CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne


The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and Their Quest to Build a Temple in Zion

by R. Jean Addams
A paper presented at The 2009 CESNUR Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah, June 11-13, 2009


            “There is not one who calls himself a Latter Day Saint that does not believe a temple is to be reared at Independence on the site of ground owned by the Church of Christ.”  So stated the editor of Church of Christ’s newspaper The Evening and Morning Star in its July 1907 issue. 

To the vast majority of the “restoration” churches who claim their original basis on the revelations of Joseph Smith, Jr. as the “Prophet of the Restoration,” the “Temple Lot” in the “Center Place” of Zion is a fundamental tenet.  The Temple Lot and its proposed temple or temples continue to be seen as crucial elements in preparing for the return of the saints to Independence, Missouri and the eventual return of Christ.[i]

In June 1831, Smith was instructed through revelation:  “And thus you shall take your journey…unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.”  Smith and his companions left Kirtland soon thereafter and arrived in Independence, Jackson County, Missouri in mid July 1831.

Shortly after his arrival, Smith announced the Lord’s intention to make this location His chosen place for the gathering of His followers.  In this revelation, the town of Independence, Missouri was designated as “…the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the court-house.”[ii]

Tragically, the members of the original church were driven “en masse” out of Jackson County, Missouri in the fall of 1833.  As a result of this forced exodus, the land claims of the church were lost and the plan to build a temple on the dedicated “spot” was indefinitely postponed.[iii]

Granville Hedrick and the Emergence of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot)

           In the aftermath of the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the exodus from Nauvoo in 1846 a significant number of Smith’s followers remained behind or scattered to nearby states.  In Central Illinois there existed four branches of the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints that had remained generally aloof from the controversy swirling around these new claimants and their followers.  These original branches were located in the vicinity of Woodford County, Illinois.  In time they amalgamated into the

Crow Creek branch of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter day Saints).[1]  Later the Crow Creek branch dropped the “(of Latter day Saints)” and reverted to the original name of the church, i.e., the Church of Christ.  On July 19, 1863, Hedrick was ordained by John E. Page (an apostle in the early church) as the “Prophet, Seer, Revelator and Translator” of the church.[2]

           In 1864, Granville Hedrick received a revelation to “gather together upon the consecrated land which I have appointed and dedicated by My servant Joseph Smith…in Jackson County, state of Missouri….that you may return in the year A.D. 1867… and prepare a way before you that you may begin to gather at that time.”[iv]  Soon after their return to Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, John Hedrick, Granville’s brother initiated the first three purchases of lots between August and December of 1867.  On the 8th of November 1869, John Hedrick “quit- claimed” his three lots (Nos. 16, 20, and 21) to Granville Hedrick as “President of the Church of Christ and as “Trustee in Trust” for the Church of Christ.” 

           Approximately four years later, on July 9, 1873, William Eaton purchased lots Nos. 17, 18, 19 and 22.[v]  He followed this acquisition with the purchase of lot No. 15 on March 7, 1874.  On November 5, 1877 Granville Hedrick, acting as “Trustee in Trust” for the Church of Christ, recorded the five lots that Eaton had purchased and had subsequently quit-claimed to Hedrick.  Now, eight contiguous lots, which approximated 2½ acres were now in the name of the Church of Christ through its appointed “Trustee in Trust.”

To Build a Temple

Between the dates of acquisitions of lots by John Hedrick and William Eaton, George Cole, a recent convert to the Church of Christ, recorded a magnificent dream regarding the construction of a temple on the sacred space known as the Temple Lot.  This may have been the impetus for Eaton to step forward and acquire the remaining lots.

 Soon thereafter, Granville Hedrick received a revelation (1872) in which he was told:  “And as the building of an house unto the Lord in Independence, the Saints if they are faithful shall have power to accomplish it; but let it not be built after the manner of a church, but for a house of business for the building on the temple draweth nigh…”  Certainly this revelation, if not the Cole dream, spurred on Eaton in his acquisition of the necessary remaining five lots.

Regardless, 10 and 12 days respectively after the Eaton quit-claim deed was recorded the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and Kansas City Times carried an article titled “A Mormon Temple for Missouri.”  The article stated that:  “…the site for their Temple, has been re-purchased by the remnant of the Church which relocated here some years ago, and it is definitely asserted that the erection of the Temple will shortly be commenced.  The lots have been unoccupied for the past forty-four years.”  This article was the first published announcement that a temple was to be built since the revelation to Joseph Smith in July 1831.

A Meeting House to Precede the Temple

Certainly with the Hedrick revelation of 1872, and perhaps before, the members of the Church of Christ wanted to build a meeting house or a place of worship. Official action to build a house of worship finally took place on April 7, 1884.   The building was completed in 1889.  It was small in size, approximately 30 feet by 20 feet.  Tragically, the little church was torched by an arsonist in 1898.  A new and much larger structure was commenced that same year and completed in 1902.  It was built as a prerequisite or a prelude to the construction of a temple in accordance to the Hedrick revelation of 1872.

The Temple Lot Case – A Contest Over Sacred Space

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) had long “eyed” the “Temple Lot” and sought to gain control of it for their own purposes in bringing about the “Redemption of Zion” and the building of a temple was prescribed in the 1831 revelation.  Approximately two years after the Church of Christ meeting house was completed, the RLDS church filed, in August 1891, a “Bill of Equity” in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Missouri against the Church of Christ.[3]  This action, and the entangled litigation that followed, is known historically as the “Temple Lot Case.”  The case occupied the attention of both organizations’ efforts for the next 4 ½ years.  In January 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the RLDS church[4]  In simple terms, this meant that nothing had changed, i.e., the Church of Christ retained their property as quit-claimed to Granville Hedrick as “Trustee-in-Trust” for the Church of Christ in 1869 and 1877 respectfully.[5]

Within days of the Supreme Court decision, the Church of Christ published its first newspaper since 1868.  It was know as the Searchlight.  In its first issue of February 1, 1896, the editor stated:  “While the ‘Hedrickites’ feel to rejoice that the Almighty has seen fit to allow them to remain in possession, still they regard the property as belonging to the Lord and will be only too glad to either LEAD or ASSIST whenever the Lord shall further reveal His will concerning this consecrated spot of ground…”  At the April 1896 conference of the church the following “note” was recorded:  “…a strong sentiment was developed among the Church members towards fitting and preparing themselves for the mighty events that are so fast nearing our doors, and which will have for their central point of action, the Temple Lot and the building of the temple.”

