Temple focus during President Nelson’s tenure: More than numbers, it’s about principles, invitations and promises

Temples and temple worship have been an integral focus of President Russell M. Nelson in his three-year tenure as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ranging from the memorable dedication of the Rome Italy Temple to the closure of all operating temples — and the careful, cautious reopening since — due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

But it goes beyond just totals of temples and listings of locations. Each focus on temples provided President Nelson — along with the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — ample opportunity to teach principles, to remind of recommitments, to invite action and to promise blessings.

The prophets and apostles are underscoring the purpose of temples, the covenants made in them, the eternal ordinances performed in them and the worthiness needed to enter them.

In three years, President Nelson has directed the dedication of nine temples and the rededication of nine more; another two dedications and one rededication planned for 2020 are on hold due to pandemic precautions.

Also, he has announced 49 new temple locations and the start of major renovations to the Church’s pioneer-era temples, beginning with the Salt Lake and St. George Utah temples. And of the groundbreakings for 33 temples, two-thirds of those are ones he himself announced.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 19, 2019 about renovation plans for the Salt Lake Temple and Temple Square.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 19, 2019 about renovation plans for the Salt Lake Temple and Temple Square. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

The Church now has 231 temples in various stages of operation, construction and planning. Its 168 dedicated temples include eight closed for renovations — 35 more are under construction and another 28 in planning and design.

2020’s temple closures, reopenings

Like all aspects of life, the global COVID-19 pandemic has loomed over the use and expansion of the Church’s temples over much of President Nelson’s third year. A month after the pandemic forced closures of many temples worldwide, the First Presidency closed all operating temples in late March 2020.

In a Church News video, the Prophet spoke about the painful decision to close the temples.

In a Church News video titled "Silver Linings," President Russell M. Nelson, right, and Sister Wendy W. Nelson talk about the decision to close temples worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Church News video titled “Silver Linings,” President Russell M. Nelson, right, and Sister Wendy W. Nelson talk about the decision to close temples worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Screenshot

“The purpose of the Church is to bring the blessings of God to His children on both sides of the veil,” he said. “So, only in our temples do we receive the highest blessings that God has in store for His faithful children. So, how difficult was it to make the decision to close the temples? That was painful; it was wracked with worry.

“I found myself asking, ‘What would I say to the Prophet Joseph Smith? What would I say to Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff and the other presidents, on up to President Thomas S. Monson? I’m going to meet them soon.’ To close the temples would deny all for which all those Brethren gave everything, but we really had no other alternative.”

Temple closures are temporary, emphasized President Nelson.

“Temples will be opened again, cautiously and carefully, in stages. Even though temples have been closed, family history research and work has taken a huge leap forward; more names are being added.”

In early May, the First Presidency announced “a carefully coordinated, cautious and phased reopening of temples” in four stages, with Phase 1 — starting May 11 — allowing limited sealings of living husbands and wives.

Phase 2 — all living ordinances being performed — followed, with the first temples moving to that phase on July 27. And in late December, the First Presidency identified the first four temples preparing to reopen in Phase 3, including the performance of proxy ordinances for the deceased.

Temple-related revisions

During the closing session of the October 2019 general conference, President Nelson said that “the crowning jewel of the Restoration is the holy temple. Its sacred ordinances and covenants are pivotal to preparing a people who are ready to welcome the Savior at His Second Coming.” 

He then announced a revised list of temple recommend interview questions. “Individual worthiness to enter the Lord’s house requires much individual spiritual preparation,” he said. “But with the Lord’s help, nothing is impossible. In some respects, it is easier to build a temple than it is to build a people prepared for a temple.”

Women and children who are baptized can now serve as witnesses to baptisms, the Church announced Oct. 2, 2019. Worthy temple recommend holders, including youth with limited use recommends, can also witness baptisms in the temple. Additionally, women who are endowed can serve as witnesses to temple sealings.
Women and children who are baptized can now serve as witnesses to baptisms, the Church announced Oct. 2, 2019. Worthy temple recommend holders, including youth with limited use recommends, can also witness baptisms in the temple. Additionally, women who are endowed can serve as witnesses to temple sealings. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Other revisions during the past three years include a withdrawal of the one-year waiting period for a temple sealing to follow a civil marriage; the allowance of women, youth and children to participate in witnessing temple baptisms and sealings; and the July 2020 acknowledgement of adjustments to the temple endowment.

Dedications and rededications

Every member of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posed for an iconic photograph in Rome, Italy on Monday, March 11, 2019. Front center are President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring. Also included are members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: President M. Russell Ballard, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder David A. Bednar, Elder Quentin L. Cook, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Elder Neil L. Andersen, Elder Ronald A. Rasband, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, Elder Dale G. Renlund, Elder Gerrit W. Gong and Elder Ulisses Soares.
Every member of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posed for an iconic photograph in Rome, Italy on Monday, March 11, 2019. Front center are President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring. Also included are members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: President M. Russell Ballard, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder David A. Bednar, Elder Quentin L. Cook, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Elder Neil L. Andersen, Elder Ronald A. Rasband, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, Elder Dale G. Renlund, Elder Gerrit W. Gong and Elder Ulisses Soares. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The March 2019 Rome Italy Temple dedication stands as a temple highlight during the tenure of President Nelson. He described the event as “a hinge point in the history of the Church,” adding “Things are going to move forward at an accelerated pace. The Church is going to have an unprecedented future, unparalleled. We’re just building up to what’s ahead now.”

