PAYSON, Utah — The size of the Payson Utah LDS Temple is deceiving. It appears massive first from on the outside, where it rises majestically above ground and dominates the skyline, a commanding presence along I-15.
Inside, the lobbies and landings are large, and many of the rooms are sweeping, especially the celestial room and marriage waiting room, the latter looking like it could double as a grand hall.
And to some participating in Tuesday's media tour of the new edifice, it seems impossible that despite its 96,630 square feet, Utah's 15th LDS temple ranks just 10th on that list in actual size.
The 500,000 people expected to visit the temple during a monthlong open house that begins Friday will find architecture that has created more generous spaces throughout the temple than are found in most of those larger temples.
Clearly, the Payson Temple was built to handle a lot of people, to be a busy temple in a state where temple work is expanding among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"We're trying to address the needs of so many people here that it necessitates a building of this size," said Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the church's Second Quorum of the Seventy.
The church is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of endowed members with current temple recommends, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said earlier this month at the faith's general conference.
There is also increased temple work being done.
Church members throughout Utah County have reported a sharp rise in recent years in the number of LDS teens participating in baptisms for the dead. Those teens regularly wait for an hour or more at both the Mount Timpanogos Temple in American Fork and at the Provo Temple.
The need for a third temple in Utah County is readily apparent to local Mormons who attend either temple. There now are 2,000,554 Mormons in Utah, according to a church website. That means that even with 15 Utah temples, there is now just one for every 133,370 members.
"We have so many faithful members of the church here in this valley, and the needs just keep growing for the availability of temple ordinances," said Elder Wilson. "Our temples in Utah are very busy, and there's a need for more temples to serve the number of the members we have here. This temple was built out of the need to respond to approximately 100,000 members who live in this area."
Elder Wilson said that even after the Payson Temple opens June 9 and after the completion of the new Provo City Center Temple, all of the Utah County temples will remain busy.
The Payson Temple presidency is bracing for a bustling launch in June, after the open house ends on May 23 and after the June 7 dedication. The temple has been taking reservations for a couple of months, and already more than 100 temple weddings are scheduled, said Elder Kent F. Richards, the church's executive director of church's temple department and member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy.
The temple will be staffed by more than 3,000 volunteer ordinance workers, he said.
But before temple work begins, 20,000 volunteers are prepared to help with parking, ushering and other duties during the open house. Reservations for more than 310,000 tickets were made on the first two days the free passes were available at templeopenhouse.lds.org.
"We want everyone to come," Elder Richards said. "Even though it seems like a challenge to reserve a time, there will be more times available."
The night before the dedication, more than 13,000 LDS youth — and many of their friends — will dance and sing at a cultural celebration. "Fill the World with Love" will be held June 6 at 7 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.
Planners anticipate the stadium's 62,000 seats will be filled to capacity.
The Payson Temple has an apple blossom motif, a nod to the rich tradition of apple trees in nearby Santaquin and other parts of Utah County. Locally made glass artwork throughout the temple features the blossoms.
Other distinctive features include sapele wood harvested in Africa and creama marble and emperador light marble quarried in Spain.
The celestial room is spacious, with six main chandeliers, a white ceiling with gold trim and glass artwork of apple blossoms. It includes six large couches and 56 additional seats.
The temple has seven sealing rooms, including three large rooms that each have capacity for 70 guests.
Elder Richards described temple ordinances for reporters, saying that temple work is a process of learning and making covenants.
He called the sealing ordinance "the most important thing that happens in the church" and said this "ultimate ordinance" means marriages and their resulting families can endure eternally.
"That's the essence of the LDS belief," he said, "that we are sons and daughters of God and that we can live as families with him forever."
Elder Richards also described temple work for the dead. He said that Latter-day Saints learn about their ancestors and then perform the temple ordinances on their behalf.
"Of course they have the opportunity to choose whether to accept them or not," he said. "Our responsibility is to provide them, and then they can make decisions bearing on their eternal salvation."
April already has been a significant month for LDS temples, beginning with the surprise announcement at general conference of plans for three new temples in Ivory Coast, Thailand and Haiti.
A two-week open house is underway for the Córdoba Argentina Temple, which will be dedicated in May and become the church's 145th operating temple.
And after the Payson open house begins Friday, church leaders will break ground Saturday on the Star Valley Wyoming Temple.
Located at 1494 South 930 West, the Payson Temple will serve approximately 93,000 Latter-day Saints living in 27 Utah stakes from Mapleton to Nephi and Delta.
"I'm just so happy we could have a temple like this for the members here who have done so much to build the church not only here but around the world," Elder Wilson said. "I think the Lord is blessing the people here in a way that reflects a sense of gratitude for what they have done to enable this work to spread across the earth and to enable temples to be announced in places like Ivory Coast and Bangkok and Haiti."