New Nauvoo Stake—Number 1,000—Marks Growth of the Church
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“New Nauvoo Stake—Number 1,000—Marks Growth of the Church,” Ensign, Apr. 1979, 75–77

New Nauvoo Stake—Number 1,000—Marks Growth of the Church

When the original Nauvoo Illinois Stake was formed in 1839, it was only the fourth in the Church. Although that stake was dissolved by 1846 when the Saints trekked westward, the Nauvoo Stake is making history again. Newly formed, it has become the 1,000th stake in the Church.

President Ezra Taft Benson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, conducted the Nauvoo Illinois Stake organization February 17–18. More than 1,000 people—including Church leaders, former mission presidents in the area, former missionaries, and friends of Nauvoo’s restoration projects—attended the stake organization.

Meetings were held in the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center. A platform was built over the central desk area, and eight hundred chairs were set up surrounding it on the main level. The proceedings were carried by closed-circuit television to the two theaters in the visitors’ center.

The former district presidency over the Nauvoo area became the presidency of the new stake. Sustained as president was Gene Lee Roy Mann of Quincy, Illinois, with counselors Parley Edgar Holliday of Nauvoo and Melvin Lee Norton of Burlington, Iowa. The branches in the district became wards in the new stake; bishops were sustained. The new bishop of the Nauvoo Ward is Walter H. Pierce, also mayor of Nauvoo.

With several feet of snow on the ground, members of the Church in Nauvoo did more than roll out a red carpet for the visitors—they cleared snow and threw salt on walkways. A warm spell had melted some snow into slush, which later froze into ice on streets and sidewalks.

Undaunted by the weather, the members of the stake and their out-of-town visitors, both members and nonmembers, participated in a full day of activities February 18, including the stake conference, a dinner at the Nauvoo meetinghouse, a meeting for missionaries in the area, and sacrament meeting.

The formation of the stake was given generous coverage in the Burlington newspaper and on Quincy television stations. Of course, the stake formation was not only a landmark for Nauvoo, but also for the Church.

President Benson reflected on the growth of the Church since his great-grandfather, Ezra T. Benson, evacuated from Nauvoo, leaving a “good brick house” he could not sell, and borrowing a wagon and horses to accompany Brigham Young in the first company west. Brother Benson traded his wife’s shawl for about two hundred pounds of flour, a few bushels of Indian cornmeal, twelve pounds of sugar, and some bedding and clothing.

Both of Ezra T. Benson’s two wives were pregnant as they left Nauvoo in February 1846. One baby was born with only a tent to cover the mother and child, and the other—President Benson’s grandfather, George Taft Benson—was born on the trail in a wagon box at Garden Grove, Iowa.

The Bensons were among thousands who had built up Nauvoo between 1839 and 1846, when the Mormons settled the town of Commerce and renamed it. “Nauvoo, as the name implies, became a place of beauty,” said President Benson. “It was a city set on a hill which was not hid from the world. Symbolically, it gave the western frontier a light to follow by way of educational development, industry, and community planning.

“But it was in the religious realm where Church membership provided an example to their neighboring communities. This was demonstrated by their unswerving loyalty to the Prophet Joseph Smith, him whom God had appointed as prophet of this dispensation, and their sacrifice and dedication of time, talents, and lives.

“The temple, erected by the consecrated time and energies of the Saints, became a symbol of their industry as well as their religious faith.”

The new stake is considerably different from the one in Nauvoo in the 1800s. Leadership responsibilities, meetings, and circumstances have changed.

When the Nauvoo Stake was organized 5 October 1839, the Saints met twice every Sunday as a stake. Meetings were held in a grove, with the West Grove, west of the temple site, the most common meeting place. Those attending stood, or sat on horses, in wagons, on bleachers or stumps. On Sunday evenings Saints met in homes for a fireside sacrament meeting.

At its height, Nauvoo had about 12,000 residents. When the original stake was created, about 3,000 people lived there.

Although the city of Nauvoo was at first divided into four wards and then into ten, with a ward and two districts outside the city, members did not meet in wards as they do now. A bishop from each ward or district was responsible for the care of the poor and needy, but generally did not organize ward meetings.

The original Nauvoo Stake high council also functioned differently than will the high council of the new Nauvoo Stake. Meeting weekly, the council acted from October 1839 to February 1841 as the government of Nauvoo. It was responsible for setting ferry rates and issuing licenses for schools and mills. Later, in Winter Quarters, the council again acted as a municipal government.

The high council heard cases on Church disciplinary action and was thought to be an appellate court for other high councils and branches in the area.

While those things have changed, the new stake faces as many opportunities and challenges as did the earlier Saints. “The new Nauvoo Stake must arise now and shine—and demonstrate faith and dedication,” President Benson said.

He quoted D&C 115:5–6: “Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations;

“And that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from the wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.”

President Benson explained, “This stake will now be a refuge from the difficulties which lie ahead, some of which will be more serious than we imagine.” He assured stake members that the Lord is mindful of their progress. “As you keep his commandments, he will bless and protect you from some of the evils of our times.”

With the formation of the Nauvoo Stake, membership in the Church worldwide is about 4.2 million. When the first Nauvoo Stake was formed, the Church had 20,000 members, many of them in England. The 500th stake of the Church was organized in 1970—which means that the Church has doubled its number of stakes in nine years.

The 900th stake was organized 19 March 1978 in Cedar City, Utah—thus the last one hundred stakes were formed in only eleven months. Ninety-eight years passed before the Church had its first one hundred stakes. It was another twenty-four years before the 200th stake was formed.

The first stake of the Church was organized in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1834, after members of the Church moved from western New York, where the Restoration began. Two stakes were organized during the Saints’ brief stay in Missouri—and then the first Nauvoo Stake was formed.

The new Nauvoo stake includes nearly 2,000 members in congregations in Nauvoo, Quincy, Macomb, Canton, Galesburg, and Kewanee, Illinois; Burlington, Iowa; and Hannibal, Missouri. All except the Hannibal congregation were part of the Iowa Des Moines Mission. Hannibal was in the Columbia Missouri Stake.

President Benson’s trip to Nauvoo was the first leg of a journey to Paraguay, where he organized the first stake of the Church in that country. He also met with leaders and members in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile.

More than 1,000 members and guests gathered at the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center for the stake organization. (Photography by Jed A. Clark.)

President and Sister Ezra Taft Benson and the new Nauvoo Illinois Stake presidency—Parley Holliday, first counselor; Gene Lee Roy Mann, president; and Melvin Norton, second counselor.