We’re All Utah Mormons Now

September 26, 2007 | 45 comments

After we got to talking about temple attendance in Elders’ Quorum I mentioned Pushing Towards the Temple. Our high councilman was sitting in. He observed that whoever was pushing towards the temple, it wasn’t us. The major effect of the Church building a temple out here in our backyard is that we started taking the temple for granted, he said. We’re Utah Mormons now, he said.

Obviously we’re not “Utah Mormons” in every way. Most Mormons in Utah aren’t either. But there is a sense in which President Hinckley’s temple-building program has brought a great many more of us the same opportunities and the same risks that the Saints in the central places have had all along. Will we go to the temple if we don’t have to push through mud to do it? In our temple district, the Saints who are the farthest away have the highest rates of attendance.

And because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.

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45 Responses to We’re All Utah Mormons Now

  1. Ray on September 26, 2007 at 6:55 am

    Truly profound, Adam.

    I have had the same thought as the temple has gotten closer and closer to us. (10 hours, then 6 hours, then 4 hours and now 2 hours) When we feel we can go pretty much any time, we often stop scheduling it – which means we end up going less often, since it’s never on our calendar. It’s ironic – and terribly sad.

  2. lamonte on September 26, 2007 at 7:07 am

    “In our temple district, the Saints who are the farthest away have the highest rates of attendance.”

    Here in the Washington DC temple district we used to have overflowing sessions when there were no temples in Boston, Manhattan, Palmyra, Columbus, Raleigh etc and our temple district reached over much of the east coast. Now when my wife and I work on Thursday nights we sometimes have to cancel a session because no one is there for that session. We’ll hold a session if only one person shows up (the temple workers fill for all the needed parts).

    I suppose this is evidence that those of us who live closer were always the less valiant ones when it came to temple attendance. I know I should do better myself. I serve as an ordinance worker on a regular basis but I only go as a patron on a rare occasion.

    Adam, thanks for giving us something to think about.

  3. Jack on September 26, 2007 at 8:44 am

    And yet they’re considering putting up third temple in Salt Lake valley and a third in Utah Valley. SOMEone’s going–and it ain’t me.

  4. John Taber on September 26, 2007 at 9:07 am

    According to a high councilor in my ward who is also a sealer (he used to be a counselor in the temple presidency) President Hinckley not long ago told the staff at the Washington D.C. temple that the Columbia River Washington Temple has one-tenth the floor space of the Washington, District of Columbia, temple, but has two-thirds the volume.

    Currently (according to http://www.lds.org/temples) Washington DC’s district has forty stakes (eighteen in Virginia, ten in Pennsylvania, seven in Maryland, two in West Virginia, one each in Delaware, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia) and one district (in Pennyslvania). The farthest stakes seem to be about 180-200 miles away in all directions. Columbia River’s district has ten stakes in Washington and one in Oregon, the farthest being about seventy miles away. So Columbia River has about a quarter of the members covering one-eighth the land area.

    I’m going to think about this some more and come back to it.

  5. Nate Oman on September 26, 2007 at 9:25 am

    As one of the people living in a Washington DC-temple-district stake that is some distance from the temple — it is probably on average a three hour drive for folks in our stake — one of the things that I have noticed is that ward and stake temple trips are better attended than they were in my ward in Northern Virginia. I think that in the DC suburbs it is easier to say, “I’ll skip out on the stake temple day, and just go when it is more personally convienent.” On the other hand, when there is a greater upfront investment in temple attendence (e.g. six hours in the car, extensive child care needs, etc.) the stake temple trip, where some of those costs are shared, looks a lot better.

  6. Peter LLC on September 26, 2007 at 9:37 am

    I dunno. When a temple was built a 90 minute drive away we went often ’cause it was cool to go and could be wrapped up on a Saturday morning. Utah was even easier–all the righteous kids went and it was just a five minute drive, which meant a session didn’t unduly interfere with life. Now that our district’s temple is in a different country, I’ll be durned if I’ve gone yet.

  7. Norbert on September 26, 2007 at 9:53 am

    When we did temple trips to Sweden, they were community events — the boat trip, the dinner in the accomadation center. I think many members miss that. (I do not. It was impossible to sleep on the boat, the currency exchange … )

    But now in Helsinki there is a feeling that it’s OUR temple. I don’t know if the numbers are down or not, because I don’t think they really keep track in that way. But we used to go the Stockholm about twice a year and do 2-3 sessions per trip. To equal that we’d only need to every other month. We go much more than that.

