I have been a docent, museum teacher, for twenty years in the Church History Museum that is located directly west of Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
One of my favorite opportunities in the museum is to walk visitors through the Presidents of the Church gallery, where I point out interesting facts and trivia about each Prophet, Seer, and Revelator who presided over the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this dispensation.
Today, if you will come along, I will give you a virtual tour that will focus on temples. At the end I will ask you: Which president served the longest? Which the shortest? During which president’s tenure were the most temples dedicated? Which three prophets doubled the number of temples? How do you feel about the future of temple building in the Church?
Two clarifications before we begin.
First, if you are unfamiliar with how a prophet is chosen, you may wonder why presidents serve for different lengths of time. The answer is that Apostles serve for life. The process to become president of the Church begins when a man is called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. As members of that quorum pass away, all the others move up in seniority. At the death of a president of the Church, the most senior Apostle in length of time served becomes thepresiding authority. There is no gap in leadership. At the death of a president of the Church, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve is immediately the Lord’s mouthpiece on earth.
At the deaths of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor, the most senior Apostle led the Church from his position as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for several years. When Wilford Woodruff was the prophet, he received revelation that at his death the First Presidency was to be reorganized as soon as possible, which is the pattern followed today.
Second, throughout this tour, I use members and saints interchangeably. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are saints as used by the Apostles in New Testament times—ordinary members who strive to live the teachings of Jesus Christ. Also, president and prophet are interchangable.
Any questions? Good. Let’s get started.
1. Meet Joseph Smith who served as president of the Church beginning April 6, 1830, when the Church was officially organized. We could also think of him as de facto president beginning “on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty” (JS-History 1:14) when our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ appeared to him in glorious vision. He served until martyred by a mob in the jail at Carthage, Illinois, June 27, 1844.
The Lord commanded: “Yea, verily I say unto you, I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high” (D&C 95:8).
The Prophet Joseph explained the purpose of temples: “The object of gathering the . . . people of God in any age of the world… was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom” (History of the Church, 5:423).
When the suggestion was made that the Church could only afford to build a log house, the Prophet said, “Shall we, brethren, build a house for Our God of logs? No, brethren, I have a better plan than that. I have the plan of the house of the Lord given by himself.” He could say this because he had seen it.
Under guidance from the Spirit, Joseph and his counselors, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams sought the Lord’s plan for the house of the Lord. President Williams wrote: “We went upon our knees, called on the Lord, and the building appeared within viewing distance. I being the first to discover it. Then all of us viewed it together” (Truman O. Angell autobiography, photocopy of typescript, 4, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).
Joseph Smith dedicated the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836. The dedicatory prayer is Doctrine and Covenants 109.
Number of years served: 14 (ages 24 to 38)
Number of temples dedicated: 1 (Kirtland, Ohio)
Church Membership at his death: 26,146.
2. Meet Brigham Young, second president of the Church. After the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple, increasing mob pressure forced abandonment of the city sooner than planned. President Young told the Saints who were assembled at the temple to go home and prepare to leave the city. He walked away, expecting the crowd to disperse, but they stayed. Feeling their intense desire, he returned to the temple and “continued at work diligently in the House of the Lord.” In eight weeks about 5,600 Saints received their endowment.
This architect’s rendering of the Salt Lake Temple hung in Brigham Young’s office from 1855 to his death in 1877. Knowing the temple wasn’t dedicated until 1893, you may wonder how he could have a drawing of the temple on his wall years before it was built. President Young said: “I scarcely ever say much about revelations, or visions, but suffice it to say, five years ago last July I was here and saw in the spirit the temple, not ten feet from where we have laid the cornerstone. I have not inquired what kind of a temple we should build. Why? Because it was represented before me. I have never looked upon that ground, but the vision of it was there. I see it as plainly as if it was in reality before me” (JD 1:132).
Dates of presidency: 1844 to 1877
Number of years served: 33, ages 43 to 76
Number of temples dedicated: 2 (Nauvoo, Illinois; St. George, Utah)
Church Membership at his death: 115,065.
3. Meet John Taylor, the third president of the Church. When he visited the St. George Temple for the first time he wrote: “We experienced a sacred thrill of joy and a solemn, reverential sensation”.
