What About Portable Temples?

April 4, 2011 | 42 comments
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In his Sunday morning session remarks in general conference, President Monson told stories of great sacrifice offered to reach temples for sacred ordinances. He told of those in the Amazon who travel thousands of miles to the temple in Brazil. He told of the dedicated Tahitian man who — with his two sons — spent a total of six years, living away from the family, working in nickel mines to earn the money to get the family to the New Zealand temple.

Given the recent local emphasis from the church on keeping families together, I was surprised to hear a story of a father and two sons leaving the mother and eight other children alone for six years being presented as a good thing. I had to wonder if there wasn’t a better way.

President Monson said:

No sacrifice is too great, no price is too heavy, no struggle too difficult in order to receive those blessings. There are never too many miles to travel, too many obstacles to over come, or too much discomfort to endure.

I understand the sentiment. If there were no other choice, then sacrificing our lives to have eternal life would be the reasonable choice. But the stories led to a discussion about “temple doctrine” and, to be honest, I’m not sure what our doctrine about ordinance geography is.

The early saints performed ordinances in all sorts of places, like spare bedrooms. Ancient Israelites had a portable tabernacle. Adam and Eve had, apparently, a place in the woods.

While the church is building more temples every year, there are still many who cannot attend readily. While President Monson indicated that sacrifice is always part of temple building and attendance — and we all know that sacrifice can be beneficial — he also said:

Our desire is to make the temple as accessible at possible to members.

Requiring inordinate amounts of sacrifice to members who live amidst lower LDS populations isn’t the goal, accessibility is. Given that, I wonder — rather than waiting years or decades until we can build everywhere or, alternatively, requiring some geographically-challenged members to give their entire lives to the cause of the temple pilgrimage — why doesn’t the church create a kind of traveling or portable temporary temple? What if, just once a year, someone in authority took the temple to remote areas to perform needed ordinances?

No, I don’t expect to get any traction with this idea and I realize I have no authority to make suggestions about temple procedure. In thinking about the plight of those who want the temple blessings in this life and who have no reasonable way to attain them, alternative means of providing them (that could, for example, keep families together) became after conference conversation at my home.

Do you have some out-of-the-box ideas about how this or other logistical problems in the church could be solved?

42 Responses to What About Portable Temples?

  1. Stephen Hardy on April 4, 2011 at 3:54 am

    I have seen this idea “floated” before, and I understand the President Kimball considered it. I think its a GREAT idea, and would love to see it happen. It could call at 12 ports a year with a three week stay in each place, and 1 week to move on. Those members living in the middle of a major continent such as Asia/Africa/South America would still have major issues with travel. But it would help.

  2. Stephen Hardy on April 4, 2011 at 3:58 am

    I realize that I didn’t explicitly state that the idea is that of a floating temple. A temple consisting of a cruise-ship. I suspect that it would have to be white.

  3. Alison Moore Smith on April 4, 2011 at 4:05 am

    Brings a whole new meaning to “Love Boat,” doesn’t it. :)

  4. Aaron R. on April 4, 2011 at 5:02 am

    I think it was McKay that considered it (cf. Prince & Wright, DoM and the Rise of Modern Modernism). Perhaps Kimball did as well, I have not seen a source for that?

  5. Don on April 4, 2011 at 7:32 am

    Why not build a temple-like room or wing to existing stake centers?

  6. Bob on April 4, 2011 at 8:08 am

    ‘Seals on wheels’? (Sorry).

  7. Dan on April 4, 2011 at 8:09 am

    What if, just once a year, someone in authority took the temple to remote areas to perform needed ordinances?

    An excellent idea. If I recall from scriptures, all you really need is a remote high mountain. In Israel, this consisted of a mountain about 8000 feet in altitude. Nephi never got that high on his travels through Saudi Arabia to the Oman coast (which he called Bountiful). I’m going to guess that any place that’s remote, quiet and uninterrupted will work. You just have to have the right authority. You can call someone to that position, just like we call temple presidents.

  8. Julie M. Smith on April 4, 2011 at 8:16 am

    Yes, the cruise ship temple idea was floated (ha!) as recorded in the McKay biography.

