Consider the numbers of the Church’s temple events from the past year: 13 total dedications or rededications, 11 groundbreaking ceremonies, 11 sites identified and 16 new temples announced.
Just as important were the several new policy changes — a withdrawal of the one-year waiting period for a temple sealing to follow a civil marriage and the allowance of women, youth and children to participate in witnessing temple baptisms and sealings — as well as the revision of temple-recommend questions.
Dedications and rededications
Following just two temples dedicated and two more rededicated in 2018, the Church more than tripled those totals in 2019, with six dedications and two rededications occurring outside the United States and an additional five U.S. temples rededicated after renovations. All were presided over by a member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The featured dedication took place in Rome in March, when all 15 of the senior Brethren convened as President Russell M. Nelson dedicated the Rome Italy Temple in sessions spanning three days, March 10-12. The week before, the Church released an online video of Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles conducting a virtual tour of the Rome temple, with President Nelson providing introductory comments.
Elsewhere in 2019, Elder Dale G. Renlund dedicated the Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Temple on April 14 with the dedicatory prayer offered in French; Elder Ulisses Soares returned home to Brazil to dedicate the Fortaleza Brazil Temple in his native Portuguese on June 2; Elder Bednar dedicated the Port-au-Prince Haiti Temple on Sept. 1; Elder Neil L. Andersen offered the dedicatory prayer in Portuguese for the Lisbon Portugal Temple on Sept. 15; and Elder Soares read the dedicatory prayer written by President Nelson for the Dec. 15 dedication of the Arequipa Peru Temple.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland rededicated the Memphis Tennessee Temple on May 6; President Henry B. Eyring rededicated the Oklahoma City Oklahoma Temple on May 19; President Dallin H. Oaks invited Oakland native Elder Bednar to join him for the June 16 rededication of the Oakland California Temple; President Ballard rededicated the Raleigh North Carolina Temple on Oct. 13; Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf returned home for the Oct. 20 Frankfurt Germany Temple rededication; Elder D. Todd Christofferson rededicated the Asunción Paraguay Temple on Nov. 3; and Elder Quentin L. Cook presided over the Nov. 17 rededication of the Baton Rouge Louisiana Temple.
Groundbreakings and site announcements
During 2019, 11 groundbreaking ceremonies were conducted, with another 11 temple sites announced by the First Presidency.
Most groundbreakings were presided over by the General Authority Seventy who was then the president of the Church’s respective area presidency. The exceptions were the year’s first two events – Elder Holland for the Urdaneta Philippines Temple on Jan. 16 and Elder Robert C. Gay of the Presidency of the Seventy on Jan. 26 for the Bangkok Thailand Temple.
Also of note is May 4, when ground was broken for three international temples on the same day — the Praia Cabo Verde Temple by Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Europe Area; the San Juan Puerto Rico Temple by Elder Walter F. Gonzaléz, president of the Caribbean Area; and the Yigo Guam Temple by Elder Yoon Hwan Choi of the Asia North Area.
Other groundbreakings included: the Pocatello Idaho Temple on March 16 by Elder Wilford W. Andersen, president of the Idaho Area; the Quito Ecuador and Lima Peru Los Olivos temples on May 11 and June 8, respectively, by Elder Enrique R. Falabella, president of the South American Northwest Area; the Belém Brazil Temple on Aug. 17 by Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis, president of the Brazil Area; the Saratoga Springs Utah Temple on Oct. 19 by Elder Craig C. Christensen, president of the Utah Area; and the Puebla Mexico Temple on Nov. 30 by Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela, president of the Mexico Area.
Of the First Presidency’s 11 temple-site announcements in 2019, two were done by President Nelson himself as he spoke in the actual cities during ministry stops — the Auckland New Zealand Temple site during a May 21 devotional with 12,000 at Auckland’s Spark Arena; and the Phnom Penh Cambodia Temple site and exterior rendering during a Nov. 19 devotional at the city’s Premier Centre Sen Sok exhibition center.
Other site announcements made during the year were for the Richmond Virginia, Layton Utah, Tooele Utah, Feather River California, Moses Lake Washington, Washington County Utah, Orem Utah, Taylorsville Utah and McAllen Texas temples. The sites for the latter three were unveiled simultaneously on Dec. 11.
