NAUVOO, Illinois — Night had fallen by the time Primary General President Camille N. Johnson and Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham arrived in Nauvoo, Illinois, with lights illuminating the limestone exterior of the city’s namesake temple.
“Being here fortifies my faith,” President Johnson said as she sat in the Monument to Women garden next to the Nauvoo Illinois Temple Visitors’ Center. “It connects me to my ancestors.”
Her ancestors lived in Nauvoo, building homes and businesses.
“My ancestors did so many hard things. They helped to build the temple. They were endowed here,” she said. “And then they took that next step to walk across the Plains and then to start building another temple.”
During their Sept. 24-25 visit, President Bingham and President Johnson toured parts of Historic Nauvoo and Carthage Jail, presented at a leadership instruction for area Relief Society and Primary leaders, spoke to missionaries serving at the site, and explored their ancestral connections to the city that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped settle in the late 1830s after moving from Missouri and Ohio, before moving west in the 1840s. The women leaders were joined by their husbands, Brother Bruce Bingham and Brother Douglas R. Johnson.
Power of councils, ministering and recognizing the Spirit
Between the time she was called to be the Primary general president and when she was sustained in the April 2021 general conference, President Johnson would awake in the mornings with a question in mind: “Who is ministering to the children?”
Ministering brothers are assigned to families, which include the children. As part of updates to the General Handbook this summer, some of the wording in the chapter on Primary was changed to reflect that Primary leaders and teachers help minister to children, President Johnson said.
President Johnson and President Bingham shared about ministering, the power of councils, and also helping others to learn to recognize the Spirit during leadership instruction. The Saturday, Sept. 25, meeting featured an in-person audience of about 200 women and men and was broadcast to those in 17 stakes in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. The instruction included presentations from both general leaders, time for questions from those in the live audience and also questions from Elder Jeremiah J. Morgan, the Area Seventy who was hosting the instruction.
President Bingham pointed out that ministering goes beyond assignments made by Relief Society and Melchizedek Priesthood leaders.
“Ministering is really the underpinning of what we do,” President Bingham said. “Everything we do in the Church, every calling we have has a huge element of ministering.”
Leaders who start with looking at the needs of children and youth in a ward or branch, and counseling with Primary and youth leaders, will be able to effectively help the adults in the home, too, President Bingham said.
Effectively using councils in a stake, ward, presidency, class or family where everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas, being open to new ideas and listening to each other can help invite revelation.
“There is revelation scattered among us, isn’t there?” President Johnson said.
President Bingham said that counseling together is about seeking the Lord’s will.
“It’s interesting that we are not looking for our own great idea,” President Bingham said. “We’re looking to seek the Lord’s will. That’s how we’ll find the revelation we need to move forward.”
It’s a process of hearing from everyone and building on ideas together. “For me, it’s this excitement that’s combined with confidence that we’re going the right direction,” President Bingham said. “You may not have all the answers, but we know we’re going in the right direction. Whenever I’m in a council, that’s how it feels.”
Also, following up with assignments from councils or ministering interviews and deciding how — whether a phone call, text or email — and when helps put the revelation received in councils into motion.
President Johnson encouraged leaders to put children on the ward or branch council agenda periodically.
“Counseling and ministering go together,” President Johnson said.
President Bingham suggested that for those who are struggling with their ministering assignments, leaders can encourage them to pray by name for the individuals on their ministering lists.
Both leaders pointed to effectively helping others recognize when they are feeling the Spirit, from Primary children to members — including recent converts and new leaders — in a variety of settings, whether at home, in Primary singing time or in a council.
Spiritual promptings and feelings can be different for each person, so identifying a person’s feelings by asking them how they are feeling and connecting them to the Spirit can help teach how to recognize the Spirit, President Johnson said.
“Take the opportunity to identify what they are feeling,” she said.
‘What will you take from Nauvoo?’
