NAUVOO, Ill. Mike Trapp counts himself among Nauvoo's many local historians. He's spent more than two decades studying the area's past acquainting himself with Nauvoo residents who lived more than a century ago and researching the brief period when a majestic, 19th-century temple reigned atop a hill overlooking the Mississippi River.
Yet Nauvoo's wonders never cease to find Brother Trapp.
"Every day something new happens," he said. Each event, he adds, testifies of the Church's truthfulness.
"It's a privilege to be here in Nauvoo," agreed Jane Church, a relatively new resident of the riverside city.
While Church members worldwide celebrate the reconstructed Nauvoo Illinois Temple, local Latter-day Saints like Brother Trapp and Sister Church also savor living in the shadow of the monumental, sacred structure. Members of the Nauvoo 1st Ward, Nauvoo Illinois Stake, say they enjoy the dual challenge of operating a typical Church unit while simultaneously playing host to the thousands who descend on Nauvoo each year to learn its history and, after the final dedicatory session June 30, worship in its temple.
Visitors continue to flock to historic Nauvoo to learn about town life for members in the early days of the restored Church. Meanwhile, Nauvoo 1st Ward members go about the day-to-day business of home teaching, preparing Primary lessons and organizing Scout Court of Honors.
"We make an effort to make this a home ward for the [Nauvoo] members so we can bond," said local member Joe Smith. A recent transplant to the Nauvoo area, Brother Smith operates a medical practice in Warsaw, a town hostile to the Church and its prophet in the early 1840s. He enjoys the irony of a "Joe Smith" serving as a family doctor in a place once dubbed "anti-Mormon."
Still, Brother Smith and his fellow ward members gladly admit living in Nauvoo is unusually special.
Bishop Merlin Reittinger moved with his family to the Nauvoo area almost 30 years ago. The Reittingers soon realized they were living in a sacred place. They listened to the missionary discussions, were baptized and became part of the small number of modern-day members devoutly practicing their faith today in this history-rich town.
"[Nauvoo residency] is a blessing for everybody who's living here," Bishop Reittinger said. "We don't take for granted the spirit here."
The first generation of Nauvoo Church members faced the violent hostility of their neighbors, eventually fleeing from the once inhospitable clime they had transformed into a beautiful city. While a few Nauvoo folks challenge the Church's teachings, local members say community life is generally peaceful.
Nauvoo's one and only current ward was organized more than two decades ago and is made up of many transplants and a few Hancock County natives.
They're unified in their enthusiasm for their new temple and the energy it generates.
"It's exciting to me because I grew up seeing pictures of the temple all the time," said Estel G. Neff, a convert and 4th-great grandson of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, the Prophet Joseph's parents.
Brother Trapp agrees the temple is a monumental blessing for Nauvoo residents, but adds he and his fellow ward members will bear much of the happy burden of filling the halls of the sacred edifice.
"Most of us here have a strong desire to serve in that temple," he said.
Temple service in the Nauvoo Ward has not been limited to the older folks. The local youth volunteered during the Nauvoo Illinois Temple open house and are already securing recommends to perform baptisms for the dead.
Boys and girls of all ages are pivotal representatives of the Church in Nauvoo.
"To be a member here is to be in the minority," said Jerry Hayes, a young adult Sunday School teacher. "People are always watching. They know us, but we don't always know them. These kids, like all members, have to be at their best. What they do reflects on the whole Church."
A Mississippi native, Melva Hall has lived in Nauvoo for 14 years. Of Southern roots, Sister Hall says she's been adopted by the spirit of Nauvoo that was only intensified by the reconstruction of its dramatic temple.
"We travel and go places, but when we hit that river road I always say 'I'm home,' " she said. "Nauvoo is a wonderful place."
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