Charles McCollum

Charles McCollum

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Call it Temple Bingo.

The instant Latter-day Saints find out their church is planning to build a new temple in their community, the race is on to figure out where it will sit and what it’s going to look like. And it seems everybody is filling in squares and developing their own theories.

But don’t look for any premature hints from church headquarters in Salt Lake City. They aren’t known to release project details before everything is in place, and there are probably a lot of very good reasons for this. One might be the effect a temple siting decision could have on property values in an area, and officials wouldn’t want to fuel any market fluctuations based on just a tentative plan.

I’ve been in Utah for 25 years and thought I knew a lot about the local culture, but when it was announced in early April that Smithfield had been selected as the site of a new temple, I witnessed a side of life in Zion I’d never seen before. It was comparable to the excitement and speculation sports fans and commentators exhibit before the NFL or NBA drafts. All of the data must be pored over, every angle examined.

Local internet sleuths quickly learned that the church owns four pieces of vacant property in the city, one of them purchased just a short time ago, which makes it a prime suspect. But that lot is on the flatlands on the west edge of town, which some self-appointed pundits have deemed hardly suitable for a magnificent religious edifice like a Latter-day Saint temple. As an example, look no farther than the Logan Temple, which was not only built on high ground and serves as a beacon for miles around, but sits on a piece of land viewed as sacred by Native Americans. Now that’s a temple site for you!

But I heard someone say if the new temple is built higher up — either on a piece church-owned property near the mouth of Smithfield Dry Canyon or some yet-purchased parcel near the SV Hill, as many people are suggesting — it would be located precariously close if not directly upon an earthquake fault. That wouldn’t be good.

So back and forth we go.

Temple Bingo even captivates people outside of the faith. A Smithfield resident I know who left the church years ago was among those fully engaged in last month’s guessing game, and he made a point I’ve heard nowhere else amid the excitement. Although he understands why people on his end of the valley are thrilled to get their own temple, he views it as something of a downgrade for them since they likely will no longer be in the district of the historic and magnificent Logan Temple. Certainly, anything built in Smithfield in the 2020s couldn’t compare to the second-oldest temple still owned by the church, he believes.

Smithfield Mayor Jeffrey Barnes understandably doesn’t see a downside to a temple in his town and told the Herald Journal he and the city staff witnessed a flood of community interest after the announcement was made. Yet as of April 22 they still hadn’t heard from the church about a possible location or design. Just like members of the public, Smithfield officials are keenly interested and anxiously awaiting word from Salt Lake City, and Barnes said they’d love to talk with the church about site options beyond the parcels already in church hands.

In discussing the temple news bombshell and the recent land purchase, Barnes had one of the best quotes we’ve run in The Herald Journal for a while:

“We saw that the church bought that property and we wondered what for, and in the office we kind of laughed because someone said, ‘Oh they’re going to build a temple there,’ Then it was announced, and we laughed again.”

When the church does reach out to Smithfield planners, my guess is both the church and the city will keep their cards close to the vest, only adding to all the intrigue and sending Cache Valley’s version of Temple Bingo into the round-robin and blackout phases.

My boss, Herald Journal general manager Jeremy Cooley, was working at our sister newspaper in Rexburg, Idaho, when plans for a temple there were announced in 2003, and he remembers the newspaper having a hard time getting information, even when the process was well along. At some point, the news staff learned the city had a site plan and architect’s drawings of the planned edifice, but the town refused to make it public. It took an official request using Idaho open-records law to free up the documents.

The Herald Journal will try to stay abreast of news developments on the Smithfield temple, but I can say with certainty right now there’s no way we’ll be able to stay ahead of the rumor mill — no more than we can keep up with all the scuttlebutt you hear about Target or Costco coming to Cache Valley. When so-and-so’s mother’s cousin, who’s related by marriage to the wife of a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, posts on Facebook that she heard Sky View High School will be torn down to make way for the new temple, we’ll have to verify a few things before posting that on our website as breaking news.

An interesting aside to all of this: The Herald Journal received a promotional copy of a book not long ago that envisions airborne temples, complements of helium-filled airships. It sounds a bit wacky to be sure, but Darrell Campbell makes some interesting arguments for flying temples in his book, “Lighter than Air Angles,” and it should be noted Campbell’s theoretical airship design would be much more advanced and versatile than its predecessors, blimps and zeppelins of the early 1900s.

“Airships could fly anywhere; to the most remote village in Siberia, or island in the middle of the oceans, or to some distant jungle clearing,” Campbell writes. “They could become a great instrument in carrying the message of the Gospel across the entire world.”

The author actually approached Quorum of the Twelve member Dallin Oaks with his idea, but reports, “I received a letter back from Elder Oaks thanking me for my thoughts; but, he assured me that the Lord would move the Church forward in His own way, which might not include my airships, after all.”

If in some Jules Verne-like future the church were to operate flying temples, I guess that would put an end to Temple Bingo.

Charlie McCollum is the managing editor of The Herald Journal. He can be reached at cmccollum@hjnews.com or 435-792-7220.

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