  9. Julie M. Smith on April 4, 2011 at 8:18 am

    I meant to add–there is clear scriptural precedent for this, what with the tabernacle being portable. Given that we treated stake centers as extensions of the temple for temple dedications in the recent past, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched to do that for ordinances.

  10. Amira on April 4, 2011 at 8:42 am

    Or we can just contribute more to the temple patron fund. That’s about the only way people in the country I’m living in can go to the temple.

    A lot of the members who can’t reach a temple don’t live anywhere near an ocean. The nearest temple is closer to us than the nearest port, and that’s not saying much.

    I can’t even imagine the logistics of moving the necessary equipment through customs or border crossings.

    Organzing enough members to help in the needed languages would also be very difficult to do until you had a reasonable number of endowed people who could speak those languages.

    It seems easier to get isolated members to the temple instead of taking the temple to them.

  11. Coffinberry on April 4, 2011 at 9:05 am

    I’m with Amira on this. Samuel-the-Lamanite-like protection notwithstanding, I have a hard time imagining how or who would protect this ship from vandals at best, pirates at worst. What nation’s flag would it sail under? Would a specific NGO have to be created for it?

    The tale told by Pres. Monson was from the 1960s. My parents had to travel three days (1500 miles) for their sealing back then. Endowed people were relatively rare in the stake where I grew up; it was truly a symbol of dedication and sacrifice. I remember when the D.C. temple was announced, and how excited people were to get to travel less than 600 miles to a temple. My mom sang at its dedication. When I was a child in Primary, we could still memorize all the temples because there were only sixteen of them. (And to think that ten times that many have been announced… with a new temple for my current stake announced just Saturday. It takes my breath away. And I’m not all that old.)

    I think President Monson’s choice to re-tell that tale was to remind us of the great privilege it is to be able to receive temple blessings. As was suggested, we could do more going, and more helping others to go.

  12. Janell on April 4, 2011 at 9:19 am

    I too have heard what I shall term an “urban legend” of the concept of a floating temple back in the late ’70s, but the version I heard continued that the idea was abandoned for logistical reasons.

    The next iteration of that idea, I suppose, would be a Children-of-Israel style collapsible temple. Just follow the instructions and assemble the snap-to temple, perform all needed ordinances, and then follow the instructions to fold it back down, load up a crate, and ship it to the next stake or region.

  13. Janell on April 4, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Though I suppose its rather blasphemous to use FedEx/DHL/UPS or other shipping services in place of Levites. Perhaps a RV-style car or Road-show approach instead.

  14. mpb on April 4, 2011 at 9:33 am

    When I was at BYU I attended a Stake Conference when one of the visiting GAs (may have even been Maxwell?) shared that there had been some thought of converting a 747 into a temple and taking it to hard-to-reach places, as well as places where the Church had found difficulty obtaining government permission to build.

  15. Matt W. on April 4, 2011 at 9:52 am

    When I was a brain new member, I heard that,per Elder Madsen and Elder Dahlquist of the 70, President Hinckley also thought through many different ideas when he came up with the concept of the smaller temple. He also had discussed the idea of a cruise ship temple (which ran into inspection issues, due to government regulations which required non-members to be able to come on a boat for customs checks etc.) and even a templed out 747 which could be flown into countries, set up and used for a limited period. (Also not feasible, since hard to reach places don’t have airports that can handle a 747.)

  16. Mark D. on April 4, 2011 at 10:21 am

    The only practical alternative I can see would be to temporarily dedicate a stake center or other church building as a temple, fly in people from an operating temple who know how to do everything right, and conduct living ordinances for prepared members who cannot easily travel to a more permanent location. Once every three to five years, perhaps.

  17. Matt W. on April 4, 2011 at 10:30 am

    I think the best alternative is to give money to members far from the temple to help them to pay to go to the temple.

  18. Suleiman on April 4, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Temporarily dedicate a building or Endowment house… as most history buffs know, there are precedents. Joseph did it in Nauvoo and Brigham did it throughout the Utah territory.

    Also, Ensign peak was used (just north of Salt Lake City) as an outdoor endowment house until the Endowment house was built in Salt Lake.

