After Smith’s death in 1844 in Illinois, the movement he founded divided into multiple groups. While the majority went to Utah under the leadership of Brigham Young, in 1860 another group came together under the leadership of Joseph Smith III, the oldest living son of Joseph Smith, Jr. Beginning in the 1870s, church members began returning to Independence, where the denomination’s official headquarters was established in 1921.
In 2000, its members voted to change the name of the denomination from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to the Community of Christ, a name they felt more fully expressed their theology and mission. The denomination now has 250,000 members in more than 50 countries.
The Community of Christ Temple is the denomination’s major landmark. Its tall spire visible is throughout the city. Dedicated in 1994 to peace, reconciliation and healing of the spirit, the striking building with granite walls and a spire of stainless steel was designed by architect Gyo Obata.
Unlike Mormon temples, this religious site is open to everyone. While you can tour on your own, volunteer guides can give additional information as you wander through the building. Tours begin in the temple’s Meditation Chapel, a serene room overlooking a Japanese-style garden. On the walls are oil paintings of the church’s eight sacraments.
Outside the chapel, be sure to notice the brightly colored hangings that adorn the second floor. Known as the Thread Project, the pieces are woven from threads gathered from 70 countries and seven continents—from clothing, blankets, even fishing line. Textile artists and weavers set up 49 hand looms across the world to create the diverse pieces of cloth. The project took seven years to complete and symbolizes international cooperation and tolerance.
Next enter the Worshippers Path that leads to the main sanctuary. The entryway is made of cut-glass designs symbolizing the forest grove in Palmyra, New York, where Joseph Smith, Jr. had the first revelation that led him to found a new church.
From there the Worshippers Path winds upward, passing by works of art that include a granite sculpture with a scene from the story of the Prodigal Son, a Tree of Life sculpture symbolizing diversity, and a granite pool designed to evoke the overflowing love of God, the waters of baptism, and the spiritual water that is available to all.
Once you enter the sanctuary itself, the first thing you need to do is look up—way up. The spire above rises nearly to nearly 200 feet, a spiraling form that mirrors the shape of a nautilus shell.
It’s really quite marvelous, sweeping upwards in great circles so that your eyes seem like they’re looking into infinity. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I didn’t get the chance to attend a service in the temple, but I did the next best thing: I lay down in a pew and gazed upward, losing myself in the spiral that seemed to lead into heaven. What a marvelous idea for a church steeple!
The church holds 1600 people and has an organ with 5685 pipes. Free half-hour demonstration recitals are given Sunday afternoons at 3:00 (daily during the summer). There is also a Daily Prayer for Peace at 1:00 p.m., a reflection of the Community of Christ’s long-standing commitment to peace-making and reconciliation.
Since 1993, the denomination has given an International Peace Award. Past recipients include primate researcher Jane Goodall, Hiroshima mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, and Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, a movement that creates communities for adults with developmental disabilities.
On your tour, you can also visit a small museum of church history on the main floor, and a Children’s Peace Pavilion that uses puppets, puzzles, art projects and other hands-on exhibits to teach about peace-making. Across the way is the 6,000-seat Community of Christ Auditorium, which is used for many religious, cultural and community events in the Kansas City area.
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Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of The Soul of the Family Tree, Near the Exit and Holy Rover. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.