New temples announced
Eight new temples were announced in each of the year’s two general conferences, bringing the total to 35 new temple locations named by President Nelson in his short tenure as Church president since January 2018.
In the April 2019 general conference, President Nelson announced temples for Pago Pago, American Samoa; Okinawa, Japan; Neiafu, Tonga; San Pedro Sula, Honduras; Antofagasta, Chile; Budapest, Hungary; Tooele, Utah; and Moses Lake, Washington.
And in the Saturday evening women’s session of October 2019 general conference, he announced temples to be located in Freetown, Sierra Leone; Orem, Utah; Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; Bentonville, Arkansas; Bacolod, Philippines; McAllen, Texas; Cobán, Guatemala; and Taylorsville, Utah.
Renovating pioneer-era temples
Plans to renovate the Salt Lake Temple and other pioneer-era temples — first mentioned by President Nelson’s pronouncement in the October 2018 general conference and then mentioned again in April 2019 conference — started to take shape in 2019.
An April 19 news conference detailing Salt Lake Temple renovations identified a Dec. 29 closure date and provided exterior and interior renderings for the temple as well as Temple Square and the adjoining plaza near the Church Office Building. Also provided were illustrations of the base-isolation system to be installed to protect the temple’s structure against earthquake forces.
The Church held a follow-up event on Dec. 4 to provide more information on the renovation of the Salt Lake Temple prior to its Dec. 29 closing for a projected four-year period, releasing artistic renderings of renovated interiors, including the lower grand hall, the creation room, the garden room and the world room.
The Nov. 4 closure of the St. George Utah Temple — the Church’s longest-operating temple, since 1877 — was announced initially just after the first of the new year, with renovations expected to run through 2022.
On May 22, the Church offered more details and renderings about the renovation project. A key feature will be the demolition of the St. George temple’s existing annex, added in the mid-1970s, to be replaced by an annex designed to appear complementary of the historic temple itself, with replicated turrets, windows and columns.
A third closure was that of the Hong Kong China Temple — announced in January and closed in August.
No wait after civil marriage
In a May 6 letter, the First Presidency discontinued a policy requiring couples who marry civilly to wait one year before being married or sealed in the temple, meaning Latter-day Saints couples could look forward to a temple sealing as soon as their circumstances permit.
A man and a woman who have been married civilly may be sealed in the temple anytime after they receive their temple recommends for the sealing ordinance.
The change in policy established a global standard in the Church regarding civil marriages and temple sealings, the ordinances performed by priesthood authority through which families can be united eternally. Local laws in more than half the countries where the Church operates require a couple marry civilly before being sealed in the temple, making the scenario common outside the United States.
A policy change on witnessing
During the Oct. 5 leadership session of general conference and before General Authorities and general officers, President Nelson announced a historic policy change allowing women, youth and children to serve as witnesses of sealing and baptismal ordinances performed in and out of the temples.
The policy now allows:
- For any baptized member of the Church to serve as a witness of the baptism of a living person.
- For anyone holding a current temple recommend — including a limited-use recommend — to witness a proxy baptism in a temple for a deceased person.
- And for any endowed member with a current temple recommend to serve as a witness in the temple to sealing ordinances, living and proxy.
Revised recommend questions
In his concluding remarks during the October 2019 general conference, President Nelson listed the temple recommend interview questions — including some that had been revised for clarity — that Latter-day Saints are asked by local leaders to confirm their worthiness and readiness to enter the temple.
“The Lord wants all His children to partake of the eternal blessings available in His temple,” President Nelson said. “He has directed what each person must do to qualify to enter His holy house.”
First Presidency statement on temples
On Jan. 2, the First Presidency released a statement on temples, which included: “Over these many centuries, details associated with temple work have been adjusted periodically, including language, methods of construction, communication, and record-keeping. Prophets have taught that there will be no end to such adjustments as directed by the Lord to His servants.”
It concluded: “A dedicated temple is the most holy of any place of worship on the earth. Its ordinances are sacred and are not discussed outside a holy temple.”