Monday, July 29, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #31 "Sealed...for Time and for all Eternity"

The lesson in the manual is really great.  In addition, there is a fun article in the July 1989 Ensign on "The Honeymoon Trail" about the great efforts early saints took to be married in a temple.  Just for fun, I'm including this supplementary material I researched about a particular temple.  You may want to use some of this in the lesson, or use it as a supplementary family home evening lesson.


1.       Which temple was struck by lightning shortly after it was built?
2.       Which temple was the first completed after Nauvoo?
3.       Wilford Woodruff was the first president of which temple?
4.       In which temple were the first endowments for the dead performed?
5.       Of the temples designed by Truman Angell, which was the first completed?
6.       In which temple did Wilford Woodruff do the work for the founding fathers?
7.       Which temple was the only one in the west to be finished while Brigham Young was still alive?

Well, the answer to each of these questions is the St. George, Utah temple.  

 Photo from

Although St. George is an awesome place today, popular with both vacationers and retirees, J. Golden Kimball said that if he had a house in hell and a house in St. George, he’d rent out the one in St. George. Settling St. George before the days of air conditioning was an incredible trial, as the temperature is frequently over 100 degrees in the summer, so why was it chosen for the first temple?

In 1855 while traveling through Southern Utah, Heber C. Kimball declared that a wagon road would be made from Harmony over the Black Ridge, and a temple would be built in the vicinity of the Rio Virgin. No LDS people lived in the vicinity. (New Harmony is just on the other side of the Dixie National Forest from St. George, about 30 miles north, and the Virgin River flows out of Zion National Park, right through St. George and into Arizona.) The first LDS colonists were sent to the Dixie mission in 1861. It was a very hard mission call. From the diary of one of those called:

Well, here I have worked for the last seven years through heat and cold, hunger and adverse circumstances, and at last have got me a home, a lot with fruit trees just beginning to bear and look pretty. Well, I must leave it and go and do the will of my Father in Heaven, who overrules all for the good of them that love and fear him. I pray God to give me strength to accomplish that which is required of me in an acceptable manner before him.
-Charles Lowell Walker, quoted in Our History, p. 88

The St. George Temple was announced by Brigham Young in a letter in 1871; it was begun in November of that year.

Although the Salt Lake Temple had been started in 1853, 18 years earlier, it was less than halfway built. President Young wanted to see another temple completed before he died. Despite Utah's "Dixie" being very small in population, and nearly destitute as well, St. George was chosen for several reasons:
  1. The warmer climate allowed year-round construction (which was causing a lot of delay on the Salt Lake Temple)
  2. The location was far removed from government intervention (which was causing a lot of delay on the Salt Lake Temple)
  3. John Taylor later said, “There was a people living here who were more worthy than any others…God inspired President Young to build a temple here because of the fidelity and self-abnegation of the people.”(Journal of Discourses, Vol. 23, p. 14)
I am 82 years old tomorrow. I am the only living person, so far as I know, who heard and saw what I am about to relate. At the time of which we shall speak, I was a lad of 11 years, all-seeing and all-hearing, and drove a team hitched to a scraper.

President Brigham Young had written to Robert Gardner, president of the stake high council. In this letter he expressed a wish that a Temple be built in St. George. Also, that Brother Gardner select a few leading brethren, and, as a group, visit sites where it might be best to build the Temple. This they did, visiting spots each thought might be best. They could not agree, and so informed President Young.

President Young, arriving later, somewhat impatiently chided them, and at the same time asked them to get into their wagons, or whatever else they had, and with him find a location.

To the south they finally stopped.

“But, Brother Young,” protested the men, “This land is boggy. After a storm, and for several months of the year, no one can drive across the land without horses and wagons sinking way down. There is no place to build a foundation.”

“We will make a foundation,” said President Young.

Later on while plowing and scraping where the foundation was to be, my horse’s leg broke through the ground into a spring of water. The brethren then wanted to move the foundation line 12 feet to the south, so that the spring of water would be on the outside of the temple.

“Not so,” replied President Young. “We will wall it up and leave it here for some future use. But we cannot move the foundation. This spot was dedicated by the Nephites. They could not build it, but we can and will build it for them.”

To this day the water from that very spring is running through a drain properly built.