Being in Nauvoo has changed her, President Johnson told the nearly 200 missionaries who serve in Historic Nauvoo, including the site missionaries, young performing missionaries, senior couples and the facilities management missionaries. Also speaking during a Friday, Sept. 24, missionary devotional were Brother Johnson, President Bingham, Brother Bingham and Elder Morgan.
“Elders and sisters, what will you take from Nauvoo? Will you let your experience in Nauvoo change you?” asked President Johnson, whose previous visit to Nauvoo was in 2009.
She shared about her ancestors, Samuel and Fanny Parrish, and their family’s conversion to the Church, move to Nauvoo and efforts to help complete the temple. They received their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple.
“They were changed because of the covenants and ordinances they made in the temple,” President Johnson said. “That is something they took away from their Nauvoo experience. They left this city endowed with power to face the challenges associated with their forced removal and westward migration.”
She recounted her ancestors’ interactions with the Prophet Joseph Smith and their testimony of him. President Johnson suggested to the missionaries that increasing their testimony of Joseph Smith and continuing to learn how the Spirit speaks to them in their work at the historic sites are two other ways being in Nauvoo can change them.
“Please let your personal experiences with the Spirit be something you take with you from Nauvoo,” she said.
President Bingham pointed to the experiences of her fourth-great-grandparents Freeman and Huldah Nickerson, who joined the Church in 1833 in Perrysburg, New York, along with several family members. Freeman Nickerson, who was 7 feet tall and about 300 pounds, went to Kirtland, Ohio, to ask Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon to go with him to Canada to share the gospel with his grown children. He and Huldah were excited to share the restored gospel with everyone they knew.
Freeman served several missions and was a bodyguard for Joseph Smith, and he and two of his sons were part of Zion’s Camp. In 1838, they went to Missouri and then to Quincy, Illinois, and finally, to Nauvoo. There, Huldah cared for ill family members while building a crude cabin where they later established a home and orchard.
After the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and the increasing hostilities in Nauvoo, they went west. Freeman Nickerson was one of many who died during the winter of 1846. At 70 years old, Huldah Nickerson was determined to make it to the Salt Lake Valley — and she did.
“Their faith never wavered,” said President Bingham, whose family has visited Nauvoo many times, the most recent of which was six years ago.
President Bingham encouraged the missionaries to keep the memories of the spiritual experiences they’ve had and choose to stay on the covenant path.
“The wonderful opportunity you have here in the Nauvoo mission is that the world comes to you,” President Bingham said, noting that people visit Nauvoo and that the missionaries give virtual tours to “visitors” from around the world. “Your privilege is to share the good news of the gospel in a place that helps people see the historic beginnings, as well as feel the current impact of living the principles of the gospel.”
While they were in Nauvoo, the Binghams and Johnsons toured the recently remodeled Nauvoo Visitors’ Center and several of the historic homes and buildings, including the ones in the Temple District of Nauvoo and the Sarah Granger Kimball home; saw performances by the young performing missionaries, including one about the organization of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo; and helped put in the ground pansies and other plants around two newly planted Cherokee chief flowering dogwood trees in the Monument to Women garden. They also toured Carthage Jail in nearby Carthage, Illinois.
President Bingham’s ancestors include Edward and Anne Hunter, whose home is one the several rebuilt or renovated in the Temple District of Nauvoo, which was dedicated by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in May.
While many of the pieces in the home are careful reproductions of period pieces, there is a metal star that is original to the home. During tours prior to the dedication of the home as part of the Temple District, Bill Hopp, a descendant of the family that lived in the home after the Saints left, brought a metal star anchor that had been part of the original home.
Those stars were frequently used to help secure the poles that ran through homes and worked to help stabilize and hold together the exterior bricks.
“That star really makes me think of what holds our testimonies together is the knowledge and testimony of our Savior Jesus Christ and of our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation,” President Bingham said. “I hope my family — and I hope everybody — will keep those concepts in mind and hold their testimonies strong for the rest of their lives.”