Showing posts with label Meridian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Meridian. Show all posts

Church Finances: Then, Now, and in the Future

This week, people are responding to the leak regarding the Church's finances. I also see some people who are deeply upset, so I thought I would provide a jumping off point for processing those feelings. If this is something you care about, you need to check out the work of D. Michael Quinn has done on the subject of the Church's finances.

He wrote the book on this subject, exploring the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its finances. In this three-volume collection, Quinn details the history of the Church, including how the organization went from nearly going bankrupt to becoming one of the richest corporations in the world. To my knowledge, there is no other resource as well-researched and comprehensive as his.

Mormon Stories and the Salt Lake Tribune have done interviews with him discussing what he found. They should be required listening for every person who has ever felt some type of way about paying tithing.

Here's the big takeaway I learned from Quinn:

The Church is not financially solvent in any country outside of North America. The tithing/monies members pay in their own countries would not be enough to support their basic operations in almost every country where the Church has a presence. By investing the money they receive in North America, the Church is able to multiply it before distributing it to other nations throughout the world.

With the unprecedented access that Quinn received into the Church's financial records, past and present, he makes the case that without these investments, the global church wouldn't exist the way we know it today.

The Cost of Temple Operations

I've seen a lot of criticism on Twitter from people about what the Church spends on its facilities, and particularly its temples. I want to provide some insight into this for others who have never had any personal experiences with this aspect the Church's facility management.

My last calling in the Church was as an ordinance worker. I saw parts of the temple most other people never see. I saw the work that went into cleaning and maintaining the building. I participated in it on multiple occasions. The Church uses quality materials in its temple construction because the wear and active use on those facilities is very high. Even with spending that kind of money, the wear on the furniture, the fixtures, the molding, the carpets, etc is tremendous. Sure, you can use cheaper materials. That means they would wear out and break faster and need to be replaced more often. Using cheaper materials would ultimately be a waste of money.

Now, you may think temples themselves are a waste of money because the services that take place in them are unimportant or irrelevant to you. That you feel that way is totally valid. But you need to understand it's not going to change the lived experience of anyone else. There will always be people who go to the temple and find value in that experience. They will do it at a high cost to themselves, if that's what it takes.

The Church's efforts to alleviate that burden? That's not a bad thing.

Now, here's the rock and the hard place regarding facility management in other countries. How do you balance using quality materials that don't constantly have to be replaced vs. building an extravagant facility that is out of place in the local community? 

What are the implications of building cheaper, lower quality buildings in other countries, just because the members in those countries don't have as many resources to support their operations? Are people in Ghana undeserving of a temple as nice as the people in Draper, Utah? 

How does racism play into the narrative of what we believe is "too nice for some people"? 

If the Church clearly has enough money to feed people and build temples... why get mad at them when they choose to do both?

As the Church continues to build more temples, the distribution of the costs of operating them will continue to shift, pulling from smaller and smaller groups of people who likely can't support the costs on their own.

So, why not stick with the Hinckley mini-temple? Surely those provide the best of both worlds? Nope! And I can tell you from personal experience why that doesn't work. Each temple, no matter its size, has a minimum number of people required to staff it every day. That's five days with (typically) three shifts each day. When you have smaller temples, you have to provide the same number of workers to serve fewer patrons. It's ideal only in some circumstances.

Mini temples created situations in many rural areas where all the people who might've attended the temple as a patron have to staff it, and there aren't enough people who actively go to sustain attendance to justify the building and its operation costs. I watched that process play out when the Meridian temple was built, the Boise temple district was broken up, and the impact that had on our staff and patrons.


Carving from the outside of the Meridian Idaho Temple during construction.

All of this is actively monitored and calculated into the decision to build a temple. No temple is ever built without financial allotments for how the building will be constructed, but also how it will be maintained deep into the future.

How could the Church improve its financial transparency?

Let's speak to the heart of the concern people have: $100 billion seems like a bananapants number when you look at it completely divorced from any context. A reasonable person would say, "Okay, so let's be informed and not ignore the context for it." Money is a necessary part of running any organization, especially a global one. We all understand that. My criticism, based on what I know, has nothing to do with the $100 billion number. It's the fact that contextualizing it is impossible because transparency from the Church about its own finances is nonexistent.
I've seen people recalling toxic moments they have had in paying tithing, largely due to the insensitivity of local leadership. Let me be clear: those experiences are also part of the context for this number. We should be honoring and learning from that pain, not ignoring or minimizing it.