A Trip to Salt Lake City and a Meeting with LDS First Presidency

In January 1900, a joint meeting was held in Lamoni, Iowa between representatives of the Church of Christ, namely George P. Frisbey and J. R. Haldeman, and the First Presidency of the RLDS church.[6]  The call for the meeting came from the Church of Christ.  It is recorded that they (the elders of the Church of Christ)“…were being moved upon by the Spirit…” to see what could be done to “…bring together the different factions of the original church…” with specific concern about “…building a temple on the ground they had in their possession and which was recognized by all the various factions of Mormonism to be “the place” and where a temple “…was to be reared in this generation.”[7] 

At this initial meeting, delegates from the Church of Christ proposed that two of their number travel to Utah and meet with the First Presidency of the LDS church.  Church of Christ leaders George P. Frisbey and George D. Cole undertook this trip in February 1900.  In discussing their objectives more specifically with the LDS authorities, they admitted that:  “…they were but custodians of the Temple ground in Independence…” and  “…the “Spirit seemed to manifest to them as a body that they ought to take some steps towards placing this ground so it can be used for the purpose indicated in the revelations.”  The delegates returned to Independence in late February and reported “no success.”[8]

The trip to Salt Lake City was not made on a confidential basis.  On March 1, 1900, the Independence Sentinel carried the headline:  “Probable Amalgamation – Mormon Factions in Conference at Salt Lake City.”  While the article indicated, in error, that representations of the RLDS church were also in attendance, the most interesting comment reported was:  “…if the present plan of amalgamation is successful this site [the Temple Lot] will be turned over to the Utah church and a fine temple (will) be erected there preparatory to the final gathering of all the saints of the earth at that point.” 

1900 – 1916 Statements Regarding the Temple

During the next 16 years comments regarding the importance and necessity of building the temple on that sacred space known as the “Temple Lot” continued to be expressed in the press, in minutes of conferences and in letters written between leaders of the Church of Christ and the RLDS church.  In an article titled “Redemption of Zion” that appeared in the June 1904 issue of the Evening and Morning Star, after castigating both the RLDS and LDS churches, the editor stated:  “The Church of Christ, as custodians of the spot upon which the temple is to stand, realize the important position occupied, and have endeavored to arouse such interest in the building of the temple, as will result in at least preliminary steps being taken toward its erection.” 

By 1907 the building of the temple had been linked to living the Law of Consecration as given previously by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith.  In the July number of the Evening and Morning Star appeared an article dealing with the means by which the temple would be finally built.  The editor made this remark:  “We think the question of raising the means to build the house is among the first problems to be solved.”  Again in 1914 the issue of “generation” was discussed in regards to the remaining time frame in which to erect the temple as stated in scripture. 

  1918 Articles of Working Harmony and Their Impact on the Matter of Building the Temple

In late 1917 a new era of possibilities and potential cooperation had developed once more.  At the April 1917 conference of the RLDS church, the “Committee on the Church of Christ was reconstituted.”[9]  .  The first meeting was held on December 30, 1917.  These meetings continued through January 27, 1918, and at their conclusion, a significant document was produced.  .  The document was titled “Agreements of Working Harmony.”[10]

.[11]  An announcement in the Independence Examiner dated April 9, 1918, carried this headline:  “Hedrickites and Reorganized in Agreement.”[12]  While the Church of Christ legally maintained control of the “temple lot,” monumental changes in the relationships of the two bodies occurred.  The document provided for the transfer of membership between the two churches with no requirement for rebaptism, since “…each recognize the standing of the other… “(Item 9 in the “Agreement”).  This specific item was to have major and critical implications in the years ahead.

During the first few years of this period of “working harmony” and the mutual “good feelings” manifested by both churches, Church of Christ Presiding Elder Clarence L. Wheaton received a revelation in March 1919 dealing specifically with the temple.  He was told to :  “…lay aside all contention with your brethern of the different branches of my church, for in the day that I shall come to my temple…”  While nothing in particular developed from this revelation it certainly made apparent to both the Church of Christ and the RLDS church that the Lord’s intention was to keep the building of the temple foremost in their collective thinking. 

This period of “almost unity,” between the two churches, however, ended as a direct result of an administrative position adopted by President Fredrick M. Smith of the RLDS church regarding control over all church matters.   By at least 1924, this view came to be called “Supreme Directional Control (SDC).”[13]  This approach did not “sit well” with some of the members of the RLDS church.  With the “door open” to transferring membership to the Church of Christ, as provided for in the “Agreements of Working Harmony,” many dissatisfied and disaffected members simply “moved across the street.”  Almost overnight the official Church of Christ membership soared.  Many who “came over” were prominent in the RLDS church which caused great consternation to President Smith, his councilors and others in the leadership of the church.[14]

In the period from 1917 to 1925 the church had grown form approximately 200 members to perhaps 1500 - 2000 members.  The growth, as previously noted, was due to the transferees coming from the RLDS church.  These transferees brought with them a history of apostolic leadership.  During the April 1926 RLDS conference,[15] by vote of the delegates assembled, the “Articles of Working Harmony” were officially rescinded and declared “null and void.”

Intensified Interest in Building the Temple

During the period 1925-1927 there developed within the Church of Christ, in particular, a more intensified interest in building the temple.  During their April 1926 conference, the Church of Christ organized a Council or Quorum of Apostles.[16]   Initially seven men were ordained.  Six of the seven new apostles were transferees from the RLDS church.  One of the six was Otto Fetting who was soon to play a critical, controversial and pivotal role in the future of the Church of Christ.[17]

In the October issue of the Messenger, its editor and publisher T. W. Williams (formerly an apostle in the RLDS church), made this statement:  “The members of the Church of Christ are inspired with the idea that a temple must be builded (sic) on a specific piece of ground and within the generation beginning with 1832 (sic) and honestly are bending their propaganda and effort with this in view.”  (The Messenger was another independent newspaper born out of the protest movement against “SDC”).