Under President Taylor’s leadership the Church navigated tumultuous times. In 1882 the United States congress passed the Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act that “revoked the civil rights of those engaging in bigamous cohabitation”. Under this law, many husbands were convicted and imprisoned, leaving women and children to run the farms and businesses. For the last two and one-half years of his life, he led the Church in seclusion because of the anti-polygamy legislation.
Despite all this and more, President Taylor dedicated the Logan Temple on May 17, 1884.
Dates of presidency: 1877 to 1887
Number of years served: 10, ages 68 to 78
Number of temples dedicated: 1 (Logan, Utah)
Church Membership at his death: 173,029
4. This is Wilford Woodruff who served from President Taylor’s passing to his own death on September 2, 1898.
As with President Taylor, President Woodruff struggled to help the Church become financially independent, but things got worse. The sanctions of the Edmunds Act of 1882 were strengthened by the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, which dissolved the Church as a legal corporation from 1887 to 1893. “Between 1885 and 1889, most Apostles and stake presidents were in hiding or in prison” (churchofjesuschrist.org/topics/the-manifesto-and-the-end-of-plural-marriage?lang=eng).
Challenging years notwithstanding, the work of the Lord continued. President Woodruff was the first president of the St. George Temple. In vision, the signers of the Declaration of Independence and other notable men and women appeared to him on two successive nights, asking for their temple work to be done. He dedicated the Salt Lake temple in 1893. He issued the Manifesto ending plural marriage. Utah became the forty-fifth state on January 4, 1896.
Dates of presidency: 1887 to 1898
Number of years served: 11, ages 79 to 91
Number of temples dedicated: 2 (Manti, Utah and Salt Lake City, Utah)
Church Membership at his death: 267,251
5. Meet President Lorenzo Snow who served as the first president of the Salt Lake Temple and fifth president of the Church.
Financial hardships caused by the disenfranchisement of the Church continued to plague President Snow. He improved accounting procedures and organizational responsibility but more revenue was needed. In praying for solutions, he felt inspired to travel three hundred miles by buggy to St. George, Utah, without knowing why. (He was frail and in poor health.) When he began to speak to the assembled congregation, the spirit of revelation came upon him and he promised financial blessings to individuals and the Church if they would live the law of tithing. He admonished the Saints to pay tithing and pay it in cash. Up to this time members were allowed to make contributions in kind (agricultural products), but the Church needed cash. Because of the Church debt, President Snow was unable to build any temples.
Dates of presidency: 1898 to 1901
Number of years served: 3, ages 84 to 87
Number of temples dedicated: 0
Church Membership at his death: 292,931
6. Meet Joseph F. Smith the son of Hyrum Smith and nephew of Joseph Smith. He was the last prophet to personally know Joseph Smith.
President Smith said: “I foresee the necessity arising for other temples… so that the people may have the benefits of the house of the Lord without having to travel hundreds of miles for that purpose” (Conference Report, April 1901, 69). Sadly, the Church was still in debt without resources to build temples.
Six years later, in 1907, the Church was debt-free. This blessing came as a result of members’ response to the emphasis on tithing, beginning with President Snow in St. George, and because “the Church… purchased interest in a number of businesses… providing the Church with additional resources to fund its operations”
(Alexander, Mormonism in Transition, 74–92; Richard O. Cowan, The Latter-day Saint Century, 1901–2000 (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1999), 38).
As President Smith traveled around the world, he encouraged Saints not to gather to the American West but to build up the church in their homelands. He promised access to temples even though there were only four temples and all of them were in Utah.
In general conference October 1912, he announced a temple in Canada. In 1915 the Hawaiian temple was announced. President Smith passed away before the completion of either of these temples.
Since the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893, twenty-six years had passed in which no temples were dedicated.
Dates of presidency: 1901-1918
Number of years served: 17, ages 63 to 80
Number of temples dedicated: 0
Church Membership at his death: 495,962
7. Meet Heber J. Grant seventh president and prophet of the Church. President Grant’s personal devotion to temple work is evidenced in three random examples from his life.
He and his wife-to-be traveled about 250 miles by team on unimproved roads from Utah County to the St. George Temple to be married. Friends and family encouraged them to be married by their bishop and wait to be sealed in the Salt Lake Temple when it was completed. But they wanted an eternal marriage from the beginning.