There will always be calls for the Church to be fully public with all of its financial operations. I'm not going to hold my breath for that to happen. For as long as those decision remain private and privileged, we will likely continue to gain access to the bulk of that information only through leaks, lawsuits, and legislation.
So what does a more realistic, achievable form of change look like on this front?
The thing that immediately comes to mind is to open up ward and stake financial clerk positions to women. Make is so any person within the Church, regardless of their gender, can see, be familiar with, and control the execution of financial policy and procedure on the local level.
Did you know the ward clerk has greater authority over how local funds are distributed than the bishop does? I didn't know that until my husband served in that position. I never would've known it if he hadn't because I'm a woman. It's also because I'm a woman in the US. If lived in Hong Kong, there are many leadership and administrative positions in the Church that would be open to me. So let's not pretend there's any necessary relationship between priesthood ordination and financial capability if the Church is already training women to serve effectively in these roles.

Moral of the story: People who criticize and exonerate without information are usually both wrong. Also, it's like a week before Christmas. If you don't have the energy for this outrage, feel free to let this one go.

Healing Political Divisions Through Temple Worship

We had stake conference this weekend. The topic was the blessings of temple attendance. The context is the new Meridian temple has caused attendance in Boise to drop off a cliff, across all days and times. Sessions are canceled daily, if not multiple times day.

Many of the messages addressed the idea that attending the temple will diminish the power of evil in our lives. Nothing all that unusual there. Lots of emphasis on Malachi, "lest I smite the earth with a curse" language. For Mormons, Malachi is about as fire and brimstone as we get. Nothing unusual there either.

But then, a member of the stake presidency gave his talk. He equated the curse in Malachi with "the political division in our country," and I nearly had a heart attack. It was one of those moments where I find myself thinking "I don't know where you're going with this, but I will walk out if you get crazy."

He went on at length about Russians buying Facebook ads to create international conflict between different groups of people. I'm not sure how, but he tied this back to the temple and said that attending the temple is how we will heal the divisions he's talking about.

I don't know what I expected to happen. I live in the most progressive section of Boise, so they honestly know better than to take political sides in a church meeting. But I'm also trying to parse out exactly what he was getting at because it wasn't entirely clear. Was this a warning that the political contention we're currently experiencing is being manufactured, at least in part, by outside agents? Because even though that's probably true, it's by no means the dominant source of that division.

As a progressive person of faith, the source of that division for me is the blatant, deliberate abuse of power against the disadvantaged by a narrow conservative majority. That is not something you can pawn off on the Russians. But I thought seriously about what he was trying to say, and it occurred to me that his feelings and mine may not actually be that dissimilar.

Was he, as a conservative person, trying to address the toxic ignorance on which many of those actions and policies rest? The more I thought about it, the more sense that made. I know this man and like him pretty well. I don't think he was making thinly veiled statements against progressives as the source of all evil in the world, which is what I was afraid of.

Instead, I think he was trying to address that fear and suspicion itself.

The more I think about it, the more I believe it was a caution about the narratives we choose to believe about people, regardless of what our persuasions are. And the idea that the temple can heal that spirit of suspicion and fear, that it can heal the relationships damaged by forces at work in society, that is an interesting proposition. Taken in view of other counsel they offered, to spend less time on things that don't matter so we have more time to worship in the temple, that thought is really compelling.

Imagine if people watching pundits on the news, or sharing toxic messages on Facebook, spent that time at the temple instead?

And even myself, as much as I try to only share accurate information about stories that truly matter. How many times have I needed peace because of the unfair world we live in, and not found it out here anywhere?

The more I thought about his remarks, the more I realized he was doing something I no longer thought was possible. A conservative person was using his moral authority to undo some of this damage, instead of denying it exists or passing it off on someone else. He also made me confront my own learned defensiveness, and to think about how I need to create space in my own mind for conservative people not to be villains, to contribute to this healing we all need so much.

My husband and I are not politically similar at all. He didn't vote for Trump, but the fallout in Congress and society at large has still directly affected our ability to talk to each other in a serious way. But this talk in stake conference shifted something in each of us, and we were able to talk about having a real political common ground for the first time in over a year. It was like a wall had finally come down. I can't describe what that meant to me.

I can trust conservative people to care as much about what matters to me as I do. I can trust them to respond to suffering with a desire to help and make a difference. Getting past this animosity matters to all of us, not just to me. Conservative people want that reconciliation. And yes, I'll be honest that I didn't believe this anymore. But I'm seeing now that this lack of trust is something I need to change if the conversations around me are ever going to.

If my conservative friends and church family are finding strength and clarity to change, to imagine people differently because of the temple, I can join them in doing the same. 

