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A couple weeks ago at a family reunion, my sisters and mother reminded me that we attended the 1974 dedication of the Washington D.C. Temple when we were living just outside Boston.
“Our temple at that time was the Salt Lake Temple,” my mother said.
The D.C. temple was the church’s 16th. Remarkably, at this moment, the church is in the middle of building four times that number of temples at once.
Last October, I asked Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Dean M. Davies, a General Authority Seventy, about this massive global project.
“Actually it’s closer to 70 temples that are in some process of design, development and construction,” said Elder Davies, who until last October was on the front lines of temple building as a member of the Presiding Bishopric. “This is the most significant temple-building time in the history of the church.”
The church has 39 temples in active construction, eight more undergoing renovation and another 45 that have been announced, many of which already are in the planning, design and development phases prior to active construction.
It’s noteworthy that the church has managed to continue dozens of projects right through the COVID-19 pandemic. Most jurisdictions have allowed construction to continue as an essential industry. The church’s Special Projects Department has added staff, several leaders said.
“Brent Roberts, who heads up the Special Projects Department under the Presiding Bishopric, has added project managers around the world,” Elder Davies said. “There’s been a great ramp up of technical people, architects and contractors. People who’ve never built temples are learning how to build temples to our standards and quality. It’s just a wonderful time. Frankly, it’s a great time because it’s also putting people to work, and helping sustain them in their lives.”
On May 1, at the announcement of the new Ephraim Utah Temple, Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority Seventy who is the assistant executive director of the Temple Department, said Roberts and his team “have done an incredible job” while managing dozens of temples in the construction pipeline at once.
“It really is unprecedented,” he said. “This is the Lord’s work. He’s the one in charge, and he’s opened up doors that we never thought were possible. So though the challenge is a high one, we’re keeping up.”
Of course, the church went through a stunning temple-building era from 1998-2002, opening 61 temples in three years.
President Russell M. Nelson now has announced 70 new temples in three years.
The reason for this building boom is plain. President Nelson has made it clear that it is a priority of the church to increase access to temples and temple ordinances, saying, “Our need to be in the temple on a regular basis has never been greater.”
“President Nelson, it’s in his heart,” Elder Davies said. “You see that during every (general) conference.”
Elder Gong used one of President Nelson’s signature phrases.
“It’s a special time to gather Israel on both sides of the veil,” he said.
“It’s really all part of our Father’s plan of helping his children know how to return home to him,” Elder Davies added. “It’s all about families. A young man and a young woman go into the temple, and they come out as husband and wife, and it changes the relationship. It adds dignity and devotion. It links families forever. The sealing, the ability to seal parents to children, and of course, children born to those who’ve been married and sealed in the temple have the promises of the gospel. So it’s all about families, it’s all about uniting and bringing us together on this side of the veil and on the other side.”
The church announced it soon will begin active construction on two more announced temples in the South Pacific.
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Behind the scenes
Elder Davies, Elder Gong and Elder Craig C. Christensen, who is the Utah Area president and a General Authority Seventy described the size and scope of building 70 temples at once after the groundbreaking ceremony for the Taylorsville Utah Temple on Oct. 31, 2020.