While the Bishop and Deputies were attending their respective orientations this morning, I took my camera to Temple Square, the 10-acre complex owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, just one block from the convention center.
Temple Square is located in the literal center of Salt Lake City. In the city's unique grid system, streets run precisely east-west or north-south and are numbered based on how many blocks they are from Temple Square.
The Square’s 15-foot walls enclose numerous buildings including Salt Lake Tabernacle, home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; Salt Lake Temple, accessible only to Mormons in good standing; and the LDS Church Office Building, once the tallest building in Utah. The Family History Library and the Church History Museum are located across the street from the Square.
Yesterday evening I attended a dinner for Episcopal Communicators hosted by the Diocese of Utah. In his welcoming remarks, Bishop Scott Hayashi spoke of the close and cordial working relationship he and his staff enjoy with the leadership of the LDS church. "We pride ourselves on our hospitality – and they out-do us," he said.
I myself felt welcomed soon after entering the beautifully landscaped grounds of the Square. Within minutes, one woman offered me a map, and another, seeing my camera, pointed out the best spot from which to photograph the Temple.
At one point I paused in a shady place on the path to post a phone photo to Facebook. Gradually I became aware of the sound of an engine idling close by, looked up, and realized to my embarrassment that I was blocking a small maintenance vehicle. The occupants, two young men in groundskeeper uniforms, were waiting patiently and silently for me to move out of their way. When I apologized, they smiled and assured me it was OK, as I imagined the horn-honking and swearing that would have transpired if I’d done the same thing in New Jersey.
I also saw two sets of brides and grooms taking photos outside the Temple. Seeing multiple wedding parties on a Wednesday morning communicated much about the desirability, for adherents to the faith, of being married in Salt Lake Temple.
Besides the beauty and peacefulness of the grounds, the hospitality of the people and the size of the buildings (which often required a wide-angled lens to fit them into the camera frame), as a communicator I was most struck by how education and evangelism were incorporated into the very fabric of the place. Imposing sculptures of Mormon founders were accompanied by plaques explaining the tenets of the faith. Large mounted screens scattered around in sheltered areas continuously showed a brief video depicting Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, followed by the address of a Mormon website. It was a very skillful way of communicating, simultaneously, “We are followers of Jesus Christ” and “Here’s what makes our faith unique” while giving the curious a way to easily find out more. (Temple Square includes not one but two visitor centers, which unfortunately I didn’t have time to explore.)
I came away feeling inspired to explore new ways of communicating the unique offerings of my chosen denomination, the Episcopal Church.