I make this statement of my own free will and choice, and without any fear of misgiving.
[signed] E. Ernest Bramwell, 85 C St., Salt Lake City, Utah
Quoted in Janice F. DeMille, The St. George Temple:  First 100 Years, p. 20-21)

EXCAVATION FOR FOUNDATION (Begun November 9, 1871)

The groundbreaking ceremony was November 9, 1871. The brethren began the excavation that very afternoon.

In digging[,] the greater part we found to be very wet and soft, so much so that it was necessary to dig a frame around the outside within 12 feet of building a little east of square tower. It was so soft in places that a fences pole could be pressed in from 12 to 15 feet with ease. This caused considerably anxiety as to the best way of making it substantial enough to sustain the enormous weight of the building.
--Edward Perry, Chief Mason (DeMille, p. 26)

In the end, 17,000 tons of rock was used in the construction of the temple.

 Photo from

BUILDING THE FOUDNATION (Completed February 21, 1874—2 years and 3 months)

Since the temple site did not furnish a solid foundation, it was necessary to make a firm foundation on which to build. Once the excavation was completed, it was necessary to fill it in with rock. For this purpose they had to use some type of rock which would not decay; the action of minerals in the soil would decay both sandstone and limestone.

The problem was solved by using black volcanic rock from a long, black ridge west of St. George. First they had to build a dugway, in order to quarry the rock. The size of the rocks varied from small pieces to boulders weighing several tons.

Next arose the problem of getting the rock pounded into the ground solidly enough to provide a firm foundation. Once again, these pioneers invented a way to accomplish a task which seemed impossible. They made a pile driver from a cannon brought back from California with the Mormon Battalion. They filled it full of lead; it weighed 800-1,000 pounds. William Carter constructed a device by which they could lift the cannon 30 feet into the air by horse power, and then drop it. In this way, the volcanic rock was driven deep into the soft ground.

The pile-driver crew asked Charles L. Walker, Dixie’s “poet laureate,” to write a poem about their task. He wrote the following poem, which served as a great morale booster. They sang it to the tune of “Cork Leg.”

Pounding Rock Into the Temple Foundation

Now, I pray you be still and all hush your noise,

While I sing about Carter and the Founder and boys.

How the old hammer climbed and went toward the skies,

And made such a thump that you’d shut both your eyes.

“Go ahead now, hold hard, now snatch it again,”

Down comes the old fun, the rocks fly like rain;

Now start up that team, we work not in vain,

With a rattle and clatter, and do it again.

Slack up on the south, the north guy make tight

Take a turn around the post, now be sure you are right;

Now stick in your pars and drive your dogs tight,

Slap dope in the grooves, go ahead, all is right.

Now, right on the frame sat the giant Jimmy Ide,

Like a brave engineer, with the rope by his side,

“Go ahead, and just raise it,” he lustily cried,

“I run this machine and Carter beside!”

I must not forget to mention our Rob,

Who stuck to it faithful and finished the job;

The time it fell down and nearly played hob,

He n’er made a whimper, not even a sob.

Here’s good will to Carter, the Pounder and tools,

Here’s good will to Gardner, the driver and mules,

Here’s good will to the boys, for they’ve had a hard tug.

Here’s good will to us all and the ‘little brown jug.’
(DeMille, p. 28-29)

At Pioneer celebration, the St. George Choir sang a song written by Charles L. Walker. Later it was sung throughout the state as a rally-rouser to raise funds for the temple.

Lo! A temple, long expected, in St. George shall stand;

By God’s faithful saints erected, here in Dixieland.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Let Hosannas ring,

Heaven shall echo back our praises, Christ shall reign as king.

The noble task we hailed with pleasure—coming from our head—

Brings salvation—life eternal, for our kindred dead.

Holy and eternal Father, give us strength we pray,

To thy name to build this temple, in the latter day.

Oh! How anxious friends are waiting, watching every move,

Made by us for their redemption, with a holy love.

Long they’ve hoped thru weary ages, for the present time;

For the everlasting gospel with its truths sublime.

Lo, the prison doors are open, millions hail the day;

Praying, hoping for baptism, in the appointed way.

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Let the structure rise,

Rear aloft these noble towers pointing to the skies.

Photo from CES online.