A Temple Will Soon Be Built

           To what extent the editorials of the Messenger and other publications played in the thinking of the members and the leadership of the Church of Christ is, of course, only speculative.  Regardless, on the morning of February 4, 1927, at his home in Port Huron Michigan, Church of Christ apostle Otto Fetting launched the most dynamic movement toward building a temple on the “Temple Lot” since the dedication of that site in 1831.  Fetting reported an angelic visitation wherein he was told:  “The revelation that was given for the building of the temple was true and the temple soon will be started.”  This was specifically in reference to the Old Testament Book of Malachi, chapter 3:1. 

In a most compelling article dealing with the unparalleled enthusiasm generated by the membership of the Church of Christ regarding the Fetting “Messages” (the second and third “Messages” had been recently received), the Messenger in its October 1927 issue prophesied:  “They (Church of Christ) have recently started a temple fund.  It is perfectly psychological that the wish may be the father of the thought and before long one of their prophets will present a revelation to erect the building.”

“Message 5” and the Command to Build the Temple Beginning in 1929

On March 22, 1928, historic “Message 5” was announced.[18]  It revealed, in part, that the church was commanded to erect a temple on the sacred space owned by the Church of Christ.  Furthermore, “Message 5” specifically proclaimed that construction on the temple was to begin in the year 1929 (confirming the “1929” written in the clouds in “Message 2”).  The messenger also stated in “Message 5” that the temple was to be completed within 7 years.[19]  This particular verse would continually prompt and push the leadership of the Church of Christ to renew their efforts at building the temple within this time frame.  Their efforts were directed to both the membership of their church and to other churches of the Restoration.[20]

            On November 5, 1928, the Kansas City Star featured an article titled:  “A Mormon Temple Start --- Stakes Set at Independence For Building in 1929.”  The sub-heading read:  “Another Divine Message Directing the Construction Is Reported, While Aid in Funds Is Assured.”  In discussing the event, the article continued:  “Stakes were set in the famous “temple lot” at Independence late yesterday to indicate the exact site of a temple which is being projected by the Church of Christ, a Mormon sect which owns the ground.” 

Turning the First Sod for the Temple

In accordance with the year cited in the “Message,” the Church of Christ held an impressive ground breaking ceremony on Saturday, April 6, 1929, in conjunction with the annual church conference.  At the appointed time, a large crowd of 200 to 300 faithful saints and curious outsiders assembled about 100 feet south of the meeting house.  The weather was considered favorable for an early April outdoor gathering.[21]  “After appropriate songs, sermons, prayers, and scripture reading, Bishop A. O. Frisbey ‘took the spade and cut out and laid upon the ground a small square of sod.’”[22] 

The Independence Examiner reported the event on the Monday following, April 8, 1929.  It was a front-page story with the bold headline:  “Sacred Soil Broken For The New Temple – Bishop Frisbey Sinks the Spade Into the Tough Sod While Multitude Looks On.”  .”  At this time (statement issued at the April conference) the “Temple Fund” had a total of $889.00.

The actual excavation began as soon as the trees had been removed and the brush cleared from the site.  Two horses were purchased along with the necessary equipment and the work began with donated labor.  While the excavation was underway, Apostle Otto Fetting received “Message 10” on April 30, 1929.  Again, the project was to be pushed forward and additional instructions and temple description details were revealed.” 

On May 18, 1929, soon after the actual digging had begun, Harry Taylor “was operating a slip drawn by a team of horses, (when) the implement came in contact with a hard object which suddenly stopped the team.  Hastily digging into the loose black soil, Lawson and others uncovered a block of limestone. 

The Kansas City Star in their paper published May 29, 1929 reported:  “Divine revelation has been bolstered at the Temple lot…where …the Church of Christ is excavating for the temple…”  The article continued:  “They have uncovered a stone, a battered, earthworn stone with faint ciphering on it, which the seers of the church today pronounced as the original cornerstone laid by Joseph Smith on the temple lot in 1831, and which they regarded as confirmation as divine and infallible the revelation made by an angel to Otto Fetting…a year and a half ago as to the proper site for the temple.”

No sooner had the excitement of the “find” of the stone quieted down when a second stone was discovered in much the same way by the same person on June 26, 1929. The Independence Examiner in reporting the discovery of the second stone noted:  “On one side of it easily could be read the numerals, 1831.  Other characters had been chiselled (sic) upon the stone, but they were indistinct. 

            Of course, the need for funds to keep the excavation and foundation portion of the temple project moving forward, funds were desperately needed.  This required a constant effort on the part of the church leadership. 

A Call to All Branches of the Restoration

            The day following the “breaking of the sod,” President Elbert A. Smith received a revelation and proclaimed:  “Be not troubled in your minds by anything that shall occur.  Mark this well:  I say unto you, The only temple standing on the earth today built by commandment of heaven is in your possession (the Kirtland Temple)…”  And, in June 1929, Apostle J. R. Curtis published a highly critical pamphlet titled:  “The Temple of the Lord; Who Shall Build It?

