When we got there we first went to the Kirtland Visitors Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was really nice to recognize the missionaries and experience once again how we belong to a church that simply does things right. They had a lovely visitors center and a tour that started out with a video that was very well done and of course similar to videos in many other visitors centers we have been to that are always good. Then the sister missionaries took us around to a few of the sites that the church (meaning the LDS church) owns. We saw the Newell K. Whitney Store that is original (of course not the whole thing, but for sure at least the outside structure) and replicas of his house across the street, the sawmill they built in order to be able to construct the temple, and an Inn that they had turned into a sort of learning center about Christ, the church, and the early saints. There were a lot of cool things to see. Just walking around that area made me feel sort of at peace. It's hard to explain. The grass was green and very well kept, the plants were all beautiful and trimmed and weeded, the wood chip paths were straight and even and I didn't even notice any wood chips spilling over onto the grass or the sidewalks. We were able to take pictures anywhere we wanted, and the sister missionaries were very kind and patient with us and our squirmy baby.
After our lovely experience we went over to the temple. It is owned by the Community of Christ. Of course, they also had a lovely visitors center and the temple obviously was gorgeous. We were not allowed to take pictures in the visitors center or the temple though. But that was ok. The tour of the temple had a $3 "preservation fee" per person, which is cheap enough, not necessarily a bad thing but I am so used to our church being so self sufficient we choose to share our knowledge without cost. This tour also started with a video. But this video was weird. Clearly lower quality just in sound and voice overs and writing and pretty much everything. In fact both Todd and I were a little confused about parts of it and what they were trying to say. But I did learn a lot that I didn't know before.
The movie talked about how Joseph Smith Jr. was a prophet, had the vision in a grove in New York, brought forth the Book of Mormon, and restored a church where many members came and settled in Kirtland. They never said the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the video, although of course that is what Joseph named the church. I do think they said something about the "Church of Christ" or something similar to explain their story. Anyway, the thing that I thought was the most interesting was a map they showed with a whole bunch of lines coming out of Nauvoo pointing to other places in the United States with the names of people who started churches that were a break off from the church Joseph Smith started. They had Brigham Young in SLC, Joseph Smith III in Kirtland, and at least 7 or 8 other groups that separated after the death of Joseph Smith Jr. This is when it became clear to me why we don't own the temple. The Community of Christ (referred to as the R(estored)LDS until the 90's) truly believes they have just as much right to the building as any other church who claims to be following the truths Joseph Smith restored. They think they are Joseph Smith's church! I have always known that there were churches that broke off from our church, but I always thought it was because there was something in the church they didn't like so they started their own church to get around it, truly believing what they were doing was right, but also understanding that this new church was no longer the gospel restored to the earth. Apparently I was wrong. They believe they continue to have the fullness of the gospel, just like we do. Hmm.
The best part of the video was the very end. they lifted the screen, and these magic curtains parted to reveal a huge window with a gorgeous view of the temple. I don't know how those curtains block out every little bit of light, I never would have guessed there was a window back there. Anyway, then we got to go on the tour of the temple. The tour was very nice, we learned a lot about the temple we hadn't known, like how they used it, and how truly central it was for them at the time. Our tour guide clearly believed in what he was talking about, he spent quite a while just talking about the temple dedication and the miraculous things that happened there. When it comes to the early days of the church, we had a lot in common when it comes to our beliefs. It was interesting though, although he clearly chose his words carefully to try not to give off a certain vibe, both Todd and I thought he did. That vibe was that he knew that the many LDS members who came through there thought they knew more than him, and he thinks we are pompous stubborn people who won't open our minds to the possibility that someone else might be right. And he believes that his church is right. He might even believe that all the churches that claim to be founded by Joseph are right unto themselves. That part I don't know.
The most meaningful part of the tour for me happened when Todd and I ended up in front of the tour guide going upstairs. We went up the stairs and into the second floor meeting room. When I walked in I could feel the spirit. It was so clear. I knew I was in a holy place where sacred things had taken place. It was so beautiful. But for some reason it didn't last very long. I wondered for most of the tour why that feeling went away, and especially why I didn't feel it later when we went downstairs to the worship hall where so many miraculous things took place. When I thought about it later I realized that the spirit that I had felt lesser a lot when the tour guide caught up to us. I was so grateful that I had that chance to get in front of the tour guide for those few moments where I could feel the witness of the truthfulness of not only what happened there, but that I was part of the truth today. Whatever that smart, spiritual man believes, he simply doesn't have it all.
Later I was telling Todd about my experience with the spirit during the short time we were without the tour guide. To my surprise, he said that he had the same experience. What a blessing and confirmation for the both of us. I am so grateful to have those moments. To have the gift of the Holy Ghost that has truly been passed down from a line of worthy priesthood holders so I can have experiences like that. As I have thought about this history, the truth just seems to come out more and more. I realized that the Kirtland Temple had nowhere for any ordinances. That didn't make sense to me at first because the purpose of the temple is for the ordinances performed inside. But the Lord knew that those left behind to tend to this particular temple would be good people, but not the ones who kept His gospel the most pure. And it also gave me a testimony of why the Nauvoo temple was burned. If someone else had decided to claim the Nauvoo temple and use it as a historic site to take tourists through and show everyone where and how our sacred ordinances are performed, it would be tragic. Even more tragic than having the amazing structure burned to the ground. (I hope no one is offended by me saying that. I guess it's the whole "if I can't have it, no one can have it" mentality, but I think with the temple that is a good mentality to have.)
All in all, in many different ways I have had the opportunity to see a little more clearly why I believe what I believe. It also makes me realize that I have a lot of work to do. I hope I can become the kind of person the Lord can trust to be a tool in His hands during this unique and important dispensation.