Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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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.

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