Nauvoo symposium shares "untold" stories

Posted: Jan. 26, 2013 6:09 pm Updated: Feb. 17, 2013 1:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

NAUVOO, Ill. -- The Mormon church may be most closely associated with Nauvoo, but other churches have played key roles in the city's history.

The Methodist church "has been quite a small but strong witness there since 1846," said Brother Bill Myers. "That kind of history sort of gets lost alongside bigger things like the Mormon story."

The Methodists had two congregations in Nauvoo, one German-speaking and the other English-speaking, which built separate buildings before merging in 1904 and meeting now for nearly 100 years in their third building dedicated in 1914.

Myers, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church who taught at St. Mary's Academy in Nauvoo for 21 years, knows plenty of stories about Methodists in Nauvoo.

He'll share some favorites at the third annual Untold Nauvoo Stories Symposium Friday and Saturday at the Joseph Smith Historic Site Visitors Center, 865 Water St.

The event celebrates Nauvoo's historical past with presentations that explore less well-known topics and seek to enrich the understanding of the personalities, conditions and social currents that converge in Nauvoo.

This year's program includes stories about the Hopewell Indian civilization; tales of Mormon, Icarian, Catholic and other early and contemporary Nauvoo families; and Myers as the keynote speaker drawing stories from a history book marking the Methodist church's 160 years of Nauvoo ministry in 2006.

"We found evidence that during the period of what they call the Mormon War and all the anti-Mormon activity that the Methodist families were very supportive of their Mormon neighbors. They took people in when their homes were burned," Myers said. "They weren't anti-Mormon as such in their spirituality. They were really good Christians reaching out to help their fellow Christians having trouble."

The English-speaking congregation held its first services in the abandoned Mormon temple, then bought the Mormon music hall and worshipped there for several years. Emma Smith, widow of Joseph Smith, stayed in Nauvoo and married a Methodist.

"She actually worshipped with the Methodist congregation until the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints began," Myers said.

Presenters and participants come from several states to the seminar.

The Rev. Tony Trosley, who serves St. Peter and St. Paul Church and the Catholic churches of Hancock County, will speak on how historic figures in Mormon and Catholic history converge in Nauvoo. He will highlight the interactions in the lives of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young alongside Father Henry Reimbold and Monsignor Leonard Tholen.

"The talk is going to explore how their legacy needs to be fulfilled today, an attempt to set the ground for encouragement for the two religions to continue to enter into deeper dialogue with each other about their respective teachings," Trosley said.

Two sessions will touch on Journey Stories, a traveling Smithsonian exhibit focused on immigration, migration, innovation and freedom displayed last fall in Nauvoo. A companion local exhibit highlighting the effects of the Des Moines Rapids and the Mississippi River on Nauvoo and the four main groups of inhabitants -- the Mormons, Icarians, Germans and Catholics -- will also be discussed.

Nauvoo Tourism Director Kim Orth said Lachlan Mackay, author and manager of historical sites for Community of Christ Church, "is going to talk more about stories we came across in preparing Journey Stories that really need more research."

Even the city's faith history can resonate today.

"The people of the different churches really do work together well," Myers said. "There's still a basic good ecumenical spirit there, the result of people who have been able to look at the deeper meaning of their faith experiences and not get so caught up in details that are, in the bigger picture, not all that important."