The Changing Role of Temples

There are ten stakes of the Church in Pennsylvania and one district. They are all part of the Washington, D.C. temple district, but continuing the pattern of the last decade, the saints in those stakes will all attend the newly announced Philadelphia temple once it is constructed. Those in the Cherry Hill, New Jersey and Wilmington, Delaware stakes will also leave the Washington temple district. There are currently 40 stakes and one district left in the Washington district, so after the Philadelphia temple is operating, that will leave us with 28 stakes remaining.

When I moved to Baltimore fifteen years ago, the Washington temple was an exciting place. Endowment sessions began every twenty minutes, from the pre-dawn hours until late at night. Unexpected encounters with friends from Boston and North Carolina, or planned meetings with relatives from Maine or Long Island were part of the experience. The temple president noticed that some patrons from distant stakes would arrive in the parking lot in the middle of night and wait until the doors opened on Saturday morning; thus it was that the temple began operating continuously from Friday morning until Saturday night with the help of singles’ wards that staffed the graveyard shift.

It has been quite a different environment since I moved back to Maryland four years ago. Endowment sessions begin every half hour, not starting until 8 AM, and the last is scheduled for 8:30 PM. The only stakes more than three hours’ travel away are a handful in western Pennsylvania, which in a couple years will attend the equally distant Philadelphia temple. Two years ago, the cafeteria was closed, dismantled, and hauled out of the Washington temple. (A walk-in cooler was left for our sack lunches.) When the Washington Temple district loses 30% of its already diminished extent, maybe we’ll cut back to one session per hour. At some point, I will probably be advised that it’s up to me to keep the temple going by increasing my attendance (again?), and doubling the membership of the Church through member-missionary work. However deserving I may be of my coming chastisement, 1995 levels of activity in the Washington Temple will not be experienced again in my remaining lifetime.

Whenever I bring things like this up, there are others who respond that I don’t “get it.” All that matters is priesthood authority, and the rudimentary core of the ordinances, and the rest is window dressing for immature souls like mine who feel there is some spiritual purpose in creating structures like the Cardston or Los Angeles temples. Here’s what I get: temples cannot simultaneously be special and ubiquitous, singular and ordinary, transcendent and routine. For a century and half of the restoration, temples were built to be a special part of the lives and worship of the saints. Any prophet from Joseph Smith to Howard Hunter would have dedicated small local temples like those we build now if he had been directed to do so. Indeed, Spencer Kimball did do that to a limited extent. Under the direction of Gordon Hinckley the role of the temple changed. It is now much more important that the temple be very readily available than that it be special. I’m still getting used to this, but please don’t tell me the pattern that produced temples from 1836 to 1997 had no meaning.

The Philadelphia temple will not be built to relieve congestion of existing temples. It will not be built to make the temple more available in a sense that any saint would have recognized even a dozen years ago. The Washington, D.C. temple is 140 miles from Philadelphia to the southwest (Good ol’ Joe Biden makes this commute every morning and night on his Amtrak.), and the Manhattan temple is 100 miles to the northeast. I thought I understood the purpose for which temples were placed in Boston and Manhattan and Raleigh. This Philadelphia temple doesn’t make sense by that old reasoning, but the tripling of temples has modified their place and purpose, and the rationale for creating additional temples. The main difference it’s construction will make will be to be able to say “There’s a temple in Pennsylvania, just like everywhere else.” As of the 21st Century, that’s what matters.


See also, “Specialness” and “Proximity to the Temples of North America, Central America, Hawaii, and the Caribbean.

This entry was posted in General by John Mansfield. Bookmark the permalink.

About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

55 thoughts on “The Changing Role of Temples

  1. In many ways, I think that the newer temples are similar to the Endowment House, except that proxy work (besides baptisms) and child-to-parent sealings were expressly reserved for the temples. But really, to the Saints in SLC at the time, what was the real difference between the Endowment house and the Temple? Mostly, I imagine, it was that the Temple was a Temple in form as well as function.

    Proximity is less of a thing; so is ritual frequency, I think. After the other Utah temples opened, ritual frequency in St. George slowed almost to a halt. Still a temple though.

  2. “ritual frequency in St. George slowed almost to a halt

    Jonathan, was this the period following dedication of the Manti, Logan, and Salt Lake temples? Can you tell a little what you came across on this?

  3. “temples cannot simultaneously be special and ubiquitous”

    …but are we talking about spacial frequency or standardization of appearance? Are temples becoming “ubiquitous” because they’re becoming more common, or because they’re all starting to look the same (both inside and out)?

  4. A comparison of the nineteenth-century temple records shows a dramatic drop in rates as after a fury of use in the first years and a precipitous drop with the dedication of the Logan temple. It stayed low for the duration of the century with a slight negative trend. In 1890, before the SLC Temple was dedicated, but after the Manti Temple, the First Presidency wrote to the SG Temple presidency instructing them to further reduce the number of workers (they were paid at the time; see FP letterpress typescript, February 6, 1890 in the Kenny Research Collection, BYU or UU).

  5. I have wonderfully fond memories of those buses from Boston to DC for the temple. Your nostalgia resonates with mine.

  6. John, I have to say that in many respects I agree with you. As the temple becomes more common place we are apt to lose reverence for it.

