When the First Presidency updated the church on the plans for the renovation of the Salt Lake Temple, attention was focused on the removal of the murals from the ordinance rooms. They also revised the original renovation plans that included a four-room progressive endowment ceremony presented by either live actors or by film. The new plan is to have a one room endowment ceremony presented only by film. The Terrestial Room will become an expanded veil room. In addition, the Manti Temple will undergo a similar change. Church leaders later announced their intention to preserve the murals in the Manti Temple Telestial room that are painted by Minerva Teichert and display them in a public location. Nevertheless, these renovations are being compared to the sad tale of the renovation of the Logan Temple in the 1970s.
Included in the recent announcements, and somewhat lost in the hubbub about the loss of historic artwork in temples, was the detail that the Salt Lake Temple would include two baptistries. The space where the current baptistry is located is going to be replaced with two ordinance rooms to present the endowment. Another small piece of pioneer heritage will make way for progress. This will increase the number of ordinance rooms in the Salt Lake Temple to five.
Two new baptistries will be built in the new underground annex north of the temple. Evidently, the extra space for the baptistry came from eliminating the cafeteria. There are plenty of dining options on temple square that have received updates in recent years. There is also the food court at the City Creek Mall across the street. Getting rid of the cafeteria was probably not a hard decision, especially since many temple cafeterias in older temples now sit unused save for some vending machines hastily put in their space. Newer temples haven’t included cafeterias in their designs for many years.
However, the Salt Lake temple will not easily claim the title of the first temple with two baptistries. The rendering of the Syracuse Utah Temple was released in February 2021. The groundbreaking will be held in June, meaning it will be a photo finish which temple is ready for dedication first.
On April 20, 2021, the church presented the plans of the temple to the Syracuse City Planning Commission. The city made the plans public on their website as part of the meeting minutes. The floor plans reveal that the nearly 89,000 square foot temple will include two baptistries on its main floor.
“Two baptistries” does not simply mean two fonts in proximity to each other. In this case, each baptismal font is located on opposite sides of the temple and will each have its own space for dressing rooms.
With now two temples confirmed to have double baptistries, the question is whether or not this will be a new trend for other new or renovated temples. The demand for more space to do baptisms for the dead is most present in locations of high concentrations of Latter-day Saints with many stakes in the temple district that are in close proximity to the temple. In the last decade or so, there seems to be a larger emphasis on encouraging youth to spend more time in the temple.
Speaking to my experience growing up in the church, generations previous did not attend the temple the same way that youth do so today. It was common to only attend the temple once or a few times a year as a ward group. The temple recommend interviews could be done before the trip and written down on a list that was presented at the temple desk.
In later years, the church created limited use recommends, similar to full temple recommends that can be stored in a wallet. These recommends expire after a year. At my temple, youth were limited to doing the ordinances for five names. My ward leaders organized a temple trip once a month, in the early hours of the morning before school started.
In later years, more temples scheduled “walk-in” time that youth could attend without their local leaders. The church also made adjustments that were aimed to decrease waiting time and increase the amount of youth eligible to participate. In 2016, youth were no longer required to wear white while participating in the confirmation ordinance, instead they could be in their normal Sunday clothes. In 2017, the First Presidency allowed Priests in the Aaronic Priesthood to officiate the proxy baptisms. Before, the officiator had to be an endowed member or temple worker. At the beginning of 2019, 11-year-old youth were permitted to receive limited-use recommends to attend the temple. Finally, in 2019, women and young women were permitted to serve as witnesses to proxy baptisms.
All of these adjustments have made it easier for youth to attend the temple with or without the accompaniment of adults. The amount of youth eligible to participate in and officiate temple ordinances has also increased. For temples of the church that have high numbers of youth, there can be long wait times in the temple baptistry, especially during early mornings, mid-afternoons, and Saturdays. Since only one person can be baptized at a time, the bottleneck for waiting is usually the baptismal font. Adding a second baptismal font is akin to adding multiple endowment rooms, which has been done since the 1960s, starting with the Oakland, Ogden, and Provo Temples.
In the future, temples having double baptistries may become the norm in places like Utah. Although a number of temples are currently under construction in Utah, none of them seem to indicate they will have double baptistries. However, the temples that are currently being designed may also include double baptistries. Lindon, Utah and Smithfield, Utah are both in areas of high concentrations of church members. There are other temples that are likely due for a renovation. The Logan Temple will be renovated in the coming years and, like the Salt Lake Temple, could have two baptistries in the annex. The demand may not exist with the Manti Temple due to the spread out nature of its temple district. The Provo Temple is likely due for a renovation in the coming years. Perhaps the cafeteria space could be renovated into a baptistry.
Other large temples in Utah have recently had large-scale renovations, so it is unlikely they would close again so soon to add a second baptistry, to say nothing of the major structural work involved to make such an addition. Outside of Utah, the temples in Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Dallas are aging and may have renovations in the coming years with cafeteria space that could be repurposed. But it is questionable if the concentration of members is high enough to justify the additional baptistry. Building another temple in the existing temple district may be the better option.
For a long time, having two baptismal fonts in a temple was something that seemed farfetched. Rumors have existed for years that the church had considered doing this in other temples. In 2021, it is now a reality. Spending time waiting in the temple is part of the experience. But if temples baptistries are overflowing with patrons, the anticipation can ruin the moment. Having two baptistries may be a step to improve the situation for these busy Utah temples.