Robert Gardner, a Scottish convert, was in charge of finding lumber. Most of the lumber came from Mt. Trumbull, in northern Arizona, 70 miles away. Its elevation (8,028 feet) is over 5,000 feet higher than St. George  (2,880 feet). First they had to build a road, of course. Most of the lumber used in the temple came from Mt. Trumbull, sometimes only 2 large logs on one wagon.

One of the most dangerous parts of the road was down the Hurricane Hill which borders the present site of the town. Before assaying the steep descent, the drivers tightened the binding on the loads and the rough-locked the rear wheels to act as a brake on the freighters’ wagons. Even with rough-lock the heavily laden running gears came down the hill too rapidly for comfort.
--A. Karl Larson 
(DeMille, p. 38)


While plastering, John Burt fell from a scaffold 70 feet high. Some of the workers administered to him. It was considered a miracle that he lived.

The Deseret Evening News reported that Thomas Crane undertook to come down from the top of the building by one of the ropes, but halfway down his arms gave out, and he fell about 30 feet. He was seriously injured, but lived.

BAPTISMAL FONT (Dedicated August 11, 1875)

The font was made in sections in Salt Lake City, and assembled and bronzed in the temple after shipment. It was oval shaped. The Deseret News reported that the bottom piece weighed about 2,900 pounds, and the sides one ton.

56 years ago this month I was one of a company of young men who delivered the baptismal font for the St. George temple…

We were instructed to guard our loads carefully and not to exhibit them to anybody except the bishops of the wards along the way, and people the bishops might permit to see them.

My load contained the bottom of the font…

We traveled along with soldiers going to Beaver on foot. We passed and repassed them often and almost had to fight to keep them from snooping in our wagons. Some of them believed we were loaded with cannon. The John D. Lee trial was on at the time and there was a great deal of excitement and many wild rumors. But we held to our course and carried out our instructions…

Some of the way it was so hot that we traveled at night for the benefit of our oxen. It reached 119 degrees in the shade. Our oxen nearly died. Every time they heard a stream of water we had all we could do to keep them from stampeding.

We did not leave for the return trip till we saw the font safely in place. As fast as they unloaded us, the pieces were put in place and bolted together. Apostle Orson Hyde went in and saw the font in place and came out weeping with joy. He thanked God that he had lived to see another font in place in a temple of the Lord. He said this people would never be driven from the Rocky Mountains. I believed him, for I had heard prophecy before.

Respectfully, C. L. Christensen, Moab, Utah 
(Demille, p. 40)


January 9 baptisms for the dead were begun, and January 11, endowments for the dead were performed for the first time in this dispensation in any temple.


Letter sent from the General Tithing Office, April 3, 1874 to Brother Smoot in Utah County

…You will doubtless rejoice with us to learn that the temple in St. George is progressing very satisfactorily…No mission since the organization of the Church has had so many natural barriers to overcome, so much costly labor to perform, nor such a length drain on the faith, perseverance, and pockets of the people, than the one usually called the “Dixie Mission.” The last and heaviest drain upon their resources is the building of the temple, and never was a call made that met with a more universal and happy response, but their utter inability to complete such a gigantic labour with the means they had at command, necessitated a call for help from their Northern Neighbors. Hence we in this city have had the privilege of raising several thousand dollars through the various wards for that purpose, and should the members of  your county feel desirous of enjoying the same privilege that [all] may share in the blessings of that temple when completed, we hereby extend to all such a cordial invitation to participate; let neither the rich nor the poor be slighted, but everyone in  your entire district have a chance to donate something towards the first erected temple in Utah Territory, not even refusing the widows of 5 or 10 cents, which in the sight of God is equal to the rich man’s $50 or $100. Those who have no money might wish to turn in some grain or stock…

[signed] Ed W. Hunter, L.W. Hardy, J.A. Little (Presiding Bishopric)
(DeMille, p. 43-44)

At General Conference, the First Presidency would call for volunteers from the rest of the state to go to Dixie and work on the Temple for 3 months or so at a time. Hundreds went each year, some on their way to settle Arizona. Special housing and a bakery had to be provided for them.

As the St. George Temple was being built, in addition to monetary donations, wagons would go through the wards in the state accepting food, furniture, cloth, chickens, whatever. A group of men would go through announcing the drive, and in a few days, the wagons would come for the donations.

The temple cost an estimated $800,000 to build.

DEDICATION, April 6, 1877, in conjunction with General Conference.

