The Kirtland Temple reopened Monday after stewardship of the hallowed and historic building transferred from Community of Christ to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Latter-day Saints rejoiced at the opportunity to share stories of the temple’s history on 14 tours during the day. Many also expressed gratitude for Community of Christ as its members continue to clear out its belongings.

A bitingly cold morning yielded to light blue skies and warm sunshine as tours began Monday morning.

Since the announcement, Latter-day Saints and Community of Christ members have been sharing space as one moves in and the other moves out. In fact, Community of Christ still has 45 more days to complete the move, said President Scott Barrick, who with this wife, Sister Shauna Barrick, leads the missionaries at the Ohio Historic Sites of the Church of Jesus Christ.

The landmark Kirtland Temple reopens for public tours: See the first photos

“This transition period has been a bittersweet experience for us because, as we’ve been learning what to do here, we’ve been watching our colleagues from the Community of Christ move, and gather all their belongings and leave a space that has been meaningful to them for over a century,” he said. “Every time we’ve come in, they’ve greeted us warmly. They’ve been gracious and kind. And we look forward to continuing the same relationship.”

Kirtland Ohio Stake President Nathan Johnson, who presides over 10 Latter-day Saint congregations in the region, saw in the transfer a need to fill big shoes.

“They’ve been such good stewards, and we now feel the weight of that responsibility to care for it the way that they have,” he said.

Joseph and Emma Smith’s son, Joseph Smith III, obtained the temple in the late 1870s on behalf of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints while he was its president. The church changed its name to the Community of Christ in 2001.

It began to offer tours in the 1960s. Those tours have been focused on the architectural wonder the Kirtland Temple was in the 1830s and remains today.

Historian Karl and Joyce Anderson enter the Kirtland Temple.
Historian Karl and Joyce Anderson enter the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Monday’s new Church of Jesus Christ tours, crafted by the Historical Sites Division of the Church History Department, focused on the spiritual journey the temple represents. For Latter-day Saints, that includes sharing information about the appearances of Jesus Christ, Moses, Elijah and Elias to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on Easter Sunday in 1836.

Christ accepted the temple as a House of the Lord and the other visitors provided spiritual keys that expanded Latter-day Saint temple ordinances to those in use today. The church, which has 31,330 congregations, now has 189 temples and plans to build 146 more.

Until Monday, Latter-day Saint missionaries in Kirtland only discussed the 1836 visitations with people who toured other nearby sites, like the Joseph and Emma Smith home and Newel K. Whitney store near the temple.

“We now can tell the stories about what happened in the temple, in the temple,” Sister Barrick said.

“There’s a slightly different emphasis today,” said Elder Kyle S. McKay, Church Historian and a General Authority Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ. “It’s unrealistic to expect that Community of Christ would tell our story, would say it in a way that it emphasizes what we believe but they don’t (believe). We haven’t expected that of them. Now we are saying it the way we believe it, so there are some things that are emphasized that haven’t been in the past.”

By early afternoon Monday, the visitors who had joined tours had come from Ghana, Australia, 10 U.S. states and Washington, D.C.

The centerpiece of the tours now is the inner court on the first floor of the temple when missionaries share three historical events, the temple dedication on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, the solemn assembly three days later and the visitations on Easter Sunday.

Sandy Jones, a Latter-day Saint convert, had visited the temple for three previous tours. She appreciated Monday’s first tour.

“The things that happened here are incomprehensible,” she said. “And you look at the size of this building, to be built in the 1800s? Nothing like that ever happened. This is part of the beginning of the Restoration. You cannot miss this. This is one of the most important places where it started.”

President Barrick said the sweetest experience of the past week was seeing a member of Community of Christ and a senior Latter-day Saint sister missionary embrace and weep together.

“I think that’s a good model and a good example for all of us,” he said. “Our sister missionary has cause to rejoice, and yet she is weeping and mourning with those who mourn. And the Community of Christ member has cause to be sorrowful and yet she came today and was part of a tour.”

He expects a number of joint traditions shared by the churches to continue. There is an Emma Smith hymn sing on her birthday each July, for example.

“We sing a lot of the hymns that were in hymnbooks that Emma did; she did not only ours but some of the reorganized hymnbooks,” Barrick said. “That’s been a wonderful thing.”

There also is a community Thanksgiving service, a Christmas Eve service in the temple and seats for both churches on the robust ministerial alliance in Kirtland.

The Barricks also take their missionaries to the Community of Christ pancake breakfast across the street from the temple on the first Saturday of each month. The Latter-day Saints make a contribution to the collection Community of Christ gathers to give to charity.

“We expect those things to continue, and we look forward to them,” Barrick said.

Additionally, he said, “We’ve committed to the Community of Christ contractually that they’ll have access to a certain number of events” at the temple.

The churches also agree that the Kirtland Temple must be preserved for future generations. On Monday while leading tours, Sister Marion Davis of Idaho Falls, Idaho, emphasized to visitors that they should use the left handrail while climbing the 33 steps to the second floor and the 33 additional steps to the third floor, because the right handrails are originals.

“Our biggest hope is that the temple will continue to be cared for and accessible. We see this as a sacred place, and it’s not our temple and it’s not their temple, that this is the Lord’s house,” President Johnson said. “We want it to continue to be accessible so that people can come here and have significant spiritual experiences.”

Church historian and recorder Elder Kyle S. McKay speaks about the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio.
Elder Kyle S. McKay, historian and recorder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks about the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder McKay agreed.

“We want it to be old and remain old, old but safe,” he said. “Our preservationists have a phrase, ‘We’re going to make it good as old.’ We hope to do that.”

Minor work was done during the three-week break to shore up the support in the basement and some walls.

“For the short term, it’s safe,” Elder McKay said, “but we expect that after some time, and I don’t know how long — a year, two, three, I don’t know — there will need to be some other structural repairs made and maybe some restoration” to make the temple more like the original.

“There may be some restoration and certainly some support so that the temple can remain safe but old.”

Monday’s conflicting feelings also were apparent in 87-year-old Karl Ricks Anderson, a Latter-day Saint historian known as “Mr. Kirtland” for his research and championing of the temple.

Learning about the transfer was one of the greatest days of his life, he said. He’d prayed for it. Simultaneously, he felt for his Community of Christ friends.

“They have always maintained that they didn’t own the temple, that they were only caretakers, that it was the Lord that owned the temple. My greatest wish is that we don’t celebrate so much the acquisition of a temple that we forget it is the Lord’s house.

Community of Christ, he said, “has set an example for us.”

A senior historic sites missionary talks to a tour group at the Kirtland Temple.
Elder Bart Davis speaks during the first tour from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, on Monday, March 25, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News