The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (you may know them as the Mormon church) is building a temple in Shanghai.
The upcoming temple, which will be the first in mainland China, was one of eight new temples announced by church president Russel M Nelson on April 5.
In his announcement, Nelson, 95, who is revered by LDS church members as prophet, seer and revelator, said Chinese converts to the faith had been going to the temple in Hong Kong for over two decades.
With the Hong Kong temple closed since July 2019 for a “long-planned and much-needed renovation”, a “modest multi-purpose meeting place” in Shanghai will help Chinese members to continue to participate in church ordinances.
“Because we respect the laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China, the church does not send proselyting missionaries there nor will we do so now,” Nelson added. “Expatriate and Chinese congregations will continue to meet separately. The church’s legal status there remains unchanged.”
In a Frequently Asked Questions section found on the church’s official China website, the LDS church promised a facility that would be “modest in appearance.” and “consistent with local custom and environment as a place of peace, tranquility, and dignity”.
A long-time member of the church’s Shanghai district who has since returned to his native Utah told Shanghaiist that the temple will be a renovation of an existing building and looks likely to be in Pudong.
In the Latter Day Saint tradition, temples are only open to church members with a “temple recommend”.
To obtain a recommend, members must have been baptised for over a year and been interviewed by their bishop and stake president to determine their “worthiness”.
Church members that enter temples change into white ritual clothing before participating in ceremonies.
LDS temples may differ widely in outward appearance, but they generally house four special rooms where sacred ceremonies are conducted:
- Endowment Room, where members dedicate themselves to God and commit to keeping the commandments.
- Celestial Room. This is a place of prayer and reflection. No ceremonies are conducted here.
- Sealing Room, where marriages take place. Church members believe that marriages and families last for eternity.
- Baptistry. In what’s possibly the church’s most controversial ceremony, members baptise their dead ancestors here and perform ordinances like endowments and sealing on behalf of the deceased. (Baptisms for the living are performed instead at local meetinghouses.)
The church’s relationship with China
While the LDS church first sent missionaries to Hong Kong in 1853, it was not until 1992 that it announced plans to build a temple in the territory.
Because of the high cost and scarcity of land in Hong Kong, the church eventually decided to build its temple on the site of its existing chapel located in downtown Kowloon.
The six-storey building was dedicated in May 1996, a year before the return of Hong Kong to China.
While the church has not announced an official number of Chinese members, it boasts some 25,000 members in Hong Kong, and more than a thousand in Macau.
Although the LDS faith does not fall neatly into China’s five officially recognised religions – Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism – the church has had the tacit approval of the Chinese government since 2004 to conduct services.
In line with Chinese regulations on religious activity, however, foreign and local members of the church meet in separate services.
In the early days of China’s reform and opening up, Nelson, long before he became church president, made several trips to train Chinese cardiac surgeons.
In 1985, he became the first person to be granted an honorary professorship by Shandong Medical College.
A decade later, he was invited to Beijing along with other LDS church leaders to meet with then vice premier Li Lanqing.
More recently, following the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, the church sent two shipments of medical supplies, including respirator masks, goggles and protective equipment to China.