Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 5, 2012

Faith for a journey in Independence, Mo.


— Church on Sunday is one thing; a holiday in Missouri religious centers with history is quite another.

New bucket list perhaps? Journeys to glimpse what drives other people’s faith: in family and community, and around the world.

For me in Independence, Mo., that circled one story told from different perspectives. I approached it four ways.

Two big church organizations shared 14 years with Joseph Smith, Jr. at the helm, branching off after his death.

One considers this western Missouri town next door to Kansas City to be their church headquarters. Community of Christ is their name and visiting their building is also an art event.

The other calls Salt Lake City the main town but welcomes visitors to Independence with detailed, interesting history displays and video in the Mormon Visitors Center.

Vastly different tourism experiences directly across the street. I don’t think it matters which order you immerse.

The contrast is stark, and that’s fodder for thought. If committed people of similar starting faith drew such different conclusions, then what are the rest of us concluding about anything and everything?

The Mormon Visitors Center tells the history of the church in Missouri in the 1830s and 1840s with a recreated settler homestead, fully furnished and narrated by a variety of voices speaking from actual letters of the era.

Cabin windows are backlit, photography showing the changing seasons. Engaging stories, the kind that seem too good to be true but come from diaries.

I particularly enjoyed the fully stocked printing office, with historic typesetting equipment I knew about, and a binding machine I’d never seen.

Those faith journeyers had the first printing press east of the Mississippi River, the story is told. “The Evening and the Morning Star” was the paper’s name.

Historians say church founder Joseph Smith Jr. held strong opinions, and the tour tells about two 12-year-old girls, Mary Elizabeth and Caroline Rollins, who retrieved printer’s plates thrown out the windows in a raid by citizens not approving Smith’s philosophies.

Bravery and faithfulness-to-the-cause stories filter throughout the Mormon Visitors Center tour, always docent led.

So do questions, the kind with long pauses, suggesting no time is too much to wait for answers.

Questions like, “What do you think of the Temple sacrament that makes it possible for families to be united eternally?”

Different considerations across the street. The Community of Christ building soars in a spiral reminiscent of a nautilus seashell.

Organ recitals happen, daily in the summer, Sunday afternoons the rest of the year. 5,685 pipes, 102 ranks for this organ.

Daily is also the schedule for a 15-minute prayer for peace, wrapped within readings, hymns and some silence.

Docents guide tours here too, but you can also help yourself to “The worshiper’s path” booklet or ask for headphones for a self-guided audio stroll.

Etched glass, sculpture of copper, iron, steel, Ikebana-style floral arrangements, oil paintings eight by ten feet, Japanese meditation garden and other art too.

The tour adds consideration questions, like “How could balance be better achieved in your life, in your community…in the world?”

Elsewhere in Independence is the Midwest Genealogy Center with 70,000 reference books, 6,000 historical maps, 480,000 microfiche and census record categories including slavery, agriculture, mortality and manufacturers.

Talk about special niches. You can look at the papers of the Saint Louis Fur Trade, Southern antebellum industries and Native American and African American resources.

Building the family tree on a vacation with a purpose.

Walking the faith journey is an Independence possibility too. One mile with 14 plaques depicting key sites from the early settling days called the Missouri Mormon Walking Trail.

The City of Independence and a non-sectarian, non-profit group designed this tour and the booklet bubbles with history.

No theology-filled questions here. More the story of five missionaries from New York.

Their new religion suggested Native Americans were part of the lost tribes of Israel and these men wanted to share the news.

This Missouri Mormon Walking Trail winds by their homes, church lot, school, printing office, courthouse and public square offering historical tidbits.

Not your average architectural walking tour, I’d say.


Christine Tibbetts covers travel destinations for the Tifton, Ga., Gazette. Follow her at

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