It came as dramatic news last spring for Arizona Mormons. Leaders in Salt Lake City announced in late April that new temples would be built in Gilbert and in the Gila Valley cities of either Safford or Thatcher in eastern Arizona to accommodate the church’s growth.
Then weeks later, word came that a third would be built — one in Phoenix. They would bring the state’s temple count to five. They would be the first since the Mesa Arizona Temple was dedicated in 1927 and the Snowflake Temple, dedicated in 2002. The new temples would take pressure off existing temples and sharply cut down on travel time for members visiting them for church rites and ordinances, including sealing ceremonies of couples being wed in the church, endowments, anointings and proxy baptisms.
Now, six months later, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are still waiting to learn when construction will begin and where the sacred buildings will be erected.
It may well be three years before any of the temples are built and dedicated, said Clark Hirschi, a public affairs spokesman in Salt Lake City whose area includes Arizona. He doesn’t anticipate any groundbreakings until after the new year, and it “will probably be two to three years out” before any are ready for use.
The Snowflake Temple, with 16,567 square feet, was announced in April 2000 and dedicated in March 2002. It is considerably smaller than the Mesa Temple, which is 113,916 square feet and took seven years to complete after the land was found.
“Typically, a temple averages from three to five years from the announcement until we get to construction,” Hirschi said Friday. “There has been no official announcement or acknowledgement of specific locations for any of the three yet.”
Don Evans of Mesa, a stake president and spokesman for the church in Arizona, has said repeatedly in recent months that higher church officials had not informed him of when further details would be made known.
Currently, the 13 million-member worldwide church has 128 completed temples and 17 more temples “announced or under construction,” said Kim Farah, a spokeswoman for the church in Salt Lake City. In early October, during the two-day semiannual General Conference, church President/Prophet Thomas Monson announced construction of five of those temples, including the first for Rome, the home of the Roman Catholic Church. It would be the first near the Mediterranean and would serve nearly 23,000 Mormons in Italy.
Church leaders on April 27 indicated Gilbert’s temple would go up near the intersection of Greenfield and Pecos roads, but they no longer discuss precise sites. While Evans speculated the temples would be smaller than traditional temples, in keeping with a trend started by the church’s late president and prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, the sizes of the Gilbert, Phoenix and Gila Valley temples have not been announced.
“We have temples that are first announced as small temples that have been added to,” Hirschi said. “Some originally announced as small temples increase in size” as more planning goes on.
During Hinckley’s presidency (1995-2008), the number of operating temples increased from 47 to 124, with 14 more under construction or announced. The accelerated construction was accomplished by erecting more smaller temples.
Hirschi said the church is painstaking when it comes to putting up its temples. Plans are meticulous in design, then renderings are readied for zoning commissions, planning boards and those issuing permits. Once construction is completed, leaders traditionally invite the public to tour the richly designed and furnished rooms where ceremonies are performed.
Temples are then dedicated by church officials, and the buildings may only be visited by Mormons with “recommends” from bishops and who are in good standing with the church.
The temples, surrounded by well-groomed gardens, have what Hirschi called “specifications of exactness,” with detailed art glass, fine woodwork and wainscotting, and often murals that are “installed almost like wallpaper, but is still a time-consuming process.”
While members of most churches typically must raise their own funds for building projects, or get loans, the Mormon Church’s worldwide temple fund pays directly for construction of its buildings.
“To say the tithing funds come from Arizona (for the three temples) would be inaccurate,” Hirschi said. But strong church growth in Arizona has ensured strong tithing that makes the new temples possible. But, he said, church members are highly encouraged to donate for specific temple projects.