A small white church sits at the corner of a large landscaped lot in Independence, Mo. It is the international headquarters of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). Joseph Smith dedicated this spot in 1831 for a temple to be built to usher in the millennial reign of Christ.The Temple Lot church tried to build that temple 80 years ago."All factions of Mormonism believe . . . that this is sacred space and this is where it's going to happen," R. Jean Addams, an independent historian, said."There will be a sacred temple built here before Jesus Christ descends openly to the earth again . . . (Mormons) haven't abandoned this hope that at some future time there will be a holy city, literally, built at this location. So it's very, very sacred to Latter-day Saints," Alexander L. Baugh, associate professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU, said.Addams and Baugh spoke at the 22nd international conference of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) on Thursday, June 11 in Salt Lake City at the City and County Building. Their presentations told about the Temple Lot church efforts to build that prophesied temple.After persecution drove the Mormons from Missouri, several small groups went back to old homes and friends in central Illinois. These branches were spared the problems that faced members of the LDS Church who gathered in and around Nauvoo. When the main body of the Saints left for the west under Brigham Young, they stayed behind.The small branches united in 1852 under Granville Hedrick as their leader — and are sometimes called "Hedrickites" today. They called themselves the Church of Christ. Hedrick claimed a revelation. The small membership was to return to Missouri in 1867.About 10 to 12 families did so, according to Addams. Hedrick followed seven years later.__IMAGE1__They began buying up small parcels where Joseph Smith had dedicated the temple site — about five blocks west of the courthouse, according to Baugh. (See Doctrine and Covenants 57:3) The full original purchase that included the temple site Joseph Smith had dedicated was made by Edward Partridge in 1831 and was about 63 acres.Eventually the Church of Christ acquired 2 3/4 acres and added "Temple Lot" after their church's name to distinguish it from another Church of Christ.This purchase did not sit well with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now called the Community of Christ), which sued in 1891 to gain control from the Temple Lot church of those important acres. The attempt failed.The RLDS Church and the Temple Lot church opened dialogue with each other, and in 1918 they agreed their members could transfer to either church without re-baptism. From 1918 to 1925, The Temple Lot church went from about 100 members to around 500, according to Addams. The RLDS Church ended the agreement in its 1926 General Conference, but the Temple Lot church still considered transfers valid.__IMAGE3__One of those RLDS transferees was Otto Fetting, who became an apostle in the Temple Lot church. He claimed John the Baptist appeared to him and declared the temple needed to be built beginning in 1929 and finished in seven years.On April 6, 1929, with only $889 in its temple fund, ground was broken on the temple lot. The tiny church was joyous — but that joy was to be short-lived.Almost four months after ground was broken, Fetting announced that John the Baptist wanted all the RLDS transferees to be re-baptized. Since 1918 about 1,100 members of the RLDS Church had transferred their membership.The Temple Lot church's quorum of the twelve called a special October conference to address this issue. "Fetting is silenced at this conference, dropped from the quorum of the twelve and specifically forbidden from practicing rebaptism," Addams said.Fetting took about a quarter of the church, as many as 400 people, with him and formed a new church, according to Addams.The
Temple Lot church sent representatives to every restoration church and
branch they could find and asked for donations. President Anthony W.
Ivins, a counselor in the LDS Church's First Presidency, noted this at
the Semi-annual General Conference in Salt Lake City in Oct. 1929. "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. . . . They have been to us. They have come to our
office soliciting aid. They would like us to assist them in building a
temple. In other words, they would like us to become a part of their
organization, not to direct it, not to control it, but to act in
harmony with it. . . . My brethren and sisters, with all good feeling
toward these people, which we have always had, and always manifested,
you will readily understand the impossibility of such a coalition."__IMAGE2__The Temple Lot church sent representatives to every restoration church and branch it could find and asked for donations. Meanwhile, the work on digging the foundation continued at a slow pace. The Great Depression did not help matters. The architect said that the building would cost $500,000 to complete. At its 1931 general conference, Temple Lot church apostle James Yates announced a revelation: "Let the work on the foundation proceed when the sum of $5,000 shall have accumulated in the treasury.""That's really quite an amazing statement when you are talking about . . . it's going to cost half a million — and they are trying to get together $5,000," Addams said.Delays and false starts continued. Yates even tried investing in a gold mine — which failed. In June 1935, after expenses, the temple fund contained only $3.86.In April 1936, the end of the seven-year deadline, the church voted on "the most significant matter they had taken up in 10 years," Addams said. They voted to repudiate Fetting's John the Baptist messages "as being the work of God." The messages were abandoned, but other Temple Lot church leaders felt independently that the mandate to finish the temple was of God. So the project was merely suspended until that elusive $5,000 was reached.Only $169 was then in the fund.Another plea was sent to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asking for money to build the temple. President David O. McKay, then second counselor to President Heber J. Grant, wrote in his journal "we courteously refused."A donation in 1941 finally brought the temple fund to the $5,000 level — but then $4,000 was mysteriously transferred out of the fund leading to court action and inconclusive accusations instead of temple building.By 1943 the Temple Lot church abandoned the project.Three years later, the foundation hole was an eyesore and potential safety hazard. The city offered to fill in the hole at no cost if only the church would vote to allow it."Within two months the city of Independence backfilled, covered up the whole plot as if nothing had been there except . . . one surviving tree," Addams said. "For nearly 17 years the hole had stood as a reminder of the efforts and sacrifices — as well as the frustrations . . . of their efforts to build a temple."The Temple Lot church then re-landscaped the area.The Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS Church) completed its first and only temple in 1994 on another plot within Edward Partridge's original 63-acre purchase. "They would interpret the building of their temple to be the fulfillment of the prophesy of Joseph Smith and the temple that will be raised here," Baugh said.But for members of the LDS Church — and for the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) — that glorious day is yet to come.