    However, I have noticed that having a small temple closer to me has been a great blessing. It is sincerely awesome to see friends and neighbors from my home stake working there. It builds unity.

    I suppose it’s just like anything, you get out what you put in.

  7. John, I have to disagree with you. The role of temples has not changed. Temples are just as special and sacred today as they were 10 years ago or 100 years ago. Just because they’re more accessible, doesn’t make them any less important or special in our lives.

    Additionally, I don’t believe that they are making a temple in Philadelphia just to build a temple in Pennyslvania. I believe that temples and the building thereof are directed by God. He knows where temples need to be built. He knows why and when they should built. It is through HIS guidance that President Thomas S. Monson (as with every prophet before him, including Biblical prophets) has decided when and where and HOW to build the temple according to God’s commands.

  8. Having been raised and converted to the Gospel in Philadelphia, I must admit that I never expected my hometown to get a Temple as it was so close to Washington (getting to Manhattan is a traffic nightmare and is not realistic). The announcement came as a great shock.

    I have been living in Florida for a number of years and the Orlando Temple is a half hour from my house. I now cannot imagine ever living in a city without a Temple. The beauty and convenience are wonderful. Yes, the Orlando Temple continues to be underutilized (except for Friday nights and Saturdays), but it serves as a beacon and as a reminder to help me re-focus and escape from the overwhelming pressure of daily life.

    I don’t think having Temples in many places cheapens the experience at all. I think it helps fortify us and strengthen us if we take advantage of it.

  9. Can I just say that to a member living in the Philadelphia area, the last couple of sentences of the original post are rather offensive?

    I live in the Philadelphia area and due to some circumstances with one of my children have not been able to leave the metropolitan area for about a year and a half and will probably not be able to go far for at least another couple of years. Four years without attending the temple is rather a significant cost to add to other life circumstances.

    Sure, the distance to Washington DC is not that far. My husband just drove a car full of youth down to the temple a couple of weekends ago to do baptisms for the dead. They left before 7:00 in the morning and got back after 7:00 in the evening. The gas cost around $40. We can afford it, but when I think about some of our good ward members who hardly know where the next meal is coming from, I wonder why they should be deprived of the blessings of temple service because they cannot scrape up a couple of $20s to get there.

    Back before I left on my mission, I went to the Arizona temple every week for two or three months. I found that, if anything, having a temple less than a 10 minute drive away and being able to go frequently increased my reverence for the place.

    The difference between traveling to Maryland and driving down or taking the train to Broad Street in Philadelphia will be an immense blessing to myself and many other people.

    (I greatly dislike commenting on blogs that I don’t regularly comment on, but I thought you might like some input from someone to whom the building of the Philadelphia temple will make a major difference.)

  10. Dear Researcher,

    Do you think it will be downtown or will it be on the 20 acres the Church bought out near Valley Forge?

  11. I know there are many things to celebrate about the new way of doing things, but I share much of your nostalgia for the old. This is a nice articulation of much of what I feel.

  12. I agree very much John’s sentiments. My first time through the small, plain OKC temple was very traumatic for me, and I had a difficult time wanting to go back. I tried a few more times, but was still having a really hard time. Then I had the opportunity to go to the Oakland temple and I have to say the experience was wholly and completely different. The Oakland temple’s beauty was inspiring and I loved how big it was. People were bustling to and fro, happy, meeting loved ones, chatting quietly. It was like a little bit of the kingdom on earth. In contrast, the small temple in OKC seemed so closed-in, claustrophobic and sterile. I don’t mean to complain against the temple, I’m just saying that in my experience, having a big, special temple really made a difference.

    What’s interesting about building all of these little temples is that we aren’t filling them. We are frequently chastised about the lack of attendance. The OKC temple is largely empty during the week. It seems the church should be committing more of its resources to getting members to want to attend more.

  13. The Philadelphia temple will probably be in Valley Forge. Parking in downtown Philadelphia alone costs the same as a tank of gas to get to DC and back:$25.00-$40.00 depending on time of day and length of stay. Unless the downtown site is large enough for parking, that cost alone will likely send the temple to Valley Forge, and thankfully so since I live 20 minutes from VF.

  14. I find this post puzzling. I understand nostalgia, but I don’t really think of temple work as primarily emotional or nostalgic. I was there as part of the D.C. temple district in the days of all-nighters and such, so this nostalgia is not foreign to me. But to me, we are to get the work done. Being asked to do more at each of the temples can stretch us all the more. The localness of them can provide a sense of ownership for those who are close. That may not be meaningful to some, but I think it will be for others.

    Temples like this also, imo, prepare for future growth at a time when the Church has the funds. What if, for example, we do eventually lose our tax-free status? I think it is wise and wonderful that we are filling the earth with temples not just for current needs, but because the work will continue to move forward.

    This makes me think that I need to write about my singular experience in the Guatemala temple. They organized a session just for me, a visitor from the US. There is no way I could have experienced anything so personal, so tailored, so unique. I’d say don’t underestimate the beauty of this new phase of temple work.

  15. I remember when being Mormon was really unique and special. Now apparently it is God’s plan that more of us be special, dangit. LOL.
    It is a good thing and I support building the kingdom and all but it does change things.

