Manhattan's Mormon Temple: Sacred Space in a Bustling City
Renovations to Existing Meetinghouse Provide Place for Baptisms, Other Rituals
By Michelle Garcia
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, June 5, 2004; Page B09
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has added another exclusive venue to Manhattan. The church recently installed a temple inside its building across from Lincoln Center, bringing one of the faith's holiest and most restrictive spaces to the Naked City.
The New York version of a Mormon temple bears little relationship to its out-of-town counterparts, with their ambitious spires and triumphant steeples intended to inspire a closeness to God.
Often these temples are set near a highway -- as with the temple along the Capital Beltway in Kensington -- to let those passing by marvel at their architectural glory.
The New York temple, by contrast, lies within a windowless, drab-looking, modernist building on Columbus Avenue in the city's Upper West Side. With real estate selling for $60 a square foot, Mormon elders decided to settle for the practical and constructed their temple inside an existing meetinghouse, which they built in 1975, before the area became a hot property market.
The temple, the only one between Washington and Boston, is the second Mormon temple constructed within an existing building. The other, in crowded and pricey Hong Kong, was consecrated in 1996.
Church members in the New York area will now be spared the four-hour drive to Boston or Washington to participate in the church's most sacred rites, including marriages and family "sealings," in which a family is bound together for eternity.
To church elder A. Kim Smith, the creation of the Manhattan temple cements the arrival of Mormons in the New York City area and reflects the religion's changing demographics.
"Years ago, the church was not known" in the city, said Smith, who spearheaded the renovation and whose day job is as an executive at Goldman Sachs. "We were strangers."
In the past decade, the New York regional Mormon population has tripled to 42,000, fueled largely by immigration and aggressive proselytizing in black and Latino communities. During the same period, membership in the Washington area has grown 24 percent, to about 68,000.
The church reports membership of 5.5 million in the United States and has grown to 12 million worldwide, largely due to recruiting efforts in Latin America and Africa. As immigrants arrive in New York, they bring the religion to this country, Smith said.
Two years ago, church President Gordon B. Hinckley, 93, satisfied that the New York membership had grown large enough to warrant its own temple, announced that the city would become home to the religion's 119th temple.
Church leaders started renovating the six-story building to create two worlds: a meetinghouse for the day-to-day aspects of religious life, including youth programs and Sunday worship services, and a temple with its own entrance and elevator reserved for sacred ordinances and advanced religious instruction.
A church spokesman declined to release the renovation price tag but said that member tithing covered most of the costs. The Mormon law of tithing calls for members to donate 10 percent of their income to the church, one of the requirements for becoming worthy of accessing the temple.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Nun Who Inspired Gibson Approved for Beatification (The Washington Post, Jun 5, 2004)
Grappling With the Morals On Display in Abu Ghraib (The Washington Post, May 29, 2004)
Looking for a Few Good Jewish Men (The Washington Post, May 22, 2004)
Activists Urge Bush, Kerry To Focus on Poor in U.S. (The Washington Post, May 22, 2004)
Services Fit for an Arena (The Washington Post, May 15, 2004)
More Religion Stories