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Utah will be home to 30 of the 350 temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once construction is complete on all announced temples. The Deseret News recently spoke to the church’s Utah Area president, Elder Kevin W. Pearson, to talk about the state and temples after the media open house tour for the Taylorsville Utah Temple.

“Utah’s really still the breadbasket of the church,” he said in an interview that touched on membership growth and activity and temple covenants and blessings.

Elder Pearson helped lead the media tour, which kicked off a public open house that ends on May 18. The Taylorsville Temple will be dedicated on June 2.

Elder Pearson, 67, who earned a Harvard MBA and was the CEO of a health care information, technology and research company, has a broad perspective on the church, having served as a General Authority Seventy since 2008, when he was called while serving as president of the Washington Tacoma Mission. He previously served as president of the Pacific Area, president of the North America West Area, counselor in the Europe East Area presidency and area assistant in the North America Southwest Area.

Deseret News: What is the “State of the Union” for the Utah Area?

Elder Pearson: You’ve got roughly 2.2 million members of the church here. You’ve got some of the most active members in the church here. We have 645, soon to be 650, stakes in Utah. So there’s a tremendous amount of strength in Utah. I’m working with some of the strongest membership of the church.

This is really still where the bench strength is in terms of leadership. Probably still 52-plus percent of all senior couples that serve in the world come out of Utah. About 28-29-30% of all the young missionaries come out of Utah. So Utah’s really still the breadbasket of the church. It is a global church, to be certain, but the church globally is facilitated by the faithfulness of the members of the church.

Now 21 temples operate in Utah, of 30 that are announced (for the state). Where do you think that comes from? It comes from the fact that members of the church have been so faithful in keeping the commandments that they have been blessed and prospered. They’ve prospered in the land, to use Book of Mormon language, and because of that, their faithfulness in paying tithings has created extraordinary opportunity now. You think about April 6, 1830, and the organization of the church then with six members to where we are today, and what it took in terms of sacrifice to build Kirtland (Ohio) and Nauvoo (Illinois), and now the extraordinary abundance that the church has been blessed with is a direct function of the faithfulness of members of the church. It is extraordinary to go from location to location and witness that.

Almost every stake you go to you think, ‘This has got to be the most faithful stake on on the earth,’ but it’s just over and over and over. Now having said that, there are struggles, there are challenges for members of the church. The Salt Lake Valley is sort of declining in membership as people move out to the southwest and to Highland and on the other side of the lake and other places. So there are challenges, but there are areas where the church is just exploding. We cannot possibly build buildings fast enough. And there are other areas where it’s like, ‘OK, this used to be an enormously strong area. Now it’s, it’s changing.’ So Utah’s very dynamic, is the point I’m trying to make. The church is very dynamic in Utah. It’s not monolithic in terms of the experience you have in any given stake or ward, but it still continues to be the stronghold of the church. And it’s just a joy to serve here.

Deseret News: During the April general conference, many of the talks were about temple covenants, about finding stillness, about following Jesus Christ’s teachings about the two great laws of loving God and loving others. What did you take away from conference?

Elder Pearson: If members listened carefully, with all of these temples being announced and built — there seems to be one open house after another in Utah — I just hope that the members of the church don’t get casual about the extraordinary significance of having a House of the Lord.

We want to make sure that people are less excited about the architecture of a new building and, ‘Boy, I wonder what the color scheme is in this temple’ and a lot more focused on ‘What promises am I making, what are those covenants?’ — the covenants of obedience and sacrifice and chastity and the gospel and consecration. We make very real promises to our Heavenly Father and the Savior and they are absolutely serious about those.

We’re hoping that members of the church will be ever more increasingly serious and focused on their own covenants. What we’re hoping is that these new temples will help members become ever more focused on putting the Savior and their covenants at the very center of their lives and not just having those an aspect of their lives. We hope the increased proximity of temples will help them with that. The proximity we hope will increase significantly the frequency that people get to the temple. The hope is that there will be a transformational mindset that whenever people see or think about the temple, they’ll think about the Savior, and they’ll think about the sacred promises they’ve made, and they’ll be even more determined and committed to keeping them in every aspect of their life. We hope that members will come to cherish and honor those commitments and covenants above any and all other commitments in their lives. I think that’s the essence of the messages you would have heard over the weekend in conference.

We’re going to teach that. We’re going to continue to teach that everywhere we go, at President Russell M. Nelson’s behest, so that children will grow up knowing what promises are and what they mean, and that they’ll be increasing in their capacity, commitment and determination to make and keep sacred covenants in the temple and keep them all their lives.

Deseret News: What are the blessings that come from keeping those commitments in that focused way and making them central and making Christ central in one’s life?

Elder Pearson: My wife’s parents would be an example of this. They were Norwegian and they sold everything they had to come to the U.S. so they could be sealed in the temple. The blessing they wanted was an eternal family. First and foremost, that is the blessing. For my wife June and I, it’s to be sealed together for forever. The blessing is it changes the way we live our lives, it changes the way we think about our marriage, that we’re in it for the long term. We don’t let short-term roadblocks or bumps in the road upend us. That is a blessing. It shapes the way we live our lives. For many of members of the church in the past, they would get to the temple once in their life, and that was it, but they went for that one blessing and that assurance.

For us in our day and time, the blessing of the temple is that you can come and you can, you can rise above the noise. You can rise above the lack of civility. You can rise above the disregard for sacred things and you can come to a space where you are literally a guest in the house of the Lord and you can feel more powerfully the influence of the Holy Ghost. You can feel a sense of peace and assurance in your life. Life is not perfect, and there are many challenges that people face, but they can come here and feel the blessing that because they’ve made covenants with the Savior, in the end, all will be well.

That is a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month blessing that people can have in their lives that’s different than coming for the one blessing of being sealed for time and all eternity and never having an opportunity to go to the temple again.

In addition to that, the temple is a place of revelation and a place to feel close to the Lord and to get the answers to challenges or questions or difficulties that you’re facing, to gather up strength. All of those things are available in the temple. If you’re listening to our prophet, in the days to come, we are going to need that more than ever before. So I think the blessings available in the temple are constant, but they’re also changing in terms of the times in which we live.

That’s something we hope we can help communicate effectively to the members of the church. Now you can come for daily blessings and weekly blessings, and not only the singular hope of eternal families.

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