KANSAS CITY — Nearly two centuries after they were chased out of western Missouri, Mormons now have a multimillion dollar, 32,000-square foot, hard-to-miss concrete and marble temple in the Kansas City area not far from the site where founder Joseph Smith was once jailed.
The temple, located on eight acres north of downtown Kansas City, is scheduled to be opened to the public for about two weeks beginning this weekend. After the temple is dedicated May 6, it will then be open only to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in good standing. Temples are the site of special ceremonies, such as weddings and baptisms. Church members hold Sunday services in a separate nearby building.
"Some of our temples are not as large and beautiful as this," said William R. Walker, executive director of the temple department for the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. "I'm glad that this temple is here, and it's absolutely lovely. I think it says, 'We here, and we're back.'"
The church in 2008 announced its plans to build the Kansas City temple — its 137th temple — because of the growing Mormon population in the area, which Walker estimated had doubled in the last 20 years. The church has about 25,000 members in the Kansas City area and about 100,000 members in Kansas and Missouri. The only other Mormon temple in Missouri is in St. Louis.Kansas does not have a Mormon temple.
Church officials would not say how much the temple cost, and Walker characterized it only as a "multimillion dollar" building.
The temple includes offices and several rooms for various events, including weddings — or sealing ceremonies — daily instruction and baptism. There are marble floors throughout many of the rooms and hallways, gold-leaf inserts around arched wall panels, barrel ceilings, silk lampshades, 18-foot gilded mirrors and hand-carved carpeting. A separate three-chandeliered room is set aside for brides-to-be. The "Celestial Room" is the temple's most ornate and largest room and is meant to be a place of quiet reflection, Walker said.
After a tour of the temple Thursday, Walker said that while western Missouri was a difficult place for early Mormons, it also holds a more positive spot in Mormon history because when Smith was jailed in nearby Liberty, he received revelations there that are "some of the most sacred and special scripture that we have."
The Mormons' complicated early history in Missouri included then Gov. Lilburn Boggs issuing an order in the 1830s that Mormons be removed from the state. Smith was also then jailed in nearby Liberty for leading the religion many people in the state did not adhere to. The Mormon church still has a visitor's center at the jail site.
"Liberty jail is a magical word for Latter-day Saints," Walker said.
Walker said he is hosting Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback at the temple Thursday evening, an event he considers to be something of a milestone.
"It's a wonderful thing. It almost brings tears to my eyes to think about it," he said. "When you think about our history, the governor of Missouri issuing an order to exterminate the Mormons ... and now to come back, and the governor of Missouri and the governor of Kansas are honoring us by coming to see our new temple is a real metaphor, I think, of what has happened with this church in 180 years."
The LDS Church has about 14 million members and is separate from the Community of Christ, which is headquartered in nearby Independence, and has about 250,000 members. It was formerly called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.