With eight days remaining in the Nauvoo Illinois Temple open house, more than a quarter of a million visitors have toured the reconstructed temple.
Church leaders say that hosting such a large number of guests would be impossible without the thousands of eager volunteers. By the time the open house concludes on June 22, more than 25,000 volunteer shifts will have been filled by Church members who have come from all over the central U.S. to participate.
Open house visitors from 54 countries and all 50 states have come to this small town in west- central Illinois to see the newly rebuilt temple. According to Marilyn Snow, a public affairs spokesperson in Nauvoo, many guests who are unfamiliar with the Church and its members arrive not knowing what to expect. “By the time they say goodbye to their open house hosts, they are impressed not only by the beauty, craftsmanship and attention to detail they see in the temple, but also by the extraordinary hospitality they’ve received from a small army of devoted volunteers,” she says.
On every day of the week except Sunday since the open house began on 6 May, two shifts of 300 volunteers each – men, women and teenagers serving seven to eight hours – begin at 6:00 a.m. to prepare for the 7,000 to 9,000 guests who visit the temple each day. They park cars, drive tractors pulling passenger shuttles, assist with plastic shoe coverings, lead tours, serve punch, push wheelchairs, and do whatever else it takes to welcome and accommodate the constant flow of visitors.
At 1:30 p.m. daily, the second group of 300 volunteers begins its orientation and training, and then at 3:00 p.m. begins its shift to fill the same assignments, until the last visitor leaves the temple, most nights after 11:00 p.m.
Many volunteers drive several hours through the night from their homes to be on time for the morning shift. They perform their assigned duties for the day, then drive back home to rest for a few hours before starting all over again the next day.
“The volunteers are totally dedicated. And they’re the heart and soul of the wonderful experience our guests have when they visit Nauvoo and the temple,” explains Pauline Jarvis, a Church missionary and volunteer herself who, with her husband, serves as one of the volunteer coordinators for the open house.
“Standing in a parking lot directing traffic would not normally be my idea of fun, but I was able to spend a day … in the footsteps of prophets. It is such a blessing to serve,” says Kirk Babbitt, a volunteer from Peoria, Illinois.
At the temple entrance, 40 or more teenage volunteers help visitors don plastic shoe covers worn to protect hardwood floors and carpets. “Visitors are especially impressed with the young people,” says Jarvis. “They are always smiling, helpful, and neatly dressed.”
Ann Orton, a public affairs missionary on assignment in Nauvoo, explains that the volunteers make possible the frequent tours of the temple. “We are guiding groups of 35-40 people through the temple every four minutes,” Orton says.
One especially fulfilling volunteer assignment is assisting visitors who require wheelchairs. The open house has attracted a number of groups from senior living centers in the Nauvoo region, and many of these guests cannot negotiate the 126 stairs that access the six levels of the building. Melinda Fisher, a volunteer from Davenport, Iowa, says assisting wheelchair-bound visitors to and from the elevators is her favorite assignment.
The weather has been a continuing challenge for visitors and the volunteers. “I have been soaked by rain and sunburned in the heat,” notes Debbie Hartley, a volunteer from Iowa City. But she and her fellow volunteers smile through it all.
For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Nauvoo Illinois Temple stands as a memorial to the early members of the Church whose faith sustained them through years of toil and sacrifice from 1839 to 1846, when Nauvoo served as headquarters of the fledgling faith.