Church historic sites offer virtual tours to thousands worldwide

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Missionaries at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints historic sites are offering guided virtual tours for thousands of viewers across the world in compliance with COVID-19 restrictions.

“Clearly, technology is what has allowed us to go forward,” said President Stephen Rizley of the Nauvoo Historic Sites Mission.

Elder and Sister Turpin, senior missionaries in the New York and Pennsylvania Historic Sites mission, give a guided online tour of the Smith family log home. Missionaries offer virtual tours of Church historic sites across the United States in response to pandemic restrictions. (New York and Pennsylvania Historic Sites)

According to President Terry Joe Spallino of the New York and Pennsylvania Historic Sites Mission, some sites like the Sacred Grove remain open for visitors to walk around. More information on all United States Church historic sites is available on the Church website.

President Spallino said since June 1, 2020, the New York and Pennsylvania Historic Sites Mission has given 384,000 online tours that have reached as far as Europe, Latin America and Asia. “Four or five times as many people have experienced these tours virtually as those that would have experienced it being here.”

Virtual tours have opened Nauvoo up to the world as well, President Rizley said. “More people are experiencing Nauvoo in the month of March 2021 than they’ve ever experienced it in any March ever before.”

President Rizley said a recent activity report showed over 3,600 people participated in virtual tours of Nauvoo from the week of March 15 to March 21.

The activity report also showed that Nauvoo tours reached people from Brazil, Vietnam, Nigeria, Germany and eight other countries just in the last month. President Rizley said people will often say at the end of a tour, “Thank you. I know I would never get there.”

Former Nauvoo missionary Alyssa Reyes experienced both the very first and more recent virtual tours from both sides of the screen. “I think that the greatest advantage of the virtual tours is that they allow people who normally wouldn’t experience the power and spirit of Nauvoo for themselves to do so in a very unique way,” she said.

Kaelynn Thornton, another former Nauvoo missionary, said it was difficult to transition from in-person to online tours. She said she learned to follow the Spirit as she tried to work with technology and find the best lighting inside the Nauvoo homes.

Sister Staples (left) and Sister Mataele (right) give a virtual tour of the Smith family farm in Palmyra, New York. Missionaries use online tours to show people the Church historic sites during the pandemic. (New York and Pennsylvania Historic Sites)

Despite the challenges brought on by pandemic restrictions, Thornton said virtual tours are worth it because of the spirit of Nauvoo. She said she learned something new from the pioneer stories each time she told them. “You can see the faith that they had, so it helps you boost your faith.”

President Rizley said he saw a miracle with the switch to virtual tours. “The miracle came when we learned that the Holy Ghost testifies of truth and gives people that peaceful, spiritual feeling of what took place here,” he said. “And they receive it through a series of ones and zeroes, through technology.”

Visitors can look up virtual tours for the New York historic sites online and schedule a tour for an individual or group. The Nauvoo historic sites and others have their own websites for tour scheduling.

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