 Very few photos depict the St. George Temple
with its original tower.


The temple was originally designed as depicted above.  Brigham Young didn’t like the short and squatty tower (really--who would?), and asked the saints to change it to be taller. They were so disheartened after all their sacrifice, that they didn’t do it. President Young died 5 months after the dedication, at age 76. Not long afterwards, a bolt of lightning struck the tower during a thunderstorm and burned it to its base, miraculously leaving the rest of the temple without damage. The feeling among the saints was that President Young was getting the final word. Accordingly, they rebuilt the tower the way he had wanted it.



When Howard W. Hunter became the president of the Church, he asked us to “establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of [our] membership.” (Oct. 94 Ensign, p. 2) He said the temple was the “supreme mortal experience.” (Feb. 95 Ensign, p. 5) Why? (Class answers. Put into two columns on board; add category headings afterwards.)


DO                             FEEL
Covenants                   Peace—something that you make
Service                       Love—your own main role in life
Learn                          Joy—your ultimate purpose
Seek comfort              Hope—in achieving Celestial Kingdom
Purify self, etc.

(Use whichever of the following quotes are applicable to class members’ ideas.)

Armed with Power
We ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them.
--D&C 109:22

Earth joined with Heaven
It is in the temple that things of the earth are joined with the things of heaven.
--President Hunter, Oct 94 Ensign, p. 2

It is a place of peace where minds can be centered upon things of the spirit and the worries of the world can be laid aside.

--President Hunter, Oct 94 Ensign, p. 2

Sanctity and Safety
We should go not only for our kindred dead but also for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety that are within those hallowed and consecrated walls.
--President Hunter, Feb 95 Ensign, p. 5
As we attend the temple, we learn more richly and deeply the purpose of life and the significance of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
--President Hunter, Feb 94 Ensign, p. 5

All of our efforts in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead lead to the holy temple. This is because the temple ordinances are absolutely crucial…
--President Hunter, General Conference, April 1922

When the saints built the Nauvoo temple, completion was their goal. Once they achieved that goal, they had to abandon the temple, and the Lord was satisfied. But that was the last time that building the temple was the end goal. With the St. George temple, and every one of the 100+ since, we have been allowed to keep our temples; now we may use the temples, not only to build our eternal families, but to build ourselves.

What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
--1 Corinthians 6:19-20
And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.
--D&C 88:15

If we could make our souls (body and spirit) as holy as a temple, we could experience these products of the spirit [refer to chart] more of the time, and they would be a great blessing to us, as they are so essential to our purpose. In addition, our experiences when we attend the temple will be greatly magnified, since the only thing that restrains the spirit in the temple is our own selves—either our sins, or our own states of mind—and we would gain greater power there. How can we do this? Just like they built te St. George Temple. (Post wordstrips.)

  1. DESIRE. Be eager. Begin immediately. In St. George, they began to build the temple the very afternoon of the ground-breaking, with very little idea how to proceed and very few resources.
  2. START WHERE YOU ARE. We have to go with what we have, but we can learn from St. George that a sure foundation can be laid anywhere.
  3. BUILD ON THE ROCK, despite the obstacles. Physical disability, mental illness, childhood abuse, sin, divorce, whatever the bog or mire, it is possible to resolve these problems and build a sure foundation on Christ. No one is hopeless.
  4. WORK AND SACRIFICE. Expect that it will take considerable and continual effort.
  5. MAGNIFY YOUR STRENGTHS. Use your own talents, spiritual gifts, and physical body to their best. The St. George saints only had red rock, but they plastered and painted it.
  6. SEEK/ACCEPT HELP. There is strength in church membership; we are all blessed by helping each other.
  7. DEDICATE YOURSELF NOW. They dedicated and used one room at a time in these early temples. You don’t need to wait until you are perfect and complete to serve. As you grow and develop in your abilities, you can contribute more.
  8. CHANGE COURSE AS ADVISED. No matter how much effort you have put into the direction you are going, if the prophet says you should change, do it.
  9. KEEP WATCH. The St. George Temple is the longest continuously operating temple. Remember Samuel Rolfe, the assistant doorkeeper? When the Saints left the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples, and no longer monitored the entrances, they became just buildings. If we are going to be a temple people, we need doorkeepers to our souls to watch what we allow in physically (Word of Wisdom), mentally (media), and emotionally.