Not withstanding the dismay of their RLDS neighbors previously discussed, the apostles of the Church of Christ began to aggressively solicit construction funds from all “branches” of the Restoration, including the LDS church in Utah.[23] 

At the October 1929 conference of the LDS church in Salt Lake City, Utah, President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency addressed the matter of the solicitation for funds by the elders of the Church of Christ.  He remarked: 

“It is a well known fact to many of you that these people have sent out their agents, who have recently visited many of the wards of the Church in the stakes of Zion that are in Utah, Arizona, California, Idaho and in other places.  The message which they bring us is this:  that the Lord has revealed to them that the time has come when the temple is to be erected upon the temple lot at Jackson county…”  He continued:  “They have been to us.  They have come to our office, soliciting aid.  They would like us to assist them in building a temple.”  Ivins further stated:  “It is true that a house may be erected upon that tract of ground in this generation, but it will not be a temple erected to the name of the Lord and accepted by him…”

Building of the Temple Temporarily Suspended and a Fracture Within the Church

On July 18, 1929, Apostle Otto Fetting received “Message 12.”  Verse 4 stated: 

           “Behold, the Lord has rejected all creeds and factions of men, who have

gone away from the word of the Lord and have become an abomination in his sight, therefore, let those that come to the Church of Christ be baptized, that they may rid themselves of the traditions and sins of men…” 

The doctrine construed by Fetting from this verse required all members of the “Mormon” factions, including the RLDS church, to be “re-baptized” before joining the Church of Christ.  “Re-baptisms” commenced immediately throughout the church without apostolic counsel or Church approval.  A special October (1929) conference of the church was called to deal with the “re-baptism” issue.  After several meetings, often very heated and vocal, Fetting and fellow apostle Walter F. Gates were “silenced” by their council brethren and the others in attendance.  They were specifically forbidden to continue the practice of “re-baptism.”

Approximately one-third of the total church membership, followed Fetting and Gates and organized their own church in late 1929 with Fetting as their leader.[24]  As a result of this dissension and the accompanying action taken, the work on the temple project stopped pending further direction.

Efforts to Build the Temple Revived:  Late 1929 – 1930

As plans to re-commence the excavation were materializing in the winter of 1929-1930, RLDS apostle Joseph Luff received a revelation on February 19, 1930 which was directed or given to the Church of Christ.  In this communication the Lord states:  “Awake from your delusion, while time is yours…The Temple of your proposing ye shall not be permitted to build as ye have planned…”[25]  It is a gross “understatement” that the news of this revelation was not well received by the membership of the Church of Christ. 

            Undaunted, the Church of Christ pushed on.  In reporting on the April 1930 conference, Zion’s Advocate issue dated April 15, 1930 stated: 

“We feel quite sure the Saints everywhere will be interested in the following action regarding the building of the Temple.  In the Eleventh Message it is written:  ‘The Temple will be built.  There will be changes in the men that will help.  Those that hinder let them be removed.’  A number have been removed whose action ‘hindered’ the work.”

           Concerning the direction of the church specifically in regards to moving the temple project forward, the Quorum of the Twelve, formulated a “Recommendation From The Twelve Relative To Resuming Work On The Temple.”  After discussing the problems and issues of the past, they resolved:

“…that a committee of three shall be selected, to outline the plans and specifications for the Temple…before further excavation and construction work shall be undertaken.”

            The process of securing an architect fell to the “new” Committee of Three.  After interviewing several candidates, the committee felt inspired  to select Norman Wilkinson of Kansas City, Missouri.  The Independence Examiner announced the selection on April 16, 1930. Four months later on August 15, 1930, The Independence Examiner announced with a bold column heading:  “Go Ahead With Temple.”  The article quoted previously chosen architect Norman Wilkinson, who had responded to an interview, that the “…architectural sketches will be done in about then days.”  When asked about the probable cost of the proposed temple, he stated:  “…the cost would be somewhere around a half million dollars.” 

            With architectural drawings in hand, the Church of Christ published a special “Temple Number” as part of the November edition of Zion’s Advocate.  It had the same sketches that had appeared in local newspapers but also had reproductions of actual architectural drawings with dimensions and explanations. 

Efforts Continued:  1931 – 1933

            By 1931 the economic situation in the United States was very serious.  The onset of the “Great Depression,” no doubt, had a major impact on the financial aspect of getting back to building the temple. 

On April 9, 1931, while the annual church conference was still in session, Apostle James E. Yates received a revelation which was immediately proclaimed to those member assemble.  The revelation, in part, stated:

           “Concerning the building of Mine House the Temple, be ye not fretted for the passing of time, nor yet dismayed, for all My preparation are not open to your minds.

“Let the work upon the foundation proceed according to the present plans that have been drawn when the sum of five thousand dollars shall have been accumulated in the treasury.  Then come before Me again in prayer for My further instructions.”

The April 10, 1931 issue of the Independence Examiner, in fact, carried this pronouncement with this headline:  “Temple ‘Revelation’ At the Church of Christ.”  In commenting on the revelation, the article noted that work on the proposed temple had been “lagging during the past year.” 

Coinciding with the Yates revelation, the Torch of Truth featured a front page story (that continued for four additional pages), headed:  “The Opening Of The Temple Mines.”  The article quickly posed the question:  “Are you interested in helping build this sacred edifice, the Temple of the Lord?”  The editor, the same Apostle James E. Yates, then proceeded to describe a gold mine opportunity in which he had been included in a partnership with a faithful Church of Christ couple.  He explained that the assays showed the yield to be from between “six to ten dollars per ton.”  The balance of the article exhorted the reader to “contribute” so that the required machinery could be installed. 

            At the April 1932 conference of the church it was reported that the total receipts collected for the temple fund during the previous year was $2636.  Expenditures were $2248 leaving an “on-hand” balance of a mere $388. 

At the annual April conference of 1933, a “Recommendation for the Twelve Relative to Resuming Work on the Temple,” was read, voted upon, and adopted.  It read:

Be it Resolved:  That this Assembly encourage the resuming of work on

the Temple at the earliest possible moment.”           

            The July edition of Zion’s Advocate featured a photograph of four men and two horses.  The caption read:  “The Temple of the Lord in Zion – Actual Work on the Excavation Begins in Earnest.”  In a lengthy article in the August edition of the same newspaper, Apostle Clarence L. Wheaton reported on the purchase of horses and a scraper and the progress underway on completing the excavation for the temple. 