  16. While I’m glad about the ease there is also a part of me that worries we’re making temples so common that they are becoming like Stake Centers. They are losing some of that specialness they once had.

  17. Since I imagine it’s public information, the official Philadelphia stake site on shows a location on Broad Street a few blocks from City Hall. That also makes it, for those not familiar with Philadelphia, about a mile another direction from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

    The stake site says that it will be very similar to the Manhattan Temple. Perhaps someone familiar with that temple can mention what, if any, provisions there are for parking, since I’m not familiar with that temple.

    The discussion about this news story on the Philadelphia Inquirer was not extensive. Most of it was discussing the building of mosques and organized religion in general. A comment or two hoped that it would be built in Philadelphia and not in the suburbs.

  18. I suppose those us in the Philadelphia area should be flattered that we’ll be missed by Saints like you, even if we were only there to make your temple going experience more exciting. I think you’ll forgive us if we don’t share the same feelings and look forward to a 20-30 minute drive to worship in a temple. I think you should be able to appreciate that we will soon be able to attend the temple on a Saturday morning and still coach a son or daughter’s baseball/soccer game in the afternoon, even though it will be less exciting for you. I think you should appreciate that we won’t have to leave when it’s dark and come home when it’s dark just to attend the temple, even though it may be less exciting for you since there will be fewer people in DC and you no longer have a cafeteria at your disposal. Sorry to disappoint.

  19. Researcher,

    Perhaps the VF site is a bargaining chip with the city in the likely event they or the local labor unions make it difficult for the Church. I do think parking, especially on Broad Street, will be an issue. There are many in my suburban ward for whom a $25.00+ parking expense will be a deal killer or will keep their temple attendance about the same as is now, 2-3 times a year. Either downtown Philadelphia or VF will do, so long as it doesn’t end up in New Jersey-think Cherry Hill.

  20. John M, I frequently go to the Washington temple and agree with you that the Philadelphia temple is not being built to relieve congestion at the Washington temple. I can understand your sense of nostalgia about the busy days when Washington was one of the few (if not the only) temples on the East Coast.

    Having said that, I think you need to consider that there are things going on the kingdom that you simply don’t understand.

    I will never forget when the Campinas temple was announced in Brazil — everybody in Rio, where I lived, was saying, “hey, what about us — there are two temples in Sao Paulo state but none in Rio.” Well, just a month of so after Campinas opened the Sao Paulo temple was closed for more than a year for extensive renovations. Everybody who would have gone to the Sao Paulo temple instead was directed to Campinas. Lots of work got done that would have been stopped without the additional nearby temple. And now both temples are still busy because the Church continues to grow in Brazil. (Allow the Church is not growing very well in Rio, interestingly).

    So, is it possible Washington will be closed for renovations for some time? I was just there, and there’s some worn-out carpet that could be replaced.

    But this is just one of literally hundreds of different reasons that the Philadelphia temple may be necessary. Has it occurred to you that the Church may be about to grow significantly in Philly, just as it has in the NYC area in the last 10 years (just as a new temple was announced in Manhattan)?

    A little humility when it comes to the kingdom of God — especially when history shows we simply are not privy to everything going on — is always a good thing.

  21. Researcher, would you be so kind to cut and paste what is posted on the stake website into a comment for me. I tried to access it but it won’t let me read it because I am not a member of that stake. Thanks.

  22. I can understand how my thoughts would be unwelcome to saints in Philadelphia at this time. They just received amazing news, and here I am having a problem with it.

    The great change of having a temple in their own metropolitan area is being bestowed on four stakes. For those in York and Harrisburg and further west, the work of reaching the temple will not much change. Special concerns such as Researcher‘s that confine her to home territory are exceptional, and to accommodate all saints in such circumstances would take hundreds or thousands of temples more.

    She mentioned a 7AM to 7PM youth temple trip that her husband helped with. With a local temple, perhaps three hours of travel would be reduced from such an activity, and then since it doesn’t take as much overhead to get there, the time in the temple will be reduced, and a meal doesn’t need to be planned as part of the activity. That reduces the time commitment for each individual temple excursion, but I don’t think it buys us as much total time as we may imagine, especially with the old idea that a visit to the temple is a remarkable experience that stays with us without monthly revisits.

    Regarding expense of traveling to the temple, those who enter the temple tithe their increase. Even someone working 20 hours a week for $8 an hour is tithing $16 each week. Those who receive the endowment need to be in a position to independently direct their lives. $40 to visit the temple a few times a year is not an exceptional burden, and for those few whose poverty would make it an exceptional burden, free rides arranged with ward members are a much more feasible arrangement than placing a temple within the domain of each municipal transit system. Again, a temple in Philadelphia changes nothing for a poor saint in the York stake.

    By the way, I have lived 30 miles from the Detroit temple, and 300 miles from the Denver temple, so I have some idea of the matter from those perspectives too. If interested, you can read that here.

    I do appreciate the variety of views on the matter being expressed here. Sarah wrote “I believe that temples and the building thereof are directed by God. He knows where temples need to be built. He knows why and when they should built. It is through HIS guidance that President Thomas S. Monson (as with every prophet before him, including Biblical prophets) has decided when and where and HOW to build the temple according to God’s commands.”

    I agree with those words. I don’t yet understand the new order altogether and how it complements the old order of temple worship. It’s appealing to imagine that my reasoning would never be able to discern the motive for the Philadelphia temple because Thomas Monson was inspired to announce it solely due to fervent prayers of someone like Researcher.

  23. First off – are the stakes west of York and Harrisburg going to go to Philadelphia? We haven’t heard that. For York, Harrisburg, Williamsport, Reading, Scranton, Valley Forge, Philadelphia, Cherry Hill and (most of) Wilmington stakes, travel time will go down. And it won’t be that hard to drive to a SEPTA or PATCO station and take the train in for most temple patronage.

    I’m in Wilmington stake and I was pleasantly surprised to hear this announcement. (I’m still overwhelmed about Rome, as I served my mission in Italy.) I’m not sure exactly why we’re getting this now, but we are.

    I moved to North Carolina about the time the Raleigh temple was announced. Watching it get built and dedicated (I even got an apartment across the street) was an experience I still cherish. A significant part of that was seeing the difference it made to the Saints there, even if Washington was “just” four or five hours each way.

    The Columbia River Washington Temple is a “smaller” temple that is very well-used. I know this because 1) it’s where my wife was endowed and we were married, and 2) President Hinckley told the Washington DC temple workers a few years ago how the Washington, District of Columbia temple has ten times the floor space, but the Columbia River, Washington Temple is two-thirds as busy. (This actually is a good part of why the Philadelphia announcement was a pleasant surprise.)

    A bigger surprise (even if I knew it would happen eventually) was the Rome announcement. I think about the Italian saints I knew (I served my mission there) who drive twelve (or more) hours each way to Bern (or Frankfurt when Bern was being remodeled.) It reminds me of my childhood in Nashville, when my parents would leave my brothers, sisters and me with relatives for four days about once a year. That way they could take a day to drive up to Washington, spend two days there, and take a day to drive back.

    I don’t quite understand the timing on Philadelphia either, but it does feel right to me. I can remember twenty years ago there were two wards in the city and county of Philadelphia: one English and the other Spanish. Now there are six wards and two branches, including a YSA ward and a Spanish branch. And many of the suburban meetinghouses that had one ward then now have two.

    Again, I’m pleasantly surprised. But it’s not for me to question it.

  24. I enjoyed this post and these comments. I remember as a child in the mid-50s the excitment of the Saints in SoCal when the LA temple was announced — no more trips out to Mesa — so I smiled at the thrill of members in OC upon the announcement of the Newport Beach temple — no more trips up to LA or down to San Diego.
    As a freshman in Deseret Towers ’69-70, we made frequent trips to perform baptisms for the dead in our temple in Manti. We almost joined the dead once: running late because of a forgotten recommend, our driver (one Brother Metcalf) made the 76-mile trip in 45 minutes.
    As a missionary in Argentina in the early 70s, I watched faithful Saints scrape and sell possessions for what they supposed would be a once-only visit to the nearest temple — Los Angeles. How grateful they must have been 15 years later for the announcement of the Buenos Aires temple.
    In Detroit, in the 80s, we had the 550-mile trip to Wash., DC, then we contributed to the Toronto temple’s (330 miles) building fund, followed two years later by assessments to help build the temple in Chicago. Now they have their own temple tucked behind their stake center.
    As you posted, there was something powerful about the experience of a *journey* to and from the temple — I remember awaking en route on the bus to impromptu singing of “Abide With Me,” my grandmother’s favorite hymn and we’ve all understood the depth of the experience of the Camaroonians’ trip ( — yet I welcome the extra time we now can be *in* the temple, however commonplace the experience may become.
    With time, this constant weaving of the temple into ordinary lives can become even more profound than special trips that may draw much of their effect more from the journey’s ordeal than from imprinting of the temple’s message. We may not feel the sudden spiritual surge beyond hum-drummery, but the constant IV-drip-like suffusion may be more effective in changing our natures.
    A personal example: for Spring Break shortly after returning from my mission, several of us at the Institute rented one of the patrons’ apartments behind the LA temple. We entered the temple each morning without thought of what we’d do or having set a time to leave. We’d ask the workers what they needed us to do and we let the experience be what it was. Over the days, we became more one with it. I came to feel that I was out of time and in eternity.
    As I attained this perspective, I noticed much of what I had been in some visitors who seemed interested more in going *to* the temple than in being *in* it. Once inside, being able to tick “temple” off their monthly checklist, they seemed eager to leave. They would try to be first to reset their ceremonial clothing, fidget if the group prayer seemed overlong. Instead, as repeating the physical activities of the performing the ordinances made them second nature to me, I learned to enjoy a deliberateness in performing them. I quit trying to “win.” This helped me to meditate upon and embrace what the temple offers. As happens in so many parts of our restored gospel, this growth caused me to look outwards to sense opportunities to ease others’ unease. I began to pace myself to finish when did those few for whom the temple company usually has to wait.
    These lessons only were learned by spending my time in the temple instead of journeying to and from it. Perhaps the re-centering of the experience to what’s within the temple from what’s without is the purpose of placing temples in districts where existing temples have open capacity.

  25. John Mansfield said: “It’s appealing to imagine that my reasoning would never be able to discern the motive for the Philadelphia temple because Thomas Monson was inspired to announce it solely due to fervent prayers of someone like Researcher.”

