Utah and its 25 temples — ‘a recognition of the deep commitment and faithfulness’

Temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continue to spread across the globe, increasingly to the four corners of the earth and the isles of the sea. The Church’s 231 total temples — dedicated, under construction or announced — are found in 38 of the 50 United States and in another 60 nations and territories across the six inhabited continents.

Despite the global spread, 25 of those 231 temples are located in the state of Utah, which measures about 350 miles from north to south and 270 miles from east to west (563 kilometers by 435 kilometers).

The proliferation of temples in the western state is understandable, given the Church’s nearly 175-year history in the Great Salt Lake Basin, its headquarters in Salt Lake City and its 2.1 million Latter-day Saints in Utah, out of a worldwide membership of 16.6 million.

With 11% of the Church’s temples in a state where 13% of its membership resides, it’s not surprising to see Utah having some prominence — and percentages between 10 and 20 or more — when looking at temple-related histories and tallies.

Consider that:

The spire of the newly renovated Jordan River Utah Temple in South Jordan, Utah, on Monday, March 12, 2018.
The spire of the newly renovated Jordan River Utah Temple in South Jordan, Utah, on Monday, March 12, 2018. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
  • The Church’s four longest-operating temples are in the Beehive State — the St. George Utah, Logan Utah, Manti Utah and Salt Lake temples, all dedicated between 1877 and 1893.
  • When the Church celebrated its 150-year anniversary in 1980, six of its 19 temples were located in Utah, with the addition of temples in Provo and Ogden in 1972.
  • Of the Church’s 168 dedicated temples, 17 are operating in Utah.
  • Of the eight temples being renovated, two are in Utah — the Salt Lake and St. George temples.
  • Of the 31 temples under construction, five are in Utah — temples in Saratoga Springs, Layton, Taylorsville and Orem and the Red Cliffs temple in St. George.
  • Of the 21 temple groundbreakings scheduled for 2021, four took place in Utah — in Layton, Taylorsville, Orem and St. George (Red Cliffs).
  • And of the 49 new temples announced by President Russell M. Nelson since he became President of the Church, seven are located in Utah — the Layton, Red Cliffs, Tooele Valley, Orem, Taylorsville, Syracuse and Lindon temples. In fact, there has been at least one Utah temple announced in each of the six general conferences held in President Nelson’s three-year tenure.

‘Deep commitment and faithfulness’

The ever-increasing number of temples in Utah— and parallel faithfulness of Latter-day Saints attending and worshipping in those temples — is not lost on Elder Craig C. Christensen, a General Authority Seventy who is in his fifth year presiding over the Church’s Utah Area.

He was with President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency for the last time a new temple in the United States was dedicated — the Cedar City Utah Temple on Dec. 10, 2017. He has either joined presiding Apostles or presided himself at five temple groundbreakings in the state over the past 14 months. And he’s listened to President Nelson pronounce renovation plans for Utah’s “pioneer” temples and announce locations for seven new temples in the state.

Elder Randy D. Funk, his wife Andrea, Elder Craig C. Christensen, president of the Utah Area, and his wife Debbie, throw dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Saratoga Springs Utah Temple on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.
Elder Randy D. Funk, his wife Andrea, Elder Craig C. Christensen, president of the Utah Area, and his wife Debbie, throw dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Saratoga Springs Utah Temple on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. Credit: Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“That shows me, as someone who focuses on this area, a recognition of the deep commitment and faithfulness of the Saints who are in Utah,” said Elder Christensen of Utah’s temple numbers and growth.

His stewardship over Utah dates back to 2016, when he was assigned as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy to oversee the Utah North, Utah Salt Lake City and Utah South areas. At that time, Presidency members had responsibility over the North America areas, while international areas had their own area presidencies comprised of General Authority Seventy.

In 2018, the North America areas received their own area presidencies, with Elder Christensen released from the Presidency of the Seventy to continue presiding over the three Utah Areas. A year later, the three areas were combined to create a single Utah Area, which covers most of the state. Utah’s southeast corner — in which the Monticello Utah Temple is located — is assigned to the North America Southwest Area.

