Innovative modular construction finishes ‘beautiful’ Helena Montana Temple 2 years after announcement
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints partnered with an Alabama company to manufacture a temple that maintains quality but is completed faster
A mere 25 months after President Russell M. Nelson announced a Latter-day Saint temple in Helena, Montana, it opens this week for a public open house.
The speedy construction was helped by a new process that will be used for select temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Russell M. Nelson has announced 133 new temples in the five years since he became church president.
“We can’t take five or 10 years to build a temple now and keep up with President Nelson,” said Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric.
“Jesus Christ is the reason we build temples,” President Nelson said at the church’s April general conference. “Each is his holy house. Making covenants and receiving essential ordinances in the temple, as well as seeking to draw closer to him there, will bless your life in ways no other kind of worship can.
“For this reason, we are doing all within our power to make the blessings of the temple more accessible to our members around the world.”
Four of the temples he has announced have been completed and opened. The Helena Montana Temple will be the fifth. It will be dedicated June 18 by Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It will be the church’s 178th temple.
The new design-manufacture-install process provides another option to build a temple, which the church reveres as a literal House of the Lord. The process maintains the same historic quality used in its previous 177 temples, leaders say. (Photos of the process are at the bottom of the story.)
A General Authority Seventy led journalists on a tour of the temple on Monday. He was impressed by the project’s quality and speed.
“I am just astonished and marvel at the miracle that I am seeing of a temple done in two years. I am sure this new design-manufacture-install technology has worked in filling the need of having temples closer to the people in a faster time, in an efficient way,” said Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela, first counselor in the North America Central Area Presidency.
VIP tours will take place over the next few days. The public open house begins Thursday and runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through June 3, except Sundays. No reservations are needed.
The temple was designed and manufactured in Bessemer, Alabama, then shipped by truck to Montana and assembled by BLOX, a company that piloted the new process with church officials, according to a church press release.
After initial construction, the exterior was covered with thick stone cladding. The exterior detailing includes horizontal bands reminiscent of mountain cliff faces with horizontal seams. A primary decorative band is designed to mark the transition between temple and sky.
“It’s beautiful outside and inside,” said President Bret Romney, leader of the 11 congregations of the church’s Helena Montana Stake. “It’s wonderful to have a temple in Helena and the feeling of peace it brings.”
The temple is 9,794 square feet and stands 96 feet tall. It cuts a striking profile in a residential neighborhood.
Each temple is personal and localized, said Suzi Stanger, who is a member of the temple committee.
The Helena temple’s windows, for example, are made of art glass representing local buttercup flowers. They have lovely yellows, earthy browns and a striking blue that is a reference to Native American beadwork.
“This temple is a beautiful building and people are going to see that when they go through it,” said Jim Stanger, director of the temple’s open house and dedication committee. “It’s made from the finest materials because it is the house of the Lord and we want to show our respect and devotion for him. It’s not about the building, it’s about our Savior Jesus Christ and what he does for us.”
Elder Valenzuela led the journalists into the celestial room near the end of the tour.
“The celestial room is the place we deem the most sacred place on earth,” he said.
They sat for several minutes in silent peace. They meditated and looked at the large chandelier, the white carpet, the art glass windows and the opposing mirrors.
Afterward, one reporter asked if the celestial room was soundproof.
“All of the temple’s room are designed to be peaceful so we can connect with God when we are here,” Elder Valenzuela said.
The Helena temple also has flexible endowment and sealing rooms, which is not a first. The instruction room can be converted into a sealing room when called for by the needs of church members, and the sealing room similarly converts into an endowment room.
Elder Valenzuela explained that the endowment room is for instruction and making covenants with God. The sealing room is for marriages and binding families together eternally.
“I was 19 when I was sealed to my parents,” he told the media in the sealing room. “We were converts. I have seven siblings, so we were 10 of us kneeling around the altar for the ceremony.”
He said afterward that he was moved by the blue upholstering on and around the altar.
He also explained that he and his wife were married civilly first, as required in Mexico, and then traveled 36 hours to a temple to be sealed together for eternity.
Montana is home to 51,000 Latter-day Saints. Those near Helena look forward to the public open house so they can share the temple with others, Suzi Stanger said.
“In a world that can be so chaotic and confusing, the temple is a place of peace. We’re so excited to invite our friends and neighbors to enter in this sacred building and feel of the peace that is there,” she told the journalists.
Elder Valenzuela said the new building option is an important innovation.
“We’re using state-of-the-art technology to build these temples more efficiently, quickly and at less cost,” he said.
He said technology is a blessing from God that has helped families do research on their ancestors, for whom they can do ordinances in temples.
“We now see technology on how to build things faster and in a more efficient way. So we are using what the Lord has given to us to build his houses of the Lord,” Elder Valenzuela said. “It’s one more temple for the Lord, and it was built in his way.”
He said he was grateful to the church’s Temple Department, Special Projects Department “and especially the First Presidency for helping the members to have temples in a dignified way in a shorter time. The members thought this would be built in four to five years. They are amazed that in two years, they have a beautiful temple.”
Lovely deep brown wood doors, door frames, tables and dressers fill the temple. The arms and legs of chairs are the same color. Gold leaf and other designs run along the top of walls in all of the rooms, including the celestial room.
Several paintings inside the temple represent Native Americans. The temple also has three pieces of original artwork:
- “Oh, ye mountains high,” by Josh Clare, which depicts a mountain lake scene.
- “His sheep may safely graze,” by Grant Redden, which shows sheep in a western meadow.
- “Sentinels of a hidden lake,” by Jim Wilcox, with a mountain goat and her offspring standing on a plateau above a river bend, surrounded by mountains with a tall peak in the background.
The first and only temple in Montana was built in Billings in 1999. The Helena temple will be the second. In April 2022, President Nelson announced a third temple in the state, in Missoula. That temple remains in the planning stages.
President Romney said six of the congregations in his stake shared a single meetinghouse on Sundays while the temple was under construction. The stake center, which housed three congregations, was torn down to make room for the temple. A new stake center opened on the temple plot in January.
The temple sits at 1260 Otter Road.
“I am grateful for the Lord hastening his work in these last days,” Elder Valenzuela said, “and witnessing how he’s building temples around the world and preparing us, especially the youth, to face all our challenges and trials with what we learn inside the temple. I think that’s the way to hasten the work of the Lord, building temples.”