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Courtesy of Chris Sorensen
Chris Sorensen and his family smile for a photo with their "RVA TMPL" license plate.

In the fall of 2014, Chris Sorensen, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Richmond, Virginia, invested in a license plate. It read “RVA TMPL.” Sorensen had become fixed on the idea that an LDS temple would eventually come to Richmond, and he wanted people to know he really believed it would happen.

“I just wanted to kind of put out good vibes I guess,” Sorensen said. “I think it was to show people that I’m serious, ‘I think we could actually have a temple here, whether it was two years from now or 10 years from now or whenever but … let me put some good vibes out there. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is.’”

Sorensen, a convert to the LDS Church who was introduced to the faith in Richmond as a teenager and was baptized his senior year of high school, says he has observed the desire for a temple in his community reflected in the lives of the members in the area and their increased focus on temple work.

“People weren’t doing those things just to someday get a temple, but I think it certainly showed a faith and a desire and a hope,” Sorensen said. “We needed to remember that we can have the blessings of the temple now even though it might be further away because if we aren’t willing to take advantage of those blessings when it’s far away, who’s to say we’re actually going to take advantage of them when it’s in our backyard?”

Ashley Burton, who grew up in Henrico County and recently moved back to the area, says she always imagined that a temple would come to the area and has prayed for one for years. However, knowing it wasn’t among the many locations for small temples announced in the late ’90s and with the Washington D.C. Temple, the Raleigh North Carolina Temple and the Memphis Tennessee Temple all closed for extensive renovations, Burton wasn’t expecting President Russell M. Nelson’s temple announcement to include Richmond.

“It was the only thing we could talk about the rest of the day, and I probably liked 100 posts about it the next day on Facebook,” Burton said.

Sheryl Ellsworth was in her room preparing for Easter dinner guests when she heard her mother, Lea Garner, who now lives in Utah but raised her family in Richmond after moving there in 1986, scream.

“Initially I thought she dropped the lasagna while trying to take it out of the oven,” Ellsworth said. “So I came out running and she excitedly told me, ‘Richmond is getting a temple. Finally! Yes!’”

Matthew Coats, a native of Richmond who works for the city and serves as his ward’s Young Men president, was watching general conference with a recent convert from Brazil in his home. There was a slight delay in the Portuguese broadcast so Coats first received a text in his Young Men priest quorum group text that said “RICHMOND!” He then heard his wife crying from another room. Then he heard it, “Richmond, Virginia.”

“I couldn’t believe it! My heart was bursting out of my chest,” Coats said, adding that his newly baptized friend also began crying. “His wife had died sometime back and after attending a special conference with now Elder (Ulisses) Soares, the day after he was baptized mind you, we went out to eat and we talked about his wife and the fact that he could be sealed to her in the temple.”

Before ordinances can be performed in the temple though, the temple will host an open house. Sorensen, whose parents are not LDS, is already excited for the opportunities the open house will bring to introduce friends to what he believes.

“From my personal experience, the open house really is what draws in the community. It gives the church a chance to really teach what we believe and let people see, ‘This is what our temples are, this is the spirit that’s here. They’re beautiful buildings and there’s nothing silly, nothing crazy that happens here on the inside. We just use them to worship in.’ I’m very excited to see how that plays out,” Sorensen said.

Kaitlyn Smith lives in Utah now but grew up in Midlothian, Virginia. Having served as a missionary in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during the open house and rededication of the Buenos Aires Temple, she witnessed firsthand the excitement that surrounds a temple while it is open to the public.

“The two months devoted to the temple open house and the temple dedication were probably the two most sacred months of my mission,” Smith said. “I saw members connect with others from different wards and stakes, and they became united in one purpose. I also witnessed this desire emerge from them to share the blessings of the temple with their families, friends and neighbors.”

While Coats is anxious to attend the open house, he says the temple will continue to contribute to the community long after it is dedicated.

“After the initial spark of interest and open house and all the excitement wears away, I think the temple will still stand as a spiritual beacon here,” Coats said, noting that more members will be able to work in the temple, attend more frequently and youths will be able to wake up early to do baptisms before school.

Shea McCartt, a young single adult who has lived in the Richmond area since she was 9 years old, says she thinks the temple will give members in the area many opportunities to share the gospel.

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“There are so many members whose personal lives and testimony will increase from having a temple so close to their homes. They will have more opportunity to do work for their ancestors. I know that it will help all the saints to be able to share the gospel more naturally and easily because people will be curious about the temple and it will be brought up in conversation. Doors will be opened and hearts will be softened,” she said.

Until then, the Saints in Richmond will be anxiously awaiting their temple.

“I feel like we're all so excited that we would help build it ourselves if the church would let us, just to make it go faster,” Coats said.