An Afternoon Stroll Through the Grounds of Temple Square, Ground Zero of Mormondom
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH- Standing tall at the other end of an impressively manicured, electric-green grassy field sits the Salt Lake Temple, the St. Peter’s Basilica of this most American of faiths. Turreted faux granite, towering high in the sky, seems to cast a pall over Temple Square—ominous and overlordly when the clouds are dark and gray, bright and otherworldly when the sun is shining brightly.
The grounds of Temple Square themselves are overly attended to—no expense was spared with the landscape architect, the gardeners, or the lawn service. Each and every tree and flower was planted with care to ensure that visitors strolling through the grounds feel an immediate calming effect. Perhaps it’s the promise of spring—the birds chirping and the flowers budding—the absence of a chill that so defines life on the Colorado Plateau during the long winter season—but Temple Square is an inviting, pleasant place to find yourself.
Casing the grounds in pairs of two are young, well-dressed twenty-somethings with Church literature tucked under their arms. Each has a tag pinned to their chest with their name and country of origin on it. They are, presumably, Church members from the far corners of the Earth fulfilling their requisite two-year mission. Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Tallinn—it appears to matter not where they come from, rather that they speak perfect English, have mastered a set of intangible social skills, and clean up nicely. They freely approach anyone who appears unoccupied, even if just for a moment, striking up a friendly conversation and seeing if there’s anything they can help with.
I’m approached by a few of these budding members of the Mormon Blue Key Society, and engage a few of them. Without being rude, I politely excuse myself from the conversation once pleasantries are exchanged; I’m simply one of those people that likes to explore on my own. I like taking photos and staring at the architecture. I like closing my eyes, and imagining what this place was like a hundred years ago, when horses roamed the streets and clothes were made from cotton. I like whipping out my phone, Wikipedia-ing a place, name, or event that I’m unfamiliar with. I like moving at my own pace, and learning on my own time. I appreciate the attempt to engage visitors, but it’s really just not my style.
I also can’t help but have a nagging feeling that these aren’t just friendly representatives of the Church, here to answer a few questions. I’ve been a recruiter for various groups in the past, and a steadfast rule is to simply establish an interpersonal connection with someone before you bring up the reason why you’re talking to them in the first place. You find common ground and chat about sweet nothings, all so that when the time comes to raise the issue of fraternity recruitment, or how the Church has changed your life, the other party feels just slightly more compelled to stay and hear you out. Perhaps it’s an unfounded hunch based upon the Mormons' cultish reputation, but it’s a feeling I get nonetheless.
The pristine grounds, the clean-cut, good-looking people strolling about, worldly, ready to help you to understand anything you’re curious about…it’s all designed to radiate an aura of a pleasant Mormon life. Family-oriented, industrious to the point of fault, they’re out to present the side of their religion that appeals to people; the side that promotes social structure, hard work and reward, and an honest, God-fearing existence. They’re out to counteract the stereotypes that have been laid so bare by popular culture today. Is it working? It’s a metric that’s difficult to gauge, but after strolling the grounds of Temple Square, I’d say that their marketing department is top-notch.