  19. Dave on April 4, 2011 at 11:37 am

    It would be nice if someone dug up details on the Tahiti story. I would like to know if that was the sort of thing many people did at that time and place, or whether it was unusual. I would like to know if local LDS leadership encouraged that course of action, or took no stand, or opposed the man leaving his family to go work in the mines.

  20. Bryan on April 4, 2011 at 11:47 am

    The temple ship concept was definitely the best idea, as I see it. In addition to the info on the plan in David O & the Rise, primary sources on it are included in “The Development of LDS Temple Worship (recently published by Signature Books). I can picture these meetings going smoothly and then Alvin Dyer pipes up with the (seemingly non sequitur comment) of “what about the curse on the water in the D&C”… What a great idea–I would love to see that happen.

  21. Romney 2012 Supporter on April 4, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    A floating temple is too similar to Scientology’s elite Sea Org boat.

  22. MikeInWeHo on April 4, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    re: 21
    I was thinking the same thing, Romney Supporter. A temple ship would be kind of creepy:

    http://www.scientology.org/churches/freewinds.html

  23. J.A.T. on April 4, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Great idea . . . a stake temporary endowment house. Love it. It’s one suggestion that is economical. For a church as small as ours is (worldwide percentage wise) it’s a great idea. We could look at it as a way to continue the temple-building mode we are in without building costs and upkeep. The bloggernacle’s conference predictions included a slow-down in temple announcements b/c of the economy. Didn’t happen, but perhaps something like this would be a way for us to balance the costs with the increase the world is seeing in joblessness, natural disasters as well as man-made disasters (war-torn countries, untreated PTSD, medical needs, etc.)

    I keep hearing the word ‘convenience’ when used in conjunction with our temple-building work and frankly, I don’t require this much convenience if it costs my brother (metaphorically speaking) food, shelter, or humanitarian aid. I grapple with this.

  24. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 4, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    It sounds like we are talking about something like one or two intermodal shipping containers that could be transported on cargo ships, trains or by trucks, and then set up temporarily at site. It would need to carry portable generators and extra fuel, and be supported by a team of ordinance workers. To survive shipment and handling it would need to have a robust shell, maybe stainless steel to decrease heating, along with a refrigeration/heating and humidity control unit. You would need a crew who could transport it, assemble it, and then take it down. You would need both men and women as ordinance workers. You would need dressing rooms and bathrooms, and probably showers, and laundry facilities, or a LOT of adjustable size disposable clothing. Assuming it would concentrate on ordinances for the living, we could leave out a baptismal font. We would still need dressing rooms, initiatory rooms, ordinance rooms, and a celestial room/sealing room. The whole thing would only be able to travel to places with basic infrastructure of roads, bridges, and diesel fuel, so it would not go to the most primitive locations. With information on the distribution of tithe-paying members versus accessible transportation and costs, a comparison could be calculated between transporting members to a temple building versus taking a Temporary Temple (a Temp-Temp?) out to semi-remote locations where it would be feasible to set it up, and there would be enough local infrastructure to house those coming in for ordinances.

    I suspect that the answer would be that the financial analysis would favor bringing people to fixed buildings. When we talk about the portable Tabernacle that served the Israelites in the wilderness and for hundreds of years until Solomon’s Temple was built in Jerusalem, the Camp of Israel constituted many thousands of people in a compact area. It would sit in one place for years at a stretch. The rural areas that are days’ travel from one of the new temples don’t have any such concentration of LDS members. Once the Temp-Temp had endowed and married everyone within a two-day journey of a remote location, it could be five or ten years before you had enough backlog of new members ready to go to the temple to justify the expense of another visit.

  25. Alan Jackson on April 4, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of temple doctrine while reading through the old testament. It’s obvious that much of what we do with the temples isn’t up to us but up to what God commands and/or allows.

    Moses was instructed to build a portable temple, and in a very specific way at that. David wasn’t even allowed to build one temple, they had to wait for Solomon to do that work. Early saints might have done temple work outside the temple, but once it was completed, those ordinances could only be done there.

    Without commenting on what specific possibilities there are now, I think we can be sure that it is a very serious topic to our Heavenly Father and something that we have to be careful to follow instructions on.

