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Understanding, making peace with architecture of LDS chapels

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A meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


This is the last in a series of three columns about places of worship. The previous two, "A tale of building a place to worship from an 800-year-old dismantled Spanish church" and "Battling for the title of Tiniest Church in America," are online at deseretnews.com.

For a long time I struggled with the style of meeting houses in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The buildings were sturdy, plain and utilitarian, like pioneer boots. (We reserve special décor for the temples.)

But the steeples I saw looked out of whack to me. They were “New England quaint"; the kind of steeples found on small, wooden churches in upper Vermont.

I couldn’t get my mind around the difference. When I’d look out from the foothills at a valley of LDS ward houses, they appeared — to me — like a family of giant turtles heading to sea in pointy hats.

Then the design began to grow on me.

The Mormon Way for making things has always tended toward mix-and-match.

The Salt Lake Temple is a mixture of styles. Mormon quilts and food are like that. I remember my mother putting shredded carrots and shredded cheese in the same Jell-O salad.

Perhaps (and this is a guess) the Mormon gift for mixing and matching has to do with Joseph Smith’s idea that “creating” and “organizing” are much the same.

When Joseph organized the church, it was as if he were picking out items for a bride. The church is fashioned from things old, things new, things borrowed and things blue.

The old, of course, would be the Old World scriptures we have.

The new is our sheaf of new revelations.

Borrowed? That would be the Protestant hymns collected by Emma Smith; hymns to be sung from the borrowed notion of choir seats displayed behind the borrowed notion of a pulpit.

And the something blue?

That would be the Brigham Young University sports teams.

Mormons often create by organizing. And they organize by mixing-and-matching. I often do that with this column. I’ll take a bit of this, a dash of that, add a quote from a respected source, voice an opinion and toss in a wry aside or two.

What all this leads to is I’ve finally made my peace with LDS architecture. The designs are not only practical but they send a message. And the message is this:

“We are durable, stable, sturdy and firm as the mountains around us. But while we may have flowered in the desert, our roots run to New England where picturesque steeples set the tone for faith in America."

As for the massive Conference Center downtown, I’m still wrestling with that.

I do like it. It reminds me of myself.

It comes across as a hefty fellow, like me, trying to disguise his weight at his 50th class reunion, which I will soon be doing.