"The other factor here," Plewe said, "is you have the really large temples built in areas where traffic is really high."
The Gilbert Temple will become the 18th-largest in the church, but soon will be surpassed by the Payson Utah Temple (96,630 square feet), which is nearing completion, and the Provo City Center Temple (85,084 square feet), which is under construction on the site of the Provo Tabernacle.
Those three temples are being built in areas with larger concentrations of Latter-day Saints. The Payson and Provo temples are expected to open and immediately reach full capacity as church members use them for the faith's highest sacraments, such as marriages and the sealing of families for eternity.
Much of the traffic is from members putting family history research, for which the LDS Church is known, into action as they perform ceremonies such as baptism and eternal marriage on behalf of those who have died — a practice Latter-day Saints believe was followed in New Testament times but that later was lost.
Access to proxy baptism ceremonies for converts was one major blessing counted by a counselor in the Alabama Birmingham Mission presidency when the 10,700-square foot temple opened there in 2001, altering the profile of the church in the state and providing new opportunities.
John Enslen said congregations throughout the state immediately began to take new members to the temple to perform baptisms while they were learning about and preparing themselves to receive other temple ordinances.
"There is a special spirit in and about our temple that strengthens the resolve of our new converts to live for the eternal blessings that only the sacred temple covenants can offer," Enslen said. "The temple may be small in size, but it has had a giant impact on the lives of the many Alabama saints who have partaken of the available temple experiences."
Four years after his announcement, President Hinckley said, "We are constructing new buildings on a scale of which we never have dreamed before. We must do so if we are to accommodate the growth of the church."
He said the construction of temples is one of the bellwether marks of the growth, vitality and maturing of the church.
"We will continue to build these sacred houses of the Lord as rapidly as energy and resources will allow."
His successor, President Thomas S. Monson, noted two years ago that the church built 21 temples in its first 150 years. In the next 33 years, it has added 121 temples. Today there are temples in 41 nations and 32 U.S. states.
Temples are under construction or announced for yet an additional three countries — Italy, France and Congo — and four other U.S. states — Connecticut, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.
"Eighty-five percent of the membership of the Church now live within 200 miles of a temple, and for a great many of us, that distance is much shorter," President Monson said. "Those who understand the eternal blessings which come from the temple know that no sacrifice is too great, no price too heavy, no struggle too difficult in order to receive those blessings."
The Gilbert Temple will be the fourth operating temple in Arizona. A fifth is being built in Phoenix, with approximately 58,000 square feet, and a sixth, in Tucson, was announced a year ago.
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