  26. Alison Moore Smith on April 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Great comments, everyone.

    Raymond, IMO a lot of what you propose for the Temp-Temp :) goes beyond “temple doctrine.” As I said, I haven’t yet heard an authoritative definition of what that is, but I feel safe claiming that humidity controls, laundry and showers, and dedicated rooms for each activity, etc., probably aren’t part of the ultimate requirement.

    Given that this is a “saving ordinance,” it would seem we would want to do all in our power to help desiring members to receive it. One room would suffice, if we are thinking bare bones, easiest to implement, most likely to reach the most people. Two if no one wants to take turns stepping out so others can change clothes. It could be a tent, even a popup tent. (Easy to put up/take down/transport.)

    Christ was baptized in a river. Is it really more sacred to get baptized in a font with gold-plated oxen underneath?

    Alan, I conceded that this wasn’t really some kind of petition to the church about temple attendance, and I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone implement the ideas. It’s just a discussion based on President Monson’s desire that we make temple attendance “as accessible as possible.”

  27. Britain on April 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I think somewhere we would need to delve into the reasoning behind Joseph Smith saying proxy baptisms in a river would be allowed, FOR NOW, but would not be permitted once the temple was built.

    It implies that a building is not inherently necessary, but that it is part of the Lord’s preferred plan.

  28. Rob Perkins on April 4, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    For Temple dedications, the Church has instructed various Stakes to issue temporary recommends to members 8 and up, and prepare Stake centers to serve as what amounted to temporary solemn assembly rooms, with telecast dedicatory ceremonies piped in over encrypted satellite connections.

    An extension of that might temporarily make a Temple out of a meetinghouse.

  29. JimD on April 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    One major issue with using a floating temple, is that ships are horrendously expensive to operate and maintain. A philanthropist recently donated about five million dollars to an organization trying to conserve an old ocean liner called the United States. But it is anticipated that most of that money will be spent primarily on dockage fees, within the next two years.

    It might be practical for the Church to build a large ship to do more or less what the Mercy Ships do–and maybe also have the capability of providing emergency housing for displaced persons, sort of like some cruise ships were chartered to do in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina–and then dedicate a portion of that ship to temple work. But if all you’re trying to do is bring temples to the Saints – I would venture to guess that it’s more efficient just to purchase land and build a structure, even if that structure is only actually used a few days a week.

    One other thing to consider is that your average ship is only going to give you thirty or forty years’ useful life. I wonder how Mormons would react to the specter of a formerly sacred temple/ship being chopped up and melted down as scrap–or, worse, sold to some entity that converted it into a floating casino?

  30. Alison Moore Smith on April 5, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    JimD, why would people care that much about what happens to a “formerly sacred” anything? A church in my neighborhood was just sold and converted to a community center. I’ve seen others used for homes. Some are torn down.

  31. JimD on April 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    *shrug* I think lots of Mormons have this idea that we don’t sell temples. (Yeah, I know Brigham Young tried to sell the Nauvoo temple; but still.)

  32. Alison Moore Smith on April 5, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    You’re probably right. I’m just not very attached to things like that and not very sentimental about stuff personally.

  33. David on April 6, 2011 at 9:28 am

    I like the idea of a Perpetual Temple Fund. Create a fund to bring the faithful to the existing Temples. I also grew up on the east coast before the days of the D.C. Temple, and knew few families who had been through. We children had all sorts of incorrect legends passed around about temple clothes (or lack thereof). When I was 8 and got baptized, another father in the dressing room was changing after baptizing one of my friends, and had garments. I thought he was wearing long underwear in the summer. My dad just said, “Shush. Turn around and get dressed.” Unfortunately, it seemed the wealthier people in the ward were the only ones endowed. Status symbol.

  34. Amira on April 6, 2011 at 10:40 am

    It appears that some people aren’t aware of the Temple Patron fund. You can donate to it on your tithing slip in the “other” category, or you can donate online at LDS Philanthropies. Members who need financial assistance to go to the temple can use the money from the fund. They still have to contribute some money, but the fund can cover a significant portion of their expenses.

    This fund has been in place for years but it doesn’t seem to be well known. I personally know quite a few people who have benefitted from it and it’s well worth contributing to.

  35. Romney 2012 Supporter on April 6, 2011 at 11:58 am

    This is a solved problem. President Hinckley solved in in 1998 with the advent of the small temple.