  8. Keri on September 26, 2007 at 10:02 am

    I used to live about 2 hours from the temple (counting for lovely Bay Area traffic), and I went on a regular basis. Now that I live 25 minutes from the temple, my attendance is sporadic at best. Thanks for the reminder not to take it for granted.

  9. Sue on September 26, 2007 at 10:13 am

    I remember before they built the LV temple, my parents would go on overnight temple trips to the St. George temple with other couples in the ward. I’m not sure what they liked more – going to the temple, or having an excuse to get away from all of us kids for a while. Then they announced the temple, and I remember how much effort everyone put into fund raising for it, what an emphasis there was on the members earning enough to be able to make the temple building possible. But I have no memory of my parents going once it was built. They probably did, and it just didn’t register with me any longer, because it was not such a huge event, but I don’t remember it. I know the attendance rates at the LV temple are quite low, lower than they estimated they would be based on the rates of attendance at the St. George temple.

  10. John Mansfield on September 26, 2007 at 10:20 am

    In the case of Brother Greenwood’s Albuquerque temple district, many of the stakes farthest from the temple (Alamosa, Manassa, Farmington, Bloomfield) which he reports have the highest rates of temple attendance, are also places where the Church is a much larger and older presence than in Albuquerque. In that sense, those saints, who are reported here to be the most frequent temple attenders, are the most “Utahn.”

  11. Ardis Parshall on September 26, 2007 at 10:29 am

    Our ward is within a half mile of the Salt Lake temple — I could see its spires from my window now, if only Brother Campbell had built a one-story instead of a two-story. Ward members help me with my temple projects by doing 5 initiatories in a lunch hour. Several times recently ward members working in nearby office buildings have met me for a quickie at the Family History Library (“quickie” being 10 minutes for clearing a name for temple work) in the morning so they could go to the temple on the way home from work the same day. I don’t know what our stats are, but anecdotally we’re taking advantage of the proximity.

    Our ward meets for dessert at some member’s home after the monthly ward temple session, in part to provide that communal aspect that encourages members to go *tonight* instead of *whenever*.

  12. lamonte on September 26, 2007 at 10:36 am

    John Tabor #4- I was present at the meeting of ordinance workers when President Hinkley made that comment. He also commented on the actual operating costs of the DC temple compared to the Columbia River Temple. In the meantime they have closed the cafeteria in DC and they have turned over part of the cleaning tasks (vacuuming, table cleaning etc.) to the ordinance worker staff on the evening shift. Who knows, maybe if we increased our attendence they would open the cafeteria (that would be a mixed blessing!)

    Nate #5- I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Organized temple trips that require more sacrifice are better attended than the ones the require a short drive around the beltway or that rely on ward members going at their own convenience.

  13. MDS on September 26, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Thanks, Adam. This resonates with me.

    During my three years in Miami for law school we found ourselves making the trek with the ward to Orlando almost every month. My classmates were often flummoxed to find I went to Orlando for the weekend and spent my time in church, and not at the amusement park.

    Now that I live in North Salt Lake, about equidistant from the Salt Lake and Bountiful temples, my attendance isn\’t as regular as it should be.

  14. JrL on September 26, 2007 at 11:01 am

    “In our temple district, the Saints who are the farthest away have the highest rates of attendance.”

    Has someone with the ability to do so actually documented that? It seems unlikely to me. After all, no one records my ward or stake when I go to the temple (though that may change when they start scanning the barcoded recommend I just received). I’ve heard such things for both the DC temple district, where I used to live, and the St. Louis district, where I live now. But I’m dubious. Sure, if you come on a weekend you’re likely to see a crowd from an outlaying stake who came together, perhaps by bus. But does that mean the nearby stakes don’t have at least as many patrons there over the course of the week? Not at all. Yes, ward and stake temple days are better supported the further away the unit is from the temple. But there seem to be a lot more folks who get to the temple more often in the stakes nearer the temple.

  15. John Mansfield on September 26, 2007 at 11:02 am

    It’s not so bad when critics of the Church complain of the money we lavish on temples, but when the president of the church does it, I’m not sure how to take it.

  16. David Clark on September 26, 2007 at 11:36 am

    I just moved from Los Angeles to Dallas and my temple attendance has gone way up (once a quarter to once a month). The reason is that I no longer have to fight the 101 freeway, then fight the 405 freeway, then fight the horrendous constructions on Santa Monica Blvd that never ends, then put up with the eye sore that is Santa Monica itself. Total mileage to the temple is about the same.

