Pres. Hinckley wants temples just a day away

Sociologist does not expect LDS growth to cool off

With church membership projected to continue growing at an unprecedented rate worldwide, President Gordon B. Hinckley has said he eventually wants to see a temple available "within a day's journey" of every Latter-day Saint.

So as the growth of the church drives temple-building, with an ever-growing pool of tithing funds available for their construction, dedication of the church's 100th temple in Boston totals nearly one temple dedicated per week during the year 2000.

And the pace shows no sign of slowing. On the eve of its 170th Semiannual Conference, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is 11 million members strong and has 21 additional temples announced or under construction.

Church leaders have long said the rapid spread of temples portends the continued acceleration of membership growth worldwide. And while some observers are skeptical, sociologist Rodney Stark agrees the two are connected and that growth will continue.

"It's pretty clear that growth isn't cooling off, and I don't expect it to," Stark, a University of Washington religion researcher who has studied the growth of the LDS Church, told the Deseret News on Thursday.

Stark has called Mormonism the "next great world religion" and predicts its membership will swell to 267 million members by 2080.

While people on the East Coast are "barely aware of the church — they don't have temples in their towns," Stark said, he believes "there has been a lot of change (in people's perceptions about Mormonism) even in the time I've been paying attention. I think it has a lot to do with continuing growth."

Construction of new temples not only creates curiosity and proselytizing opportunities but allows faithful members to engage in sacred ordinances they believe will exalt them and their kindred dead eternally, sealing their families together forever.

Completion of 100 temples is a "historic milestone" that "shows what you can get done if you set an objective and work your head off," President Hinckley told reporters last Saturday in Boston. Recalling his announcement during conference in 1998 of 30 new temples, he said afterward, "I sat and wondered what I'd said. Through the efforts of many wonderful, hard- working and very diligent and faithful people, it has come to pass."

Yet other milestones await.

Reconstruction of the Nauvoo Temple in Illinois, seen by many Mormons as the crown of the church's 20th century temple-building efforts and a return to their spiritual roots, is progressing rapidly according to Gale Mair, project manager for Legacy Constructors there.

The north, south and east exterior walls have been built to the roof line, and three levels inside have concrete floors completed.

Placement of the stone veneer on the outside walls is scheduled to begin mid-November. Replicas of the sun, moon and star stones that characterized the original building, which was destroyed when the early Saints were driven from the state after church founder Joseph Smith's martyrdom in 1844, are now being carved by several different craftsmen, he said.

The project is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2002.

Another temple completed earlier this year had church members reflecting on the explosive nature of growth for the relatively young faith. Hundreds of thousands watched via satellite in April as President Hinckley dedicated the temple in Palmyra, N.Y., on a hill little more than a stone's throw from the grove of trees where as a 14-year-old boy LDS Church founder Joseph Smith said he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1820.

Stark said countries outside the United States present the greatest opportunity for growth and he wonders if Africa isn't the church's next great frontier. "The race issue has been solved . . . I'd really be interested in what is going on in Africa. The only encouraging thing that seems to be going on there is church growth."

With one temple completed in South Africa, and two others announced — one each in Accra, Ghana, and Abba, Nigeria, there is little doubt that Stark isn't the only one wondering what part the beleaguered continent will play in the future of such a rapidly growing church.

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