“In the late 19th century, someone asked the famous Viennese composer Johann Strauss where he got inspiration for melodies for his well-known songs. He replied: In Vienna the melodies are in the air.’ So it is with Nauvoo,” Spencer J. Condie said. “The spirit of the restoration of the gospel, the spirit of consecration and sacrifice, the spirit of Elijah, an abiding love for the Prophet Joseph, and the love of family history and temple work are in the air.”
For the past three years, Spencer J. and Dorothea S. Condie have listened to Nauvoo’s melodies while serving as temple president and matron and living in this historic community. They have worshipped almost daily in the temple-often as patrons–and participated in community events, such as the Untold Nauvoo Stories Symposium, Historic Nauvoo Christmas Walk, the Women’s Retreat, and the Pumpkin Walk.
Early Nauvoo Saints
“Each morning when we view the Nauvoo Temple at sunrise and each evening as we view this illuminated citadel overlooking the Mississippi, we stand in awe of the early Saints who sacrificed so much to build this beautiful, sacred edifice,” President Condie said. His love of Joseph Smith deepened as he walked Joseph’s streets and served in “Joseph’s temple.”
“Sacred keys were restored on the banks of the Susquehanna River and in New Harmony, Pennsylvania, and in the Kirtland Temple,” President Condie said. “In Nauvoo in 1841, the Lord revealed that the fullness of the priesthood had not been completely restored: For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead'” (D&C 124:29).
In spite of great opposition, the early Saints pressed forward and completed His holy house wherein they received higher priesthood ordinances and covenants. Before leaving Nauvoo in 1846, they wrote a message in the temple assembly hall: “The Lord has beheld our sacrifice: come after us.” Thanks to their sacrifice, every ordinance administered in LDS temples today was introduced and practiced in Nauvoo in the 1840s.
Temple Ordinance Workers Today
“The consecrated service of those early Saints is mirrored at least in part by the devotion of the 160 temple missionaries and 190 district ordinance workers who have served so faithfully during the past three years,” President Condie said as he reflected on his experience as Nauvoo Temple President.
“Those who built the first Nauvoo Temple were in their twenties and thirties and forties.” Brigham Young was 45, John Taylor was 38, Wilford Woodruff was 39, and Lorenzo Snow was 32 when they crossed the Mississippi River. Today, “the average age of our current temple missionaries is 72, with some as old as 87 and many having celebrated 50 to 60 years of marriage. Several workers have served multiple missions, including one couple currently serving a sixth mission,” President Condie said. “Their hardships do not consist of being jostled about whilst riding in a covered wagon over rough terrain, nor walking through sagebrush, sand, and snow beside the oxen, or trying to stretch meager food supplies. These temple pioneers climb endless stairs with arthritic hips and knees and stand on legs plagued with varicose veins or with back pain from laminated vertebrae, enduring faithfully to the end of each shift.”
“We All Act Medium”
As temple president, President Condie frequently counseled missionary and district ordinance workers that in the Nauvoo Temple “no one acts big, no one acts small-we all act medium.”
In Moses 7:18 we read: “And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness.” In the Nauvoo Temple, ordinance workers catch a glimpse of what a Zion society might be like. With no consideration to socioeconomic status or previous church callings (e.g., mission or temple president, Area Seventy, nursery leader), all temple workers dress in white, strive to be “of one heart and one mind,” and feel the Lord’s guiding influence in His house. They greet patrons with warm smiles and often whisper, “Welcome to the temple” or “Thanks for coming to the temple today.” And they try to follow President Condie’s counsel that “no one acts big, no one acts small-we all act medium.”
Tom Rose, a former temple missionary, remembered how President Condie “acted medium” even when he served in the First Quorum of the Seventy: “I used to ride the UTA bus to Salt Lake City from Provo for work. That is where I met Spencer Condie. I was so impressed by his humility. He made me feel comfortable when talking to me. I’m usually intimidated by someone like him, but he put me at ease with his friendliness and willingness to converse with an average person.”
Sister Elizabeth Ritchie said, “When President Condie talks in our temple preparation meetings, it feels like a General Conference address. His Condie-isms,’ as we lovingly call his one-liners, cement the lessons in our minds.” For example: “If you want to know if Joseph Smith saw God the Father and the Son, ask God. He was there.”
Sister Ritchie noted that President Condie often ends his comments with “It’s all true.” Sometimes in a meeting he will ask a specific person, Have I told you lately that I love you?'” When someone greets or thanks President Condie, he quietly answers, “Bless you.”
President Condie calls Sister Condie “my angel wife,” and he often plants a kiss on her cheek to show his love.
