Young adults play a key role in design, emphasis of new Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center

MESA, Arizona — To paraphrase an old car-sales marketing slogan, the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center is not your father’s visitors’ center.

Rather, the new-look Mesa visitors’ center has been designed for the younger generations — particularly youth and young adults, from the mid-teens to the mid-20-somethings.

In fact, young adults in Mesa played a key role in design and development in the newest of the dozen-plus temple visitors’ centers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints located worldwide, Salt Lake City to São Paulo, from Paris to Portland, and from Laie to Los Angeles.

The Mesa Arizona Temple, left, and Visitors’ Center, bottom right, are pictured in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021.
The Mesa Arizona Temple, left, and Visitors’ Center, bottom right, are pictured in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Tanner Kay, the Missionary Department’s senior product manager over temple visitors’ centers and projects involving guest experiences, was involved in helping develop similar centers alongside the Rome Italy, Paris France and São Paulo Brazil temples over the past few years.

Plans were being made for a different type of visitor experience for the new Mesa center — a new building at a new location that replaces the older visitors’ center, which was built in 1958 but recently razed as part of the renovations to the Mesa Arizona Temple and surrounding grounds that started in May 2018.

Then over a six-month period, Kay and others conducted surveys, focus groups and personal interviews with Mesa young adults — members and nonmembers alike — about possible designs, features and elements that they felt would be beneficial and appealing.

Sister Yadira Martinez shows Mesa City Council member Kevin Thompson and Donna Thompson around the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors' Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.
Sister Yadira Martinez shows Mesa City Council member Kevin Thompson and Donna Thompson around the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

With the input and ideas shared by the Mesa young adults, planners retooled designs and direction, Kay said. “What we have here today is only about 25% of what we started with.”

The result is a two-level visitors’ center with a myriad of interactive displays and kiosks as part of a self-guided experience for guests of all ages and faiths.

“Everything is meant to be self-guided and flexible. Someone can come in and spend five minutes or five hours,” Kay said, “and they can come in as an individual or a large family or a youth group.”

The Mesa Temple Visitors’ Center serves as a place for the community to hear a Mesa-oriented message about the gospel of Jesus Christ as well as to create connections with community, God, family and one’s own self.

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles chats with attendees after the dedication ceremony for the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors' Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.
Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles chats with attendees after the dedication ceremony for the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The displays throughout teach that there is hope and an individual plan for everyone, said Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who dedicated the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center on Aug 12. “We hope that every person who comes and sees will understand that our life has a purpose and come away hoping to full his or her purpose.”

Read more: Elder Soares dedicates new and relocated Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center

The interactive opportunities provide more than pushing a button here or clicking a screen prompt there. The hands-on experiences for guests include drawing with crayons, writing expressions with chalk and penciling thoughts on sticking notes.

The Mesa center features a number of new and improved elements for a Church temple visitors’ center.

Sister Nayeli Viera and Sister Geniva Canales talk in front of a model of the Mesa Arizona Temple in the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors' Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021.
Sister Nayeli Viera and Sister Geniva Canales talk in front of a model of the Mesa Arizona Temple in the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
  • The center is designed primarily for young adults, ages 14 to 25.
  • All experiences are available in English and Spanish, for the first truly bilingual visitors’ center.
  • The Mesa center unifies messages of Church history, the temple, family history and preaching the gospel into one work of salvation.
  • Latter-day Saint temples are presented in greater detail and with more transparency.
  • The self-guided design of the center allows guests the freedom to move about the center at their own pace and come to their own conclusions.
  • The center features a kitchen where guests can hang out and feel comfortable, and guests can eat and drink in the center.
  • The center is staffed and operated by both local young adults and full-time missionaries.
A meeting room with a depiction of Jesus Christ, in the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors' Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021.
A meeting room with a depiction of Jesus Christ, in the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Rather than the featured “Christus” statue from the previous Mesa visitors’ center, the new facility is replete with reproductions of paintings and videos showing Jesus Christ, all purposefully selected and placed throughout the center to help guests envision the Savior ministering to His Father’s children.

“We’ve placed in the center artistic depictions of the Savior that resonate powerfully with young adults and youth in the Mesa area,” said Kay, adding that the new center has more pictures in more styles and mediums. “This is helpful to allow guests to connect with the Savior through these images.”

