Tuesday, December 15, 2015

INDEPENDENCE, MISSOURI: COMMUNITY OF CHRIST TEMPLE

The Community of Christ Church, which was known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from 1872 to 2001, is an offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the LDS or "Mormon" Church. The two groups split after the death of the man considered the founder of both churches, Joseph Smith, Jr. The LDS church chose Brigham Young as their next leader, and those who did not support that choice eventually chose Joseph Smith III, who was 12 years old at the time of his father's death, to be their next leader. For years there was some animosity between the two groups, but recently their relationship has greatly improved.

Since Joseph Smith, Jr.'s death in 1844, the doctrine of the two churches has diverged greatly, and one of the places where this can be seen is in their concept of temples. While LDS Temples are closed to the general public and used for ordinances for the living that can be performed nowhere else, as well as for vicarious ordinances for the dead, the Community of Christ Temple located in Independence, Missouri, serves as the headquarters of the church and as a place of public worship "dedicated to the pursuit of peace." I was very curious about it and excited to visit.

Plans to build the temple were announced in 1984,groundbreaking took place on April 6, 1990, and the edifice was dedicated April 17, 1994. The cost was approximately $35 million.

I had seen photos of the building, and its strange twisting spire reminded me of some futuristic structure, perhaps a building out of The Jetsons or Star Wars. However, in person I found it quite striking. The twisting-turning steel and glass steeple looks like an ever-narrowing pathway that leads to heaven. The building was designed by an award-winning architect from Missouri named Gyo Obata, who also designed the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
Different angles provide changing views:


As this temple is dedicated to promoting peace, this primitive-style bronze statue on the grounds is especially appropriate. A plaque at the base quotes Isaiah 2:2-4: ". . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."

A short walk from the temple is the U.N. Peace Plaza with this fountain topped by a statue of a young girl releasing a dove (Sculptor: Tom Corbin):
 

A plaque at the site states that this plaza was established by the Greater Kansas City Chapter of the United Nation's Association to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. It notes that on June 27th, 1945, in the nearby Community of Christ Auditorium (covered in a later post), President Truman formally announced that the United States was a signatory to the UN. His words are included: "History has bestowed on us a solemn responsibility. We failed before to give a genuine peace. We dare not fail this time. We must not repeat the blunders of the past."

Flags of all nations line a walkway surrounding the Temple:


After walking around the building, we found the entrance, marked by a large cross. A similar cross hangs inside in the entryway:
The Temple is filled with art, and visitors are directed to start their visit by entering this door framed with etched glass trees representing the Sacred Grove where Joseph Smith had his first vision:
On the wall just inside is this striking fabric artwork of the Burning Bush. Communication between God and man is a critical element in both the Community of Christ and LDS stories.
 
The glass was equally beautiful looking out from the Sanctuary walk towards the lobby:

A path lined with eclectic pieces of art leads towards the Temple's heart, the sanctuary. I like this etching. Is it a father reaching out to his prodigal son, or is it Christ reaching out to any of us?

A Tree of Life springs out from the wall, its shadow giving it added depth:

A fountain reminds visitors that Christ is living water:

The path leads to the Sanctuary, a 1,600-seat gathering place in the center of the Temple: 

There is an impressively imposing 60-stop, 102-rank, 5,685-pipe organ at the front of the room:
The Community of Christ website notes: "The room's shape and its spiral, which ascends to 195 feet above the floor, contribute to an extraordinary acoustic with four seconds' reverberation, providing bloom and grandeur to the organ tone and music, and drama to the spoken word." I would love to hear an organ concert here.

The feature I was most interested in, and which I think is pretty spectacular, is the aforementioned interior of the spire, designed to look like a nautilus seashell:

Nautilus shell, picture from Wikipedia
Really, really spectacular. It's a wonderful combination of symbolism and architecture.

From the outside we had noticed this interesting window near the main entrance:

The view from the inside is very striking: a fifty-square-foot window made up of 192 separate panes of glass:


The rest of the building is filled with additional pieces of religious art:



The Community of Christ has an active ministry in countries throughout Africa, and that is reflected in the art on the upper floor of the Temple:



Every year since 1993 the church has given an International Peace Award. According to the CofC website, the award includes a $20,000 grant that is donated to the charitable peace, justice, or environmental organization designated by the recipient.
Honorees include some names I know and some I don't: Dr. Jehan Sadat (Egypt, 1993), Dr. M. Scott Peck and Lily Ho Peck (1994), Marian Edelman Wright (1995), Senator Juan M. Flavier (Philippines, 1997), Dr. Marie Fortune (1998), Dr. Jane Goodall (1999), Dr. John  Paul Lederach (2000), Dr. Swanee Hunt (2001), Ela Ghandi (South Africa, 2002), Dr. Jean Vanier (2003), Rev. James Lawson (2004), Dr. Craig Kielburger (2005), Howard Zehr (2006), Dolores Huerta and Father Virgilio Elizondo (2007), Koinonia Community (2008), Dr. Halima Bashir (Dafour, 2009), Greg Mortenson (2010), Terry Tempest Williams (2011), Dr. Tadatoshi Akiba (2012), John L. Bell (2013), Bread for the World (2014).

Another line-up of international flags inside reminds visitors of the church's international focus:

Offices for the church's leaders are in this building:

View of the entrance and lobby from the upper floor:

We returned to the main floor and entered a prayer room where guests can write down the names of those who need special prayers in a special Prayer Book, not unlike the Prayer Rolls in LDS temples:

This room is dedicated to the eight sacraments of the Community of Christ:

BAPTISM

CONFIRMATION

BLESSING OF CHILDREN

THE LORD'S SUPPER

MARRIAGE

BLESSING OF THE SICK

ORDINATION

EVANGELIST'S BLESSING (Perhaps like a Patriarchal Blessing?)

An enclosed outdoor area for meditation can be seen through large windows:


There is a lot of focus on children, which I liked:
Child of Peace by Marlene Williams Mourey

We made one final stop in a room that houses historical artifacts, and we were impressed by the friendliness, openness, and honesty of the people working in the gift shop area.

All in all, this was a very positive experience. It's nice to feel comfortable around those with whom we share some common history, scripture, and doctrine, even though there is also much that is different. I thought the Community of Christ Temple was a very peaceful place--a good representation of the goal of world peace that is central to the mission of this church.

3 comments:

  1. I really like Community of Christ's focus on peace.
    Their temple is quite unique.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is a little jarring to see pictures of women doing priesthood functions (through the eyes of LDS culture). I think it is beneficial to see similar events through different perspectives and cultures. It provides food for thought and introspection.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for your respectful and perceptive commentary on the church I belong too. I was looking for photos of the cross made up of wood given from all over the world and I found a lovely photo (and so much more) on your blog.
    Kindly, a member of Community of Christ from Canada

    ReplyDelete

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