Why Latter-day Saints in Virginia are rejoicing over the new temple in Richmond

‘It was a miracle to see this come to pass in my lifetime,’ says one longtime member

RICHMOND, Virginia — Minus his mission and college years at Brigham Young University, Fred Mullins has lived his entire life in Richmond, Virginia.

The lifelong Latter-day Saint can remember when the city had one stake and the boundaries stretched from almost Washington, D.C., to North Carolina. The idea of a temple in Richmond was a far-off dream.

He and his wife both wept when a temple was announced in 2018.

“We were just happy to have a stake in Richmond,” he said. “Now we have three stakes and a temple. ... It was a miracle to see this come to pass in my lifetime. For our members I’ve known all my life here, this is something they have been hoping for and praying about for the last 60 years. Now they feel so blessed and happy. It’s such a joy to see it come to fruition.”

Mullins’ mother consistently attended the temple with group of women before she passed away six years ago.

“A lot of members have come up to me and said, ‘This is something your mom has been hoping for for a long time.’ And that’s true, because she would always talk about having a temple in Richmond,” Mullins said.

The sun rises on the Richmond Virginia Temple in Richmond on Saturday, May 6, 2023.
The sun rises on the Richmond Virginia Temple in Richmond on Saturday, May 6, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Mullins thoughts reflect the genuine joy and jubilation of many pioneer members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they look forward to the dedication of the Richmond Virginia Temple on Sunday, May 7.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, will preside at the dedication.

The temple will be the Church’s 177th dedicated worldwide, with 315 temples total in various stages — dedicated and operating, under renovation, under construction, or announced and in planning and design.

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President Russell M. Nelson announced a temple for Richmond, Virginia in April 2018 general conference, with ground broken two years later in April 2020.

The Richmond Virginia Temple will be the first in the state and serve Latter-day Saints from Virginia, the eastern part of West Virginia and the northeastern part of North Carolina. The state is home to more than 96,000 Latter-day Saints who attend over 215 congregations.

With the temple’s dedication approaching, several Church members with connections to the area and its history offered memories of faith, sacrifice and joy regarding the growth of the Church and the building of the temple.

Chris Sorensen, lower left, and his family take a photo next to his Richmond Virginia Temple license plate
Chris Sorensen, lower left, and his family take a photo next to his Richmond Virginia Temple license plate on the date the temple was announced in April 2018 general conference. As a local Church leader, Sorensen got the license plate years earlier in an effort to help members make the temple a high priority in their lives and he hoped the act would let the Lord know they were ready for a temple in Richmond. | Provided by Chris Sorensen

Before the Richmond Virginia Temple

Prior to the dedication of the Washington D.C. Temple in 1974, Latter-day Saints in Virginia often drove to Utah to receive temple blessings in Salt Lake City.

“That might have been the only [temple] trip they ever made in their lives,” Mullins said, “until they built the D.C. temple.”

Before the construction of the Richmond temple, Church members had the option of traveling to Washington, D.C., Raleigh, North Carolina, or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend the temple. Each one involved hours of travel and fighting traffic.

Many love and have cherished memories of serving at the Washington D.C. Temple, but now the commute is a matter of minutes. The members feel tremendously blessed, said President Brooks Baltich of the Richmond Virginia Midlothian Stake.

“I grew up on the east coast in Florida. When I was born, our temple district was Mesa Arizona [Temple]. Over the years we have been blessed with temples closer and closer to home,” he said. “Having a temple nearby means that we can attend much more frequently.”

Brady Fairclough, who served his mission in the area, described the Richmond temple as an “incredible luxury.”

“It is wonderful to make a trek to a faraway temple, get a hotel, and bring your kids; that’s great,” he said. “But what else is great is being able to talk with people at work who pass by it, drive by it myself a few times a week, go on a whim in the morning or evening and make an emergency trip to seek some time-sensitive guidance.”

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‘More than just walls’

While the Richmond temple was under construction, the Church provided ways for area members to participate in service projects, said Travis Hall, a Latter-day Saint who was part of the construction crew.

