Latter-day Saints in the Manti area have known for some time that their beloved and historic Manti Utah Temple would close at some point for a major renovation.
What some didn’t expect was the decision to end live temple instruction, a long and unique tradition for many.
“I’ve talked to a few folks in the valley and most of them are kind of surprised,” said lifelong resident Douglas Barton. “We’re all good, we’re all obedient. ... But I really thought it would stay live — I really did.”
Barton’s comment came in reaction to the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announcing plans for a multiyear renovation of the Manti Utah Temple later this year. The major project will include mechanical updates and other improvements to “prepare the temple to serve for generations,” according to a church statement.
Historic but aging murals in both temples will be photographed, documented and removed while staircases will be preserved. The last major renovation of the Manti temple took place in the 1980s, according to local residents.
Along with the Manti temple joining other pioneer-era temples (Salt Lake and St. George) under renovation, the Salt Lake and Manti temples will change from having a live presentation in various rooms to single-room film presentations offered in multiple languages.
“The historic pioneer-era temples have been a blessing to the Latter-day Saints for more than 140 years,” the church statement reads. “We know that with the updates and renovations now announced or underway they will continue to serve their sacred purpose for generations to come.”
The changes to the Manti temple come two years after the Mormon Miracle Pageant ended its 52-year run.
Barton was born and raised on a farm in Manti. His father, Lee R. Barton, served as president of the Manti temple from 1994-1997. Outside of a Latter-day Saint mission and college, he has been in Manti all his life, including 52 years of working with the Mormon Miracle Pageant. He currently serves as a Manti temple ordinance worker.
Barton thought a single-room film presentation made sense in Salt Lake, where more languages are in demand. But it is not as big of a need in Manti, where Spanish is occasionally used. He loves the live presentation of the endowment because even though the dialogue is the same, different personalities make each session a little bit different.
“It is taxing to learn the parts — there is a lot to memorize and it’s challenging — but it’s also really quite exciting,” Barton said.
Barton’s great-great grandfather, Danish artist C.C.A. Christensen, painted some of the murals in the Manti temple. He hopes those can be preserved.
Milton Olsen, another lifelong Manti resident and Latter-day Saint, said his initial reaction was “a little surprise and sad, then not-so-surprised.”
“It brings us in line with everything else, all the other temples going through the same thing,” he said. “Yet it’s hard to let the familiar and the cherished go.”
Milton’s brother, Jay Olsen, a former Young Single Adult stake president at Snow College, said the changes make sense.
“We’ve been anticipating some closure and update for a couple of years now, so that didn’t come as a surprise. Now there’s a little bit of a timeline on it,” Jay Olsen said. “The changes? I’m just fine with the changes in the name of efficiency. It takes a lot of people to run a live session. So in the name of efficiency and time commitments for people, it will make it more efficient all the way around.”
“It brings us in line with everything else, all the other temples going through the same thing. Yet it’s hard to let the familiar and the cherished go.” — Milton Olsen
Kenneth and Claudia Olsen aren’t temple ordinance workers but many in their Latter-day congregation serve in the temple. Kenneth’s ties to the Manti temple go back to his great-great-grandfather, who at age 10 attended the groundbreaking ceremony with Brigham Young in 1877. Several ancestors helped build the temple, and his parents served there for many years.
The 75-year-old recalled accompanying his grandson Jared Olsen to the temple a few years ago and hearing his grandson remark that he loved the live presentation because “it felt more personal with actual people.”
Although a little sad about the changes, Olsen trusts church leaders and believes the final result will be “awesome.”
“It will be different, but looking at the times we’re in and the things going on, boy, things are happening so fast to speed things up,” he said. “I’m behind the prophet because I know where he gets his inspiration.”