In surprise showings, LDS President Russell Nelson and Gov. Spencer Cox highlight Ephraim Temple groundbreaking

97-year-old church leader notes his parents’ ties to two temple towns in central Utah.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell N. Nelson and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox join other Latter-day Saint leaders and dignitaries at the groundbreaking of the Ephraim Temple on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022.

Nearly 16 months ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declared in a special meeting that it would build a temple in Ephraim, a small Utah city of 5,700 people.

The announcement surprised the congregation, whose thoughts on that Saturday were on a pioneer-era temple in an even tinier town in nearby Manti — and news that church leaders were scrapping plans to remove beloved murals from that historic edifice.

But on this Saturday, the focus fell completely on the Ephraim edifice as invited Latter-day Saints and dignitaries — including church President Russell M. Nelson and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox — gathered for a groundbreaking to officially launch construction of the three-story, 39,000-square-foot building.

“The history of this area includes my own family. My dear mother was born in Ephraim, a short ways away from where we stand today,” Nelson, his voice cracking with emotion, said in a video of the ceremony. “My father was born in Manti. Three of my four grandparents were born in Ephraim. All eight of my great-grandparents lived in Ephraim.”

The presence of Nelson — who will turn 98 on Sept. 9 and ranks as the oldest ever prophet-president of the 16.8 million-member global faith — was unexpected. In May 2021, when the Ephraim Temple was announced, he appeared in a prerecorded message at the Manti Tabernacle.

Less surprising, perhaps, was Cox’s attendance. The first-term governor, a Latter-day Saint, is a native of Fairview, a Sanpete County town about 20 miles north of Ephraim.

The Ephraim Temple — which will serve more than 31,000 church members in Sanpete, Carbon and Emery counties — is one of 28 existing or planned temples in Utah.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Ephraim Temple.

“We pray that the construction of this temple may be accomplished to accommodate thy divine purposes,” Nelson prayed during Saturday’s service. “We are deeply grateful for our ancestors. They have laid a foundation of faith that undergirds our spiritual strength. May we learn who they are, find their qualifying information, and bless their lives with sacred rites offered vicariously in this holy house.”

The Manti Temple is scheduled to reopen and be rededicated in 2023, a news release noted. Its wall paintings, including a “world room” diorama by famed Latter-day Saint artist Minerva Teichert, once slated for removal, are instead being preserved inside.

“Shortly after the April 2021 General Conference,” Nelson recalled Saturday, “I received very clear instruction that the Manti Utah Temple should be preserved and that a temple should be built in Ephraim.”

There are currently 14 temples operating in the Beehive State, and three more — the 19th-century Salt Lake, St. George and Manti structures — are undergoing renovations. In addition to Ephraim, temples also are planned or under construction in Layton, Lindon, Orem, Saratoga Springs, Smithfield, St. George (a second one, called the Red Cliffs Temple), Syracuse, Taylorsville, Tooele and the Heber Valley.

Latter-day Saints consider temples to be a Houses of the Lord, where faithful members participate in their faith’s highest religious rites, including eternal marriages and proxy ordinances like baptism for their ancestors.