Connecticut's First Mormon Temple to Open in Farmington
The Farmington temple is only the second of its kind in New England.
After three years of construction, Connecticut’s first Mormon temple is almost complete. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plans to unveil the Farmington building with a three-week public open house beginning September 30, after which non-Mormons will not be allowed to enter.
Kevin Starr, the Coordinator of the Open House and Dedication Committee for the temple, explained in an interview with WNPR's Where We Live that the exclusivity of Mormon temples is due to the unique importance placed on them in the faith.
“A temple is a building that is dedicated specifically to be the house of the Lord,” said Starr, “a very special, spiritual place where His spirit resides.”
That intense spirituality means that the rules surrounding temples are quite strict. Non-Mormons are not permitted to enter temples, aside from during an open house period prior to its dedication. The temple will offer guided tours of the building during this time, reservations for which must be made in advance online. This entry restriction applies only to the building's interior, however; the Farmington temple’s grounds will be open for public use.
Simply being Mormon doesn't convey access to the temple, either. Baptized Mormons are required to earn a “temple recommend” to be granted entry. This is given after an interview with a bishop to determine an individual’s piousness, moral purity, and dedication to the faith. While temple recommends are not rare, the rigorous process required to earn them demonstrates the powerful sanctity of temples in Mormonism.
The Farmington temple is only the second of its kind in New England, though it was intended to be the first. Plans for a Mormon temple in Farmington were originally announced by the Church in 1992. That proposal was scrapped in 1995 in favor of plans for two different temples in the region -- one in the Boston area and one in Harrison, NY. When the Boston temple opened in 2000, it was both the first Mormon temple in New England and the 100th worldwide.
The proposed Harrison temple was abandoned in 2004 after years of legal battles with city officials and protests from residents, at which point the Church’s focus shifted back to Farmington. The Hartford Connecticut Temple, as it’s officially called, was re-announced in 2010 and approved by town officials in 2012, 20 years after its initial announcement.
The dedication to building a temple in Farmington won’t come as a surprise to students of Mormon history. The fourth president of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, was born in Farmington in 1807, and he went on to organize one of the state's first Mormon congregations in the town. Kelly Jacobs, the Public Affairs Representative for the temple, said that Farmington “holds a significance to [Mormons]” for this reason.
Mormonism’s current presence on the East Coast is quiet. Only 0.44% of Connecticut’s residents are Mormons, making them one of the state’s smallest religious minorities. Fellow New England states like Rhode Island and Massachusetts have even smaller concentrations, at 0.38% and 0.40%, respectively.
Those percentages may look small, but they represent thousands of Latter-day Saints who have only had a handful of temples near them for 16 years. “The nearest temples are in Boston and in New York City, so a significant drive for those members of our faith who live in Connecticut,” said Jacobs. “So to be able to have this temple here is just a delight for us.”
Though Mormonism is associated primarily with Utah and the Midwest today, it originated here on the East Coast. Church founder Joseph Smith was living in Palmyra, NY when a divine vision revealed to him the location of golden plates inscribed with what would become the Book of Mormon, the faith's religious text. Smith and his followers endured religious persecution in New York, motivating them to migrate west and eventually settle in Utah.
Mormonism has since gained official recognition as a religious institution, but some confusion regarding its beliefs persists to the present. The primary focus of the Book of Mormon is on a group of ancient Hebrews who traveled to America and settled there, as well as a visit to the continent by Jesus Christ after his resurrection. “We follow Jesus Christ. And that was a surprise to some of my neighbors,” Jacobs said. “They’re used to hearing that term Mormon and not associating it with Christianity.”
Still, Mormons today do not find the East Coast to be as hostile to their beliefs as it once was.
“I’ve personally felt, as I’ve been living here in New England, a great acceptance by my friends and neighbors of my faith,” said Jacobs.
Starr concurred: “I think most folks in the area know Mormons as good neighbors, and people who are dedicated to their faith.”
Mormon temples are not comparable to most religious sanctuaries. Unlike typical Christian churches or Jewish synagogues, Mormon temples are used almost solely for important religious ceremonies, like marriages or proxy baptisms. Those concerned about a massive influx of Mormons to Farmington every Sunday morning need not worry. Weekly worship services aren't held in temples; in fact, temples are actually closed on Sundays. Regular Mormon religious services are held in chapels called meetinghouses, which are much more common than temples.
Temples are also closed on Monday nights. “We try to stay together as families on Monday evenings in our church, and reserve those times for family strengthening,” said Starr. The preservation of the family unit is a core principle of Mormonism.
Rather than containing one large sanctuary, each of the temple’s primary functions has a section of the building dedicated to it. The Sealing Rooms, for example, are where wedding ceremonies take place. Another room contains the Baptismal Font, which may seem paradoxical given that baptism is a prerequisite to enter the temple in the first place. This room is actually used for proxy baptisms, a ceremony wherein Mormons baptize their ancestors by acting in their stead. In addition, the Instruction Rooms host lectures and presentations about important religious teachings.
Another part of the temple called the Celestial Room “represents the contentment, inner harmony, and peace available in the presence of Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ,” according to the temple's official website. The temple also contains changing rooms, as its dress code calls for humble white outfits for both men and women.
Like most Mormon temples, Farmington’s features an impressive golden statue atop its spire. This depicts the angel Moroni, who is said to have guided Joseph Smith to the golden plates which contained the Mormon gospel. The Farmington temple’s statue was placed on its spire last December.
Farmington residents shouldn’t expect an influx of Mormon missionaries on their doorsteps this fall. Temples aren’t used as hubs for public outreach or proselytizing. But there is little doubt that the town will be the center of much Mormon activity in the run-up to the temple’s official dedication on November 20.