  17. Matt W. on September 26, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    In the San Antonio Temple, the locals all work at the temple, and I’d say 25% are people from my stake everytime I’m there. We go every other month, as that is what works for us in our schedule and with our small children. I have kept my eye out for Julie Smith, but haven’t run into her yet. Maybe I need to go more often…

  18. roland on September 26, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    So what is the standard for temple attendance?

    Once a week if you’re retired?
    Once a year if you’re married with children?

    I hear of retirees who each week will make at least one visit to each of the three temples in our area. (That’s three sessions a week.)

  19. roland on September 26, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Another Question -

    Does your ward make temple assignments?
    Does everyone participate, or just the usual suspects?

  20. Dave on September 26, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    It’s too easy to just blame members for being lazy or unrighteous because they don’t attend the conveniently located temples as often as they might. The best explanation for the behavior under discussion is that most Mormons are happy to socialize as part of a longer trip (to the temple) with other members of their ward or branch, but they just aren’t that thrilled with “going to the temple” all by itself. This is in line with the (not officially released) results of the late 1980s survey by the Church of temple attitudes of active and practicing members of the Church which resulted in the 1990 modifications that we can’t talk about.

  21. Bro. Jones on September 26, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Ironically, as I’ve moved closer to temples, they’ve actually gotten harder to reach. “In the old days” a trip from New England to the DC temple was fun (and full), and I still have fond memories of that trip. Boston’s temple was much less farther from my suburban South Boston home than DC, and we had no car, but public transportation was such a pain that it would still wind up taking all day.

    Calling the Chicago temple “Chicago temple” is kind of a gag, because it’s quite far from Chicago. And not close to the highway, either.

    And now finally I’m in Northern Virginia, and even though I can practically see the DC temple if I get on a high enough building, darned if it doesn’t take an hour to get there unless I go during the day or in the middle of the night.

  22. Bro. Jones on September 26, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    Double-posting to indicate my sarcasm, in case it wasn’t clear. I can’t say my temple attendance has dropped over the years, because I’ve always been a very occasional patron. It’s not that I don’t want to go–I tend not to be in a “temple frame of mind” and I try to prepare for a few weeks. (Yes, I know I’d probably be in the frame of mind more if I went more often, but explain that to my wife.)

  23. Julie M. Smith on September 26, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    “I have kept my eye out for Julie Smith”

    LOL! We always go to Houston because I have parents in Brenham and a brother in Houston who can watch the kids for us. We haven’t been to the SA Temple since the dedication and probably never will.

    #20–more proof that I am weird. I refuse to attend group temple outings. It is too private and I don’t want to socialize there.

  24. John Taber on September 26, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Julie #20:

    That’s why I don’t currently plan to attend our stake’s temple day in two weeks. (Besides the fact I’d have to leave work early, it’s two to two and a half hours each way, total toll is $9 – more if you don’t want to hit a million lights in Delaware . . .)

  25. John Taber on September 26, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    I meant Julie #23. It’s private for me too.

  26. lamonte on September 26, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Dave #20 – I think you may be right about an event where Mormons can socialize with their friends being more popular than one that requires personal discipline by yourself. But I’m not sure we should condemn anyone for that attitude. I think regular humans feel the same way, not just the Mormons. It’s probably better just to plan more group visits.

  27. Jacob M on September 26, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    I understand, Julie and John, about the temple being a very private experience (which, you have to admit, is sublimely ironic – a ritual that must be performed with other people brings an experience so personal that you can’t share it with others) yet, at the same time, it can be gratifying to see your friends in the celestial room, and get a little taste of what the “sociality” will be like up there! Also, my single’s ward goes out to dinner afterward, which is pretty late, but hey, we’re single! Part of the beauty that I see in going with the ward is that sometimes it helps you reevaluate the other members in the ward. But that is kind of a threadjack.

    Anyway, it’s tremendously disappointing to be a California Mormon being called a Utah Mormon! (Grin) But, alas, Adam is right. Even though we used to have to drive an hour and 15 minutes to get to LA, we know have the Newport Beach temple less than 10 minutes, and less of us attend the temple nights now.

  28. Visorstuff on September 26, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    I also think a factor is that people typically attend more than one session during organized temple trips – so with a large group of people attending at the same time session after session it is “busier” while they are there. In Utah, I don’t think I ever did more than one session a day.