On his seventy-eighth birthday he and “50 family members did sealings in the temple for 1,516 children to their parents” (churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-heber-j-grant/chapter-6?lang=eng).
As president of the Church, President Grant chose “to go to the temple at least once every week and have ordinances performed in behalf of some of [his] loved ones who had passed away” instead of going to lectures, concerts, and the theater (Ibid).
Dates of presidency: 1918-1945
Number of years served: 27, ages 62 to 88
Number of temples dedicated: 3 (Laie Hawaii, Cardston Alberta, Mesa, Arizona)
Church Membership at his death: 979,454
8. Meet President George Albert Smith, eighth president of the Church. He said: The Latter-day Saints “are the only people in the world who know what temples are for.” A temple is “a place sacred and suitable for the performing of holy ordinances that bind on earth as in heaven”.
The first temple in Idaho was dedicated in September 1945. Thirty-eight years later, “in September 1983, a helicopter was employed to install an angel Moroni statue atop the spire of the previously statueless Idaho Falls Idaho Temple” (Ibid).
Dates of presidency: 1945 to 1951
Number of years served: 6, ages 75 to 81
Number of temples dedicated: 1 (Idaho Falls, Idaho)
Church membership at his death: 1,147,157
9. This is President David O McKay, ninth president of the Church. He said, “I pray with all my soul that all the members of the Church, their children, and their children’s children—and all men everywhere—may at least glimpse the glory of the house of the Lord”.
In twenty years, the membership of the Church had more than doubled. President McKay’s great desire to bring temples to the people came with three inspired solutions.
Problem: Members in Europe need access to a temple.
Solution: Build a temple in Switzerland.
Problem: There are not enough Swiss members to play the roles in the endowment.
Solution: Produce slides in a movie-type format to present the endowment. (In 1953, a young returned missionary named Gordon Hinckley was one of several hired for this purpose [churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/temple-endowment?lang=eng]).
Problem: Members in Europe who will come to the Swiss Temple speak many languages.
Solution: Translate the endowment into many more languages. (The first translation was available in 1945 for Spanish-speaking Saints in the Mesa, Arizona temple [Ibid]).
Dates of presidency: 1951 to 1970
Number of years served: 19, ages 77 to 96
Number of temples dedicated: 5 (Bern Switzerland, Los Angeles California, Hamilton New Zealand, London England, Oakland California)
Church membership at his death: 2,930,810
10. This is President Joseph Fielding Smith, son of Joseph F. Smith and grandson of Hyrum Smith.
The growth of the Church called for more adjustments to temple planning and building.
Problem: The Salt Lake Temple is too busy. Of the eight temples, one-third of all ordinances are performed in the Salt Lake Temple.
Solution: Build temples in Ogden and Provo.
Problem: Temples are very expensive.
Solution: Design temples with the same attention to detail but build more efficiently to reduce costs.
Problem: There are too many dead. The work has to go faster. Endowment sessions need to accommodate more people at a time.
Solution: Build temples to facilitate larger groups and minimize moving room to room to room to room.
The Ogden and Provo temples reflected these changes. After the dedication of the Ogden and Provo temples, both “accounted for significantly more ordinances being performed than Salt Lake” (David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism“).
With the dedication of the Ogden Temple, how many years had it been since the last temple in Utah was dedicated? I’ll give you a minute to think about it.
Correct. Seventy-nine years! To put this in perspective, President Joseph Fielding Smith, dedicated the Ogden Temple when he was ninety-five years old. He attended the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple when he was seventeen.
Dates of presidency: 1970 to 1972
Number of years served: 2, ages 93 to 95
Number of temples dedicated: 2 (Ogden, Utah and Provo, Utah)
Church membership at his death: 3,227,790
11. Meet Harold B. Lee who became the prophet at age 73, youthful by president-of-the-church standards.
The Washington D.C. Temple was announced in 1968 and took six years to build. The dedication was planned for November 1974. No doubt, President Lee looked forward to this dedication. He counseled members who attend the temple: “May you who come here come with sanctified hearts, with eyes and minds and hearts single to God so that you will feel His presence.”
