Monticello temple opens doors to public

The smallest temple ever to have been constructed in the history of the Church was opened for public tours July 15-18 in this red-rock country of southeastern Utah.

The new Monticello Utah Temple has less than half the floor space of a typical LDS meetinghouse. Yet, it has all the stateliness and functionality of any House of the Lord. And it was built to the same exacting standards, said Elder Ben B. Banks of the Seventy. Elder Banks, president of the Utah South area, conducted news media representatives on one of the initial tours of the new edifice July 15."As I have shared with my brethren, I have never seen more excitement, appreciation or anticipation than from the members of this area over this temple," he said in a briefing prior to the tour. "Though this is the Lord's temple, they consider it their temple; they are excited about it."

The new temple is the first of the smaller temples announced by President Gordon B. Hinckley at the October 1997 general conference. It has only 7,000 square feet of floor space. By comparison, the Bountiful and Mount Timpanogos temples in Utah each have about 104,000 square feet, and the St. Louis Missouri Temple has 68,000. The Monticello 2nd Ward meetinghouse adjacent to the temple site has 18,000 square feet.

In the briefing, conducted in the meetinghouse, Elder Banks said: "As nice as this chapel is, . . . temples are different from the chapels in the Church. . . . They are built as close to perfection and precision as possible because at the dedication, a temple does become a House of the Lord."

Like previous temples, the new one has a single celestial room and a baptistry but, by contrast, has only one ordinance room that seats 50, and one sealing room, which can be curtained off to accommodate smaller or larger groups.

The exterior is off-white marble – imported from Turkey, Elder Banks pointed out – with art glass windows. The lone spire is topped by a white-cast acrylic statue of the Angel Moroni, unique in design and composition from the Moroni statue of previous temples. (Please see Church News, May 23, 1998, for an article about the statue.)

With obvious pleasure, Elder Banks showed off the "beautiful workmanship" on the tour. For example, he said, it took 36 hours of donated labor to assemble the chandelier in the celestial room, with each crystal being placed by hand. And the carpet in the room is hand sculptured, he added.

Groundbreaking services were held Nov. 17, just a few weeks after President Hinckley announced the new temple in general conference along with two other smaller temples, now under construction in Anchorage, Alaska; and Colonia Juarez in Mexico.

Though the Monticello temple is a prototype for future smaller temples, they will differ in some respects, said David May of Church Architectural Services. The ones in Anchorage and Mexico, while having the same basic floor plan as Monticello, will have unique features in the art glass, exterior stone and positioning of the spire.

And, Brother May said, smaller temples built after Anchorage and Colonia Juarez will have an additional sealing room and endowment room while still following the basic format of the first three smaller temples.

Other differences between this temple and larger temples of the Church:

  • Ordinances will be performed by appointments made through the temple presidency. The Monticello temple will be open Tuesday-Thursday for two sessions a day, and on Friday and Saturday for five sessions a day. Those coming to a session without appointment would be accommodated on a space-available basis.
  • There will be no temple clothing rental facilities; patrons will be required to bring their own clothing. For baptisms for the dead, clothing will be furnished.
  • The first counselor in the temple presidency will serve a dual role as temple recorder and the second counselor as temple engineer.

In addition to the news media tour on July 15, groups of dignitaries from government, business and education were given tours. Some 30,000 people were expected to have toured the edifice by the time the open house concluded, including many Church members with roots in southeastern Utah, Elder Banks said.

The temple will be formally dedicated in seven separate services beginning Sunday, July 26, with President Hinckley officiating. Two additional sessions will occur that day and another four on Monday, July 27.

The first session will immediately follow a traditional, outdoor cornerstone ceremony planned for 8 a.m. Items pertaining to the circumstances of the area will be placed in the cornerstone before President Hinckley and other Church leaders ceremonially apply mortar to seal it, Elder Banks noted.

The temple will begin functioning with scheduled sessions on Tuesday, July 28.

Nearly 13,000 Latter-day Saints are in the temple district, comprising five stakes: Monticello Utah, Moab Utah, Blanding Utah, Blanding Utah West and Durango Colorado.

When he announced the concept of the smaller temples, President Hinckley explained that they would be open "according to local demand, maybe only one or two days a week," but will offer the full range of temple ordinances.

The smaller temples are designed to accommodate needs in areas of the world where relatively few Church members live and where the population is not likely to grow significantly in the near future. President Hinckley has said he wants to make the blessings of the temple more accessible to the members, many of whom now must travel considerable distances to the nearest temple. At the most recent general conference in April, he indicated he wanted to see the number of operating temples increase to 100 by the year 2000.

Located at 347 N. 200 West, on 1.33 acres of land donated by Monticello residents Ernest and Paul Sonderegger, a father and son, the temple is adjacent to the Monticello 2nd Ward meetinghouse, completed in 1993.

The new edifice provides a striking view – especially when bathed in floodlights at night – for motorists entering the city from the north via Highway 191, the main route through town.

Lisle G. Adams and his wife, Jewell Redd Adams, will be president and matron of the new temple.

The Latter-day Saints presence in this "four-corners" region of southeastern Utah began in earnest in April 1880. That was the year a group of 200 Church members from Cedar City settled the town of Bluff. Their "Hole in the Rock" expedition, in which they took six months to traverse forbidding terrain, is an epic in the history of the Church and the settlement of the West.

The San Juan Mission of the Church was established soon afterward and was instrumental in conveying the blessings of the gospel to the descendants of Lehi – members of the Navajo and Ute tribes – who live in the area. From that mission have grown the Church units that are here today. Longtime residents have wished for and expected a temple in this area for years, though the population is relatively sparse compared with other areas in the Church.

"But I never expected it would be in my lifetime," Pres. Adams said.

The San Juan Stake of the Church, established in 1888, was divided in 1912 to form the Young Stake, which included part of Colorado and New Mexico, and the Platt Stake (soon renamed the San Juan Stake), which included San Juan and Grand counties in Utah.

The first LDS meetinghouse in Moab was built in 1888, the same year the town of Monticello was established. The first brick meetinghouse in Monticello was completed in 1912.

On Sept. 19, 1971, the Moab Stake was formed from parts of the Carbon and San Juan stakes. In that stake realignment, the Monticello Utah Stake was created.

The Mesa Verde Stake, which later became the Durango Stake in Colorado, was also created in 1971 from the Young Stake.

The Blanding Utah Stake was organized March 5, 1978, with boundaries including all of southeastern Utah from Blanding south and east to the Arizona and Colorado state lines and west to the Colorado River. Within a year, the Chinle, Kayenta, Chilchinbeto and Dennehotso branches on the Navajo Reservation were included in that stake. The Blanding Stake was divided July 12, 1981, and the Blanding Utah West Stake was organized. It extended south to Kayenta, Ariz., until the fall of 1990, when the Chinle Arizona Stake was created.