  29. alea on September 26, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Back when I worked for the church, I had a conversation with someone who ran stats, etc. in the Tower. He pointed out that building a temple closer to a stake (in regions that were previously 3 or more hours away from a temple) didn’t actually increase temple work coming from that area. What did increase, however, was temple recommend holders, which meant more full tithe payers.

    Also, the increased number of temples hasn’t really affected the cost it takes to run ordinances on a single given name yet (47 dollars each, which is a bargain for salvation, don’t you think?). But, perhaps, if smaller temples are drawing away from bigger temples, we might see a reverse of the current practices and have smaller temples open longer hours and the larger temples all but closed for a few sessions a week.

  30. Visorstuff on September 26, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    The Vernal temple was created from another building. In areas where the temple is under utilized could this be reversed? Would a temple ever be decomissioned from ordinance work and used in a non-ordinance way? What would be a secondary use for the Los Angeles Temple? Would it ever happen (at least until the millenium when we’d need as many temples as possible)?

    I’m thinking back to the Independance Temple complex – one temple was for printing, another for administration offices, storehouse, etc. Of course there were no chapels until the Utah period when tabernacles and chapels were first built…so the word temple had a different meaning.

    And would a recommend be required to enter these decommissioned from ordinance work temples?

  31. Sarah on September 26, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    There are certainly more temple nights now that the temple isn’t 8 hours away (though I’ll note now that a] it’s still two hours away from the branch I first lived in in Ohio, and b] we had members who got to DC in six hours, though I don’t want to know how they did it.) I don’t know if more people are going now — I do know that in the mid-90s we had ONE stake temple trip, which was also our Youth Conference, and I think it might have been Stake Conference too. We spent the whole weekend in DC, my parents were gone almost all the time either doing meetings or ordinance work, and I did at least two baptismal sessions. That trip got me so jazzed about the temple that at age 15 I navigated the bus routes from Long Beach to Santa Monica to do baptisms by myself (my branch president had to get me special permission — I guess they don’t normally do one-person baptism sessions) because my non-member dad didn’t want to drive me and I thought it was indecent to be within 50 miles of a temple and not do temple work of some sort. The youths who lived closer to Columbus (and in real wards) were far more used to temple trips than we were — they were also less impressed by tri-stake dances, Youth Conferences at Denison University (most also went to EFY) and the rest of it.

    My impression is that more temple sessions (compared to before) are participated in by the people who went from 8 hours to 2 hours away, but less by the (more affluent, generally) people who went from 8 hours to 30 minutes away. However, I was a teenager in the less affluent branch and am an unendowed adult in the more affluent ward, so it’s nearly all conjecture anyway. The only thing I know for sure is that our ward’s youth have *monthly* baptisms at the moment. Actually, I’m also absolutely certain we have more temple *workers* in the ward than we did before, and the same is true of the branch. Being an ordinance worker in a building two or three states away seems to be pretty rare, since it basically means moving; we didn’t have any in the branch and only two couples in our current ward have said that they were DC ordinance workers before.

  32. Ed on September 26, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    I think I can relate to what Dave is talking about in #20 about rank-and-file members not being excited by temple work. I just recently went to the temple after not having gone for about two years. No real reason for my hiatus other than just neglect and apathy. During that time I’ve read a lot about the temple ceremony’s overlap with Masonry, changes to the temple ceremony, etc.–all the things that might undermine one’s belief in the Church’s claims about the temple.

    So when I participated in a temple endowment session last week, both my long absence from the temple and my temple-related reading allowed me to view the endowment ceremony with fresh eyes. And I am still dumbfounded by the experience.

    While sitting in the endowment session, I could definitely see several aspects of the temple ceremony that to outsiders (and maybe even many temple-goers) might seem strange, awkward, clumsy, goofy, unnecessary, and unduly formalistic. I am sure that if a skilled Hollywood writer were given the task of using images, sound, and audience participation to create a “spiritually moving” multi-media experience, he/she could come up with a presentation that feels more like a “spiritual experience” to a wider audience than perhaps the endowment ceremony does.

    But as I sat in the endowment ceremony, despite my recognizing all these reasons why one might not expect to feel God’s Spirit in that setting, I was awestruck by how undeniably powerful the Spirit of God was burning there. And for me, that remarkable juxtaposition of what critics might call the “weirdness” and “clumsiness” of the temple, alongside the undeniable presence of God’s Spirit there, gave me a deep testimony that the temple truly is the House of the Lord, despite the seeming improbability of that bold claim.