    Hey! Don’t blame it on me! 🙂 Of all the many things I have been praying over and dealing with in the past years as a member of the “outmigration” and now as the mother of a child with medical needs, praying for a temple in the area never crossed my mind. I do know that many members have prayed for it, and a couple of years ago in Stake Conference, a plea was made that the members would stop writing to SLC requesting a temple. (See Luke 18:7.)

    I hope this formatting works for the quote for Michael. This is it in its entirety. I don’t know who wrote it, but I do know that it was common knowledge in our stake as early as last year that this sort of temple was an option in the City.

    The web page has an option “format for printing,” so I’m assuming it’s meant to be shared…

    Philadelphia Temple Announced (see map)

    During the Saturday Morning session of General Conference, President Monson announced the Philadelphia Temple! It will be located at Broad and Noble (between Spring Garden and the Vine St. Expressway, see enclosed map). It will be a multi-chapel building with a temple included, similar to that in Manhattan. The enclosed picture has the location highlighted in red.

    Remember to express gratitude to Heavenly Father for this blessing, and remember it still in your prayers so that there are not significant hurdles that stall it.

    I’m not enclosing the map, of course, but if you plug “Broad and Noble, Philadelphia” into google maps, it is the parking lot in the upper right corner of that intersection.

    If it were up to me, I would personally choose the Valley Forge location. But it’s not and I didn’t. Could the location change? Possibly, so I’m not going to set my heart on any particular result or any particular time frame. At this point, knowing how long it could take to build, I’m more excited that my children will get to see the process than that I will get to attend the temple any time soon.

    Thanks, John, for the very interesting post and discussion. Sorry if I’ve taken it at all in a more practical, rather than theoretical direction.

  26. Manean, who do you expect will tend to feel more of a rush to get in, get done, and get home: someone who lives twenty miles away who popped in after work or has a Saturday afternoon soccer game to get to, or someone who travelled 200 miles and set aside the whole day?

    John Taber, I expect that all Pennsylvania stakes will be in the Philadelphia district because political boundaries seem to be a recurring feature of the newer temple districts. For example the Columbus, Ohio temple district consists of 13 of the 14 Ohio stakes plus one stake each from Indiana and West Virginia, states that don’t yet have temples. The Cincinnati East and North stakes attend the Columbus temple, but the Cincinnati Ohio Stake is in the Louisville, Kentucky temple district. Note that the stake center for the Cincinnati Ohio Stake is also in Kentucky. Columbus would be closer than D.C. for the Pittsburgh stakes, but they are not in the Columbus district. Similarly, no stakes in southern Virginia are in the Raleigh, North Carolina temple district. On the other hand, there are five stakes in North Carolina that are in the Columbia, South Carolina temple district, so I could be guessing wrong about the Pittsburgh stakes shifting into the Philadelphia temple district.

    From Reading, it looks like the temple will be an hour away instead of two. That’s nice. For Scranton, I suppose travel time to the temple will go down from three hours to two hours. That is not a difference that changes anything. I don’t see the saints in Willamsport, Harrisburg and York stakes reducing their travel to the temple even half an hour, and for some the trip will be longer. I live in the Frederick Maryland Stake, which borders the York stake; some of the wards in the York stake are farther from Philadelphia than mine is. One family from our ward moved to Chambersburg (in the York stake) and the father continues to commute to his job in the District of Columbia.

  27. When we went to the Manhattan temple one Saturday last February for my daughter’s wedding, we rode the subway. It cost $2 per person. And, my arm got tired holding her wedding gown.

    But I’m not complaining. I remember friends’ weddings in Washington 20 years ago, when the wedding party traveled down the night before, caught a few hours’ sleep in Bill Marriott’s place, woke at 5:00 a.m. to get to the temple, and then rushed out at midday so they could return to New York for an evening reception.

    By contrast, when our daughter was married, we slept at home, went to our friends’ for a wedding breakfast for about 30 family members and close friends (a tight squeeze in a Brooklyn townhouse) and then off by subway to the temple for a 2:00 p.m. wedding. Afterwards, photos in the snow at 65th and Columbus, the bride and groom off with the photographer in his SUV for some pictures elsewhere, and we took the subway back to the church for the reception. Beats the New Jersey Turnpike.

    And I remember packing all the stake’s youth into a bus or three and traveling five or six hours to Washington, all to act as proxy in baptisms for five or ten persons, then on to the cafeteria for food and “temple cookies” and then another six hours home. In one post-trip testimony meeting, it seemed that the bus ride got most of the attention, and one young man, wise beyond his years, leaned over to me and commented that “there sure are a lot of people who have a testimony of the bus ride.”

    There may be instructions for the poor benighted souls living in the suburbs about where to park around the Manhattan temple. But I don’t think there are any special deals. People “who know” leave their cars at home.

  28. There’s also a stake in Tennessee that goes to Columbia, and another one that goes to Atlanta, despite Memphis and Nashville having temples. It’s primarily by distance, but smaller temples’ districts tend to have a limited radius so that they aren’t overcrowded. Sometimes an area that could go to one (like Virginia Beach/Chesapeake) sticks with another temple that’s farther away for that reason. No one leapfrogs, though, and state lines in and of themselves aren’t usually factors. Where the roads are very often is.