Rearrangements for the Meridian Idaho Temple

So, here's what I decided to do about my callings dilemma. For those just joining, I was offered a third calling while up at girl's camp. I'm also taking on additional responsibilities at the temple because we're beginning to release all workers going to the Meridian Temple.

Image courtesy of: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Three callings and two temple shifts is not acceptable. It wasn't right for the bishopric to even ask me to do it. They only asked because they don't fully understand what they're asking from me. So I'm not going to do it.

Our transportation situation is such that it won't be easy for me to take an additional temple shift. But that is my priority right now. I realized I can go during Wednesday evenings with another temple worker in my ward. That would really be the ideal situation. Since that also means I wouldn't be available for Mutual anymore, that's the thing that needs to give way.

If they want me to take on a different set of responsibilities in the ward, they need to release me from the ones they've given me. And they can't afford to release me from my temple service. It wouldn't be wise for them to even try. The stake would reject it outright.

So that leaves my time in Young Women coming to an end. Which I admit, I've been feeling like that time has come. I want to help the bishop prepare people for temple service. He needs someone passionate and engaged to help him with this. The new calling he has in mind goes in that direction, but it doesn't go far enough. And I'm trying to think of the best way to explain it.

Just because someone is working on their family history doesn't mean they will automatically start going to the temple. Family history alone doesn't prepare people for temple worship or temple service. They're two separate sets of needs. I tried to point out this need for temple preparation classes in our ward months ago, when new workers should have been called. It takes at least 6 months to train new workers, and usually several weeks to recommend and call them. He didn't hear me then, and I'm afraid no one will listen to me now. 

It isn't fair to the people that will now have to learn under pressure. But this is the situation our temple district has created by not responding to the calls from the temple presidency. And who has to pay the price for that? All of us who serve in the temple, including me and my husband.

This is where I am needed. I can see that. And I have every confidence that the Lord will help the bishopric to see it too. 

"Let Your Gratitude Continue": The Meridian Temple Site Dedication

The Meridian Temple site dedication was a beautiful occasion. It was broadcasted to the various local stake centers in western Idaho and eastern Oregon, which is where I had the privilege of watching it.

Program of the Meridian Temple site dedication

The program of the Meridian Idaho Temple Groundbreaking Service listed Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as presiding. However when the broadcast began, Elder David A. Bednar was the apostle present. Conducting was Elder Kent F. Richards, the Executive Director of the Temple Department. The opening hymn was "High on the Mountain Top," and the prayer was provided by President H. David Christensen of the Caldwell Idaho Stake.

Elder J. Craig Rowe was the opening speaker. He is Chairman of the Groundbreaking Committee.

Being a history person I greatly enjoyed his comments. He spoke about the history of the Meridian region, and the history of the Church in that area. He told of how the earliest settlers in Meridian came in the early 1860s, and settled in the Five Mile Creek area. Eventually they established a dairy, and this became the area's major contribution for many years.

Meridian was incorporated in 1903, and expanded its agriculture to include various fruit orchards and aviaries. The first members of the Church in Meridian came in the 1920s and 1930s from eastern Idaho. Many of them were descendants of settlers sent to Idaho by Brigham Young.

April 29th, 1932 was the first organized meeting of the Latter-day Saints in Meridian. The 40 members were not well received by the community, and as such held their first meeting in the town undertaker's parlor.

As the meeting expanded, they moved to Parker's Dance Hall at the corner of Parker and Broadway Streets. Elder Rowe told of how the Saints would often prepare for Sunday services by sweeping up the cigarette butts and cleaning up beer bottles from the dances held on Saturday nights.

In June of 1934, the Meridian Branch was organized. The Meridian Ward was dedicated in 1941.

Elder Blake R. Alder, the Area Seventy to the Idaho Area, spoke second. He began his talk by quoting Doctrine and Covenants 65: 1-3, emphasizing the phrase "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." He then makes mention of the finishing of the Kirtland Temple and Elijah's appearance to bestow the keys of sealing. He makes repeated mention of the Spirit of Elijah throughout his talk.

He mentions how the Saints first learned of the commandment to build temples in 1832, and how this inspired them to build the Kirtland Temple. He also tells in some detail the story of John Tanner, who in my opinion was one of the most important converts of the early Church. The Church produced a film called "Treasures in Heaven: The John Tanner Story" which is available to view on their website here.

Elder Alder told the story of how John Tanner came to the Church's rescue by paying the $2000 mortgage on the Kirtland Temple lot the day before it was to be foreclosed. He then transitioned into the fact that two of John Tanner's descendants are recent converts, and were in attendance at the dedication. Elder Alder told of how after one of these converts discovered the amazing story of his ancestor, he didn't hesitate in being baptized.

