The Kirtland Temple Turns 175

“Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb! Amen, Amen, and Amen!”

There’s nothing quite like singing “The Spirit of God” with a congregation in the Kirtland Temple.  I’ve had the opportunity three times — the first time was at the dedication of the new Temple Visitor Center, the second was at a meeting of the John Whitmer Historical Association, and the third time was yesterday.  However, yesterday was the first time the congregation also gave the “Hosanna shout.”  (I’ve heard a lot of reviews of lackluster Hosanna shouts — I’ve never before participated in one, so I have no basis for comparison —  but I thought this one was pretty good.)

Yesterday was the 175th anniversary of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and I traveled there for the weekend to participate in the commemorative events.  Beginning Friday there were a series of special meetings, services, seminars, lectures, and tours.  There were three services on Sunday itself — an LDS service in the early morning and one in the evening, and a Community of Christ service in the mid-morning.  To preserve the temple, the number of attendees for each session was limited to 300 (over a thousand apparently packed in for the original 1836 dedication), so I was only able to attend the Community of Christ service, but by every account, all three were very special and moving.

For Joseph Smith, the original dedication on March 27, 1836, was a pinnacle in his ministry.  As I reflected on that event this weekend, I was struck that in some ways it was the highest pinnacle.  Yes, Joseph had later triumphs — Nauvoo and the Nauvoo temple were larger and more impressive than Kirtland — but, of course, Joseph didn’t live to see the Nauvoo temple completed.  The publication of the Book of Mormon was an earlier spectacular achievement for someone of Joseph’s background. But as sweet as it would have been to hold the first copy in his hands, the moment of publication would have been immediately accompanied by the need to sell books to try to pay Martin Harris’s note along with the discovery that the books wouldn’t sell.  The construction of Kirtland temple was similarly burdened by crippling debt (that would likewise go largely unpaid), but in this case the financial reckoning was a year in the future.  Meanwhile, contemporary reports of the spiritual outpouring that accompanied the dedication chronicle an elation that is without parallel in the history of the early church.

I didn’t get to Kirtland until Saturday afternoon, which meant I unfortunately missed the first activities on the schedule, including all the seminars — (I especially would have loved to hear David Howlet’s presentation on the Kirtland endowment, since I often get asked about that topic, but at least he’s promised to send me his notes).  Instead, I was immediately immersed in one of the best parts of these events: encountering and visiting old friends, while simultaneously making some new friends. I’m quite sure that I received (and gave) more hugs this weekend than in the whole rest of 2011 to date.

The first event I attended was the Community of Christ Historic Sites Foundation banquet (which was held for the donors who raise the money for the ongoing preservation efforts for the temple). I mention it because the event was held in the theater room of the Visitor Center and the setting was beautiful.  The theater has a massive window that perfectly frames the temple.  Normally, for tours, after the introductory movie, a curtain rises to reveal the temple.  For the banquet, we had that same wonderful view continually, as the temple was lit amid the twilight.

After dinner, the group relocated to the temple itself for a vespers service.  The interior of the lower court is divided into pew boxes and I was fortunate enough to share a pew box with President Stephen Veazey and President Becky Savage, prophet and one of two counselors in the Community of Christ First Presidency,* along with their spouses Cathy Cackler-Veazey and Greg Savage.  We didn’t sing the “Spirit of God” at vespers, but at the close of the service, all the lights were turned off save for the spotlights on the pulpits, and the pianist played the tune to the hymn while the congregation sat in quiet contemplation.  (This ended up being a very special experience too.)  After the conclusion of the service, I went back home with my friends Ron Romig (the director of the temple) and his wife Anne (who generously put me up for the weekend), and my final activity of the night was talking Mormon history with Ron until the wee hours.

Sunday morning began early (and much earlier for Ron and Anne than for me).  Lach Mackay, a great great great grandson of Joseph and Emma Smith who is overall director of historic sites for the Community of Christ, rang the bell of the temple 175 times.  The service I attended was a combination of old and new.  Cathy Loving dressed as Emma Smith and presented a staged reenactment that hoped to peer into what Emma’s feelings might have been during the original dedication. It was then quite moving when Richard Clothier (who was directing the hymn festival portion) gave a response of the church, thanking Emma for her sacrifices — for the four hymnals she made for the early church and for the Reorganization, and for her support both of her husband’s ministry, but especially of her son’s.