    The Church’s site ( has lists of all the temple districts. Take a look and you’ll see there are some rather predictable patterns. No, I don’t know where York, Harrisburg, Williamsport, or Scranton will ultimately go. I do know that Williamsport right now goes to Palmyra unofficially.

    My stake (Wilmington Delaware) is now in a bit of a quandry because its southernmost units will still be closer to Washington, while its northernmost units can easily take SEPTA into Philadelphia. The Brethren will have at least a year (more likely two or three) to work all that out. I’m not going to worry about it.

  29. I live a 20-minute walk from a temple. From the late 19th-century through about 1960, the vast majority of church members, living in the Mormon Corridor, either lived next door to a temple or could reach one with a few hours of wagon or train or auto travel. Was the temple experience of the majority through the majority of our history “not special” because it didn’t involve particularly arduous travel? We’re only now beginning to catch up with the geographic growth of the church, duplicating for a far more widespread membership the kind of experience that most church members have been familiar with through most of our history. This is a bad thing? The experience was supposed to involve major sacrifice to the point where it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many? I don’t think so.

    Being nostalgic for an experience that was peculiar to your area and not pertinent to the entire church is an understandable thing, but so too is it understandable that such things go by the wayside. For you it was travel to a distant temple (but not the temple ritual itself). For me it was all-Church cultural activities at June Conference. Tit for tat. Welcome to the international church.

  30. I predict, if the Valley Forge site is chosen, a couple of north and central New Jersey stakes will prefer to travel to Valley Forge. The lack of parking in Center City brings the same disadvantages of the Manhattan Temple to Philadelphia (tolls, congestion and parking fees).

    My sons preferred going to baseball games in South Philadelphia (one hour) rather than to Yankee or Shea Stadiums in NYC, because of the time (2 hours), congestion and expense.

  31. Ardis, would you care to rescind that line about the temple ritual being not a significant experience for me? My mind is not on bus rides; it is on treasuring remarkable experiences in the temple, that are marked with enough attention that they stick with you more than a month or two. You know very well that monthly temple attendance was not part of the pattern for most endowed Utah saints.

    When I bring up this change in focus, people think I am longing for sacrifice and suffering or something. That’s not it. I’m writing about the difference between recognizing a friend’s birthday once a year, or your parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, compared with each morning greeting someone in the office with a quick “Happy 47 years and 236 days on Earth.” I don’t understand the hostility to my notion that some spiritual experiences should be special occasions, and others don’t understand why I think there should be any special events in life, like a wedding for instance, that are any different from the day before and the day after.

  32. John M, I don’t think there’s any hostility out there, but you need to recognize you have made a very strong statement basically calling into question the direction of temple-building in the 21st century. To you, it is less special than having fewer, bigger and busier temples (that is, at least, how I view your post after reading it several times). You have taken a strong position — there are others of us who simply don’t see it that way. Ardis is giving important historical perspective — for the Saints of, say, 1910, most of the temples were relatively close (Logan, Manti, SLC, St George at least).

    I lived four and a half horrible hours in traffic from a temple in Florida, and my wife and I could only make it twice a year because of lack of babysitters, time pressures, etc. Now we live one hour from a temple in Colorado and we go once a month. Ubiquity does not make the experience less special for us — just the opposite. If a temple were 15 minutes from our house, as it is for many people in the SLC area, we would probably go twice a month. At the end of the day, that is what the prophets are seeking — closer proximity to the temple allowing for more work to be done for more people on the other side.

  33. Geoff, you’ve moved? Give us the details!


    I’ve read the post twice now, trying to understand what you are getting at. If my response seems incoherent, all it means is that I probably should have read it a third time before responding.

    For LDS people in the Midwest, out temple-going experience has been termendously enhanced by the construction of temples in Nauvoo and Winter Quarters. They are not only closer to many of us, but they also bring us into our history and and foster an enhanced appreciation for the Restoration. But the Nauvoo and WQ temples have taken a toll on the one in St. Louis, which is reducing its hours due to fewer available patrons. They’ve also taken out the cafeteria there, and it isn’t unusual for sessions during the weekdays to be cancelled because nobody shows up.

    In other words, I think I understand what you are getting at, but I want to point out that it works in reverse as well.

  34. John, I’ll rescind anything that you find offensive, but I didn’t say anything about the temple ritual not being special to you — I was talking about the experience of TRAVELING to the temple, with its attendant difficulties and reunions and expeditionary qualities. Since the ritual is the same whether you walk across the street and ride a bus for days, I thought the value of the difficulty of getting there was what your post was about, since that’s all that has gone away with the multiplication of temples.

    Apparently I don’t understand your post at all. What has the building of more temples changed, except the difficulty and frequency of attendance? (No hostility intended; if my initial comment was off track, I honestly don’t understand your post.)

