New Kansas City Mormon temple offers public tours

In their father’s house there are many rooms.

So it is with the new temple built for the 25,000 Kansas City-area members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

The three-story, 32,000-square-foot temple, which opens for public tours on Saturday, contains no single cathedral-like space of worship. Rather, it consists of many smaller rooms devoted to specific ceremonies or ordinances such as baptism or marriage through which, members believe, families are united for eternity.

The temple’s looming presence along I-435 in Clay County signals a new, higher local profile for the church, which traces much of its history to western Missouri but whose members, targeted by an 1838 extinction order signed by the Missouri governor, largely were driven from the state by people who feared their beliefs and growing numbers.

The first Kansas City stake, or church organization, dates only to 1956.

But on Saturday the first of about 75,000 visitors from 46 states and nine foreign countries will be led through the building – only after they pull temporary booties over their shoes to protect the floors and carpeting. Reservations continue to be accepted for free tours that have been extended an extra week through April 28, said Janeen Aggen, local LDS spokeswoman.

“The hottest ticket in town is free,” Aggen added.

The tours represent the only opportunity for non-church members to visit the temple’s interior. After the building’s formal dedication by LDS president Thomas Monson on May 6, the building will be open only to church members considered to be in good standing.

“Some people say that we are secretive,” said William Walker, executive director of the LDS Church temple department, who led a media tour on Thursday. “It’s just that we consider the temple to be sacred.”

The building represents the 137th LDS temple built worldwide, Walker said. The nearest temples had been in Omaha and St. Louis County.

The temple’s construction in western Missouri is significant for at least two reasons.

First, it’s located only a few miles from Liberty, where church prophet Joseph Smith Jr. was imprisoned during the winter of 1838 and 1839.

“It’s a great day for us, the church returning to Missouri in a magnificent way to where the prophet Joseph once walked,” Walker said.

But it is more than just where the temple is located, Walker said — it is also how many members will be using it. Though church members began to slowly return to the Midwest before World War I, today there are about 66,000 members across Missouri and Kansas.

LDS temples differ from church meetinghouses and chapels where members gather for Sunday worship services. Temples are considered “houses of the Lord,” where church teachings are reaffirmed through marriage, baptism and other ordinances.

Walker praised J.E. Dunn Construction, the building’s general contractor, whose employees helped install its many appointments. Interior limestone and accent stone came from Mexico, India or Pakistan, and the majority of its dark interior wood was imported from Africa.

The LDS church considers the expense of such appointments as a way to honor God, Walker said.

Tours begin Saturday and continue through April 28 except for Sundays. Free tour tickets are available by calling 1-866-537-8457 or by visiting http://mormontemples.org/kansascity.