How can one building in a city of about 49,000 people have much impact on an entire region? If it’s an LDS temple, that one building can generate a great response in both the religious and the private sector of the population.
The new Twin Falls temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the church’s 128th temple worldwide, constructed and dedicated for religious purposes. The precast white china stone of the exterior rises solidly into the air from the mostly residential surroundings and can be seen by passing motorists on nearby I-84. The announcement of the temple seemed to precede a flurry of activity throughout Southern Idaho.
Members of the LDS faith began organizing into committees to oversee the temple’s open house and dedication. Various choirs began practicing and teenagers started learning dance steps. Just about every member of every LDS congregation could participate in some aspect of the temple celebration and dedication.
One of the biggest challenges was organizing well over 3,000 youth throughout Southern Idaho into dancing groups to prepare for the Youth Cultural Celebration that was held August 23 at the Filer Fairgrounds. Teens performed dances to demonstrate the vast cultural influences on the region. The locally-choreographed dances included pioneer, big band, Latino, the 50s, hip-hop, county fairs, and international themes.
The public open house ran from July 11 to August 16. Members of the LDS church volunteered their time to conduct tours for visitors. Randy Hansen, president of a Twin Falls congregation, estimated that about 500 volunteers were needed each day to keep the open house running smoothly.
“Members took time off work to serve the community and open up the door of the temple,” Hansen said. “It’s a special experience to give back a little bit and say to the community, ‘Here we are, and we’re open.’” And Southern Idaho responded. By the end of the open house, 159,867 people toured the temple and its grounds.
The reason the temple has had such a big impact on the local LDS community is two-fold: The church has a long history connecting it to Southern Idaho; and temple worship has special significance to the membership of the LDS church.
The history of the LDS church in Southern Idaho begins in the eastern-most corner of the valley in Oakley. Named after the town’s first postmaster, Oakley was initially settled in the 1870s by LDS church members sent to the area under the direction of their leader Brigham Young. The Goose Creek area was home to the first LDS congregation in this area.
Today, approximately 42,000 LDS church members live in Southern Idaho, many of which can trace their roots back to those early LDS settlers in the region.
LDS church members believe temples to be the most sacred places on earth. So it’s no surprise that members would be thrilled with the presence of one in their community. More than a meetinghouse, LDS members enter temples to perform ordinances such as baptisms for the dead and the sealing of married couples and families. These ordinances are held sacred to members of the LDS church. Members are encouraged to visit the temple often, which is another reason the LDS community is excited about the Twin Falls temple – previously, they had to drive to Boise, Idaho Falls or Logan, Utah, in order to attend a temple. That’s why leaders in the LDS church see this temple as having a huge influence on Southern Idaho.
In fact, some leaders have claimed that for those who are members of the LDS church, the construction of the Twin Falls temple is the singular most significant event that has ever, and will ever, happen in Southern Idaho. On a more individual level, Hansen said, “We as Latter-day Saints have been kinder, gentler, and happier. The community as a whole has felt that. It’s just been a very positive and a very good feeling.”
But the LDS community isn’t the only one to notice the temple construction. Shawn Barigar, president and CEO of the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, noted that with gas prices topping over $4 per gallon, there is a practical side to having an LDS temple in Twin Falls. Local LDS residents won’t have to drive far anymore, and when they visit the temple they’re “certainly participating in other activities like buying gas, staying in a hotel, and eating,” he said. That’s an economic impact that should last well past the temple’s open house days and into the future.
Several new hotels popped up in Twin Falls in time for the temple’s open house. The Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization doesn’t track retail or tourism in the state, but Jan Rogers of the SIEDO said that any increase in those sectors will be good for the area’s economy in the long run.
“It’s a big deal to have a temple in our region,” said Rogers. “It enhances the amenities that are already here.”
Twin Falls began diversifying it’s economic base several years ago, attracting a variety of industrial and commercial businesses to the area. The base of good schools, a very progressive community college, and a hospital offering a wide variety of services create a solid foundation for growth in the area. The current additions of a new high school in Twin Falls, a new Wal-Mart, a new hospital and the new temple will all combine to be positive enhancements for businesses looking to locate in the area.
This one building, with its simplicity and elegance, has managed to improve Southern Idaho’s general atmosphere in various sectors of the community. That improvement will most likely continue into the future.
“What’s going to be really neat is in 20 years, people can tell grandchildren what it’s like in [the temple] because they’ve seen it,” said Hansen. “They’ve seen the granite from India, woodwork from Africa; and they’ve seen what goes on in there. It will have a lasting impact for those not of our faith.”
It’s that lasting sense of history, ownership and investment for people and businesses in Southern Idaho that makes for a thriving community.
By Rebecca Tateoka