In Rome, each member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was in attendance as President Nelson dedicated the sacred edifice. It also serves as a prime example of how dedications of new temples and rededications of renovated temples have been shared assignments from President Nelson across the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Dedications

  • Concepción Chile Temple — dedicated Oct. 28, 2018, by President Nelson, joined by Elder Gary E. Stevenson
  • Barranquilla Colombia Temple — dedicated Dec. 9, 2018, by President Dallin H. Oaks, joined by Elder Ulisses Soares.
  • Rome Italy Temple — dedicated March 10-12, 2019, by President Nelson, joined by all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
  • Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Temple — dedicated April 14, 2019, by Elder Dale G. Renlund.
  • Fortaleza Brazil Temple — dedicated June 2, 2019, by Elder Soares.
  • Port-au-Prince Haiti Temple — dedicated Sept. 1, 2019, by Elder David A. Bednar.
  • Lisbon Portugal Temple — dedicated Sept. 15, 2019, by Elder Neil L. Andersen.
  • Arequipa Peru Temple — dedicated Dec. 15, 2019, by Elder Soares, reading the dedicatory prayer written by President Nelson.
  • Durban South Africa Temple — dedicated Feb. 16, 2020, by Elder Ronald A. Rasband.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson, and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, stand at the cornerstone ceremony during the dedication of the Concepción Chile Temple in Concepción, Chile, on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson, and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, stand at the cornerstone ceremony during the dedication of the Concepción Chile Temple in Concepción, Chile, on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

Rededications

  • Houston Texas Temple — rededicated April 22, 2018, by President M. Russell Ballard.
  • Jordan River Utah Temple — rededicated May 20, 2018, by President Henry B. Eyring, joined by Elder Quentin L. Cook.
  • Memphis Tennessee Temple — rededicated May 5, 2019, by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.
  • Oklahoma City Oklahoma Temple — rededicated May 19, 2019, by President Eyring,
  • Oakland California Temple — rededicated June 16, 2019, by President Oaks, joined by Elder Bednar
  • Raleigh North Carolina Temple — rededicated Oct. 13, 2019, by President Ballard.
  • Frankfurt Germany Temple — rededicated Oct. 20, 2019, by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
  • Asunción Paraguay Temple — rededicated Nov. 3, 2019, by Elder D. Todd Christofferson.
  • Baton Rouge Louisiana Temple — rededicated Nov. 17, 2019, by Elder Cook.

Also, five temple groundbreakings have been presided over by members of the Quorum of the Twelve — two by Elder Holland and one each by Elder Bednar, Elder Andersen and Elder Gerrit W. Gong.

‘Sacred’ temple announcements

In his three years as President of the Church, President Nelson has announced new temple locations at each of the six general conferences over which he has presided — 49 locations in total. The 49 are found in 28 nations and territories, across six continents and on 10 islands throughout the earth’s oceans and seas.

Cheryl Reyes reacts to President Russell M. Nelson's announcement that there will be seven new temples around the world during the Sunday afternoon session of the 188th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 1, 2018.
Cheryl Reyes reacts to President Russell M. Nelson’s announcement that there will be seven new temples around the world during the Sunday afternoon session of the 188th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 1, 2018. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, Deseret News

As the announcement of new temple locations has been the pattern at most general conferences for a number of years, responses from some conference-goers were becoming more and more audible and noticeable — gasps of surprise to near-cheers by those with personal attachment to the new locations.

As he prepared to announce new temple locations during the April 2019 general conference, President Nelson reminded attendees that such announcements become a part of the Church’s sacred record and asked them to listen carefully and reverently.

President Russell M. Nelson announces seven new temple locations, during the Sunday afternoon session of the 188th Annual General Conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 1, 2018.
President Russell M. Nelson announces seven new temple locations, during the Sunday afternoon session of the 188th Annual General Conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 1, 2018. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, Deseret News

“If I announce a temple in a place that is special to you, may I suggest that you simply bow your head with a silent prayer of gratitude in your heart,” he continued. “We do not want any verbal outburst to detract from the sacred nature of this conference and the Lord’s holy temples.”

Temples tied to ministries

Of President Nelson’s 13 ministry trips in 2018 and 2019 to 46 different cities in 32 different nations and territories, temples provided an underlying theme.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, right, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, stand together at the BYU Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem on Saturday, April 14, 2018.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, right, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, stand together at the BYU Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem on Saturday, April 14, 2018. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

During ministry devotionals, President Nelson’s call for the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil served as a repeated refrain. The Prophet often visited sites for temples under construction or with a location already officially designated; in other cities, he toured potential temple sites.

Twenty-six of the stops were in metropolitan areas where a temple was located; another nine were where temples were either under construction or announced and in planning and design. And he announced an additional three temples in cities after making ministry visits there.

President Nelson’s time in Jerusalem was documented with the Old City’s Temple Mount as a backdrop on his first global ministry in April 2018. He concluded his October 2018 South American ministry by dedicating the Concepción Chile Temple, while his March 2019 visit to the Vatican coincided with the aforementioned dedication of the Rome Italy Temple. And during the November 2019 Southeast Asia ministry, President Nelson unveiled an exterior rendering of the announced Phnom Penh Cambodia Temple during his devotional in Phnom Penh.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shows an artist rendering of the Phnom Penh Cambodia Temple during a devotional in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Nov. 19, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shows an artist rendering of the Phnom Penh Cambodia Temple during a devotional in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Nov. 19, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News