But we took the opportunity to spend a day in Salt Lake City and be tourists for once. There’s lots to see there.
SLC is the centre of the Mormon religion, and the things to see are: Temple Square, the Tabernacle and the Conference Centre. We parked underground (there’s LOTS of parking!) and walked across the streets to the Square. The grounds are beautiful, with lots of gardens. Dominating the view is the Temple itself. Non Mormons like us are not allowed inside, but there is an excellent scale model of the building in the South Visitor Centre, with descriptions of the areas and their functions. It was built between 1853 and 1893 at a cost of $4 million (that was a lot, back then!). The pictures of inside are of a pristine series of rooms, tastefully furnished, with a sense of peace and tranquility surrounding them. It is a place where Mormons go to contemplate and learn about their place in the world, and in the cosmos. There are meeting rooms for the current president and his 12 apostles on the upper floors; each of them sit on comfy looking upholstered chairs in a circle.
We crossed the square to the north Visitor Center, and looked at the many paintings of Jesus’ life, as well as a huge statue with his head in the stars on the top floor.
We were interested in getting a tour of the Conference Centre, as well as a bus tour out to the Welfare Square, where a good deal of the charitable work for the Church is done. We met two Sisters from Italy and Maryland who were happy to show us around. As part of their 18 month missionary work, they have been assigned to Temple Square to do this. They spend every day there, leading visitors around.
The Conference Center is where Mormons meet twice a year to hear the word from the President. With many millions of Mormons now around the world, they needed somewhere really big. They used to hold their conferences in the Tabernacle, which only seated 7,000. Now, their new building is much bigger – it can seat 21,000 people at once. This is the reason why there’s so much parking underneath. Over two days, they hold 5 conferences, which means 100,000 people can hear the word. It’s also televised for those who don’t win the lottery for tickets. (The tickets are free, but you have to have one to get in.)
I tried to imagine singing in front of an audience of 21,000. It was a terrifying thought.
Upstairs on the roof of the conference center, is another world entirely. They have planted the roof with trees and native grasses and wildflowers so that it looks like the valley would have looked when Brigham Young and everyone arrived back in the 1800s. It was difficult to remember we were on the roof of a huge building in the downtown.
We wandered over to see the Tabernacle (where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir practices every day from noon to 12:30 – and we missed it!). This building was build a long time ago (between 1864 and 1867) and is known as one of the most acoustically perfect buildings in the world. It has an oval roof, which concentrates the sound from the pulpit to the other end of the hall, which seats 7,000. One of our tour guides went up to the pulpit and spoke to us in a normal voice. We could hear her perfectly from 2/3 of the way back. Then she tore a newspaper – clear as a bell! Then she dropped three pins on a wood block, and we could hear them without difficulty. It was amazing.
She is standing in front of one of the largest pipe organs in the world, with 11,623 pipes in total.
We took a bus out to Welfare Square. This is where the organization of the Mormon charitable work really starts to impress. They have a storeroom containing huge amounts of food, which is ready for an emergency. It is also available for local people who need help – once they have been approved to receive assistance, they can come in and pick up anything they need, including meat, milk, fruits and vegetables and canned goods. There were lots of people shopping when we passed through.
They have an employment office too. People can look for work there, or get training to help them find work. No charge.
Next, we went into their food preserving areas. They have a full cannery where they make soups and jams and peanut butter. Some is available to Mormons for purchase; some is available to needy people, and another brand is only for their emergency relief packages. They have a fully dairy on site, where they not only produce milk, cream, cottage cheese and sour cream, but cheese too. Then we saw the grain silo. And the clothing recycling store. In the processing area behind the store, there was a full quilting studio, for volunteers to make quilts for the international relief effort.
All of these sectors are run by volunteers. They are well organized and efficient. We heard stories about disasters where the Mormons were the first on the scene, ready and willing, trained and capable. I had no idea how active they were around the world.
We returned to Temple Square and stopped into the Family History Library. I have been doing my family history for several years now, and could have easily stayed for about a week there. It looks really well organized, with lots of computers, microfiche, and reference books. There were many people going in and out, working on their own and with some of the many volunteers available to help.
Next door to the Library is the Museum. They had a quilt show there, and it was small, but the stories were interesting. Here are a couple of the quilts that impressed me.
They even had an area where the kids could make their own quilts.
It was a very interesting day – we learned a lot and saw a lot. And we were impressed. It was the first time we’d been in a major tourist area, and paid for nothing (except the parking). There wasn’t anything for sale, and we were offered help at every turn, by people from all over the world. It speaks volumes about the LDS church.