A House of Faith

I witnessed a miracle in the Kirtland Temple. It happened during a special tour for Sunstone conference attendees on April 7th. On this, my fourth tour of the temple, neither the guide nor any visitors mentioned the myth of early saints crushing up their best china to mix in the temple’s stucco (to make the building shine). Or maybe it wasn’t a miracle. After all, Sunstone folk have meatier things to debate.

“No two people belong to the same church.”

–Bill McGee, Chair of the Board of Directors, Sunstone

Sunstone Kirtland took place all Saturday and finished on Sunday morning with a devotional service in the temple. Over 40 years old, Sunstone now seeks to be inclusive of the full spectrum of people identifying as Mormon.  Attendees described themselves as everything from Brighamite, to fundamentalist, to atheist. What better place to gather than the Kirtland Temple, the first built in the Restoration?

A House of Learning

Presenters included Devery Anderson, a historian on staff at Signature Books. He presented the history of LDS temple worship, including the struggle to standardize it. Next, scholars Paul and Margaret Toscano spoke candidly about the Endowment, especially significant changes in the ritual and the absence of a Heavenly Mother. A quartet of members from Christ’s Church – The Branch detailed their group’s avid temple worship in a fundamentalist context.

“Have a curious attitude about Mormonism.”

–Lindsay Hansen Park, Acting Director for Sunstone

As we watched these presentations, fervent and angsty feelings were evident. At least once, heated debate broke out during Q&A. The differing perspectives were each afforded their moment, yet afterward the questions remained. Are the LDS temple rituals in a state of corruption? Over the years, have they been altered too much or not enough?

A House of Reconciliation

That moments of discomfort were frequent did not mean Sunstone Kirtland was failing. Quite the contrary, from the moment we first gathered at the Community of Christ’s congregation for a pancake breakfast, fellowship and cooperation prevailed. People eagerly exchanged emails and social networking links. During lunch, Thomas Hatton brought much needed levity with an EFY song parody titled, “Modesty.”

The final presenters were Seth Bryant and Tom Kimball. Both are on staff at the Kirtland Temple. They shared their emotional journeys navigating the sometimes bitterly opposed cultures of “prairie saints” and “mountain saints.”

At the end of the day, the Visitor Center’s curtain opened. We all gazed out a large glass window at the temple. A spontaneous moment of silence occurred. I like to think in that moment we were one, united in our affection for the Kirtland Temple. Even for an agnostic like me, the moment seemed spiritual.

kirtland-temple-facade

A House of Glory

“Do not be defined by the things that separate you but by the things that unite you in Jesus Christ.”

–D&C 162:5a, Community of Christ edition.

On Sunday morning, we returned to the temple. Standing in the main foyer, we listened as Tom Kimball rang the bell in the steeple. Then we entered the lower court and sat before the Melchizedek pulpits. Prelude music echoed with multiple faith traditions. Jenn Bryant, an Elder in the Community of Christ, conducted the service. She and Seth, spouses and fellow priesthood bearers, blessed and passed the sacrament. All were welcome to partake.

Lindsay Hansen Park gave the homily on a theme of reconciliation. As she described it, Restoration communities have wounds but can seek healing by reconciling with each other. This process does not require arriving at the same beliefs or rituals.

Following Lindsay’s remarks, the closing hymn was of course The Spirit of God. With hearty voices, we sang like it was 1836. The gentleman behind me was a fundamentalist. The couple in front of me were active mainstream LDS. An apostle of the Community of Christ stood nearby. There were grins and tears. And if a rushing mighty wind filled the room, it was made possible by our combined voices.

Questions:

What does the Kirtland Temple mean to you? Why?

Do you seek out interfaith fellowship opportunities? Why or why not?