As a prelude to the events of the next three years, Apostle James E. Yates, editor of the independent newspaper The Torch of Truth, stated in the paper’s September 25, 1933 issue:  “When this Temple so long dreamed of is built at the sacred place, it will be when all divisions of the Church of the Restoration develope (sic) enough of  real Christianity…, to join hands in the building of this Temple…”

Efforts Continued:  1934 –1935

            During the April 1934 conference of the church, the matter of physically getting back to work on the temple was apparently not officially discussed.  The fiscal year which began April 1, 1933, and ended March 31, 1934, brought only $305 into the Temple fund, hardly enough for the cement and steel work needed.  After an apparent lapse of about four months, the Temple Building Committee decided to resume work on the excavation of the basement.  A “Notice” was printed in the Zion’s Advocate issue of August 1934.  It stated that they (the committee) will “…dig the trenches to the rock, as directed.”  Again an appeal for help, equipment, food, and money was made.

            The Independence Examiner announced on April 5, 1935 before the commencement of the annual conference that it “…is expected that there will be much discussion and perhaps some action, during the business session of the general assembly of the Church of Christ…”  Six days later the Independence Examiner reported that the “…special committee, also, it was said would recommend that a referendum be held on a proposition to invite members of other Mormon sects to co-operate, as individuals, with the Church of Christ, in the building of the Temple.”

            Two months later, the Building Committee issued a report to the Quorum of the Twelve on June 28, 1935.  It noted was that the sawing of logs had been completed and the lumber stacked totaling 30,000 board feet and that there was “sufficient crushed rock and sand on the ground to make the contemplated start, an (sic) as soon as the money is on hand to buy the steel we expect to put the steel in place.”

The official report also offered a resolution.  It proclaimed:

“That we may put to test, God’s promise made to this Church, in a Revelation given to it in 1930 (sic – 1931) through Apostle James E. Yates—‘when the sum of $5000 shall have been accumulated in the treasury come before me again in prayer for my further instructions,’ –we do now pledge ourselves and our united efforts to the task of ‘accumulating this $5000’…”

 The balance in the Temple fund as of June 28, 1935 was $3.86.

Efforts Continued:  1936 – 1942

As the year 1936 began, members of the Church of Christ were well aware that the seven year time-frame originally provided for in Otto Fetting’s “Message 5” was about to expire.  Undaunted, the church pushed forward. 

As conference time drew near, the Independence Examiner speculated that is “probable that much of the business of its (the Church of Christ) coming general conference will have to do with the resumption of construction work on the proposed temple, which was started several years ago, but on which little was done during ‘the depression’ except to assemble some building material.” 

However, rather than urging the saints to again renew their efforts towards building the temple, two major resolutions were adopted on April 8, 1936.   The first was the most significant vote the church had taken on any matter in ten years.  It dealt with the repudiation of the so-called “Fetting Messages.”  Many in the church had been expressing their feeling in this regard for the last three or four years.  Their concerns had been tabled or set aside in previous years.

The first motion stated:

“Therefore, and in the interest of spiritual progress for the church, be in hereby declared that we consider ourselves justly absolved from any supposed allegiance to those messages as being the work of God.

“Our present temple plans are not based wholly upon said messages, and not at all except where they were not out of agreement with revelations concerning the temple as given through the prophet, Joseph;

“And our continued work of building the temple shall not conform to any specifications supposed to have been given by John the Baptist to Otto Fetting merely because said specifications; might appear in some of those unreliable messages.”

            The second motion read:

           “…that with exception of such work as may be necessary to protect that which has been done, the work on the temple shall be continued after the sum of at least five thousand dollars ($5000) has been accumulated in the temple fund treasury.”

Next, a report on the Temple funds was presented to the assembly.  The Temple fund activity showed receipts for the past year of $1,016, expenses of $1,185 and a bank balance of $169.

Approximately two and one-half months after the conclusion of the April conference (July 3, 1936) RLDS Historian, S. A. Burgess, responded to a letter written to the church by a Sister Mabel Burns regarding the proposed Church of Christ temple.  At the conclusion of his remarks he added:

“They are making (an) approach to all of the other factions, including the Utah faction and ours, for a group effort cooperative, to build this temple that they plan.  How far they will succeed in erecting it is not yet apparent.”          

In early May the LDS church in Salt Lake City, Utah was contacted by the Church of Christ.  On May 8, 1936, Elder David O. McKay, a member of the LDS church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles, recorded in his diary:

  “Attended to current duties including writing a reply to a committee of the Church of Christ, Independence, Missouri, inviting our church to join in building a temple in Jackson Count.  We courteously refused...”[26]

Without the $5000 in the Temple fund and with rejections or “no response” from other factions, the Temple project was in serious jeopardy.

On April 10, 1937, the Independence Examiner included an article titled:  “Will Consider The Building Of Temple.”  The story reported:  “The business session Friday afternoon (April 9) was occupied mainly in considering the matter of a ‘working agreement’ with other factions of Mormonism.  This position originated in the general conference a year or two ago…”  The reporter then speculated that it is “…probable that much of the time of the session next week will be devoted to a consideration of the project of building the proposed temple, for which the excavations were made and some building material has been assembled but little actual construction work done for the past two years.”  In this the reporter erred.

In fact, on April 13, the bishops presented a report to the conference relative to the temple project which stated, in part:  “In view of the fact that the lumber on the Temple Lot is deteriorating very fast, the one inch stuff especially, that it be sold for cash, and placed in the temple fund, with which other material may be purchased when needed, if not otherwise provided for by the conference:  “that the office manager, Brother McClain, and A. S. Wheaton be authorized to sell the lumber.  This was concurred in by four bishops present.  This to also include the cement that was left on hand by the Building committee.”  The balance in the Temple fund as of March 15, 1937 was $205.  The church membership stood at 2007.

In a multi-page article appearing in the November 1937 Zion’s Advocate, Apostle Leon A. Gould, under the heading of “Awake, Saints, Awake,” raised several pertinent points and offered several criticisms and suggestions.  He stated:

           “To put a few hundred dollars at a time into the Temple foundation, is to suffer certain loss from the ravages of the elements, that will render a portion of the effort futile; but with five thousand dollars in hand, together with what will most assuredly come in as the work proceeds, the work can be carried to a point that will assure a minimum of loss when winter sets in.”

            Gould then made this salient observation:

“The thousands of dollars that have been expended, a little at a time, with the resultant loss!  Indeed, far better would it have been to have postponed work until a sufficient number had proved their willingness to work with the Lord, by taking the first step as he directed.”

