Friday, July 10, 2015

Community of Christ: Lamoni, Iowa and Graceland University

At a time when Plano, Illinois served as the headquarters for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, founded in 1860, members of the church were anxious to gather somewhere. Gathering had roots in the original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. Early church members had gathered in Kirtland, Independence and Nauvoo, but had been forced to move from each place. The Brighamites (Mormons) had picked up where Joseph Smith, Jr. left off, establishing a gathering place in the Great Salt Lake Valley. But Joseph Smith III, son of Joseph Smith, Jr. and president of the Reorganized Church, was leery of going down that same path again, given the previous experiences. 

The Reorganized Church still had hopes of returning to Independence where Joseph Smith, Jr. had proclaimed that the New Jerusalem would be built and had dedicated a lot for the building of a temple. However, the expulsion from Independence was still too recent for any consideration of Independence as a gathering spot at that time. 

Eventually, in 1870, Joseph Smith III did authorize the purchase of over 3,000 acres about 100 miles north of Independence in Iowa. It was an area the Brighamites had passed through in 1846 on their way to Winter Quarters, and near Garden Grove, where the Brighamites had established a way station for those traveling west. The city built by the Reorganized Church was named Lamoni, after a King by that name in the Book of Mormon who was converted by the missionary Ammon. 

Joseph Smith III and his family moved to Lamoni in 1880 and brought the administrative offices of the Reorganized Church as well. The administrative offices stayed in Lamoni until 1920 when they were moved to Independence by Frederick M. Smith, president of the church and son of Joseph Smith III. 
A Community of Christ Church in Lamoni, Iowa.
In 1895, the Reorganized Church founded Graceland College in Lamoni, the first fully accredited junior college in Iowa. Frederick M. Smith, who followed his father, Joseph Smith III as president of the Reorganized Church, was the first graduate of Graceland College in 1898. Graceland became a four year college in 1960 and became a university in 2000. It currently has about 2,222 students (1,495 undergraduates and 727 postgraduates), 150 faculty, 35 undergraduate majors and several post graduate majors in education and nursing. It has a campus in Independence as well. 

The Administration building at Graceland University.
Lamoni currently has about 2,300 residents, so the students at the university rival the town in numbers. In addition to members of the Community of Christ (the name the Reorganized Church changed its name to in 2001), Lamoni is home to quite a few Amish. In fact we passed an Amish man on our way out of town driving down the road in his horse driven carriage. 

Lamoni is a beautiful, sleepy town in the Iowa countryside, seemingly quite a ways from any towns of a significant size. We were surprised to learn that Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, the Olympic gold medal decathlon winner, was a graduate of Graceland and the sports complex is named after him/her. 


  1. Wow! I didn't know RLDS had their own university, nor that Jenner has graduated. Interesting!

  2. I thought this was a really beautiful campus, something to be proud of and well worth the detour.