“We’re pioneers through and through here, but there are new people, too,” said Elder Christensen of Latter-day Saints in Utah, a mixture of members — ranging from multi-generational to first-generation members of the Church, and from those with long-time roots to the state to those who are recent move-ins.

“It’s a diverse population, but they come here, and they all see the blessings that the temple brings to families and individuals.”

‘Within blocks of the temples’

Whether it be by boat and bus from deep in the Amazon to the São Paulo Brazil Temple or by ship from isolated Pacific Island Oceans to the Hamilton New Zealand Temple, Church history is replete with stories of Latter-day Saints making great sacrifices of time and finances to travel to the Lord’s house and make covenants and be sealed as couples and families for eternity.

In Utah, travel and distance is not the issue. With temples close at hand, Latter-day Saints in Utah rather must sacrifice their schedules.

The Draper (background) and the Oquirrh Mountain temples, in a January 2009 photo by Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News.
The Draper (background) and the Oquirrh Mountain temples, in a January 2009 photo by Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News. Credit: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

How close are some of Utah’s temples? Three cities in the state have two temples each — South Jordan with the Jordan River Utah and Oquirrh Mountain Utah temples, Provo with the Provo Utah and Provo City Center temples, and St. George with its namesake and Red Cliffs temples.

Two valleys — two central Utah counties — account for nearly half of the state’s 25 dedicated, under-construction or announced temples. The Salt Lake Valley claims five temples — Salt Lake, Taylorsville, Jordan River, Oquirrh Mountain and Draper temples. And Utah Valley counts seven temples — the Saratoga Springs, Mount Timpanogos, Lindon, Orem, Provo, Provo City Center and Payson temples.

“The fact of the matter is that our temples are really busy, because of the faithfulness of the Saints who go there frequently,” Elder Christensen said. “They live sometimes within blocks of a temple, but they still come and they still participate.”

Such was the case prior to 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the late March closure of all Church temples worldwide. In early May, the first temples started to reopen for limited living sealings of a husband and wife in Phase 1 of a cautious, four-phase reopening plan; in late July, the first temples advanced to Phase 2, which allowed the performance of all living temple ordinances.

Although no Utah temple was among the first to reopen in Phase 1 nor among the first to upgrade to Phase 2, all 17 operating temples in Utah are in the second phase.

When the first 10 temples in Utah were announced for Phase 2 on Aug. 17, the announcement site included the following statement: “Temples in Utah are anticipated to be very busy, so priority will be given first to living persons who are to be sealed, next to missionaries currently serving in the field, and then to missionaries who are preparing to depart, based on their departure date.”

‘We don’t have any excuse’

Alberto Puertas, bishop of the Aspen 7th (Spanish) Ward of the Orem Aspen Stake, has seen both extremes of temple proximity. A native of Trujillo, Peru, his first temple experience came as a missionary serving in the Peru Arequipa Mission, when in May 1980, he was sent to São Paulo to be endowed in the temple there while receiving a week’s worth of training at the Brazil Missionary Training Center.

At the time, the São Paulo temple was the Church’s only temple on the South American continent, with many Latter-day Saints traveling from great distances for what then would seem to be a once-in-a-lifetime temple experience.

“I saw that in my own nation, I saw young couples and families saving to go to São Paulo, making sacrifices to get united together under the Lord’s covenant,” Bishop Puertas said. “It was miraculous, I know that.”

Elder Craig C. Christensen, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Utah Area, and others shovel dirt during the Orem Utah Temple groundbreaking in Orem on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.
Elder Craig C. Christensen, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Utah Area, and others shovel dirt during the Orem Utah Temple groundbreaking in Orem on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Today, the Puertas’ home in northwest Orem, Utah, is only a 10-minute drive from the construction site of the Orem Utah Temple, where ground was broken on Sept. 5.

“We feel connected to the temple and to temple work because culturally, families are so crucial for the Latino community,” Bishop Puertas told the Church News after the Orem groundbreaking. “And it takes it to an even higher level when it comes to the gospel and what sacred covenants we make in the temple.

“We don’t have any excuse, having a temple so close,” he added. “What a blessing for the community. Our hearts are filled with gratitude, with joy and with humility.”