizens attempted “to make something of the abandoned Mormon capital” by “purchas[ing] vacant public buildings and put[ting] them to new uses.” One such instance noted by Leonard teases readers with a glimpse into what religious life in post-Mormon Nauvoo was like: “Parley P. Pratt’s store became St. Patrick’s Church to serve a congregation established in 1847 by a missionary priest.”[2] Unfortunately, he offers no more information, and readers are left to wonder whether any religious activity was occurring in Nauvoo during the second half of the 1840s.

Last week while browsing the stacks (killing time before lunch) at the Church Archives, I came across an issue of Western Illinois Regional Studies from 1988 devoted to Mormonism. Among other interesting contributions, it contains a document, edited by Stanley Kimball, that sheds more light on the activities of Christian missionaries after the Mormons left Illinois. It is a letter written by G.G. Worthington, a Methodist itinerant assigned to head up the “Nauvoo Mission” as part of the Carthage Circuit in 1845. I found it quite interesting and thought readers here might as well. Below are excerpts from the letter:

A few days after I arrived, it was determined on consultation, to apply for the temple to be occupied by the Missionary the following Sabbath. The request was granted by the Trustees, and the day being favorable, a very respectable congregation attended divine service. I endeavored to improve the hour by speaking from the following words, Isa. 4:7: “Submit yourselves therefore, to God.” After preaching, I held a Methodist class meeting in the “Great Temple,” and the Lord of Hosts was with us of a truth, for we were together refreshed, and encouraged to gird up our loins, and prepare for the battle. This was the First Methodist Sermon and class meeting ever in the Mormon Temple. . . .

If there is a missionary field (in the strict sense of the term) on God’s green earth, it is in Nauvoo; and this can be made clearly manifest; but I forbear. I am happy to report to you, and the numerous friends of Zion, that we have two classes at this time, numbering about fifty members, received by certificate and on probation. . . . We have negotiated for the house we have been occupying, the Musick Hall 50 feet by 30 and upwards, a one story brick, finished off and two thirds seated with good seats, on a half acre lot. . . . It will require very little expense to fit the house complete for our purposes as a good chapel.

It may be proper for me to remark here that the Methodist Episcopal Church is the only religious organization in this city. On my arrival here there was preachign by a Presbyterian Minister Mr. Babbitt, one a fortnight. He left in a few weeks. The Campbellites have held forth a few times, and it has been announced that a Universalist will hold forth the next Lord’s day in the Temple. . . .

We trust all who are friendly to Missions will aid us by their fervent prayers, that Nauvoo may become as notorious for morality and piety as it has been for wickedness and blsphemy. I remain dear brother your unaltered friend, and fellow labourer in the bonds of a peaceful Gospel.

G.G. Worthington, Missionary

Nauvoo Mission, Rock River Conf., Jan. 9th, 1847[3]

Anything particularly interesting to you in this letter on a little-known period of Nauvoo history? Though I’m sure it’s nothing more than a strange coincidence, I do find it ironic and interesting that the religious groups mentioned by Worthington as participating in the religious activity of post-Mormon Nauvoo all have direct ties with earlier Mormonism — Methodists, Presbyterians, Campbellites, and Universalists.

_________________________________

[1] James B. Allen and Glen Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992 edition). 

[2] Glen Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002).

[3] Stanley B. Kimball, “The Nauvoo Mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1846-1848,” Western Illinois Regional Studies 11:2 (Fall 1988), 46-54.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. The Trustees were trying to sell the temple — I wonder if they hoped this would be audition by someone who might purchase? ‘Cause they sure couldn’t have been fooled into thinking the reverend gentleman was any kind of a friend.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — June 11, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

  2. We trust all who are friendly to Missions will aid us by their fervent prayers, that Nauvoo may become as notorious for morality and piety as it has been for wickedness and blsphemy.

    I find it interesting that they don’t try to change the name of Nauvoo in this makeover. Not far from Nauvoo there was a little town called Ramus that had a substantial Mormon population prior to the exodus. After the Mormons left, the non-Mormon residents changed the town’s name to Webster (presumably after Daniel Webster). That’s in Susan Rugh’s excellent work on Hancock County.

    Comment by David G. — June 11, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

  3. I am with Ardis on this one. This had to be part of the effort to unload the temple and raise some much-needed cash.

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 11, 2008 @ 4:23 pm

  4. Is anyone doing or know of or interested in researching the interaction of departing Mormons with their Mennonite neighbors to the west in Lee County? There’s an enigmatic death (of genealogical significance to me) recorded among the Mennonites during this time period and attributed to Mormons. I’ve long wanted to learn more about this reported murder, but don’t much know where to begin.

    I find it interesting that the more ‘normal’ religions are there soon after, but eventually more unusual groups (like the Icarians) come later. Something about the location, ambiance, lingering spirits perhaps?

    The other thing I notice about this letter is the commonality of language it uses. I mean, it refers to “Zion” and “Mission Field” and other terms we (perhaps ethnocentrically?) consider uniquely Mormon. Did the language we use today come from more commonly used terms back in Nauvoo, and the westward exodus acted as a kind of linguistic branching that isolated us from eventual evolution of idiom, or was the writer of the letter mocking terms that were already markers for Mormonism?

    Comment by Coffinberry — June 11, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  5. Ardis and Steve, I’m sure you’re right. Along those lines, Worthington mentions that the MEC got a great deal on the “Musick Hall,” which, according to him, the trustees were trying to sell for $1200-$1500, and for which the Methodists only paid $310 (a price confirmed by Nauvoo Restoration, Inc.’s records, according to Kimball).

    David, I had the same thought.

    Coffinberry, Methodists of the antebellum era often referred to themselves as “Israel” and “Zion,” as did other evangelical groups of the day.

    Comment by Christopher — June 11, 2008 @ 5:25 pm

  6. Like many “Mormon” terms, “Zion” was used heavily by a number of early nineteenth-century Protestant denominations. The example below comes from the first Shaker hymnal . . .

    Establish’d in the latter days,
    On mountains of eternal praise,
    Shall be the house which God will raise,
    By Judah’s holy Lion;
    And many nations there shall come,
    The lame and blind, the deaf and dumb,
    Shall find an everlasting home,
    And praise the Lord in Zion.

    —[Seth Youngs Wells, compiler] MILLENNIAL PRAISES, Containing A Collection of Gospel Hymns, in Four Parts; Adapted to the Day of Christ’s Second Appearing. Composed for the Use of His People (Hancock [Massachusetts]: Printed by Josiah Tallcott, Junior, 1813), p. 265, Hymn IV:XXV, “Micah’s Prophesy.”

    Comment by Rick Grunder — June 11, 2008 @ 9:35 pm

  7. […] Juvenile Instructor there were a ton of great posts the past two weeks. One was on Non-Mormon religious activity in Nauvoo in the years following the Mormon diaspora. There was a discussion comparing Evangelical and Mormon […]

    Pingback by Best of the Week 3: Academic LDS : Mormon Metaphysics — June 22, 2008 @ 9:24 pm


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