Travis Hall, a Latter-day Saint and construction worker, takes a photo with the Angel Moroni statue for the Richmond Virginia Temple in the background.
Travis Hall, a Latter-day Saint and construction worker, takes a photo with the Angel Moroni statue for the Richmond Virginia Temple in the background. | Provided by Travis Hall

Before construction began, hundreds of youth from the local stakes turned out one day to collect trash across the 12-acre property.

In March 2022, more than 300 Church members helped assemble plastic crates for an underground storm drainage system.

“We tried to involve the members as much as we could,” Hall said.

Hall has worked on other large buildings, but he felt a spiritual difference while working on Richmond temple. The feeling was especially strong one day when he was standing in the future office of the temple president.

“It was all just studs, open walls,” he said. “Suddenly there was a strong feeling like, ‘This is a temple, an important place you are standing in. This is more than just walls.’ We tried to impress that on the other workers as well.”

Open house moments

Allie Hinrichs recently completed her service as a missionary in the Virginia Richmond Mission. She spent the last six months of her mission in Henrico, 10 minutes from the Richmond temple.

As the temple neared completion, the community buzzed with curiosity.

“As the temple open house drew near, excitement surged among the members, missionaries and the surrounding community,” she said. “Everyone was talking about the big, white beautiful building on Staples Mill Road. ... Everywhere I went, people would ask about the temple, even questions about the ‘golden statue.’”

The missionaries took advantage of every opportunity to pass out open-house invitations and teach people about the temple’s purpose and eternal significance.

“We participated in the temple open house and watched hundreds of our friends and members enter its doors. ... It was a privilege to see the countenances of those going through the temple and walking out in awe,” she said. “We were elevated in vision as a mission and as individual disciples of Jesus Christ. We felt the Spirit as we never had before. Hearts were changed from this experience.”

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Building friendships in the community

In recent years, the Church has donated more than one million pounds of food to Richmond area food banks, pantries and churches.

The Church has also partnered with the Library of Virginia, the Baptist General Convention, the African American Historical and Genealogical Society and others to preserve genealogical records and beautify cemeteries. Many new friendships were created in the process.

Many of these friends came when the Richmond temple opened for public tours, said Stuart Scott, a Richmond native and Latter-day Saint convert of 42 years.

“They came with great interest to the temple,” said Scott, who guided some of the tours. “They were extremely happy for us. They got a better understanding of why we do family history research as we do.”

As a Black Church member, Scott felt successful in answering the questions about racial issues.

“I had a great deal of peace in having opportunities to have frank discussions with many of the African American visitors,” he said.

Donald Barrow, a Baptist, was among those who toured the temple.

The Richmond Virginia Temple in Richmond on Saturday, May 6, 2023.
The Richmond Virginia Temple in Richmond on Saturday, May 6, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Going into the temple for the first time, I was blown away,” he said. “It was a beautiful place of serenity. It’s probably the nicest [religious sanctuary] I have ever been to in my 60-plus years of life. I’ve not seen anything quite like it. I was beyond impressed.”

Years of temple construction and the open house provided many opportunities for member missionary work.

“The temple open house provided a beautiful means of connection for our friends of other Christian faiths as they were able to come and see what we believe. This has had a profound impact on our area already,” said Kari Knight, a temple ordinance worker who also serves as a stake Relief Society president in the Richmond Virginia Midlothian Stake.

The Richmond community is religiously open-minded, said Shirley Baltich, also a temple worker who serves in her ward’s Relief Society presidency.

“It is not uncommon to be invited to other church services by our neighbors. At times they seem to be quicker to share their love of their faith,” she said. “During the open house, it was wonderful to see how many of these Christian neighbors were surprised to learn that our Sunday services were very similar to theirs. It was a wonderful lesson for them and us as Church members to realize we are much more alike than we are different. We hope that realization continues to spread both ways.”

The new temple has already become a landmark of “unity in the community” among Latter-day Saints and friends of other faiths, said Tyson Anderson, who serves as second counselor in the Midlothian stake.

“So many people have already rallied to the temple and felt it is theirs,” he said.

Given Thomas Jefferson’s bill for establishing religious freedom, many feel it’s appropriate for the Church to have a temple in Richmond.

“This is the home of Thomas Jefferson’s declaration on religious freedom and that is reflected in the community’s acceptance several hundred years after that declaration,” said Nichole Peterson, a local Church member.

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