The main address was given by President Stephen Veazey, who quoted what I think of as the Community of Christ verse of the “Spirit of God”:  “How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion shall lie down together without any ire.” (Since the beginning of the Reorganization, the Community of Christ’s seal has been an image of a child with a lamb and a lion, emblazoned with the motto “Peace.”)  President Veazey spoke about how Kirtland and the Kirtland experience continues to inform the Community of Christ, but he also talked about the importance of the temple to all Latter Day Saint tradition churches and about the special stewardship the Community of Christ has today to welcome all to the sacred space.  (The newly more harmonious relationship between the churches being underscored by the LDS services earlier and later the same day.)

The congregation sang six hymns known to have been sung at the original dedication.  One of these was “Now Let Us Rejoice,” which — like the early Saints — we sang to the same tune normally used for “The Spirit of God.”  If you haven’t done it before, you can try it now:

The Spi-rit of God, like a fi-re is bur-ur-ning

The La-at-ter Day glo-o-ry, be-gi-ins to come forth.

Now let us re-joice in the day of sal-va-a-tion

No lo-on-ger as stra-an-gers on ea-earth need we roam.

Of course, the service culminated with singing the “Spirit of God” — the special song written for the original dedication and added as the final hymn in Emma’s 1836 hymnal. Community of Christ people sing “The Spirit of God” really fast.  As fast as you think the tempo’s going to be, it’s always faster still — so it was very rousing (and very moving), preparing everyone for the shout at the end of the commemoration.  “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb! Amen, Amen, and Amen!”

I left with the hymn on my lips and the spirit that dwells in Kirtland in my heart.

______________

*The Community of Christ First Presidency includes two counselors, but they are not numbered as “first” or “second”; both are simply counselors, and, like the prophet-president, both are addressed as “president.”

Comments

  1. MikeInWeHo says:

    Wow this is great, John. It’s like you took us there with you. Interesting that there were separate CoC and LDS services. Do they ever hold any joint meetings on occasions like this?

  2. Thanks, Mike. There have been joint services in the temple. For example, the devotional meeting at the John Whitmer Historical Association included members from the Community of Christ, the LDS Church, the Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite), the Remnant Church, the Strangite Church, one of the Elijah Message churches, plus independent Latter Day Saint believers. Joint LDS and Community of Christ participation also occurred at the Mormon History Association devotional held in the Kirtland Temple.

    To my knowledge there has not been a joint service in the temple with the LDS general authorities and Community of Christ general officers. I know that the two first presidencies occasionally meet — I’ve heard President Veazey recount the formal meeting he and his counselors had with President Hinckley and his counselors — but that hasn’t involved a joint service. There may have been a joint service at the Joseph and Emma gravesite in Nauvoo. I wasn’t present for that, but I think I’ve seen some pictures.

  3. Wonderful, John. Thanks for the write-up and the photos.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Awesome report, John. I attended the devotional as part of my first MHA in Kirtland, and got to sit in and sing from one of the choir boxes, which has always been an ambition of mine. We too on that occasion sang the original songs from the dedication. I absolutely loved it, which is why I’ve tried to go to MHA every year since. And I’ve been to a few JWHA events as well, so most of the names you mention are also familiar to me.

    I wish we Brighamite Mormons could follow your lead in exercising greater vigor, both in the singing of the Spirit of God and in the execution of the Hosanna Shout. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was by the first Hosanna Shout I ever experienced. “*This* is supposed to be an exulting shout of joy to the Lord?” I thought. Our misguided notions of “reverence” have ruined that moment for me every time I’ve experienced it.

  5. Nick Literski says:

    I still remember the musical service held as part of the Mormon History Association’s conference, circa 2005. I had the opportunity to sit with CofC then-President Grant McMurray, who I found to be a wonderful, warm gentleman. Similar to what John describes above, we sang “The Spirit of God” at the end of the service, and got some small idea of what that must have been like in 1836. Wonderful!!

  6. Thank you for sharing, John! Very vividly presented. I really must visit Kirtland sometime.

  7. Ben Pratt says:

    Thank you, John, for bringing us along.

  8. Thank you, John.

    We share so much of the past; we really should share more in the present.

