Sarah Jane Weaver: The pattern that connects temple construction in small towns and large cities and why it matters

Whenever I look at the list of temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I always pause in the same two places.

During October 2020 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced that new temples will be constructed in six locations — including Tarawa, Kiribati, and Port Vila, Vanuatu.

The Tarawa Kiribati Temple will be the first in that Pacific nation, which comprises 36 Micronesian islands. Some 21,000 Latter-day Saints in two stakes and 37 congregations reside in Kiribati. The Church built its first meetinghouse in Kiribati in 1982; Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles organized the nation’s first stake — the Tarawa Kiribati Stake — in 1996.

President Philemon Ishmael of Luganville Vanuatu District speaks with Elder L. Tom Perry and his wife, Barbara; and Linda Halverson, with her husband, Elder Ronald T. Halverson.
President Philemon Ishmael of Luganville Vanuatu District speaks with Elder L. Tom Perry and his wife, Barbara; and Linda Halverson, with her husband, Elder Ronald T. Halverson. Credit: John L. Hart

Vanuatu is home to more than 10,000 members in one stake, three districts and 37 congregations. This will be the first temple for the South Pacific nation made up of some 80 islands. A branch in Port Vila was organized in 1973, with missionary work beginning in Vanuatu the next year after several Latter-day Saint families from Tonga moved there. The first full-time missionaries arrived in January 1975. The full Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ was published in the Bislama language in July 2004.

Two remote island nations, with relatively small numbers of Latter-day Saints who have sacrificed for temple blessings in recent decades, will both have temples. They will stand as a great symbol of faith in the nations — a constant reminder that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has embarked on an unprecedented era of temple construction.

They are also a gift from the Church to faithful Latter-day Saints who may not have consistent access to temples any other way.

In the early 1900s, President Joseph F. Smith looked to a future day when temples would “dot the earth.”

Two decades ago, in the April 2000 general conference, President Nelson explained why that matters. “As part of the planned destiny of the earth and its inhabitants, here our kindred dead are also to be redeemed,” he said. “Families are to be sealed together for all eternity. A welding link is to be forged between the fathers and the children. In our time, a whole, complete and perfect union of all dispensations, keys and powers is to be welded together. For these sacred purposes, holy temples now dot the earth.”

The temples in Vanuatu and Kiribati — two of 70 announced by President Nelson during his time as leader of the Church — are among numerous temples announced for smaller communities of faithful Latter-day Saints. In April 2021 general conference, President Nelson announced the Church would build temples in Burley, Idaho; Smithfield, Utah; Grand Junction, Colorado; Farmington, New Mexico; and Casper, Wyoming.

Exterior rendering of the Helena Montana Temple. The temple was announced April 4, 2021; the rendering was released April 19.
Exterior rendering of the Helena Montana Temple. The temple was announced April 4, 2021; the rendering was released April 19. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

He also announced temples for areas that include larger geographic Church units — Oslo, Norway; Brussels, Belgium; Cali, Colombia; and Cape Town, South Africa. And for areas where regular temples attendance has previously required substantial travel or great personal sacrifice — Kumasi, Ghana; Beira, Mozambique; Singapore; and Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

And just a few weeks ago, President Nelson announced a new temple for Ephraim, Utah — a small college town in central Utah just seven miles from the Manti Utah Temple.

I knew each temple location was revealed to a living prophet. Still, I searched for a pattern that would connect the temple sites.

Speaking to the media after President Nelson announced the new Ephraim temple, Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, offered insight. He said the Church is working to build temples “nearer the people so they can go to the temple frequently.”

He spoke about temples for smaller communities and then envisioned a time when the Church would have multiple temples in large cities that are hard to navigate. “Instead of one large temple that is hard to get to, you can have multiple temples that are easy to get to,” he said.

Elder Duncan said Church leaders “are making the temple accessible.”

Read more: President Nelson announces plans to preserve pioneer craftsmanship of Manti Utah Temple, construct a new temple in nearby Ephraim

The pattern was simple, I realized. The Church is building temples everywhere — allowing Latter-day Saints across the world to claim the blessings of their covenants.

Elder Duncan said Church leaders all anticipate a day very soon when temples will literally “dot the globe” — with every member living within two hours of a temple, or much, much closer.

In April 2021 general conference, President Nelson explained why it matters — to the Latter-day Saints in Ephraim and Kiribati and Vanuatu and Singapore. And he explained why it matters to me.  

“Temples are a vital part of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness,” he said. “The ordinances of the temple fill our lives with power and strength — available in no other way.”