    See: Monticello Temple.

  36. Krissie Ireland on April 8, 2011 at 11:08 am

    “He told of the dedicated Tahitian man who — with his two sons — spent a total of six years, living away from the family, working in nickel mines to earn the money to get the family to the New Zealand temple.
    Given the recent local emphasis from the church on keeping families together, I was surprised to hear a story of a father and two sons leaving the mother and eight other children alone for six years being presented as a good thing. I had to wonder if there wasn’t a better way.”

    I heard another story of a family who set off to travel many miles to their nearest Temple. Both their children became sick and died on the trip.

    I don’t find these stories ‘uplifting’ or encouraging – they just make me feel angry and very sad. Having been to the Temple I could only wonder why God would turn the ‘afterlife’ into such a bureaucratic nightmare.

  37. nita on April 8, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    love Bob’s ideas and the other ideas. Would be neat to have these for those places where people travel so many days and have to give up so much- their homes,sell the things that bring them income, etc for the necessary tickets etc
    I totally respect and realize the need for sacrifice but perhaps an equivalent for those in the US, it would be like us having to sell our car or perhaps the ability to use our professional licenses,etc for a short time.

    I’d never thought of this for the church as a whole but rather just to have an option for those w/severe health problems who can’t get to a temple (or who have a family member who can’t).

    At times I’ve thought it would be neat to have the ability for temple ordinances to be performed in one’s home, for example for someone who had a very severe disability that made travel exceedingly difficult. They could view the endowment on the DVD, have a stake “officiator” (male or female) in their home. For the veil,celestial room it might not work. There could be a “traveling veil” that could be hung between two temporary standup poles. Then the person could view pictures on the DVD of celestial rooms in other temples (or just the one for their local temple).

    In certain cases, maybe it would also be nice to have a “sealing bench/sofa” that could be used for those who wish to be sealed to a family member who is approaching death, if that person can’t travel due to health.

  38. Krissie Ireland on April 10, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    It just struck me – why doesn’t the church just pay for worthy members to go to their nearest Temple? I’m not thinking particularly about members giving more that can then be given to others – why not just use the funds they already have. Like President Monson said “No sacrifice is too great, no price is too heavy” so why doesn’t the church sacrifice it’s funds so members can have these essential blessings? Maybe the First Presidency could sacrifice their ‘allowance’ for a year…

  39. Randolph Finder on April 12, 2011 at 4:56 am

    With the current mini-Temples, where are the current places where members have to “save for years” to go to the Temple? To quantify it, this is any situation where the cost of a single trip to the Temple is greater than the average amount tithed by a member of the ward. I think that may be a few areas of central Mexico, maybe central Brazil, East Africa, Central and South Asia. While the Kiev temple probably made a difference, I’m not sure the Rome temple will. (Anyone who can afford to get to Rome on an Annual basis probably could have afforded to get to Berne bi-annually.)

  40. chris on April 15, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    #38 – “It just struck me – why doesn’t the church just pay for worthy members to go to their nearest Temple? ”

    Because the religion which preaches the atonement as the most significant event in human history thinks sacrifice is a necessary and important part is this life. However, that doesn’t mean we should make things needless hard and there is a balance. But testimony are only born through sacrifice.

    “It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those… who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they, in like manner, offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him.” Lectures on Faith

  41. Chuck Whicker on April 16, 2011 at 11:15 am

    In regard to #40: I love that statement on sacrifice, by Joseph Smith. The biggest part of apostasy in any generation is when the people diminish the sacrifice required in their covenant, and exchange it for a lesser sacrifice, and then proceed to redefine the covenant by maintaining that the diminished form is just as acceptable. This is what the church has done in so many, many areas; such as when they claim that today’s fast offerings is “just another form” of yesterday’s law of consecration and united order. The gospel requires, truly, the sacrifice of all things. Zion is a state wherein the sacrifice is equalized; the rich make themselves “equal inearthly things”, the laborer is considered equally worthy of his hire, the way is opened for all to advance according to their merit and capacity.

  42. Buffalo on April 25, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Hey, here’s a crazy idea. Instead of spending billions on a mall, the church could subsidize temple trips for poor members. Just a thought!