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Joseph Smith Memorial Building now has a mini-temple of sorts so top LDS leaders can meet while iconic temple is closed

City documents show the eighth floor has been remodeled for “general authority occupancy” at an estimated cost of $2M.

(Jeremy Harmon | Tribune file photo) The Joseph Smith Memorial Building and Salt Lake Temple are seen in a long-exposure photograph from 2008. Top Latter-day Saint leaders have been meeting at time in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building while the iconic temple undergoes extensive renovation.

For top Latter-day Saint leaders, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in the heart of Salt Lake City has become a kind of mini-temple — or at least the eighth floor has.

The governing First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have always had a spiritual space designated in the Salt Lake Temple for them to meet, make decisions, and pray for divine guidance for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Now that the iconic temple is closed for renovations, which are expected to stretch into 2024, these top 15 men needed a new spot for what had become a weekly routine.

So the church looked to one of its signature buildings on its downtown campus and remodeled a single floor — at an estimated cost of $2 million — for “general authority occupancy,” according to building permit records filed at City Hall in late 2018 and early 2019.

On Jan. 7, 2020, the city issued a “certificate of occupancy,” which was apparently the day it was move-in ready.

That substitute space was then “prepared” and “dedicated,” church spokesperson Doug Andersen said Wednesday.

“During the time that the Salt Lake Temple is undergoing renovation,” he said, “senior church leaders will meet in a dedicated space that has been prepared in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.”

Traditionally, those high-powered temple gatherings have included a sacrament ritual, which also is performed on Sundays in Latter-day Saint congregations around the world.

Unlike normal worship for the global faith, however, these top leadership assemblies include a “prayer circle,” an exclusively temple rite, which presumably is why the space required a specific dedication.

The prayer circle “is a part of Latter-day Saint temple worship, usually associated with the endowment ceremony,” according to an essay in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. “Participants ... dressed in temple clothing surround an altar in a circle formation to participate unitedly in prayer.”

It is, the essay continues, “an ancient and universal symbol of perfection.”

This is not the first time the faith’s top officials have had to gather outside their religious sanctuary.

Before the Salt Lake Temple was dedicated in 1893, Brigham Young and the apostles, starting in 1851, performed the faith’s sacred rituals “more regularly in the Council House, Utah’s first large public building,” the church’s website explains. “The ground floor housed public events, including banquets, balls, and meetings of the territorial Legislature and courts. The upper floor was used for endowments and sealings until April 1854.”

After that, the church authorities met in a building constructed specifically for temple work known as the Endowment House, located near the current Temple Square.

Andersen declined to comment on whether the current meetings in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building — which once housed the famed Hotel Utah — are taking place in person, given the cautionary limits during the coronavirus pandemic. If they are, he did not say whether the leaders wore masks and socially distanced, although during General Conferences and other meetings they have been heeding those health guidelines and have urged members to do the same.

Though three apostles have contracted and recovered from COVID-19, one of them, Dale G. Renlund strongly urged Latter-day Saints to don masks as “a sign of Christlike love for our brothers and sisters.”

— Reporter Tony Semerad contributed to this report

CorrectionJan. 15, 8: 45 a.m. • This story was updated to remove an erroneous, editor-inserted location for the Council House.

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