Raliegh News and Observer, June 28, 2002
The restored Mormon temple in Nauvoo, Ill., will be rededicated today.
By Yonat Shimron, Staff Writer
Three years ago, Phyllis Bray began planning a family reunion in Nauvoo, Ill., the small town where many of her ancestors once lived. She booked hotel rooms for 30, made dinner reservations at a nearby steakhouse and began compiling a scrapbook with family stories and genealogical tables to share with her relatives.
Then her church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced plans to restore the historic Nauvoo temple, which was torched by mobs 156 years ago and later toppled by a tornado. Now, Bray, her husband, Robert, and their six children have found themselves in an enviable position among the church's 11 million members. Thanks to their planning, the Cary family has front-row seats for one of the most important events in the life of the church: the rededication of Nauvoo Temple.
Today, the Brays will participate in a dedication service inside the newly minted limestone temple adorned with a gold-leaf statue of the angel Moroni. Thirteen services are planned through Sunday to accommodate the crowds of Mormons who consider it something of a sacred journey to visit the site where so many pioneering Latter-day Saints made their first temple promises to God. Bray has instructed each of her relatives to bring a white handkerchief for the occasion.
"We've seen pictures of this temple our whole lives," said Phyllis Bray, a preschool teacher. "And when we went to visit, it was a grassy park. Now when we go back, it will be there. Everybody's pinching themselves."
The Brays are still planning the usual reunion activities: a group picture, the screening of a family video and a time of sharing and bonding around the hotel swimming pool. But they will also be on the lookout for church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who is staying at their hotel for the dedication ceremonies. Several of the children want to shake his hand.
This gathering will unite family and faith.
Area Mormons won't have to leave the Triangle to catch parts of the event. A satellite hookup will be made available to Mormons worldwide. Designated churches, in Raleigh at 5060 Six Forks Road and Chapel Hill at 1050 Airport Road, are expecting record turnouts for the broadcast.
The Triangle is home to about 8,000 Mormons, many of them recent converts. The South, traditionally dominated by Baptists and Methodists, is a growing area for the church, which recently built temples in Apex, as well as Nashville, Tenn., and Columbia, S.C.
For Mormons, the temple is the most sacred place on Earth, the place where their highest religious rites are performed, such as the sealing of marriages, which Mormons believe extend beyond this life to the next.
Those rites, sometimes called ordinances, were introduced in the Nauvoo Temple, said Jan Shipps, the foremost non-Mormon scholar of Mormonism. "The years spent in Nauvoo were a critical stop in the development of Mormonism," she said.
Latter-day Saints fleeing religious persecution in Missouri began settling in Nauvoo in 1839. Led by Joseph Smith, the church founder, they drained the swamps and began building homes, farms and businesses. By 1841, they were ready to build a temple. Many gave their life savings and tithed one out of every 10 days to help with the construction.
But religious persecution followed them once again. Newspapers called for their expulsion and extermination. Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were jailed and killed by a mob in nearby Carthage, Ill. By 1846, they began to abandon Nauvoo, heading west in search of their promised land -- Salt Lake City.
Twenty-four of the Brays' direct descendants died on the 1,300-mile journey from Nauvoo to Salt Lake, which many of the Mormons made by foot, often pushing handcarts.
While at Nauvoo, the Brays plan to visit a memorial on the banks of the Mississippi River where the names of those descendants are listed. Among them, the Brays recently discovered, are several members of the Utley family.
Much to their surprise, Littlejohn Utley was born in 1806 in Wake County, the son of a Freewill Baptist minister. He made his way to Alabama, where he converted to the Mormon faith in 1843, and moved with his family to Nauvoo two years later.
Although Utley made it to Salt Lake, his wife, Elizabeth, and several of his children died along the way. The causes of their deaths are listed in Phyllis Bray's scrapbook next to each descendant's name: cholera, measles, tuberculosis.
"It's hard to imagine what they went through, but they didn't complain," Bray said. "They got to Utah, and all was well. They were so committed to what they did."
As part of their trip, the Brays will walk to a plot a descendant owned, now a cornfield. They will hear a concert by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And they will travel to Carthage to visit the jailhouse where Joseph Smith died. The temple dedication was chosen to coincide with the date of the prophet's death -- June 27, 1844.
"I can say my ancestors had faith and did incredible things with it," said Jason Bray, 17, the Brays' youngest child and an Apex High School graduate. "It gives me something to look back on."