            Next he presented a financial table which showed the Temple fund receipts and expenditures by year beginning with funds on hand (as of March 15, 1931) of $388.  (This was prior to the Yates revelation re:  $5000).  The table ended with a balance in the fund (as March 15, 1937) of $199.  The total receipts for the six-year period were $4498 and the expenses $4299.  Gould, thereafter, commented:

“A total expenditure of better than five thousand dollars, and what have we to show for it?  A few thousand feet of rotting lumber, a caving bank, painful memories, and heartache.” 

            Gould next posed the question:  “We have tried five thousand dollars’ worth of man’s way.  Are we willing to risk five thousand dollars God’s way?” 

            With no resumption of work planned or scheduled until the $5000 had been accumulated in the Temple fund, little was said regarding the temple until sometime after the conclusion of the April 1938 conference.  On April 27, 1938, Apostle James E. Yates was seated at a table in Independence prepared to write a letter to a brother when he wrote out the question:  “Who Shall Build The Temple?”  As he pondered an answer to that question he reported that the “Holy spirit rested upon me…” and “…that the following message from Our Master was given…”  Key excerpts include:

“Not once only have I spoken to my scattered peoples of this Latter Day Dispensation, not twice nor trice only, have I your Lord and Master declared it to be my will that my Temple be built upon the consecrated spot which I have appointed, as hath been known among men and nations; (Verse 2)

“I call, saith the Lord, upon the broken factions of my spiritual kingdom on.  Arise ye, arise from your sloth, saith the Holy One, and BUILD YE MINE HOUSE! (Verse 9)

“I call upon you all amidst my scattered people…all ye of every factional name…Arouse ye!  Build my temple in its one and only consecrated place on the Temple lot in the land of Missouri, in the United States of America. (Verse 13)

“Fear not to give assurance to those whom I may call to assist in building the Temple, that when the task has been accomplished, their legal rights of interest as brethren in a holy cause, and which their faithful assistance shall have earned, will in righteousness be mutually made secure to all such, before the law of the land; for such justice I shall honor, saith the Lord. (Verse 19)

            In December 1938, Apostle Leon A. Gould analyzed and defended the revelation.  He pointed out that the revelation was, in fact, addressed “…to all the various factions and divisions of the Restoration, and also in part to the Church of Christ specifically.”  Gould commented on nearly all of the verses (or paragraphs) and in particular he discussed verse 19.  Regarding verse 19 he remarked:  “When considering legal rights, who should own and control, but those who build.”

            However, the Temple fund was not forgotten.  In the September 1940 Zion’s Advocate, a “Proclamation and Appeal” was sent out by the Counsel of Twelve to solicit funds “to accumulate $5000 in the treasury” of the Temple fund.

            The only other action taken during the next two years by the Church of Christ was the appointment of a committee to “beautify the Temple Lot.”  This was not an easy task given the size of the “hole” in the middle of the 2¾ acres comprising the “Temple Lot.”  The excavation was 12 feet deep and dimensions were 90 feet in width and 180 feet in length.  The assignment of the “Committee” was to specifically level “…the dirt taken out of the excavation, and sow grass seed thereon; also to level off the floor of the excavation and seed it; also slope the walls of the same and seed with flowers or running vines.”  While not an abandonment of the project it certainly appeared to be a long-term postponement of the church’s quest to build a temple in Zion.

           In the two plus months following the mailing of the October 1940 issue of Zion’s Advocate, wherein the plea of Quorum of Twelve was made, only $1 had been contributed to the “Beautifying Temple Lot fund.”  As of January 1, 1941, the balance in the Temple fund stood at $944.  During the past year only $326 had been contributed to the fund which included “…return payment of funds formerly loaned out.” 

Also noted, and contrary to previously published statements regarding the use of Temple fund monies for only the “temple” project, it was admitted that loans had been made out of the Temple fund. 

In September 1941, Zion’s Advocate reprinted the “Proclamation and Appeal” for contributions to the Temple fund and in October 1941, a mid-year financial report was issued (as of September 15, 1941).  The Balance Sheet showed Temple Fund Loans due of $533 and a Temple Fund balance of $3282.  That amount represented a substantial increase in contributions and loan paybacks. 

One month later, in November 1941, “The Bishops’ Forum a recently added new feature in the monthly Zion’s Advocate, carried an electrifying report to the membership of the church:  “…we have gone over the top with our Temple Fund, and that the $5000 has now become a reality, and is no longer just a dream.  This news should, we think, cause every member of the Church of Christ to rejoice, and also to take new courage, with a determination to go on with the great work of building the Temple.”

Obviously, the hope to proceed to build the temple had been re-kindled.  And, perhaps just as important, the belief that others, within the umbrella of the “Restoration,” would yet come forward to help the Church of Christ erect the temple.

However, within only four months, the April 1942 issue of Zion’s Advocate reported that $4000 had been “withdrawn” from the Temple fund which had previously reached the sum of $5600.  Trowbridge published on April 2, 1942, the “Annual Financial Statement of Books” for the year ended March 15, 1942.  To the “Statement of Books” he added an “Addenda.”  Trowbridge then explained the “…temporary withdrawal from that fund (the Temple fund) of about Four Thousand Dollars, which was pledged and given under the promises as set out in the Temple Fund pledges, which we sent out.  This action was taken solely because of the strange actions and unwise conduct of some high in authority.  However, the amount is NOT entirely ‘lost to the temple Fund,’ but is simply ‘withdrawn’ and is being held in reserve and ‘in trust’ for safe keeping for the fund, until such time as it is needed for actual Temple building, so that really and truly the available Temple Fund is still about Fifty-six Hundred Dollars.”

All did not go well for Bishop Trowbridge and his explanation relative to the “temporary” withdrawal of $4000 from the Temple fund at the annual April conference of the church..  The June 1942 edition of Zion’s Advocate was totally dedicated to the issues raised and discussed at the April conference.  