  35. Let me try to express what has changed for me. The temple had been, among other things, a place where the saints gather that is alive with the strength of Zion focused in one place. Our congregations may be small and scattered, but in this place there are many hundreds of us at any time completely dedicated to the Lord. When I worshipped in the Detroit temple for three years, that feeling was mostly absent. I would arrive at the temple by appointment during one of the few hours it was open. There might be a dozen or fewer people in the building, never more than perhaps fifty if every room were packed. A stake temple night wouldn’t work. Why should it matter that others be present in the temple with me? Well, some parts of the endowment are received as part of a company. Some days the Washington, D.C. temple feels just a little bit like the Detroit temple. For months now, the temple has been surrounded by bare dirt that there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to have re-landscaped. Imagine what it would feel like to enter the Salt Lake Temple and find the place deserted but for a handful of temple workers and a couple dozen patrons.

    Now this change was directed by a prophet, so that’s just how it is now. That doesn’t mean the 20th Century didn’t happen, also under the direction of prophets. Mark Brown’s example with the St. Louis temple is an interesting one that I had wondered about. It was dedicated in June 1997 under one concept of what a temple should be and how it should be used. Then in October 1997, President Hinckley announced our new concept. A temple like the one in Philadelphia isn’t created to provide ordinances for anyone who wouldn’t have fairly readily received them without it; this isn’t at all the same as putting a small temple in some remote land that finally makes it possible for some saints to visit the temple more than once a decade. It is being built for reasons or inspiration that never were applied to us before.

  36. Was the temple experience of the majority through the majority of our history “not special” because it didn’t involve particularly arduous travel?

    Was it the majority through most of our history? I’d be really interested in those figures. I can see it being the majority the first half of the 20th century. But I wonder both about the 19th and second half of the 20th.

    But that’s picking. My point was less about the “arduous travel” (although I do think there were benefits in my wards for whom going to the temple wasn’t like going to the movies). Rather it was recognizing that while we need to make it available to all when there are so many temples they aren’t as special simply because of the sheer number. Plus, I’m pretty convinced that the institute buildings that convert into a temple twice a week lose the sense of sacred space.

    When there were so few temples that inherent rareness made the space more special. When there are dozens and dozens of them they lose that and become more like a somewhat special Stake Center. I don’t think one can get around that fact.

    That doesn’t mean that the convenience isn’t important. It certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be building them – especially in countries where it’s hard to go to one. However just as I think in Utah there is a certain “taking for granted” I think this is starting to spread worldwide.

    There’s always a tradeoff in everything we do. And I think in this case the benefits are clear. But we should be aware of what we lose as well. By focusing on the ordinances like almost an assembly line the other elements of the temple in binding together a community are lost. So John’s points are well made.

    Just think of what the temple in the various periods of LDS history did. Whether it be Kirtland, Nauvoo, or the building of the Salt Lake Temple. Those elements are being lost. Perhaps that’s unavoidable given the size of the Church. But it is something significant that has changed.

  37. John M, temples are expensive to build. I’d be willing to bet that the Church had other financial pressures in the 1930s and 1940s and could not consider temples in those two locales.

  38. So the prophecies we’ve always heard about temples “dotting the earth” are meant to be understood only in terms of geographical convenience based on local membership population?

    What of the diplomatic/missionary potential of temple building? (Certainly something like this was in the back of everyone’s mind when President Monson announced the Rome, Italy temple!) Does anyone have statistics on baptisms as they rise/fall/stay the same in an area in the year or two after a temple opens? Wouldn’t it be great if, because of this temple, five years from now it’s serving six stakes instead of four?

    New temples can also serve as a motivator for members. As the ambitious building program reminds us of the importance of temple work, perhaps we might all be reinvigorated in our determination to serve more frequently.

  39. For all the “busyness” at the Washington Temple on Saturdays in the early 1980s, it was an empty, lonely place on weekday afternoons. Once in Washington for a conference, I went up to the temple for a few hours one afternoon, and found myself in an endowment session with about 10 others.

    And, one real advantage of the smaller temples–the “reunions” there are with our neighbors and friends. My daughter’s wedding was performed by our stake patriarch, long a member of our ward (until growth resulted in a division), our stake president when we moved here, the man who ordained me a high priest and then later a bishop, whose younger son I set apart as a missionary. The officiators in the other ordinances are often friends from all across the region whom we have known for years from stake and regional activities. Being in the temple with them makes it seem much more like a family affair. There’s something good and right about the temple feeling like a homecoming.

  40. I still also say give it all some time, John. These temples aren’t just here for us in the here and now. They are here for generations to come and for the millenial work.

    I understand the satisfaction of gathering, but that *can* still happen. And who knows? Maybe this is another thing that can be a motivation toward spreading the gospel, too. The goal of all we do is to bring people, to gather people, to the temple. If temples are empty it only underscores the fact that we need to be finding more people for the missionaries to teach (a la Elder Bednar).

  41. Well the temple site has been selected! Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple will be erected in center city Philadelphia just south of Spring Garden Street on Broad Street. No design for this temple has been completed, but it is expected to be similar in concept to the Manhattan New York Temple.

    I wonder part of the reason for continual building of temples is to prepare for the long term need, even though current membership may not support it. Or does having a temple help with missionary efforts, church visibility, member retention or other positive effects to the church?

    I also wonder if the net effect that having closer temples does mean ordinances actually increase in total even though other temples experience a decrease in patrons.

  42. I must admit that the selection of the North Broad Street location has led me to much pondering. It is so out of the norm to select a downtown location on a medium type city like Philly. I can understand the need to have it downtown in Manhattan and Hong Kong. These are major international cities with strong residential neighborhoods. But Philly is just a city like Detroit or Boston or Baltimore or San Francisco. Why the downtown location?

