Temples, Tabernacles, and Churches

By Patheos Mormon Gateway Team

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In the Mormon tradition, there is a sharp and important distinction between temples and other church meetinghouses. Reporters and journalists often betray their lack of familiarity with Mormonism by conflating the two. To Mormon ears, such errors create a general antipathy toward mainstream media and suspicion of motives, a sense of "If they can't get such a basic distinction right, are they really even trying to be accurate or sympathetic to the story they're telling?"

Local LDS congregations, called "wards," meet weekly in church buildings, most often referred to as "the church" or occasionally "chapel," as in "Hey, I'll see you at the church for the meeting." Anyone can attend, visit, or walk into a church whenever it's open. Smaller congregations are called "branches" but still meet in a church, if they have one. Otherwise, they may meet in someone's house or a rented building. You can locate the nearest LDS congregation to you here, if you'd like to check out your local chapel.

A collection of wards and branches is known as a Stake (drawn from passages in Isaiah and the Doctrine and Covenants). One of the church buildings in the geographical stake is designed to accommodate larger meetings of multiple wards and branches at the same time, at a twice-yearly meeting called Stake Conference. This larger building (which most often resembles a normal church except in size) is known as a Stake Center. There are church buildings and stake centers throughout the world that have meetings every Sunday as well as other activities throughout the week.

Here are some typical LDS chapels:


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By contrast, LDS temples are not used for regular weekly meetings and are closed on Sundays, but are reserved for special ordinances for LDS who live certain standards of belief, practice, and ethics. Traditionally, these buildings have been large and more ornate than churches, though in the last ten years, a smaller design has been embraced to increase geographic availability. Prior to the dedication of a new temple, anyone can tour it.

Here from left to right, we have the Salt Lake Temple, Hong Kong Temple, and San Diego Temple.

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