At the conference, Trowbridge was asked to explain the “Statement of Books” published on April 2, 1942.  His explanation was found unsatisfactory and “wanting.” Trowbridge was forced to switch from explaining his actions to defending his actions.  His defense was to continually question and challenge the actions of other church leaders.  And, he would not explain any further where the $4000 “temporarily withdrawn” was located.

The June publication (Zion’s Advocate) included an “outside” auditor’s report ( a Kansas City, Missouri CPA firm had been hired) of the church funds.  In the “Comments” section of the report, Roy A Guyton, CPA noted that on September 30, 1941, Bishop Trowbridge drew a check on the General Bank Account payable to himself as “…Bishop and Trustee for the Temple Fund in the sum of $5,298.21 and deposited it to the Temple Fund Bank Account on the same day in the name of the Church of Christ with Bishop Trowbridge as Trustee.”  Guyton further explained that on the same day “…a certified check payable to Mrs. T. Alice Bender for $3,912.50 was charged to the Temple Fund Bank Account.”

Efforts Curtailed:  1943 – 1946 – But the Temple was Not Forgotten

            In the midst of the internal troubles at the Church of Christ over the whereabouts of the Temple fund and the court action involving Bishop Trowbridge, another request to help “Beautify the Temple Lot” was issued in June 1942.  Yet, the church had not abandoned their belief in building a temple on that sacred space of 2¾ acres known as the “Temple Lot.”  In an update to the “Articles of Faith and Practice of the church of Christ” printed in May 1942, this belief was again made clear in article number 22.  It begins with this emphatic statement:  “We believe a temple will be built in this generation, in Independence, Missouri, wherein Christ will reveal himself and endow his servants whom he chooses with power…”

            In an article prepared by Apostle James E. Yates for the February edition of Zion’s Advocate, he stated: 

“Even though some of our people should become discouraged and lose faith in the revelations that have been given declaring that the Temple of the Lord will be built on the designated Temple Lot in Independence, Missouri, the greater number of our Latter Day Saint people will maintain their faith, and THAT TEMPLE WILL BE BUILT!

            He added, however:

“But until the people, who should erect this Temple to the honor of the great name of our living Master, can learn to put applied Christianity ahead of selfish Churchianity the Temple Building program can not go forward acceptably to Him.”

           Yates’ statement that there was a serious “but until” regarding the Temple building project, reflected a significant change to the previous writings and sermons of Apostle Yates.  While not for a moment did he back away form the revelations proclaimed through him in the 1930’s, and his position regarding the “other factions” of the “Restoration” coming forth to help build the temple, his concluding comment was certainly an indication that his ardent position of building the Temple “now” had been modified. 

At the April 12, 1943, afternoon session of the annual conference, it was proposed by Apostle T. J. Jordan that “…we abolish both the Plans and Temple Building Committees and that we refer the building of the Temple to the General Bishopric and that we instruct the General Bishopric to proceed with the building of the Temple as soon as sufficient funds and material are in hand without debt to the Church.”  Two days later, the motion was amended, i.e., to add to the previous motion that the “…plans and material on hand be place in the hands of the General Bishopric” was voted upon and carried.

            With the realities of WW II very much on the minds of the members of the Church of Christ, and, in particular, gasoline rationing, annual conferences for 1944 and 1945 were cancelled.  During this two-year period any effort to discuss or re-visit the previous efforts of the church to “Beautify the Temple Lot” were dismissed or ignored.  In the interim, the excavation became overgrown and, no doubt, became an eyesore and safety hazard to the citizens of Independence.

            At the 1946 conference, a motion was presented to “…take up the matter of filling in the excavation on the Temple Lot.”  Apparently, and “offer” had been presented to officials of the church by the City of Independence, wherein the city had indicated that it would “fill in” the excavation at city expense.  A committee was appointed at the conference to call upon the City Planning Commission to “…accept their offer to grade the excavation for the Temple, and to work with the City in a supervisory capacity over this work.”  The motion to do so was unanimous.

            The City of Independence, almost immediately after being advised by the church of their unanimous agreement, back-filled the excavation for the temple.  For nearly 17 years the “hole” had stood as a constant reminder of the efforts and sacrifices as well as the frustrations and disappointments of the church’s quest to build a Temple in Zion.  At a meeting of the church, sometime later in April, and carried in the May 1946 Zion’s Advocate, Apostle Wheaton reported:  “…that the excavation had been filled, grass seed planted, and trees trimmed.”


            In the years that followed the “filling-in” of the excavation and the “Beautifying of the Temple Lot,” the quest of building a temple in Zion faded.  Fifty-three years later, Elder C. Andrew Brantner wrote an excellent article for the August 1999 issue of Zion’s Advocate.  It was titled:  “The Generation of the Gathering.”  Elder Brantner wrote of the early revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith as they related to the City of the New Jerusalem and the Temple in Zion.  He referenced “Temple related” scriptures in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  He recalled the revelation to Granville Hedrick in 1864 and the return to Jackson County to reclaim the “Temple Lot.”  Brantner quoted Article 23 from the church’s “Articles of Faith  and Practice” which resolutely declared again, that “…a temple will be built in this generation, in Independence, Missouri…”  He then asked his readers the rhetorical question:  In what generation?  Why the generation of the gathering!  This is the whole purpose of the Restoration…”

The “Temple Lot,” as it is referred to by all divisions or schisms of the “Restoration” was the driving force, as mentioned by Brantner, for Granville Hedrick and his followers in and around central Illinois, to sell their farms, businesses and homes and travel to Independence, Missouri in the winter of early 1867.  After their arrival they proceeded to “re-purchase” the eight contiguous lots at and immediately adjacent to the “…spot for a temple lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.”  In doing so, the “Center Place” of Zion was saved and preserved.  Furthermore, this early “re-acquisition” prompted serious attention by the RLDS and LDS churches in subsequent years regarding the remaining acreage of the original parcel of 63.2 acres purchased by Edward Partridge for the original church in 1831.[vi]

Currently, the Church of Christ has no plans for the physical construction of the Temple, even though the church does continue to maintain a Temple fund.  In the years that followed 1946, the Temple project was relegated to a low priority by the leadership of the church.  Today the “temple” project is not considered a “primary focus of the church.”[vii]

[1] See fn 13 of 3RD11 pg3

[2] Ibid., 15.  Page stated that he was “mouth” for the Quorum of Apostles and that Judy, Haldeman and Owen joined him in this ordinance.  Also see, R. Jean Addams, “Reclaiming the Temple Lot in the Center Place of Zion,” Mormon Historical Studies, Vol. 7 (Spring/Fall 2006): 7-20.

