Holding ward meetings in the chapel of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building will provide "an outstanding missionary opportunity," according to the bishops of the wards that will meet in the former Hotel Utah.
"Our members are excited and looking forward to moving," said Bishop Douglas D. Neuenswander of the Eighteenth Ward, one of two wards and a branch that will now call "home" the remodeled elegant building in downtown Salt Lake City."We look at it as a missionary opportunity," he said. "There are bound to be lots of visitors who will want to come over here. We have formed a committee to have ushers greet them and make them feel welcome."
The two downtown wards and branch that will meet in the building are made up of nearly all adult members. The three units of the Salt Lake Eagle Gate Stake are the historic Eighteenth Ward, which was created by Brigham Young in 1849; the Canyon Road Ward with Richard E. Turley as bishop; and the Eagle Gate 3rd Branch, with Earl R. Olsen as branch president. The units have been meeting in the auditorium of the Church Office Building. The Eagle Gate 3rd Branch was created a few months ago exclusively for the full-time Family History missionaries.
Offices of the Salt Lake Eagle Gate Stake also will be housed in the new facility.
The hotel's former elegant LaFayette Ballroom on the mezzanine has been converted to a chapel with padded pews, an elevated rostrum area with seats for a large choir, and a pipe organ. The chapel has seating for about 350 people and an overflow area for another 150 people. Also on the mezzanine are classrooms and office space for the wards and branch.
The new meetinghouse facilities answer a critical need for space in the Eagle Gate stake, which has nine units but only two buildings, said stake Pres. W. Herbert Klopfer. Members in the two wards that will meet in the new facility are mostly older adults, with some young marrieds and a few infant children.
Having a convenient downtown location is exciting for leaders and members alike. Here, the older members can walk in good weather and avoid climbing hills in snowy weather to the other meetinghouses in the stake. And a chapel for smaller meetings is available at Church headquarters when needed. Non-member visitors to Temple Square can also attend a nearby meeting.
"It is a beautiful arrangement," said Pres. Klopfer. He described it as the "best of two worlds" - very close to the downtown condominiums, yet a well-fitted chapel in every respect.
Pres. Klopfer talked about complexion of the stake: "Our rate of activity is very high, which always means we have more people available for callings than we can give jobs."
He noted a number of stake members serve as General Authorities, including President Ezra Taft Benson and President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency, two members of the Council of the Twelve and more than a dozen members of the Seventy.
"The presiding Brethren always sit on the stand," he said. "A bishop may not preside for months."
He said members are occasionally nervous about speaking in front of General Authorities. "They always have a little lump in their throats more than they would have otherwise."
However, "You wouldn't believe what wonderful people the General Authorities and their wives are - their gracious gestures and their kindness."
For the historic Salt Lake Eighteenth Ward, moving into the elegant Joseph Smith Memorial Building is just one more chapter in a storied history that goes back nearly a century and a half.
While the Canyon Road Ward and Eagle Gate Branch are relatively new, the Eighteenth Ward's roots stretch back to the time of Brigham Young. Presiding Bishop Newel K. Whitney was the first bishop of the Eighteenth Ward. The ward's first search for a meetinghouse was solved with an adobe schoolhouse where Brigham Young's children were taught.
Today, Bishop Neuenswander explained: "I have all the normal challenges except youth programs. We average about 250 in attendance, with usually over 70 percent activity rate.
"It is a great privilege to meet here; I know our ward members are thrilled," he said. "We'll welcome anyone and hope they'll feel happy here."
Meeting in the chapel will bring back memories for Bishop Richard E. Turley of the Canyon Road Ward, and his wife, Jean, who used to dance there when it was the LaFayette Ballroom.
Bishop Turley, whose ward is only one block square in downtown Salt Lake City - one of the smallest in area in the Church - said, "We're looking forward to meeting there. There are sure to be many visitors. We hope that those who do visit us will be uplifted by our meetings."