  9. Kevin & Nick — I wish I’d made it to that MHA devotional. It’s so fondly remembered by all who attended!

    Kevin — Sorry that you’ve had that experience. Just to give a bit more detail about yesterday’s version, people really were singing with their music and voices lifted up. When the chorus got to “we’ll sing and we’ll shout!”, the word “shout” was literally shouted rather than sung. The hosanna shout was repeated three times — at the top of everyone’s lungs — and at the end of the third “Amen, Amen, and Amen!” someone let out a spontaneous, “Woo-hoo!” Obviously, a spontaneous “woo-hoo!” is probably 100% contrary to the LDS conception of reverence in a temple, but it vividly expressed the energy felt yesterday.

  10. Thanks SO MUCH for all the details and photos, John. My brother is serving in the Cleveland Ohio mission, and is currently assigned to the Kirkland area. He’s never been very verbose; his weekly emails usually end up being a couple of paragraphs at most. So I really enjoyed how well you captured the event, knowing he was probably there too. It’ll be a nice companion to the “it was nice” I’m sure I’ll get to read in my brother’s email this week.

  11. Thanks for the photos John. Living in the Kirtland Stake has its benefits–and chief among them is the surprisingly frequent use of the temple for LDS devotional purposes. We held our stake high priests meeting there a month or so ago, and had a special sacrament meeting there a while before that. It’s an amazing building with a great spirit and the Community of Christ folks are very charitable about its use.

  12. John, thank you for sharing. I’ve like in the Kirtland stake for 5 years now and agree with you that there is a unique spirit here.

    I was in attendance of the 7am LDS service, presided over by Area Authority [and former Kirtland Stake President] Walter Seldon.

    The service included speeches by Elder Seldon, the current Stake President, the current mission president and LDS Kirtland historian Karl Anderson. Topics included the role the restored priesthood keys have played in the growth of the church and the various prophesies fulfilled by the building of the Kirtland Temple.

    There was a moving choir and small orchestra rendition of “The Spirit of God” that caused my 8 year old son to plug his ear b/c of the volume [or more likely it was from my signing]. The whole experience was very powerful and moving – definitely not something I will soon forget.

  13. Mark Brown says:

    John, I am very happy for you, and also a bit jealous, that you had this experience. Thanks for the writeup.

  14. One and all — you’re very welcome!

    K Day: Thanks so much for that description! I’m glad the LDS service you attended in the temple yesterday went so well too. Karl Anderson, whom you mention, is much beloved by Community of Christ members in Kirtland. He’s almost single-handedly responsible for the LDS half of the bridge that now exists between the two churches in Kirtland. One member was telling me Karl Anderson stories yesterday and said that when out-of-town LDS members on Karl’s tours of Kirtland complain about “those Josephites or those Reorganized people” asking why “they own our temple,” Karl responds: “they own it because God gave it to them!” Like I say, he’s much beloved.

  15. Well then, happy birthday to the only temple in this dispensation that the Lord accepted. All of the others have been cursed (See D&C 124:47-48).

  16. Dave P (#15): Of course, you mean LDS D&C 124:47-48, which is Nauvoo (1846) D&C 103:14. For me, the relevant section in the Community of Christ D&C (107:14) has been decanonized and removed from the book, so it’s no longer scripture.

    I’m very aware that many Restoration or Latter Day Saint tradition believers share your doctrinal interpretation. Obviously you can imagine that this interpretation is not held by mainline Brighamites and Josephites — so you’ll have to forgive us for revering of our own additional temples, even if they are not considered sacred places in your own tradition.

  17. Thanks for this, John. I’ve been privileged to sing “Spirit of God” in the Kirtland Temple twice–once with the BYU’s Joseph Smith Academy (not the nutty online forum), and once with JWHA. Great stuff.

  18. don't know mo says:

    I heart John Hamer

    @#10 Is the Kirkland area part of the Costco District? JK =)

  19. /envious/

  20. “Lach Mackay, a great great great grandson of Joseph and Emma Smith who is overall director of historic sites for the Community of Christ”

    I remember Lach as a very kind, fun, welcoming, extremely knowledgeable guide when I visited Nauvoo. But I didn’t know this, how interesting!

  21. Researcher says:

    Sounds like quite a celebration. Thanks for the write up.

  22. Cynthia (#20): Lach really never mentions this fact himself, but his mother’s mother’s father was President Frederick M. Smith, the son the of President Joseph Smith III.

  23. Antonio Parr says:

    Thank you.

  24. Debbie Cobb says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with all of us that could not attend. The details and photos were a glimpse of your experience. It would have been wonderful to hear those shouts of “Hosanna”!

  25. Cool.

  26. As usual, great stuff.

  27. Here is a little bit about the two LDS services, from a relative who sang in the choir:

    If you look at D&C 109, you’ll see that today is the actual date, so that’s kind of fun. I’ll add some notes about the talks below, but first, some thoughts on the music. The prelude was gradually expanded, so in the end, the orchestra played some hymns of the period, and we joined them to sing “Adam-ondi-ahman” and “The Morning Breaks.” And the morning did break! Not astonishingly, it’s easier to sing well at 6PM than at 7AM, but I thought the atmosphere was more electric at some points in the morning. Everybody sang “Now Let Us Rejoice” for the opening hymn, and the light gradually strengthened. After a few minutes, we started to be able to see the shapes of trees outside the windows, then we started to see the sunlight hitting some of the trees, and then the place where there was a cloud in the sky just becoming blue. The front podium faces east, so by the time we (the choir) sang the Wilberg “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” in the middle of the meeting, the sun was streaming through the east windows and slowly moving onto and then down the podium. Several more speakers, and then we finished the meeting with the Wilberg “Spirit of God.”

    You know which arrangement I mean, right? The one from the first (brown) “We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout” album. The one that starts with the solo or unison male voice(s) before the texture begins to thicken. It modulates upward three times in the last verse, so it’s hard enough to sing this well at 7AM, even when people aren’t becoming emotional. The two sections of the choir look directly at the front podium, and the people closest to my side of the choir were the patriarch, the temple matron, and the mission president and his wife. We had to look across them to (attempt to) see the director, who was in the aisle on the opposite side of the temple. By the time we were singing this number at the end of the meeting, the sun had moved down to shine directly on the faces of the people in front of us on the podium. As soon as the director stood us all up, the room just started crackling, and by the time we were on the last verse, it was hard to keep singing because these people on the podium were there, just a couple of feet away, looking right at us and weeping, with the rising sun on their faces. We definitely performed both of the numbers better in the evening, but I think people felt more emotional in the morning. Well, no, I think the more emotional performance of “My Shepherd” might have been in the evening, and I wouldn’t like to say that the evening performance of “Spirit of God” was unemotional – we definitely had people sniffling through the benediction – but it is hard to compete with the evocative power of the sunrise. (In the evening, the setting sun was streaming in on the choir until it moved up and eventually disappeared. Luckily, the weather was cool enough that we weren’t too hot like that!)

  28. Thanks for that report, gillsyk.

  29. gillsyk: “…the temple matron”

    The matron for which temple? Do the LDS have a temple presidency for the Kirtland Temple, even though they don’t own it? What does such a presidency do?

    As a side question and a bit of a threadjack, what would happen in the exceedingly unlikely situation that the LDS Church came to own the Kirtland Temple? Would it be put into use (remodelled?) as an operating temple, or remain as it is now?

  30. Sean G.: That hypothetical will never occur, so the speculation is idle. But we might point out that the Kirtland Temple is a National Historic Landmark, and one would hope no owner would be so callous as to destroy its historical integrity with totally inappropriate changes.

    Certainly if the Community of Christ came to own the Salt Lake City Temple — an event equally unlikely — the new owner would surely honor the building’s historical integrity.

  31. Thank you so much, John, for this post. I took a month-long trip across the country and back last May to visit Mormon historical sites and Kirtland was my first stop. I walked into the CofC visitor center in the middle of the day on a rainy Tuesday. A couple from New England had also just walked in and they and I were treated to a tour of the temple by a woman who really knew her history. Two hours later, I spent another 45 minutes in the book shop talking with Anne Romig, who was working there that day. I could not have started off my trip in a better place or with better guides. It turned out to be the highlight of my entire historical tour. It was Anne who also suggested I spend some time in the cemetery across the street, where I found, much to my surprise, the graves of my third-great grandparents (old Kirtland residents who didn’t join the Mormons).
    There is truly a spirit about the Kirtland Temple that I have not found anywhere else, and the Community of Christ surely does a beautiful job of preserving it.

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