[Satan] would have us become involved in a million and one things in this life—probably none of which are very important in the long run—to keep us from concentrating on the things that are really important…
--Elder Marvin J. Ashton, Oct 92 CR

We are half-hearted creatures…like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea…We are far too easily pleased.
--C. S. Lewis, A Mind Awake, p. 168

We are at a time in the history of the world and the growth of the Church when we must think more of holy things and act more like the Savior would expect his disciples to act… May you let the meaning and beauty and peace of the temple come into your everyday life more directly…
--President Hunter, Oct. 94 CR

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #30 Baptism for the Dead

D&C 124, 127, 128


Love this gorgeous photo of the Nauvoo Temple doors
I found on DeviantArt
The Funeral of Seymour Brunson
D&C 124:127-130. I give unto you my servant Brigham Young to be a president over the Twelve traveling council; Which Twelve hold the keys to open up the authority of my kingdom upon the four corners of the earth, and after that to send my word to every creature. They are Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Orson Hyde, William Smith, John Taylor, John E. Page, Wilford Woodruff, Willard Richards, George A. Smith; David Patten I have taken unto myself; behold, his priesthood no man taketh from him; but, verily I say unto you, another may be appointed unto the same calling. The 11 living apostles are named, and the Lord states that he has received David Patten, the apostle killed at Crooked River, unto himself and that he still retains his priesthood on the other side of the veil.

D&C 124:131-132. And again, I say unto you, I give unto you a high council, for the cornerstone of Zion—Namely, Samuel Bent, Henry G. Sherwood, George W. Harris, Charles C. Rich, Thomas Grover, Newel Knight, David Dort, Dunbar Wilson—Seymour Brunson I have taken unto myself; no man taketh his priesthood, but another may be appointed unto the same priesthood in his stead; and verily I say unto you, let my servant Aaron Johnson be ordained unto this calling in his stead—David Fullmer, Alpheus Cutler, William Huntington. The high councilors are named, and the Lord states that he has received Seymour Brunson of that council, unto himself, and that he also retains his priesthood on the other side of the veil.

Seymour Brunson was a veteran of the war of 1812, who gave his life in the service of God. He was baptized at the age of 30 by Soloman Hancock. (The one who wrote the cute little poem, “Once I was a Methodist, Glory Hallelujah…”) He immediately served a mission, and was sad to observe the persecution of those he baptized. After he moved to Kirtland, he experienced this type of thing firsthand. “He was physically attacked and captured by mobbers, and only narrowly escaped by putting his shoes on backward to mislead his pursuers and treading lightly through the snow.” Eventually he made it through the persecutions to dwell in safety in Illinois, but he chose to return to Missouri to try to help Parley P. Pratt escape from prison. He was not successful, but by being on this journey, he was able to help the Joseph Smith Sr. family get safely ferried across the Mississippi to Illinois. He only lived two more years after the Missouri persecution. He served on the Nauvoo high council, in the Nauvoo Legion, as a colonel in the Hancock County militia, and as a body guard for Joseph Smith. In July of 1840, he became overly chilled after herding cattle, got very ill, and died on the 10th of August in the home of Joseph Smith. He was 40 years old.

What is so interesting to consider when reading those two passages of scripture which we just read, is that in Heber C. Kimball’s account of Seymour’s death, he said, “Seymour Brunson is gone. David Patten came after him. The room was full of angels that came…to waft him home.”

Seymour was very well-loved and had many mourners. The procession to the gravesite, according to Brother Kimball, was a mile long. Joseph Smith chose this very poignant occasion, attended by a very large crowd, honoring a faithful servant of the Lord, to introduce a wonderful doctrine: Baptism for the dead. How marvelous that he chose this occasion! Those in attendance were lifted from sorrow to great joy. Vilate Kimball said that she had never seen anything more joyful than the funeral procession to Seymour Brunson’s burial, “on account of the glory that Joseph set forth.” (All this information from Susan E. Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, p. 36-38)

