Good will among Nauvoo faiths

NAUVOO, ILL.

On the bluff above Historic Nauvoo stand two tall steeples. On one has a statue of the Angel Moroni. On the other is a cross. The first, of course, is the steeple of the Nauvoo Temple; the second, just a couple hundred yards north, is Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church.

Some may see irony in this juxtaposition, but in Nauvoo the closeness has become symbolic of a fine friendship between people who love Jesus Christ and seek to follow His teachings. The friendship also extends to members of Christ Lutheran Church, a block to the south, and to the congregation that attends the First Presbyterian Church a few blocks to the east. It extends across town to the United Methodist Church and certainly to the members of the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

On Oct. 22, pastors of these churches met in the LDS Historic Nauvoo Visitors’ Center and compared beliefs. The subject of the community meeting was, “Popes, Prophets, Priests, Pastors and People: Where Does the Church Get Its Earthly Authority and Why Does It Matter?” President Robert Ludwig of the Illinois Nauvoo Mission represented the LDS point of view and explained the concept of a restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Father Thomas Szydlik presented the Catholic claim to authority, and Pastor Gayle Pope spoke of Bible-based authority from a Lutheran point of view. Lay Pastor Mark Anderson articulated the Methodist understanding, and Lee Ourth spoke for the Community of Christ. One pastor, Lyren Haney, was unable to attend.

Such friendly experiences are not a surprise to those who have lived in Nauvoo for a time. When a Catholic fundraising dinner — a taco supper — was held on LDS general conference weekend, the Catholic School offered a great stopping place for senior missionaries to grab a quick meal between afternoon conference and Saturday night priesthood meeting. The “Bright Angel” Christmas program, which provides needy children with Christmas presents, is chaired for the second year in a row by an LDS sister missionary. Women from each church in town serve with her on the committee.

On important occasions — such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, high school baccalaureates — the various churches take turns sponsoring special services. Many Latter-day Saints, both missionaries and members of local wards, sing in the community Easter cantata, and the churches combine to offer a Vacation Bible School each summer.

At the end of the Interfaith Symposium, one local resident told an LDS friend, “Until tonight I’ve never understood what Mormons mean when they talk about a ‘restored’ gospel.” Latter-day Saints were equally complimentary about each of the presentations. But more important than the presentations themselves were the smiles and the chatter over refreshments.