There's quite a buzz among the approximately 60,000 Mormons living in Gilbert and Queen Creek, say local officials with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church leaders in Salt Lake City announced plans last week to build two new temples in Arizona, with one near the intersection of Greenfield and Pecos roads in Gilbert.
"It took me by surprise," said Gilbert stake president Mark Pugmire. "A very pleasant surprise, but definitely a surprise."
The move will double the number of temples in the state and will ease overcrowding in the 80-year-old temple in Mesa. And while the church has not set a start date for construction, it can't be soon enough for local Mormons.
"There's a high concentration of LDS people in the East Valley and there's a growing concentration in the Gilbert area," Pugmire said.
Church officials in Utah estimate there are 90,000 church members in Mesa and Gilbert combined.
Pugmire said there are about 40,000 members in Gilbert's eight stakes and about 20,000 in the five stakes in the Queen Creek area. And church leaders expect membership to expand. But even without that growth, the Mesa temple has been overtaxed in recent years.
"They wouldn't be building the new temple if there weren't times the Mesa temple was being overtaxed," Pugmire said.
Stake member Curtis Keller and his wife Aimee are especially looking forward to the new temple, since it will likely be built within walking distance of their south Gilbert home.
"It will be more popular than a movie theater, I think," said Curtis Keller, who volunteers at the Mesa temple on Friday nights.
At times, lines to get into the temple are so long that some visitors actually get turned away, Keller said.
While regular Sunday services are held at LDS churches throughout the Valley, sacred Mormon ordinances, or ceremonies such as marriages and baptisms, are performed inside the temples.
"For me, the temple is a refuge from the world," Aimee Keller said. "We go there to make covenants with the Heavenly Father and we go back to renew that covenant."
Other ceremonies performed inside the temple include the temple endowment and baptisms for the dead.
"We believe they are sacred and therefore we don't talk about it outside," Pugmire said.
When the Kellers lived in Chicago, the nearest temple was about an hour's drive away. The distance made it difficult to visit the temple as often as they would like.
"Since we moved back to Arizona, it's been really nice, even with the temple up in Mesa," Aimee Keller said.
Of the 4,186 members of the Gilbert stake, about 900 currently qualify to enter an LDS temple. And about 700 actually go to the temple, Pugmire said.
The temple will likely be used by LDS members in Queen Creek as well, said Queen Creek Mayor Art Sanders, also a member of the church.
While church officials in Utah have not yet announced the exact site or size of the Gilbert temple, they do expect it to be smaller than the Mesa temple that was built in the early 1920s.
"The smaller temples are less expensive and take less time to build," Evans said.
The church currently has 134 temples worldwide.