Probably every person at the funeral had experienced the death of an immediate family member, more likely the deaths of several immediate family members. And the Church having been organized only 10 years, many of these had not received baptism before they died. Baptisms for the dead began immediately, before any order could be established, because the joy and enthusiasm of the people was so impatient. Following the funeral sermon, Jane Neyman asked Harvey Olmstead to baptize her in the Mississippi River in behalf of her son Cyrus, who had died at the age of 14. Many others did the same. Vilate Kimball wrote in a letter to Heber C., “Since this order has been preached here, the waters have been continually troubled. During conference there were sometimes from 8 to 10 elders in the river at a time baptizing.” (Jeni & Richard Holzapfel, editors, A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, p. 179)
Wilford Woodruff recorded that the brethren barely had time to eat or rest, since they were constantly in the river, baptizing people for their loved ones who had died. Emma Smith was among the first to participate. She had received word that both her parents had died, so she was baptized for them, as well as her uncle, her sister and several aunts. (Gracia N. Jones, Emma and Joseph: Their Divine Mission, p. 222)
Later, the guideline was set forth that you had to be the same sex as the person whose work you were doing, so those who were not done that way were redone.

Commandment to Build a Temple
The following January, 1841 was when Section 124 was received, in which the saints were commanded to build the Nauvoo Temple for the performance of baptisms for the dead. D&C 124:28-31. For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood. For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead— For this ordinance belongeth to my house, and cannot be acceptable to me [outside a temple], only in the days of your poverty, wherein ye are not able to build a house unto me. But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me. 
Outdoor baptisms for the dead continued until October 3rd of that year when Joseph said that they now needed to wait until they could do it in the temple. The baptismal font was dedicated the next month.

Elijah Fordham, Builder of the Font
July 22, 1839 was the day of miraculous healing at the site of the future town of Nauvoo. Many, many of the saints were deathly ill with malaria. Joseph Smith called upon the Lord in mighty prayer, and went forth to heal all those that he and his wife were caring for in their home and in tents in their yard. Then he continued on through the makeshift community and into Montrose. He went to Brigham Young’s and healed him; he called Wilford Woodruff along after passing by his door. Without a word, they crossed the city square and entered the house of Elijah Fordham. Elijah was within minutes of death; he was speechless and unconscious. After rousing him and speaking with him briefly, Joseph commanded him in the name of Jesus of Nazareth to rise up and walk. Elijah immediately was healed, and jumped up out of bed, kicking off his foot poultices, asked for some bread and milk, and after consuming it, put on his hat and continued along with them down the street to heal others.

The baptismal font in the basement of the Nauvoo Temple was mounted on 12 oxen and built of Wisconsin pine by Elijah Fordham. Apparently his healing blessing “stuck,” as he outlived all those who were there to witness it. He died in 1879 in Wellsville, Utah.

Gravestone of Elijah Fordham, in Wellsville Cemetery

 Just for fun:  a picture of my husband and me with our first five children, standing on the remains of the baptismal font at the Nauvoo Temple foundation site in 1997.
Who knew then that it would be back before these kids were grown?
Below: the rebuilt font

 Our youngest four children at the entrance
to the rebuilt Nauvoo Temple in 2006.

Samuel Rolfe, Temple Carpenter and Assistant Doorkeeper
D&C 124:142. And again, I say unto you, Samuel Rolfe and his counselors for priests, and the president of the teachers and his counselors, and also the president of the deacons and his counselors, and also the president of the stake and his counselors. 

Thomas B. Marsh, an apostle who had become a bitter apostate over a pint of cream, upon returning to the Church with a broken and repentant heart, quoted David from the Bible and said, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Black, p. 189) Well, Samuel Rolfe was the personification of that desire. In fact, he was not even a doorkeeper in the house of God, he was an assistant doorkeeper of the Kirtland Temple. He was not a prominent figure in church history. But he was always steadily serving where he could. When in December of 1835, the Prophet Joseph was in financial distress, several of the brethren gave him money. The Prophet was so grateful, he itemized them and their donations in his History of the Church and wrote along with it, “My heart swells with gratitude inexpressible when I realize the great condescension of the heavenly Father, in opening the hearts of these my beloved brethren to administer so liberally to my wants. And I ask God, in the name of Jesus Christ, to multiply blessings without number upon their heads…And whether my days are many or few, whether in life or in death, I say in my heart, O Lord, let me enjoy the society of such brethren.” Elijah Fordham and Samuel Rolfe are both on that list, Elijah having given $5.25, and Samuel $1.25. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church 2:327) At the time, Samuel was a carpenter, working on the Kirtland Temple.

