The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Wednesday allowed media to tour the church's new temple in Broward County. There are 143 Mormon temples worldwide, but this is the first one in South Florida.
Before entering the temple, visitors were asked to place plastic slips over their shoes. It wasn’t a religious request, but more of a courtesy to the new building.
The Fort Lauderdale Temple is actually in Davie and took five years to build. Mormon temples are not to be confused with their chapels, where members meet for Sunday services. Temples are used for weddings, baptisms and voluntary pilgrimages.
"This is a place that's reserved for special and sacred worship services," says William R. Walker, a leader of the Latter-Day Saints who came all the way from Utah.
"The church has grown considerably in South Florida over the last few years," he says. "We have a lot of Spanish-speaking members. We have Spanish-speaking congregations."
Walker says South Florida has about 35,000 members of the Mormon church. Hector Chichoni, a local immigration attorney, has been a member of the Latter-Day Saints for over 31 years, and has lived in South Florida for 10.
"We have people that speak Portuguese, Creole, English, Spanish -- you name it," says Chichoni. "We have people who even speak Greek."
But before today, the Mormon community’s nearest temple was in Orlando. Chichoni and his wife tried to visit once a month.
"It required quite a bit of planning and logistics for us," he says.
Chichoni says he and his wife will now visit temple more often because it’s closer to Miami where he lives. William R. Walker, the church leader from Utah, says Chichoni is not the only one.
"We expect retirees who may be Mormon [will] be more inclined to live here now because there is a temple nearby," says Walker.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints will open their Fort Lauderdale Temple to the public starting this Saturday through April 19, excluding Sundays.