It was exciting for parents of young children when President Lee became the prophet. They anticipated their children would grow up with President Lee much like they had grown up with President McKay. However, it was not the Lord’s will. On the day after Christmas 1973 television programs were interrupted with news that President Lee had passed away.
Dates of presidency: 1972 to 1973
Number of years served: 18 months, ages 73 to 74
Number of temples dedicated: 0
Church membership at his death: 3,321,556
12. Meet Spencer W. Kimball the twelfth prophet. He said: “I personally regard all of the houses of the Lord as the work of Jehovah, initiated by him, built by him, designed by him, and dedicated to him…”.
When President Kimball became president of the Church there were seventeen temples, including Kirtland and Nauvoo. Twelve years later when he passed away there were thirty-six.
Regarding temple work, President Kimball said: “The day is coming and not too far ahead of us when all temples on this earth will be going night and day. … There will be a corps of workers night and day almost to exhaustion, because of the importance of the work and the great number of people who lie asleep in the eternity and who are craving, needing, the blessings that can come to them” (churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-spencer-w-kimball/the-life-and-ministry-of-spencer-w-kimball?lang=eng).
Dates of presidency: 1973 to 1985
Number of years served: 12, ages 78 to 90
Number of temples dedicated: 21 (Washington D.C.; Sao Paulo Brazil; Tokyo Japan; Seattle Washington; Jordan River Utah; Atlanta Georgia; Apia Samoa; Nuku’alofa Tonga; Santiago Chile; Papeete Tahiti; Mexico City, Mexico; Boise Idaho; Sydney Australia; Manila, Philippines; Dallas Texas; Taipei Taiwan; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Freiberg, Germany; Stockholm Sweden; Chicago Illinois; Johannesburg South Africa) Church membership at death his: 5,920,000
13. Meet President Ezra Taft Benson whose temple preparation began as a young boy when he watched his mother iron. When he asked her what she was doing she said, “These are temple robes, my son. Your father and I are going to the temple at Logan.” Then she stopped ironing and “drew a chair close to mine, and told me about temple work—how important it is to be able to go to the temple and participate in the sacred ordinances performed there. She also expressed her fervent hope that some day her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren would have the opportunity to enjoy these priceless blessings” (churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1985/08/what-i-hope-you-will-teach-your-children-about-the-temple?lang=eng).
He said: “I promise you that, with increased attendance in the temples of our God, you shall receive increased personal revelation to bless your life as you bless those who have died”
The facts on President Benson are easy to remember—nine years, nine temples, nine million members.
Dates of presidency: 1985-1994
Number of years served: 9, age 86-94
Number of temples dedicated: 9 (Seoul Korea; Lima Peru; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Denver, Colorado; Frankfurt, Germany; Portland, Oregon; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; San Diego, California)
Church membership at his death: 9,024,569
14. This is President Howard W. Hunter who focused his presidency on temples. He said: “I invite the Latter-day Saints to look to the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of your membership.”.
In his short time as president of the Church, President Hunter emphasized the importance of qualifying for and obtaining a temple recommend. “Truly, the Lord desires that His people be a temple-motivated people. It would be the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church be temple worthy. I would hope that every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it” (churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1994/10/the-great-symbol-of-our-membership?lang=eng).
Question: In what ways was President Hunter preparing the membership of the Church for President Hinckley’s revelation on small temples?
Dates of presidency: 1994 to 1995
Number of years served: 10 months, ages 86 to 87
Number of temples dedicated: 2 (Orlando, Florida; Bountiful, Utah) Church membership at his death: 9,340,898
15. This is President Gordon B. Hinckley. Early in his presidency he pondered the problem that too many members live too far from temples.
The solution came in 1997 when he was driving from Colonial Juarez, Mexico to an airport. His thoughts were on the faithful Saints he had just left who had to travel all the way to Mesa, Arizona to go to a temple, a trip of about 1,500 miles. He thought of other members around the world in remote locations. He wanted them all to have temples. As he rode along, inspiration came to build smaller temples. (See diagram above.) Once on the airplane, he “took a piece of paper and sketched out the [floor] plan, and turned it over to the architects to refine it” (thechurchnews.com/archives/1998-08-01/inspiration-came-for-smaller-temples-on-trip-to-mexico-126869).