When the saints began the Nauvoo Temple, Samuel was called to be one of the full-time carpenters there as well. The Nauvoo Temple was finished and dedicated room by room and story by story. The baptismal font, which Elijah Fordham had built, was in the basement to symbolize dying before being reborn, and therefore it was the first part completed. A very unusual blessing took place there for Samuel Rolfe. He was seriously afflicted with a “felon,” an acute and painful inflammation of the deeper tissues of a finger. This would, of course, be a real problem for a carpenter working on the temple.  Samuel Rolfe apparently did not keep a journal, nor did any of his descendants write his history, as far as we know, but according to Edward Stevenson’s biography, Samuel Rolfe was promised that if he would dip his finger in the baptismal font, he would be healed. He did so, and was healed.

Just before Joseph’s death, he asked for volunteers to go west scouting for a new home for the Saints. Samuel was one of the few who volunteered. Because of the martyrdom, they did not go. Instead Samuel served as a bishop in Winter Quarters, and a captain of a pioneer company. He died in Utah at the age of 72. (Black, p. 250-251)

The Triumph of the Nauvoo Temple
Samuel Rolfe and Elijah Fordham are two of the many, many early Saints who did a great work behind the scenes. The Nauvoo Temple itself did not last. Although ordinances were performed in each room as it was finished and dedicated, the entire temple wasn’t finally dedicated until May 1st, 1846, after most of the saints had already left Nauvoo, and as you can see by the For Sale sign, it was placed on the market that very month. A few years later, an arsonist burned it down, and the stones were gradually carted away to be used in other buildings in the area.

But it was not a tragedy, it was a triumph. Because of the temple-building efforts of Samuel and Elijah and the others, many members of the Church were able to have the great joy of receiving their temple ordinances, and being baptized for their deceased family members before they headed out west. It would be 31 years before there would be another temple on the earth (in St. George, Utah).


One Genealogist’s Dream
Fast forward to the year 2001.  On February 20th, in Lindon, Utah a church member named Natalie Harris had a remarkable dream. She saw a lone Black man. Turning and looking back, she saw a huge line of Black people. She said, “I go up to the man leaning against the wall and say, 'I know what you want,' and then I turn and all of the people come running toward me.”

She woke up then, with an overwhelming feeling of love. She got right up, went to her computer genealogy database with some names she had heard in her dream and found an ancestor who had a large plantation and many slaves. She knew those were the people she had seen in her dream, begging her to do their work and connect their families.

She had a very busy week and couldn’t get right on it, so she made a promise in prayer that she would start doing the research in one week. In the meantime, she asked around among her genealogy friends about how to find records of slaves. No one knew.

February 27, 2001 was exactly one week from the day she had had her dream and made her promise. She sat down at the computer to start the work and was interrupted by a phone call from her husband, who was “absolutely flabbergasted.” On his way into work he had heard the press announcement that the Church had completed their research on the Freedman Bank records, and was now releasing a CD with names of 484,000 former slaves to anyone who wanted to buy it for $6.95!

The Freedman’s Bank Savings and Trust Company was a charter after the Civil War to help former slaves and Black soldiers with their new financial responsibilities as freed men. Unfortunately, due to mismanagement and fraud, the bank collapsed nine years later, adding more tragedy to the lives of the African-Americans. But a wonderful treasure trove remained in the records of that bank. Not only were the depositors’ names and finances recorded, but the names of their spouses, children, parents, in-laws, and other relatives, including details about who had been sold away into slavery elsewhere. There were even oral histories taken.

How the Freedman Bank CD Became Available
KBYU wanted to do a documentary series on genealogy and entitle it “Ancestors.” They appealed to PBS to get a grant, but the woman in charge of the grants thought there would be no audience for a series on genealogy. To surmount this problem, KBYU decided to present her with her own genealogy, so she could see how fascinating it could be. They assigned an employee, Marie Taylor, to do this genealogy, but Marie found it to be incredibly difficult because the woman was African-American. Marie searched everywhere for the information, but it wasn’t until she came across the Freedman Bank records that she found the links she needed. The woman was moved, and KBYU got the grant.

Marie, however, was just getting started. She had found that reading these Freedman Bank records was like translating Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. They were extremely difficult to wade through, but Marie could see how incredibly valuable they were.