[3] Bill of Equity, U.S. Circuit Court, Western Missouri District, Kansas City, Missouri, 6 August 1891.

[4] U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, D. C., 27 June 1896 (163 U.S. 681.)

[5] See footnotes 83-85.

[6] History of the RLDS Church, vol.5, 488-89.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Journal History, LDS Church Archives, Family and Church History Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.  Reference dates:  February 8, 1900, 2; February 9, 1900, 1; February 10, 1-6; February 21, 2-24.

[9] History of the RLDS Church, 7:192.

[10] History of the RLDS Church, 6:280.  The document is also referred to as “Articles of Working Harmony” in later reporting of this event and is specifically referred to by that title in the History of the RLDS Church (1925 – 1926). Furthermore, the Church of Christ generally referred to that historic document as the “Agreement of Working Harmony” (no plural “s”) or, more often, simply ”Working Agreement.”  Outline History of the Church of Christ, 119-121, 134.

[11] General Conference Minutes, 6 April 1918, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Independence, Missouri, 2607-2611; and General Church Record, 31 March 1918, Church of Christ on the temple Lot, Independence, Missouri, 257-266; An Outline History of the Church of Christ, 119-121. 

[12] Independence Examiner, Independence, Missouri, (April 9, 1918), 1.

[13] History of the RLDS Church, 7:600, 625-638.

[14] Outline History of the Church of Christ, 138-39.

[15] Ibid.,__________ 68.

[16] Ibid., 140.  The office of “apostle” had not been utilized by the Church of Christ for approximately 50 years. Like the RLDS church, in the early years of the Church of Christ the office of apostle was the primary priesthood office.  The RLDS church or “New Organization” implemented its Quorum of  Apostles in 1853 with the calling of  7 men to that office. Eventually the quorum was expanded to 12 men and the quorum was maintained thereafter, both in its number, i.e., 12, and responsibility (History of the RLDS Church, 3:218.).  That organization, i.e., the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, continues to exist today in the Community of Christ.  (The RLDS church changed its name in September 1995). 

Historically, the Church of Christ initially chose 5 men as apostles, including John E. Page.  (See footnote 21).  The Church of Christ ordained only one other individual to the priesthood office of apostle in 1867.  (Minutes of the Church of Christ, November 1869).  After that date no other individuals were so ordained and the office of apostle was dropped in favor of the office of Presiding Elder.

[17] The seven men were:  Daniel Macgregor, H. E. Moler, Samuel Wood, F. F. Wipper, Norris Headding and Otto Fetting (all transferees from the RLDS church) and Clarence L. Wheaton (the only individual from the Church of Christ).  Prior to the “Agreements of Working Harmony” of 1918, Wheaton had served as the Presiding Elder of the Church of Christ (from 1918-1925.)

[18] Ibid., 16-18. “ Message 5” was received at Fetting’s home in Port Huron, Michigan.

[19] Ibid.

[20] “To All Divisions of the Church of the Restoration,” Church of Christ, 1931, Community of Christ Library-Archives, Independence, Missouri; Zion’s Advocate, July 1931, 131.  The letter or epistle consists of several printed pages and is more like a pamphlet than a letter.   GO TO FN 173 AND FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS.

[21] Zion’s Advocate, May 1929, 61; Julius C. Billeter, The Temple of Promise Jackson County Missouri, (Independence, Missouri:  Zion’s Printing and Press Company, 1946), 13 (hereafter cited as Temple of Promise).

[22] Outline History of the Church of Christ, 141; Program for the Breaking of the Ground for the Temple, Church of Christ, Independence, Missouri, April 6, 1929.  Copy of the Program provided to the author by Geri Adams, Blue Springs, Missouri.


[24] An Outline History of the Church of Christ, 142.  

[25] FIND

[26] David O. McKay Diaries, entry dated 8 May, 1936.  Transcribed.  Gregory A. Prince collection, University of Utah, Marriott Library, Special Collections, Salt Lake City, Utah.  Dr. Prince’s donated materials were originally obtained in preparation for the recently published David O. McKay and The Rise Of Modern Mormonism by Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2005.

[i]Joseph Smith, Jr. released “his ‘plat’ for the City of Zion, showing that there would be 24 temples at its center.”  Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, 2000.  Edited by Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon and Richard O. Cowan.

[ii]Doctrine and Covenants, Section 57:1-4, LDS and Doctrine and Covenants, Section 57:1-2, RLDS (now Community of Christ.)  See endnote #1.

[iii] As a result of the forced abandonment of the church’s properties in Jackson County, Missouri (as well as property holdings of individual members of the church), these properties were either subsequently sold at a Sheriff’s auction or sale for failure to pay delinquent property taxes or were foreclosed upon by the Federal government or secondary owners who had not been paid under the terms of their respective contracts.  It is further noted that in the early days of land holdings in Missouri it was illegal for a church to hold property as a separate entity; therefore, the 63 acre parcel (which included the dedicated temple lot) was held in the name of Partridge rather than the name of the church.

[iv] Ibid., Volume 1, number 1, July 1864, page 4.

[v] Jackson County, Missouri, Courthouse, Property Records, Book 104, page 311.

[vi] Ibid., Book B, page 1.  See footnote #35.

[vii] Interview with William A. Sheldon, Apostle, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), April 2006.  In additional correspondence with Apostle Sheldon on this subject in December 2006, after reaffirming that the building of the temple was not a primary focus of the church, he added:  “the primary focus is missionary work and building up the Kingdom of God.”  Referring again to the temple project, he said:  “We will simply await the Lord’s further direction.”