John Tanner's story, together with his descendants who have joined the Church, are wonderful examples of how the Spirit of Elijah works on the earth today. Because of John Tanner's sacrifices, his testimony reaches beyond the grave to continue building the kingdom of God.

Elder Alder closes by praying for the Spirit of Elijah to increase among the Saints in Idaho.

Elder Kent F. Richards spoke next, followed by his wife Marsha, who was invited by Elder Bednar to share her testimony.

Elder Richards focused his remarks on some very worthy goals for those who wish to prepare themselves to enter the Meridian Temple. He told the story of Joshua of how he erected stones as witnesses to the covenant his people made to obey the Lord. He compared temple recommends to these stones, and encouraged everyone to prepare and qualify to receive one.

He taught that temple work is for all ages, especially for the younger generation. He challenged families to work together to find and redeem their own dead. He said this was one of the greatest preparations we could undertake to show our gratitude for the new temple.

Elder Richards presented a very worthy challenge, that the Meridian Temple become the first in the Church to become fully self sufficient on family names, as opposed to those that are submitted from Saints around the world for others to do. He commented that the Boise temple is nearly self sufficient in terms of patrons bringing their own names to the temple. He also invited families to counsel together in how they can achieve these goals together.

Marsha Richards bore her testimony, and spoke of how conversion was like a personal groundbreaking in our lives. She compared it to the transformation outlined in Alma 36, specifically how Alma's mind "caught hold" of Jesus Christ. She mentioned how frequently the word "Joy" occurs after that in the chapter.

The Choir sang "Arise, O Glorious Zion."

Elder David A. Bednar concluded the meeting by explaining that Elder Perry was called away for personal matters and could not be there. He mentioned that he knew Elder Perry, who is from Boise area, was looking forward to being there. Elder Bednar lamented that Elder Perry couldn't be there, and it was very sweet.

Elder Bednar's remarks were more brief than I expected, but spoke to the most significant challenge this new temple will present to the Saints in Idaho. He spoke about preserving the enthusiasm and gratitude we feel for the Meridian Temple long after the novelty has faded.

He mentioned how many of us will document this temple's construction as the experience of a lifetime. He spoke of the jubilation that occurred in the hearts of many when the temple was announced. He humored that some would likely make scrapbooks to document the temple's construction all throughout the process. He even foresaw that many Saints would eagerly look forward to worshiping in the newly completed temple, and would do so with great enthusiasm.

But what he foresaw for many, and I'm sure the experience with temple attendance in other newly built temples would attest, is that novelty eventually wears off. Because the temple is so close, so convenient to access, many will forget the joy and eagerness they once felt. The gratitude for the Lord's blessing will fade, and the temple becomes just another thing to do.

Elder Bednar challenged us all to maintain our gratitude, and said the way we are worshiping in this temple long after it is completed is the true measure of our gratitude for it.

"Please. Please," he repeated, "Let your gratitude continue."

He mentioned how temples are paid for by Saints all over the world, and how the tithing from Saints in Africa was being used to build this temple. He told of his visits to Kinshasa and Gabon, how the Saints there commonly only eat once a day. He challenged us to live up to their sacrifices in our own ways, specifically in how we worship in this new temple provided by their tithing funds.

Elder Bednar also taught that temples are not built according to the number of stakes, members, or any other metrics of an area. He said new temples are announced and constructed based on the hearts of the people in that region. He affirmed to us that the temple was being built because of the goodness of our hearts, and we need to preserve this goodness deep into the future.

He closed with his testimony, and I love the way he phrased it because of a conversation I recently had with an atheist who said my beliefs were not based in fact.

"The Tomb is empty. It is not a fable. It is not a story. It is a fact."

He then provided the dedicatory prayer for the temple site. Of the many things he promised, I remember most vividly that he prayed that the temple's construction would be unhindered, even accelerated--that the temple's construction might even be finished ahead of schedule.

The closing hymn was "Now Let Us Rejoice," with the congregation joining in on the last verse.

The prayer was provided by Lori Henneman of the Meridian Idaho Paramount Stake.

The Groundbreaking followed, and the broadcast concluded.

"If We're United, We all Things Can Do": Building the Meridian Temple

Tomorrow my husband and I will attend the site dedication for the Meridian, Idaho temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The proceedings will be broadcast to stake centers in southeastern Idaho and eastern Oregon, and I'm excited to participate.

Saying goodbye to the Philadelphia temple was hard, because we won't be there anymore to see so much of the construction we supported with our faith. As the delays continued and the complications set back progress again and again, many of our prayers were directed to the temple's success. Moving away felt like leaving a great work unfinished.

