100 temples: Temples become reality with incredible swiftness

Completion of nearly 50 temples in the last two years is a fulfillment of a prophetic challenge that comes at the right time in the Restoration, said F. Keith Stepan, managing director of the Church's Temple Construction Department.

The remarkable period of temple building began with an announcement by President Gordon B. Hinckley to build temples smaller, and to build many more of them. The first of these was completed in Monticello, Utah, in 1998, as the Church's No. 53.

In the next two years, some 38 temples that existed only in prophetic vision became reality with incredible swiftness and another seven already under way were completed. Another three will be completed before years end. During one 35-week period, 30 temples were dedicated. Smaller temples in the United States were built in an average of 9.5 months, while those outside the United States rose from shovel to steeple in 11.5 months.

What makes the project singular is the quality with which each temple is built. The pattern established by Solomon of the Old Testament is still followed. Solomon gathered the finest materials from at home and abroad, and brought in the best builders and artisans for the project.

For the new temples, builders imported art glass windows from Germany and England, and chandeliers from Belgium and New York. They selected hand sculpted carpets, while committees sorted through local art to find that which was appropriate for a temple. Only the very best would be suitable, for the grand results would be called a House of the Lord.

About the time President Hinckley announced the concept of smaller temples, Brother Stepan became the managing director of the Temples Construction Department. In his 25 years as a local architect and 10 years with the Church, Brother Stepan had never seen such a large building project of this quality.

"It was a huge excitement," he said. "My personal reaction was, 'What a wonderful challenge! What prophetic vision!' We felt a real urgency on President Hinckley's part, a real need to get this done.

"Bishop Keith B. McMullin [of the Presiding Bishopric], Elder David E. Sorensen [of the Presidency of the Seventy and Executive Director of the Temple Department] and I made a commitment that we would do that," said Brother Stepan.

The Church's temple construction people, who were instructed not to increase the size of their staff, started brainstorming. They met with local contractors who had built temples, and "we explored all kinds of things we could do," said Brother Stepan. New concepts and new processes were developed. One of these was developing a clustering concept of construction. In this, a headquarters team would supervise work on a particular continent — the blue team had Europe, for example — while contractors experienced in temple building would erect multiple temples within a region or country. A Church project manager would live in the area and travel to inspect the work. Men with building experience and their helpful wives were called as full-time missionaries to live at each site to ensure temple quality work on a day-by-day basis.

Sites already owned by the Church were used where possible. Especially attractive was acreage at stake centers where zoning requirements had already been met.

"Of course, we developed standard plans," explained Brother Stepan. "The small temples are similar, but not identical. Each one has local cultural aspects, including the design of the furniture, art work and exterior stone and landscaping concepts."

Some things, such as the decorative metal temple fences and the fiberglass statues of the Angel Moroni, the oxen at the baptismal fonts — and the fonts themselves — were mass produced in one location and shipped to sites. This brought up a problem that even the wisdom of Solomon didn't have to face: getting these items though the customs of developing nations.

There were many other challenges. "A big part of the project was the interior design," said Brother Stepan. Four teams were organized at headquarters to design and do the skilled, intricate finish work on all the temples. They maintained quality while accomplishing volume by doing such things as designing pre-cut stencils and making wall coverings with gold leaf that could be attached instead of painted.

Getting the exterior stone was a problem that eventually slowed and even delayed some temples. The final stone for the No. 100 Boston Massachusetts Temple, for example, was received and placed while visitors walked by to attend the open house. "In the future, we will develop better relations with the stone manufacturers," he said.

"There has been an incredible amount of detail," continued Brother Stepan. "Even I didn't realize how much detail work was done" — from hanging chandelier crystals in the right direction to cleaning dirt from the cracks of the steps and everything in between.

Through it all, remarkable things happened. Almost no vandalism was experienced. Local members and residents pulled together to help in any way they could, and communities began talking about "our temple." The staff at headquarters, contractors, workers and others fairly blossomed with talent and creative new ways to do things.

"We found some wonderful people out in the world who have really helped us," said Brother Stepan. "Without all the people contributing in their different areas, it never would have happened."

He told of youth at the Colonia Juarez Mexico Temple who laid sod until late at night "with mud all over them." These same youth removed litter along an entire highway leading to their town so President Hinckley would find it clean when he arrived.

"We saw that spirit over and over and over; people helping and people doing; it has been wonderful to see the saints do this," he said.

As an example of the devotion behind the projects, leaders counted hours of service by the faithful 42 missionary couples serving at temple sites. In six months, they logged 77,000 hours.

Spiritual experiences were frequent. Seven workers including the supervisor at the Raleigh North Carolina Temple site, taught by the construction missionaries during lunchtime, were baptized. The absence on the site of loud music, swearing, smoking or drinking created an atmosphere that affected for good many other workers.

Although he felt overwhelmed at times, Brother Stepan can now look back on the past two years with "a great feeling for meeting President Hinckley's expectations."

He said that it is wonderful for all involved to see the appreciation of the saints. "The equity of blessings has been spread to many, many more people."

Now that the goal of 100 temples has been reached, he feels a sense of relief. But this relief will be temporary because "this is not a stop sign. Temple building will go on, though probably not at the same pace.

"All of us in the Temple Construction Department are blessed to be a part of it."

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed