SALT LAKE CITY — Seventeen years ago, the LDS Church had 50 temples in 22 countries, but not enough for a global church whose members believe temples provide the "crowning blessings" of their faith.
Some of those members saved money much of their lives and traveled for a week or more to finally attend a temple and receive those sacred blessings.
In October 1997, then-President Gordon B. Hinckley announced an aggressive program of construction, saying church leaders were determined "to take the temples to the people and afford them every opportunity for the very precious blessings that come of temple worship."
In the short years since then — shorter than the lifespan of the youngest of the church's younger-than-ever missionaries — 89 new temples have opened. Many of what one church leader called "a flood of small temples" are 1/10th or even 1/20th the size of the faith's largest temples but they now reach 19 additional countries and 17 U.S. states where none had been before.
The building program continues. Another 29 temples have been announced or already are under construction, but this batch includes something different. Three of the next few temples to open will be larger than any the church has completed since President Hinckley's announcement.
This week, the First Presidency, under the direction of President Thomas S. Monson, invited the public to an open house for the new Gilbert Arizona Temple. At 85,000 square feet, it will be the largest temple completed since the Mount Timpanogos Temple, with 107,240 square feet, opened in October 1996 in American Fork, Utah.
The Gilbert Arizona Temple open house will be held between Jan. 18 and Feb. 15, excluding Sundays. The tours are free and reservations can be made soon at www.gilbertmormontemple.org.
The temple will be dedicated in three sessions on March 2 and become the faith's 142nd operating temple. A cultural celebration featuring music and dance is scheduled for the night before.
The underlying principle behind the smaller temples was doctrinal.
"I believe that no member of the church has received the ultimate which this church has to give until he or she has received his or her temple blessings in the house of the Lord," President Hinckley said in his 1997 announcement. "Accordingly, we are doing all that we know how to do to expedite the construction of these sacred buildings and make the blessings received therein more generally available."
The answer, he said in April 1998, was to provide more Mormons with "nearby temples — small, beautiful, serviceable temples."
The practical application of the principle was a standardized base design of about 10,700 square feet, the exact size of the Kyiv Ukraine Temple completed in 2010. These temples do not include some typical amenities. They do not, for example, provide the opportunity for members to rent temple clothing. Construction took months, not years.
"What has happened since the 1990s has been that the church has focused only on what is really needed in that space," said Brandon Plewe, a BYU geography professor and chief editor of the book "Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day History." "Do we really need a cafeteria? Do we really need a laundry?"
Plewe's website, MappingMormonism.byu.edu, includes a timeline that shows when each temple was built and displays their relative size with different-sized squares.
Some of the smaller temples have reduced schedules — at least one is open three days a week — something President Hinckley envisioned.
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