The Meridian Temple was announced in the April 2011 General Conference
Image courtesy of

It wasn't until after we moved to Boise and my husband began his new job that I discovered that Meridian also had a temple announced. And because of the nature of my husband's work, I've become privy to several details about the project reinforcing that our work hasn't ended. We are simply focusing our faith and devotion to a different temple now.

The Opposition has Already Begun

The Meridian Temple is experiencing similar opposition to its construction by local residents as the Phoenix Arizona Temple did in its planning phases. Not everyone who lives in Idaho is LDS, and the rural part of Meridian where the temple is to be constructed is no exception.

While the majority of the residents in the area either support or are neutral to the temple's construction, those who want to keep the area rural are the most adamant critics. They already view the housing developments along Linder Road as an intrusion, and the temple has become a part of this bitter conflict. And even though the Church will do everything in its power to alleviate concerns that create these feelings of animosity and intrusion, it's easy to understand why this may not be possible.

The concern vocalized  most often is a one of traffic. The two lane road cannot handle the increase in traffic the temple will allegedly create. In good faith, the Church is paying to widen the road significantly as part of the project. It will become a five lane road--two lanes in each direction, with a center turn lane. For the Church to pay for this is not required by law. They are doing it to assist with the urban planning of the area as it continues to grow.

However, Ada County will require landowners to give up the portions of their property necessary to build the roadway. If the property is not given willingly, the county will use eminent domain and take it by force. This is standard practice and not unique to this situation, but will only increase the bad feelings of those who are most adamantly against the temple.

Even when the Church tries to be amenable to these vocal citizens, it isn't possible to resolve all of their concerns. Sometimes meeting their existing concerns will only create new concerns as time goes on. And when that happens, history has shown us that their opposition will likely manifest itself again and again, in whatever way is possible as the construction continues.

While the Ada County Commissioners have already approved the project, we should never assume that this means there will be no more roadblocks to the Meridian temple's construction. The Philadelphia Temple is a sterling example of what opposition can do to slow down, and even halt the temple's progression.

We are All Temple Builders

In the Church's history not so long ago, it was the responsibility of members--not professional contractors--to build our temples. Latter-days Saints would make significant sacrifices of money, possessions, labor and expertise, and time to create the beautiful structures central to our worship. Because this is no longer the case, it is easy to feel like we no longer have a part to play in the temple's construction. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Each of us living in this area has a responsibility to build the Meridian Temple. We may not do it with mortar and stone, but we will do it with our devotion. In every way that we live our faith and remain true to our temple covenants, we show the Lord that we want this temple in our community. As I've pondered what it means for us to build temples in our day, these were the thoughts that came to my mind:

  • Pay our tithes and offerings
  • Serve in our callings, especially as home and visiting teachers
  • Be an example of the believers in our communities at all times
  • Support recent converts and returning members in their goals to enter the temple
  • Work together with full-time missionaries to find families who would be blessed by entering the temple
  • Attend our existing temple in Boise as faithfully and as often as possible
  • Share our testimonies of the Church and the temple with our friends and neighbors
  • Help our children commit to always be worthy of a temple recommend
  • Build up our homes as holy places that lead us to the temple
  • Participate in meetings and councils where issues regarding the temple are discussed
  • Show Christ-like patience, respect, and love towards those who may oppose the temple. If there is criticism to the work of God, let us win others over "by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned." (D&C 121: 41)
  • Record our thoughts and experiences preparing for the temple in our journals for posterity
  • Seek out the names of our family members and prepare them to receive temple ordinances
  • Sustain our stake/ward priesthood and auxiliary leaders as they provide us with guidance and instructions on how to prepare ourselves for the temple
  • Keep the commandments, and where necessary, repent
  • Develop consistent habits of scripture study and personal prayer. 
  • Pray continually that obstacles to the temple's completion will be removed. Pray for the health, strength, and safety of the construction crews and their families.
  • Study the teachings about the temple in the scriptures.

I know that as I do my part to build the Meridian Temple, the spirit of the temple will enter into my life. It will make me a better disciple of Jesus Christ. I will be ready to meet him when he returns again to the earth at his coming. I will increase in my love for all of God's children. I will have greater peace in my marriage and my home. The problems and anxieties of life may not fade away, but my capacity to confront them with wisdom and faith will increase.

I leave my testimony with you that God our Father lives, that Jesus Christ has saved the world from death and sin. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of Jesus Christ on the earth today. Temples provide us with the opportunity to be with our families forever. There is no greater blessing on earth or in heaven than living with God and our families for all eternity. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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