Hinckley legacy: Number of Mormon temples worldwide nearly tripled under LDS leader's watch
In 1994, LDS Church president Howard W. Hunter said one of his goals was to encourage all Mormons to be temple-going people.
The temple, after all, has been central to Mormon worship since the 1830s. It tells the story of human history from the Garden of Eden through to the afterlife, ritually re-enacted by volunteers. It is also a place where marriages are performed, families are "sealed" for the eternities and participants commit themselves to God and godliness.
It is not surprising that Hunter would make the temple a key of his administration. But the gentle leader only lasted eight months in office. He left it to his successor, Gordon B. Hinckley, to complete the assignment - which Hinckley undertook with his usual gusto.
Long before he became the 15th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1995, Hinckley had a hand in revolutionizing temple worship.
In 1953, the church was poised to build its first temple in Europe. But church leaders didn't know how to conduct the rituals simultaneously in several languages, given that the temple was being built in Switzerland and would serve members in many nations. Church President David O. McKay turned to Hinckley, a junior apostle, to solve the problem.
After weeks of thought, discussion and prayer, Hinckley hit upon the idea to put the rituals on film. Temples could be built anywhere in the world, no longer requiring a common language or enough volunteers to fill all the roles.
Soon temples were popping up all over the world.
By the time Hinckley ascended to the presidency, there were 47 temples in places as far apart as Las Vegas and Lima, Manti and Manila, Boise and Buenos Aires.
That wasn't fast enough for Hinckley. He worried about members in regions without a temple or where it was too far to travel, but traditionally temples were large and expensive and couldn't be built until the Mormon population reached a reasonable number.
So in October 1997, he came up with another innovation: reduce the size of temples so they could be built quickly and less expensively. The new buildings, dubbed "mini-temples" by many Mormons, were an immediate success.
In less than a decade, the number of temples nearly tripled from 47 to 124 operating temples scattered across the planet.
"No member of the church has received the ultimate which this church has to give until he or she has received his or her temple blessings in the house of the Lord,'' Hinckley said in 1997. "Accordingly, we are doing all that we know to do to expedite the construction of these sacred buildings and make the blessings received therein more generally available.''
As much as anything, Hinckley may be remembered for taking the temple to the people, rather than making them travel almost impossible distances to it.