    And then I started thinking of our expectation that Temples are built to withstand the trials and upheavals of the last days. They are meant to stand through the Millnnenium.

    And because President Monson is a Seer as well as a Prophet, does the selection of downtown Philly speak to something he sees? Is Philadelphia a select city that will survive with its downtown intact whilst other cities lose theirs.

    The North Broad Street location is not in the best of areas. It is bordered on the north by North Philly which is beset by crime and poverty. To the east is Chinatown and the Convention Center and to the south is the Masonic Temple and City Hall.

    There must be an unspoken reason for the selection of the downtown location compared to the beautiful suburban 20 acre site in Valley Forge.

  43. It’s clear. Suburbs are so 20th Century. As fuel costs increase, and becomes scarcer, the population will return to cities, where transportation (by foot, bicycle and mass transit) will be the norm, and automobiles will become the exception rather than the norm for daily commuting and errand-running. Thirty or 40 years hence, the suburbs will be empty shells around vibrant city centers, and the temple will be there, where the people are.

    Besides, it will give an altogether new meaning to the term “Broad Street Bullies.”

  44. Not far from Temple University! As Mark B. says, much more intelligent to put it close to mass transit.

  45. You can actually visit the site right now via the internet and google maps. That instersection is loaded into their street view library. The pictures are clear and you virtually walk all the way around the lot as well as the adjoining neighborhood.

    I wonder how often the google street views are updated and whether we’ll be able to watch the temple coming out of the ground from the comfort of our homes via google street views.

    I still wish it were in VF. Is there a church court of appeals to file an appeal of the decision to put the temple in Center City. Although it would not be a bad day to do some temple work in the morning and head down to the other end of Broad Street to watch the soon-to-be-world champ Phillies play in the afternoon.

  46. It is true that the Washington DC Temple has become increasingly less used by members in the Eastern United States. I would like to point out though that one of the strongest determinants in where new temples are built is not just the number of members served, but how long stakes have been established in the area. A stake has been in Philadelphia since 1960. Once a stake has been established in a city for a considerable about of time, a temple is usually announced. Furthermore we have seen steady increases in membership and new congregations established in Pennsylvania over the past decade. In other words, the temple in Philadephia was not announced just for the sake of the Church being able to say “we have a temple in Pennsylvania.”

    We are in a stage of temple building in the United States where we are building temples to increase the number of ordinances performed. If that means that a temple is 50 miles closer for a group of stakes (which can produce a large enough increase in ordinances performed to merit a temple), then that means members are able to go more frequently. Only in places such as Utah and Arizona are new temples constructed in order to accommodate the great demand present in those states.

    Keep in mind that 8-10 years ago several temples were constructed that only served 2-5 stakes (like in Nova Scotia or Sasketchewan). These small, usually 10,700 square foot, temples are primarily located in North America. Almost all of these temples were constructed in cities where stakes have been present for over 25 years. The majority of temples announced today serve at least 10 stakes and do not fall into this category. The temples constructed today are usually around 17,000 to 30,000 square feet.

  47. Basically the Washington DC Temple is changing its role from the “East Coast Temple” to a local temple for members in VA, DC, and MD.

    As membership of the church continue to increase and more stakes being created in the DC/NoVa Area as well the growth of SVU, local members will pick up the slack at some point.

    I totally appreciate the urban concept of the Philly Temple. So many more members will be to attend. The Temple could also serve as a catalyst for future redevelopment in the area.

  48. RE: John Mansfield on October 7th, 2008 6:30 am
    Manean, who do you expect will tend to feel more of a rush to get in, get done, and get home: someone who lives twenty miles away who popped in after work or has a Saturday afternoon soccer game to get to, or someone who travelled 200 miles and set aside the whole day?
    in response to my comment of October 6th, 2008 10:24 pm
    My point wasn’t about who would feel more rushed but that increased time *in* the temple would be more valuable than the imprinting caused by a longer journey going to and from it. I agree that a longer journey could bring greater pondering during the much-less-frequent times in the temple. My comment, however, was meant to suggest that this benefit is more than offset by the increased frequency and cumulative amount of time *in* the temple afforded by greater proximity.

  49. Why can’t we just have the faith necessary to understand that we do not see the future as Heavenly Father does? He knows what is going to happen, and thus He prepares, far in advance, for those happenings. What is going to happen when the 10 tribes return? They will have temple work to do. Temples dotting the land will make that work so much easier that a few “big, old fashioned” temples will ever be able to handle. Heavenly Father is directing tis work through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the head of this church. If you accept President Monson, and all the previous prophets, as actual Prophets, living among us today, then follow them and have the faith that Heavenly Father knows what He is doing!!

  50. When the Lord gave Joseph Smith the commandment to build the original Nauvoo Temple, one million dollars was an unimaginable sum for a church that frequently stared bankruptcy in the face. Later on Brigham Young prophesied that there would be “thousands” of temples in the future. Since then their successors have been quite methodical and strategic in the selection of temple sites, taking into account their role as catalysts for future growth and a place for rescuing souls living and dead as well as serving members in the temple district.

Comments are closed.