 An example of a record from the Freedman Bank

Darius Gray

She enlisted Darius (pronounced Da-RYE-us) Gray, a prominant Church member with African-American ancestry, to help her to find a way to index this information and make it available. It was going to take an enormous amount of work, so they looked for groups who would help them, and one group after another fell through. Finally, they turned to the South Point Family History Center. The South Point Family History Center is located within the walls and bars of the Utah State Penitentiary.

 This photo from, Prisoners Rescuing Prisoners

They called upon the prisoners to volunteer to help with this huge name extraction, and the prisoners clamored to work on the project.

It took 11 years and the labor of more than 550 prisoners. Those who volunteered and qualified were required to attend church meetings of their choice, read the scriptures daily, and pray morning and evening. They called themselves the “spiritual parole board,” as they felt they were letting prisoners go free. But they themselves were also being freed. Recidivism (or relapse into crime) among those who worked on this project plummeted. Commonly inmates take a personality profile when they come into prison. One man’s profile was so different after he had worked on the project for a while that he didn’t test as the same person! Another prisoner who begged to work on the project had received a blessing the night before he left home for prison in which he was promised the prison would become a temple to him.

The symbolism doesn’t stop there: The project was finished on Independence Day 2000.

The CD was released to the public in February of 2001 to commemorate Black History Month. The original 10,000 CDs sold out in days and another 20,000 were pressed. Darius Gray said, “The whole thing reminds me of an old Negro spiritual: “When the Lord Gets Ready, You’ve Got to Move.” 

An executive at the Distribution Center said, “I don’t know of any other time during my years here that we have ever released a product that has given our telephone operators the kind of impressions and feedback from our customers, both member and particularly non-members, that this product is producing. We have people literally weeping on the phone and wanting to know who we are, what other products we have, why we do this type of thing, why it doesn’t cost more money.” (This information on the Freedman Bank story comes from Maurine Proctor, "Let My People Go: The Healing Story Behind the Freedman Bank Records," published online in Meridian Magazine, accessed July 2013.)

Our Great Commission to Free the Prisoners
The Utah State Prison inmates at the South Point Family History Center join Samuel Rolfe and Elijah Fordham as backstage workers who each did a little bit, within their own capacity, to redeem the dead.

When Joseph Smith gave that sermon at Seymour Brunson’s funeral, he quoted the words of Paul to the Corinthians regarding baptism for the dead. Other than that little bit of vicarious work mentioned there by Paul, the redeeming of the dead has been left almost entirely to our dispensation. It wasn’t until Christ preached to the spirits in prison after his death that the missionary work among them commenced. Then, here on the earth, the Great Apostasy occurred, and not until the Restoration through Joseph Smith could the ordinances for those converted in the Spirit World be begun.

Is it surprising at all, then, to realize that although Priesthood ordinances and offices were revealed line upon line as the Church grew and developed, the importance of the work for the dead was pressed upon the young Joseph Smith by the Angel Moroni before a temple was built, before the Priesthood was restored, before the Church was organized, even 4 years before he took the golden plates from the hill? Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in his bedroom three times in one night preparing him for the great work of the Restoration, giving him instructions and quoting scriptures, and each time, the first scripture he quoted was Malachi 4:

JS-H 1:36-39 – “After telling me these things, he commenced quoting the prophecies of the Old Testament. He first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi; and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy, though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles. Instead of quoting the first verse as it reads in our books, he quoted it thus: For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. And again, he quoted the fifth verse thus: Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. He also quoted the next verse differently: And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”

D&C 128:17 “And again, in connection with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”  

The work for the dead is the most glorious subject of the gospel. Why? Because this doctrine shows so clearly the love and mercy of God for all of his children.  This glorious gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of second chances.
Every bit of research and ordinance work you do (even your own ordinances!) welds this link. Each family night lesson you teach about an ancestor, every photo you put in an album (or a shoebox – but labeled!), every family reunion you drag your kids to, every Memorial Day gravesite visit, every journal entry knits this eternal project together. I hope you can see how many things you are already doing in the spirit of Elijah. Pat yourself on the back and continue! If you feel you could do more, pick one additional thing that you will do this year and get started.

D&C 127:4 – And again, verily thus saith the Lord: Let the work of my temple, and all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease; and let your diligence, and your perseverance, and patience, and your works be redoubled, and you shall in nowise lose your reward, saith the Lord of Hosts.