Salt Lake City’s Sts. Peter and Paul will build a new Orthodox church in LDS-dominated Utah County

(Courtesy of Harris Architecture) A rendering of the new Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Christian Church to be built in Payson.

Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Christian Church in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City will break ground on a new church in Payson this summer.

It marks the first time an Orthodox Church will set down permanent roots in Utah County — where nearly 85 percent of residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is home to that faith’s Brigham Young University.

After an 18-month search, the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish purchased a 5.5-acre rural plot at about 1200 South and 1950 West in Payson, according to a news release issued this week.

Construction is expected to start in mid-June on the first phase, which includes a rustic, wooden, Russian-style chapel, which can serve 140 worshippers, and a house for clergy.

Future phases call for the first dedicated Orthodox cemetery in Utah, a fellowship hall and eventually a new, large Byzantine-style cathedral. The timing of those later phases will depend on fundraising efforts.

Parishioners amassed $400,000 and a private benefactor committed $350,000 for the initial phase, which is expected to be complete in late fall or early winter. At that time, the new building will be consecrated during a special service conducted by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

“We are overjoyed and humbled by the love of the folks at Payson City as well as the local people," the Rev. Justin Havens, pastor of Sts. Peter & Paul, said in the release. “We believe it will be a true lighthouse for the community and Utah."

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Father Justin Haven is a Protestant convert to Orthodox Christianity at Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Christian Church in Salt Lake City, Thursday, April 27, 2017.

In 2018, Sts. Peter & Paul had signed a contract on a 10-acre plot in Bluffdale, but with rising land prices across the Wasatch Front, the parish was unable to raise enough money to secure the property.

Several years ago, a small group of Utah County residents launched the Holy Apostles Church, an Orthodox mission parish that met in a office park in Orem. But the group decided to rejoin the downtown Salt Lake City church and work jointly on a new site.

A decade of growth has more than tripled the number of worshippers — now registering about 400 — at Sts. Peter and Paul in Salt Lake City. More than 200 people stand shoulder to should during the regular Sunday services, held in a former Jewish synagogue at 355 S. 300 East.

Worshippers flow down the front steps and outside on holidays and major feast days. That will be the case this week, when the Orthodox Church holds Holy Week and Easter services. Because the Eastern Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, Easter falls one week later than most Christian churches this year.

“It’s a beautiful problem,” Havens said of the crowds, “and for many years we have been looking for a solution, and it became apparent that would be building a new, sister church.”

Havens said Payson is perfect for his rapidly growing congregation, half of whom are converts — including former Catholics, Protestants and Latter-day Saints, as well as Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists and agnostics. The parish also includes a rich, multiethnic mix of Russian, Greek, Serbian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Middle Eastern Christians.

“Among them are many families who have been driving in, sometimes up to an hour away, from the southern Salt Lake Valley and Utah County," he said in the news release. “We decided our second church should be in Utah County, a more convenient location for those folks.”

The new site, located on farmland, offers a country atmosphere, stunning vistas of the Wasatch Mountains, and an open grassy area where the parish’s children can do something they cannot at the downtown Salt Lake City church amid busy streets and concrete: run and play.

“It also will make for a beautiful spiritual refuge," Havens said, “both for our own folks and the many who are seeking for God in this chaotic and anxious world.”