Although guests can begin their visit anywhere upon arrival, a suggested experience begins with choosing a “Mesa Friend” card that briefly describes the story of one of 15 individuals — Native Americans, Hispanic migrants and Latter-day Saint pioneers — from Mesa’s diverse history and spiritual heritage

The Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors' Center is pictured in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021.
The Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center is pictured in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Written in English on one side and Spanish on the other, the card can be scanned at five interactive locations throughout the center, providing more details and insights about the individual through videos, images and text.

After selecting the card, individuals may move throughout the first-floor exhibit to a scale model of the Mesa Arizona Temple, with cutout views of the main rooms and areas.

Guests can continue to walk up the south “God’s Plan” staircase, which displays the words “Purpose” and “Love” on the steps going up.

Video: Take a virtual walk through the new Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center and see its interactive features

They can conclude by engaging in the FamilySearch Discovery kiosks or computers to connect with their multigenerational family histories, or share feedback about their experiences at the “Staying Connected” area, sharing text, images and #MesaTempleVC on social media platforms.

Other displays, features and kiosks throughout the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center include:

Griff Hiatt and Brittny Hiatt take a selfie in the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors' Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.
Griff Hiatt and Brittny Hiatt take a selfie in the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
  • “Mesa’s Spiritual Heritage” is detailed on the M-E-S-A sculptural letters that start with the Salt River Valley’s indigenous Maricopa and Pima peoples and carries on through the early experiences of Latter-day Saints attending the Mesa temple.
  • “The Community Garden,” a wall featuring a Sonoran desert scene where guests can contribute by coloring with crayons.
  • “I Can Serve” digital kiosk, with a monitor listing local JustServe service opportunities.
  • “Chalk Wall,” with three sides listing open-ended prompts — in English and Spanish — to inspire expressions of thought and consideration in responding to questions like “Spirituality is …,” “My purpose in life is …,” “Family is …,” and “I value …” A fourth side offers space for photos and selfies.
  • “Teaching About Temples” and “Inside the Temple,” where the scale model of the temple, displays and guides can share information about the sacred place of learning, the purpose of promise and covenants, and temple ceremonies for oneself and for one’s ancestors and temple promises that help bring one closer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
  • “Uniting My Family Past, Present and Future,” a connection activity where guests can write something they can do to bring more peace and involvement to their family relationships.
  • “FamilySearch Discovery Stations,” with guests either creating FamilySearch accounts or using their existing ones to learn more of their family history.
  • “I Can Follow the Light” and “I Can Be a Light” displays, where themes on a series of lights suggest opportunities to connect with God, community, family and one’s self. More than 180 ideas are identified on the two boards.
  • Meditation pods provide individual space for silence and contemplation.
  • “Temples for Kids” is an interactive play area for younger guests, with a coloring table, stylized murals of all six Arizona temples, temple activities kiosks and blocks to build a temple.
Daphnie Goettl looks through temple reliefs to make a rubbing with crayons in the children’s room of the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.
Daphnie Goettl looks through temple reliefs to make a rubbing with crayons in the children’s room of the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Kay found his own personal connection to the visitors’ center project, being only one generation removed from Mesa and having his mother and other ancestors through his third-great-grandfather having been born in or died in the community.

And that third-great-grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Johnson, with his sons planted the first stone fruit orchards in the local Salt River Valley and imported over 100 colonies of Italian bees from California to produce honey and support other new orchards in the valley.

“Every time I visit Mesa, I see peaches and oranges and think about my family’s connection and legacy in the Mesa area,” said Kay, adding that he has nieces and nephews living there, making it seven generations of his family in Mesa. “I may not live there today, but when I visit, it feels like home.”

Mesa-area young single adults who have joined full-time sister missionaries in training to be guides at the temple visitors’ center already find themselves being drawn to certain features and displays.

Amy Ross watches as C.W. Ross writes on the chalk wall at the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors' Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.
Amy Ross watches as C.W. Ross writes on the chalk wall at the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“I definitely have a favorite — it’s the meditation booths,” said Addison Slade. “It’s just quiet, and there’s so much noise in the world that we sometimes can’t hear ourselves think, let alone hear God talk. I can go there, close my eyes and enjoy it.”

Tiffany Nielsen said: “I love the one that talks about the covenants we make in the temple, because it helps us see the actual purpose, and it helps us be comfortable with talking about it and experiencing it — it’s not something that’s secretive.”