There isn’t much to see at the Far West temple site — except for four sandstone cornerstones and a monument engraved with scriptures (see photos above and below).
This holy site may appear to be just another piece of pasture amid the Missouri farmland that rolls north of Kansas City.
Yet Far West was once a thriving town of nearly 5,000 people, with 150 homes, more than a dozen businesses, and a large schoolhouse that was also used as a church and a courthouse. It had been established in 1836 by Latter-day Saints who had been driven out of Ray and Clay counties. By 1838, it was the principal settlement for the Saints in Missouri as members of Christ’s restored Church continued to flee persecution in Kirtland, Ohio and other areas.
As one of the “Ideas for Personal Scripture Study” in the October 11-17 Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: Doctrine and Covenants 2021, 176 explains: “Despite the hardships the Saints were facing in 1838, the Lord still had high expectations for them. Look for words in Doctrine and Covenants 115:5–6 that emphasize the role the Lord wants His Church and its members to fulfill in the world. For example, what do you feel you should do to ‘arise and shine forth’? (verse 5). What spiritual storms do you notice around you, and how do we find ‘refuge’ through gathering? (verse 6).”
Another Hopeful Refuge Site
In 1838, a town was also established at Adam-ondi-Ahman, 50 kilometres to the northeast. Lasting peace and prosperity for the Saints proved elusive, however. In addition to mistrust and hostility from non-member neighbours, the Church was undergoing dissent from within that resulted in the excommunication of several men who had been Joseph Smith’s trusted friends, including Oliver Cowdery. The persecutions from without culminated in the infamous extermination order — Lilburn Boggs, governor of Missouri, decreed that the Saints should leave the state or be killed.
Far West quickly became a ghost town, and today, few visible traces of the community remain, other than the historic site that encompasses the initial efforts to build a temple there. The Saints had gathered at Far West to escape persecution, yet they were driven out by persecution. A temple was planned but never built.
These dedicated places seem more as monuments to failure than to achievement: so many things started and not finished; so much effort that apparently did not bear fruit; towns established that too quickly dwindled away. But that’s a shortsighted view.
Christ Blesses Sincere Efforts and Sacrifice
For it was in Far West that the Lord specified the correct name of His Church—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is not a mere formality. In the October 2018 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson emphasized how important the proper name is: “So, what’s in a name? When it comes to the name of the Lord’s Church, the answer is ‘Everything!’ Jesus Christ directed us to call the Church by His name because it is His Church, filled with His power” (“The Correct Name of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 2018, 89).
It was also in Far West that the Prophet Joseph received the revelation on tithing. This is a principle that enables the Church to build temples and meetinghouses around the world. More important, it is a spiritual principle that opens the windows of Heaven and pours out blessings upon those who follow it.
Far West was where Joseph was commanded to send the Twelve Apostles across the Atlantic to proclaim the restored gospel: launching the international missionary effort that has brought millions of people to a “more sure” knowledge of Jesus Christ (see 2 Peter 1:19; Doctrine and Covenants 131:5).
It was in Far West and nearby areas that the Church gained experience in building towns and cities that enabled the pioneers to establish hundreds of towns in the western United States and Canada: including southern Alberta towns such as Cardston, Hill Spring, Glenwood, Magrath, Raymond, and Stirling.
And the story of Far West is a story of sacrifice that teaches a great lesson: the Lord acknowledges our sincere efforts, even when those efforts do not yield the results we anticipate.
Learning to Try Our Best
As the Saints fled Kirtland, Joseph directed Oliver Granger to stay behind in an effort to sell Church properties for whatever he could get. It was an endeavour with little hope for success, and indeed, he did not succeed. And yet, the Lord told the Prophet Joseph in a revelation that Oliver Granger’s name “shall be had in sacred remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever, saith the Lord” (Doctrine and Covenants 117:12).
“What did Oliver Granger do that his name should be held in sacred remembrance?” asked Elder Boyd K. Packer in the October 2004 general conference. Elder Packer explained: “Nothing much, really. It was not so much what he did as what he was. …The Lord did not expect Oliver to be perfect, perhaps not even to succeed. ‘When he falls he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord’ (Doctrine and Covenants 117:13). We cannot always expect to succeed, but we should try the best we can” (“The Least of These,” Ensign, Nov. 2004).
When one of my sons was serving a mission in France, he wrote about the difficulty missionaries were experiencing in finding anyone who was receptive to the gospel message. He wondered if he was doing any good. But he learned it wasn’t up to him if people accepted the gospel: it was up to him to make the best effort he could. And so, he did.
Tested and Refined by Adversity
Far West is not a place of failure, but a place where Saints learned by doing what would work and what wouldn’t. It was a place where they were tested and refined by adversity. It was a place where they received great revelations from the Lord.
When my wife and I visited Far West, our first reaction was one of slight disappointment — we had expected to see more. But as we pondered what happened there, we felt the significance of the revelations that were received there, and what they mean for us today. Four pieces of sandstone lie protected by glass covers at the temple site, the cornerstones of what was to be a temple. As a foundation for a building, they don’t amount to much, but they form part of the foundation of a great work that continues to fill the world today.