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President Hinckley dedicated the first small temple 20 years ago this July — here's why it's been a game changer for the Church

It has been two decades since the first small temple — a concept developed by President Gordon B. Hinckley in 1997 — was dedicated in eight dedicatory sessions on July 26-27, 1998.

The 11,225-square-foot Monticello Utah Temple stands on 1.33 acres of land in the small namesake town in the state's southeastern corner.

One of the first three smaller temples announced by President Hinckley in general conference in October 1997 (the other two were Anchorage, Alaska, and Colonia Juarez, Mexico), the Monticello temple was the first of the “smaller temples” to be completed and served as a prototype for the new design.

“In recent months we have traveled far out among the membership of the Church,” President Hinckley said during the announcement in 1997. “I have been with many who have very little of this world’s goods. But they have in their hearts a great burning faith concerning this latter-day work. They love the Church. They love the gospel. They love the Lord and want to do His will. They are paying their tithing as modest as it is. They make tremendous sacrifices to visit the temples. They travel for days at a time in cheap buses and on old boats. They save their money and do without to make it all possible.

“They need nearby temples — small, beautiful, serviceable temples.”

He proceeded to explain that 30 “smaller temples” would be built in Europe, Asia, Australia, Fiji, Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, Canada and the United States.

“This will be a tremendous undertaking,” he said. “Nothing even approaching it has ever been tried before.”

Not only would the locales be scattered throughout the world, the temples were to be built immediately.

The direction to build smaller temples came to President Hinckley while he was traveling from Colonia Juarez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas. In a Church News interview reported on Aug. 1, 1998, President Hinckley recounted the experience: “I reflected on what we could do to help these people in the Church colonies in Mexico. They’ve been so very faithful over the years. … And yet, they’ve had to travel all the way to Mesa, Arizona, to go to a temple.”

The inspiration for the smaller temple concept came to the prophet’s mind.

“I concluded we didn’t need the laundry. We didn’t need to rent temple clothing. We didn’t need eating facilities. These have been added for the convenience of the people but are not necessary (for the temple ordinances).”

President Hinckley recognized that the necessary elements of a temple — those of eternal significance — could be housed in a smaller structure than what had been in the past. The smaller structure could be built in a shorter amount of time at a reduced cost.

The Monticello Utah Temple, completed just a few months after the announcement, became the first of the smaller temples to be dedicated.

Originally completed in 1998 to be only 7,000 square feet, the maiden small temple had less than half the floor space of a typical Church meetinghouse.

To put that in perspective, the meetinghouse adjacent to the temple site has 18,000 square feet.

Despite the smaller square footage, the smaller temple design has been effective in bringing essential ordinances to more members around the world — especially in locales where access to a temple has been limited. Today close to 50 temples are approximately 10,700 square feet — the typical small temple mold.

Although all the smaller temples have a similar footprint and size, each has unique details in the interior decorating, art glass, exterior stone and positioning of the spire.

In Monticello, the community quickly outgrew the temple’s capacity. Only five years later — to the day — after the groundbreaking, the temple was rededicated. Renovations took the temple from the original 7,000 square feet to 11,225 square feet.

“If temple ordinances are an essential part of the restored gospel, and I testify that they are, then we must provide the means by which they can be accomplished,” President Hinckley said in his announcement in 1997. “All of our vast family history endeavor is directed to temple work. There is no other purpose for it. The temple ordinances become the crowning blessings the Church has to offer.

“I can only add that when these 30 or 32 are built, there will be more yet to come.”

Today temples — large and small — dot the earth. There are 148 operating temples, 11 under construction, 11 being renovated and 19 announced.