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Mormons holding open house for new South Florida temple

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The new Mormon temple in South Florida will be open for free tours through April 19. (Photo: James Davis)

The new Mormon temple in South Florida will be open for free tours through April 19. (Photo: James Davis)

For months, drivers on I-75 in South Florida have looked curiously at the building with a spire topped by a golden angel holding a trumpet. Now they have a chance to look inside — at least until mid-April, when the doors close to the public.

The building is the newest temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, better known as the Mormon Church. The temple will be the setting for “sacramental worship” for the 25,000 Mormons in South Florida. And the church is offering free tours of the temple before it’s dedicated in May.

Mormon temples are different from the church’s 20,000 “chapels” around the world. Chapels resemble regular Protestant churches, with singing, preaching and Communion service. They’re open to the public.

The 142 temples — the Fort Lauderdale building is number 143 — are reserved for special ceremonies like baptism and marital “Sealings,” which are believed to affect a person’s eternal destiny. After dedication, temples are only for Mormons in good standing.

“Temples are a central part of LDS life and culture,” said Elder William Walker, who runs all the group’s temples around the world, during a recent press tour of the 30,500-square-foot structure. “We believe that the promises and covenants we make in a temple have implications for eternity.”

Twelve stone oxen support the baptistry in the temple. (Photo courtesy of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

Twelve stone oxen support the baptistry in the temple. (Photo courtesy of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

What can you see at the temple? One thing will be the distinctive steepled Mormon design, which will still blend with local buildings. The structure is covered with precast, sand-colored concrete panels, with leafy patterns in the windows inspired by South Florida foliage.

The angel atop the spire is Moroni, known to believers as the celestial being who guided their prophet Joseph Smith. Covered in 22-carat gold leaf, the statue rises just two inches short of the legal 100-foot limit.

The 16.82 acres feature palms, ponds and fountains, set far back from the access road. Walker demurred on the total price tag, but he agreed with early forecasts that it would cost somewhere north of $10 million.

The tropical look is repeated inside, in carpets and murals. But many of the walls and the columns are white, often gilt-edged at the capitals and the junctures of the walls and ceilings.

Unlike most churches, Mormon temples don’t have large sanctuaries for preaching or singing. They’re made instead of smaller rooms for teaching, meditation and the rituals that adherents believe will last for eternity.

The most eye-catching indoor feature is an oval-shaped baptistry supported by 12 stone oxen representing the 12 tribes of ancient Israel. Believers will wade chest deep into the temperature-controlled water for immersive baptisms to help secure their salvation, according to Mormon doctrine.

Mormons also undergo proxy baptisms for deceased relatives, which is why the church is so big on genealogical research. “It helps us focus on who we are, and the connection between us and our forefathers,” Walker said.

He expects the Fort Lauderdale temple to hold baptisms for 300-400 people per day, either directly or by proxy. Many of the rituals will be done by teens as young as 14, standing in for up to 10 people per session, he said.

Leafy, tropical motifs are scattered inside and outside the temple. (Photo courtesy of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

Leafy, tropical motifs are scattered inside and outside the temple. (Photo courtesy of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

Other features include a Celestial Room, a white-on-white sitting for contemplating one’s eternal destiny; and a Sealing Room for weddings. Both rooms have leaded-glass chandeliers from the Swarovski company hang from the Celestial and Sealing rooms.

“We’re one of Swarovski’s largest customers,” Walker said.

The marriage ceremony has have couples kneel and join hands over a padded altar as a commissioned “Sealer” pronounces them them to “bound for eternity,” Walker said. “It’s a sign that the sealing goes beyond this life.”

The walls are decorated with paintings from biblical scenes from both testaments. They include Esther, the Jewish Persian queen, and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Members who visit the temple change into white garments, symbolizing the spiritual purity they aspire to. It’s also a leveling experience, Walker said. “We’re all equal before God. You’re the same whether you have a $650 suit or a $150 suit.”

The new structure is the southernmost of all such buildings in the continental United States. It was needed because the closest temple site was in Orlando, about 200 miles north, dedicated 20 years ago.

Although it’s named for Fort Lauderdale, the largest nearby city, it’s actually in the suburban Town of Davie. Walker said the site was chosen because it’s easily accessible from I-75 and central to the area it will serve — north to Stuart, west to Fort Myers and south to Key West — taking in the major cities of Miami, Naples and West Palm Beach as well.

The LDS Church has 15 million people worldwide, half of them in the United States, and it’s adding four or five temples a year. Besides the Fort Lauderdale building, 27 temples have are being built or planned, in places as far-flung as Chile, Italy, South Africa and the Philippines.

The local LDS Church plans a cultural celebration of music and dance for the new temple on May 3. The next day, it will hold a formal dedication service.

If you go

  • Event: Public tours of Fort Lauderdale Mormon temple
  • Where: 3901 SW 154th Ave., Davie, FL
  • When: Through April 19
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 8 to 11 a.m. April 5. No tours on Sunday.
  • Featured: Walk-through and 40-minute video
  • Conditions: No photos, videos or backpacks. Modest clothing is also recommended.
  • Directions: Take the Griffin Road exit just east of I-75 and drive about 2,000 feet east to a bridge on your left. Cross it, turn left onto Orange Drive and follow the road to the right. In about a mile, you’ll see the temple on your left.
  • Cost: Free, but reservations required.
  • Reservations: Visit fortlauderdalemormontemple.org or call 1-855-537-2000.
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Written by Jim Davis

April 5, 2014 at 9:00 am

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