“Sister Condie is a wonderful matron who gives quiet, loving corrections and advice,” Sister Ritchie said. “Her Sunday Sociable address about her childhood in Nazi Germany–when Dresden was bombed during WWII–was an inspiration to all who heard her.” Although the family lost everything, they were protected because they listened to and followed her father who held the priesthood. By listening to promptings from the Holy Ghost, her father saved his family from a fiery death.
Former missionaries Lynn and LuAnn Cole wrote, “You just cannot be around the Condies for very long and not feel their tender and caring spirits. They truly do follow the Savior’s admonition to love one another”-and to just act medium.
In the Nauvoo Temple chapel is a picture of the Savior in Gethsemane painted by Ken Corbett from an original by Heinrich Hofmann. In this painting we see a tear in the Savior’s eye as He prays to the Father and performs the atonement. This beautiful painting is a reminder that “no one acts big, no one acts small-we all act medium,” for all are to “come unto Christ and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32).
Elder and Sister Holland recalled, “When we first arrived in Nauvoo, President Condie met us at the door and said, Well, here are the Hollands from Texas!’ We had never met, but he knew who we were.” They were excited when the Condies were assigned to their house for a “break-the-fast” dinner. “I told Sister Condie that I had made German pancakes. I showed her a souffl-looking pancake, and she smiled and with a twinkle in her eye said, I’ve never seen that in Germany.’ Later, she told us she calls that imitation dish hoot-a-nanny.'” Elder and Sister Holland want to be just like the Condies when they grow up.
Linda Renfro, a district temple worker, recalled Sister Condie’s “steady ways, seemingly always to be on target towards heaven. Her laugh and sense of humor are contagious. I have yet to know how she floats when she walks with the quietest walk. And she doesn’t need to be recognized when she enters a room.” Linda noted President Condie’s “many and fruitful attempts to help others feel good about themselves.” She appreciated his “gift of chatter, his humorous anecdotes, and his humanness–his willingness to admit he is still learning while yet on this earth.”
President and Sister Condie participated in February Mormon Exodus re-enactments, and each year the weather provided insights to the historic event. In 2011, the weather proved cold and snowy; in 2012, umbrellas sheltered participants from rain; and, in 2013, a sharp biting wind blew, and huge shards of ice produced ice waves on the river.
The Condies attended many Nauvoo Pageant performances during their three summers in Nauvoo. “The City of Joseph and Joseph’s Temple,’ as President Hinckley referred to it, stand as a suitable memorial to the Prophet Joseph Smith and to the truth of the restoration of all things,” President Condie said. The Nauvoo Pageant pays tribute to Joseph Smith and the early Saints. “The completion of the temple following the martyrdom and the dogged determination of the Saints to reap the blessings of the temple before leaving it all behind stand as a witness of the truth of this work.”
During the 2012 Historic Nauvoo Christmas Walk, President and Sister Condie dressed in period costume and greeted visitors at the Print Shop. Sister Condie told the story of “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”) by Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber and its first performance in Oberndorf, Austria, in 1818. After the retelling, President Condie played his guitar and sang “Stille Nacht” in German. The room radiated with the Christmas spirit, thanks to President and Sister Condie who blessed others with their talents and service and “acted medium.”
At the 2013 Nauvoo Women’s Retreat with the theme “We Rejoice in Christ,” President and Sister Condie spoke on “We Prophecy of Christ.” Sister Condie talked about Easter and the Savior’s atonement and said, “Glory be to the Father that Jesus partook and completed the atonement. He stands with arms outstretched to welcome us back into His presence.” President Condie remarked that Book of Mormon prophets spoke of Christ’s atonement in present and past tense even before the Savior was born. President Condie noted that the temple is not just a place of sealing but a place of healing. Just as in Ezekiel 47, where waters issued from the temple in Jerusalem and healed the Dead Sea, living waters of temples today can do the same for families.
“From these past three years of living in Nauvoo and worshipping almost daily in the beautiful Nauvoo Temple, we have harvested a garner full of lessons, insights, and blessings,” President Condie said.He and Sister Condie–with her quiet, humble spirit and reverence for the temple–gave ordinance workers a garner full of lessons, insights, and blessings.
Thank you, President and Sister Condie, for leading and teaching ordinance workers how to “act medium” as they love and serve each other and those who enter His holy house.
On November 1, 2013, James A. and Denise S. McArthur from St. George, Utah, will begin their service as Nauvoo Temple president and matron. Temple missionaries, district ordinance workers, and patrons welcome the McArthurs and look forward to harvesting new lessons, insights, and blessings.
Rosemary Palmer is Nauvoo correspondent for Meridian Magazine.