Dates of presidency: 1995 to 2008
Number of years served: 13, ages 84 to 97
Number of temples dedicated: 77 (11 in Mexico; 4 in Australia; 3 in Brazil; 4 in California; 3 in Canada; 3 in Texas; 3 in Utah; 2 in Tennessee; 2 in New York; 2 in Washington; and 1 in China; Missouri; England; Alaska; Spain; Colombia; Ecuador; Ohio; North Dakota; South Carolina; Michigan; Nova Scotia; Montana; North Carolina; Minnesota; Hawaii; New Mexico; Kentucky; Oregon; Nevada; Bolivia; Costa Rica; Japan; Fiji; Louisiana; Oklahoma; Venezuela; Alabama; Dominican Republic; Massachusetts; Uruguay; Nebraska; Arizona; Paraguay; Illinois; Netherlands; Ghana; Denmark; Nigeria; Finland)
Church membership at his death: 13,508,509
16. You know President Thomas S. Monson. In 2010 he said: “To members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the temple is the most sacred place on earth. It is the house of the Lord, and just as the inscription on the exterior of the temple states, the temple is ‘holiness to the Lord’”.
In April 2011 general conference he said: During the first 150 years following the organization of the Church, from 1830 to 1980, 21 temples were built…. Contrast that with the 30 years since 1980, during which 115 temples were built and dedicated…. These numbers will continue to grow” (churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2011/04/the-holy-temple-a-beacon-to-the-world?lang=eng).
Dates of presidency: 2008 to 2018
Number of years served: 10, ages 80 to 90
Number of temples dedicated: 35 (6 in Utah, 4 in Arizona, 3 in Idaho, 2 in Brazil, 2 in Canada, 1 in Panama; Philippines; Ukraine; El Salvador; Guatemala; Missouri; Honduras; Florida; Argentina; Peru; Indiana; Mexico; Japan; Pennsylvania; Colorado; Wyoming; Connecticut; France) Church membership at his death: 16,118,169
17. Say Hello to President Russell M. Nelson the current prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In October 2019 general women’s session he said: “I hope the sisters understand the spiritual treasures that are theirs in the temple.”
President Nelson has changed aspects of temple procedure. In general conference he read new temple recommend questions. The wording has changed to clarify current conditions but the worthiness standards remain the same. He announced that women could serve as witnesses for temple baptisms and sealings (marriages). He announced that following a civil marriage there is no waiting period for a couple to be sealed in the temple. And he has announced thirty-five new temples (newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/october-2019-general-conference-temple-recommend).
Dates of presidency: 2018-
Number of years served: 2 and we pray for many more Number of temples dedicated: 8: (Chile, Colombia, Italy, Congo, Brazil, Haiti, Portugal, Peru)
Now to the questions:
Which president served the longest? Correct. President Young at thirty-three years. Which served the shortest? Correct again. President Hunter at not quite ten months.
During which president’s tenure were the most temples dedicated? Yes. President Hinckley.
Which three presidents doubled the number of temples? Right again. President Young from one to two, President Kimball from 17 to 36, and President Hinckley from 47 to 124.
Every time I give this tour, I feel joy at every juncture, temple-to-temple, prophet-to-prophet. I anticipate more temples in more locations to bless many more living and dead.
And for your information, a new exhibit for children, “Temples Dot the Earth,” is coming to the Church History Museum, mid-February 2020. You will be able to see it online if you cannot visit in person.
(At this moment in time, January 2020, there are 167 dedicated temples with 15 under construction and thirty-five announced (churchofjesuschristtemples.org). Here are sites: 7 in Africa; 6 in Utah; 5 in Philippines; 3 in Brazil; 2 in Argentina; and 1 in Canada, Thailand, Idaho, Guam, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico; Virginia; India; Nicaragua; Russia; New Zealand; California; Cambodia; Washington; American Samoa; Japan; Tonga; Honduras; Chile; Hungary; Texas; New Guinea; Arkansas; Guatemala.)
(Signatures at ldsliving.com/See-the-Signatures-of-Every-Latter-Day-Prophet/s/81575, excepting President Nelson that I found on the Internet.)