    As members of the Church, I think sometimes we catch that spiritual fire at the temple, and sometimes we just don’t. But it’s there, and I can’t wait to go back.

  33. Adam Greenwood on September 26, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Thank you, Ed. We needed that.

  34. Ray on September 26, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Beautiful, Ed. Thanks very much.

  35. John Mansfield on September 26, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    Some may find interest in a graphic prepared earlier this year,
    “Proximity to the Temples of North America, Central America, Hawaii, and the Caribbean.”

  36. Roger on September 26, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    I remember living in San Antonio, TX and traveling with friends on a bus for six hours to attend the Dallas Temple. It made for a hard trip at times. My friends commented that when they moved back to Utah, it will be nice to have a temple closer. We visited those friends after thay had lived in Utah for about two years. I asked them how nice it was to live closer to a temple. They commented that with the Tiponogas Temple being built it will only be a close five minutes now instead of having to travel a whole thirty minutes to the Jordan River Temple. My how our perspectives change!

    Maybe a topic for another time…does anybody know why the church doesn’t streamline the temple session by eliminating anything not pertaining to the actual ordinances? Would cutting the time to less than an hour encourage more attendance?

  37. California Condor on September 26, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    Roger (36),

    I was at the Frankfurt Germany temple for a marriage sealing, and I think I did about 4 endowment sessions that same day. I think that’s just how they roll in Europe since most Mormons live so far away from the temple; they want to get a lot of sessions in when they take a trip to the temple. The 4 sessions that I did seemed a lot shorter than sessions in the United States. The temple was smaller, and that helped things go quickly.

  38. a random John on September 26, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    On a somewhat related note, I’ve had conversations with members of the temple department and they’ve made it clear that the reason that large temples keep getting built along the Wasatch Front is that the Wasatch Front is where the demand is. So say what you will about the “Utah Mormons” but at least some of them are going to the temple a lot.

  39. Brigham Young, Jr. on September 27, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    “Maybe a topic for another time…does anybody know why the church doesn’t streamline the temple session by eliminating anything not pertaining to the actual ordinances? Would cutting the time to less than an hour encourage more attendance?”

    Considering that the original 19th century LDS sessions used to take 6 hours, I would think that the present-day 2 hour sessions have probably been cut back as far as one can go.

  40. queuno on September 28, 2007 at 2:25 am

    A little over a decade ago, the Dallas Temple served 67 stakes. It was said at that time that the members needed to do more temple work, because the Dallas Temple was only running at 25% capacity.

    Fast forward a bit more than a decade. The Dallas Temple has about 18 (ish) stakes in its district. And the last I heard, we were being exhorted to attend more, because it was only running at 25% capacity.


  41. Patrick on September 28, 2007 at 3:38 am

    This is a dated example, I suppose, but in the late 80′s we lived in Alabama and attended the Atlanta, GA Temple. At the entrance to the dressing area there was a table with a sheet of paper on it listing all the Stakes in the Temple distrrict. We were asked to make a mark next to our Stake as we entered to change our clothes. The statistics we were quoted at the time were consistent with the observation made earlier. The greatest attendance seemed to come from the units furthest away from the temple – the Huntsville Stake in Alabama, and the southernmost Stake in Florida (this before the Orlando Temple was built).

  42. It's Not Me on September 29, 2007 at 12:33 am

    I understand the sentiment of some to keep their temple experience personal, but as a ward leader where we are 10 minutes from a temple, I am a little disappointed that we get so few of our members to attend together on ward temple night. Even those who like to have their “alone time” at the temple ought to be able to set aside their personal interests one night every few months to come add their strength to ward temple night. Plus, we have refreshments after.

  43. Richard O. on September 30, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    I grew up in Moses Lake, Washington, part of the Columbia River Temple District. M.L. provides many of the patrons and temple workers for the Columbia River Temple. Most of the members of the Church in Moses Lake had strong links with Utah, Idaho, and S. Alberta.

  44. a random John on September 30, 2007 at 9:21 pm

    Brigham Young Jr.,

    My understanding is that Joseph Smith Jr. did 30 minute endowments. Your daddy expanded it to an all day affair.

  45. Roger on October 1, 2007 at 11:50 am

    I attended the other night and found a lot of unnecessary information that although entertaining and/or informative, was not relevant to the actual ordinances. A shorter session could especially benefit the men as I know there is less attendance on the males versus females. Maybe this would inspire people to stick around and attend two sessions if they were only 30 minutes long. Just a thought.


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