Landmark temple marks its 10th anniversary

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Chorley's Mormon Temple is 10 years old this month. Chris Merrick looks at its history.

It took four years and a reputed 100m to build and dominates the Chorley skyline - but how much is known about the Mormon temple? The answer is not very much, however that could be about to change.

It was back in May 1998 that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - whose beliefs include total abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee - held an open day where members of the public could walk around the buildings and gardens.

Certainly there aren't many more impressive sights in Lancashire than the temple itself, which is the centrepiece of the 15-acre site and is clearly visible from the nearby M61.

It is 154 feet tall and on top of the single spire rises a golden statue of Moroni, a Book of Mormon Prophet.

The 69,400 square feet building, clad in Sardinian Olympia White granite, is of a modern classical design.

It is only the second temple in the British Isles and the 52nd in the world - and goes a long way to explain the strength of the Mormon movement in the Chorley area.

Such is its popularity that it now has three congregations and its appeal shows little sign of waning.

To mark the 10th anniversary of its opening a series of special events have been planned which should go some way to dispelling some of the myths and stereotypes that surround the religion.

A free family history event is being planned on site from Thursday, June 5, until Saturday, June 7, with displays, computers and exhibitions to help people with their family history research.

On Sunday, June 8, there will be a special service in the evening where church leaders will speak and a regional choir will sing a number of hymns.

One myth about the Mormons is that they've only had members in Chorley over the last couple of decades or ever since the building of the temple in 1998.

The reality is that the first Prophet of the church, Joseph Smith, sent missionaries to England in July 1837, led by Heber C Kimball. Landing in Liverpool they travelled first to Preston on July 22 during a general election and noticed a large banner being unfurled which read 'Truth will Prevail'. This was adopted as their motto.

The next day the missionaries preached a sermon and several people who attended requested to be baptised - which took place in the River Ribble in Avenham Park, Preston.

So many people wanted to be baptised first that a race across the bridge took place with the winner having the honour of being the first baptised.

Now that there were members of the church living in Preston the first unit of the church outside of the USA was established.

A plaque now stands in Avenham Park to celebrate this event.

The church in Preston continued to prosper under the leadership of Mr Kimball who knew he had to teach the same message in the surrounding areas.

He visited Eccleston in November 1837 and preached to the Moon family. More than 30 members of this family and friends were baptised.

By April 1838 congregations of the church had been formed in Eccleston, Heskin, Euxton, Whittle and Dawber's Lane.

The church continued to grow and the members were encouraged to emigrate to America to help build up the church over there. The first set of emigrants was led by John Moon of Eccleston and they sailed from Liverpool on the ship Britannia in June 1840. The church members continued to emigrate - which meant that the church membership in the Chorley area became practically non-existent.

The Preston branch of the church was the only unit that remained strong and able to function.

Church members in Chorley continued to travel to Preston or Bolton for many years and constantly tried to open a branch of the church using members' homes as a meeting place.

Then towards the end of 1976 it was decided that the Chorley unit would be organised once again with Sunday School and lessons for children taking place in Chorley.

Tatton Park Community Centre was hired for a couple of hours each Sunday morning with the congregation travelling to join with the Preston members for their main Sunday Service.

The growth of the members by January 1979 meant that there were enough of them to have their own independent branch and no longer had to travel to Preston.

The church bought the rooms above a shop called Poppycock in the town centre (now called Bluehouse).

The rooms were decorated and finally the Chorley branch was formed and had a place to meet - although it wasn't long before the rooms became too small.

Until a suitable place could be found or built the community centre at Astley Village was rented every Sunday morning.

In July 1983 the church bought a former sewing factory in Water Street which was converted into a church building.

Fast forward to October 19, 1992, when the leaders of the church in Salt Lake City, Utah, announced plans to construct a temple near Preston.

The current site was selected and on June 12,1994, a groundbreaking ceremony was conducted by President Gordon B Hinckley who had travelled from Salt Lake City.

Members of the church from all over the UK were in attendance to watch this amazing event.

Four years later and the temple and the buildings on the complex were finished.

On the complex there is a chapel for Sunday services, a family history centre, accommodation for people who travel a distance to visit the temple and a missionary training centre.

The Prophet of the church at that time was President Hinckley and he travelled from Utah to dedicate the temple and the complex ready for use on the June 7.

The members of the church left their Water Street building which they had outgrown by this time.

It's fair to say the church has come a long way from the few families that met in Tatton Community Centre.