When Our Money Looks Funny

Have I mentioned that my husband and I moved to Iquitos Peru a couple of days after our wedding? Well, we did. G-map it. It’s a town in the Peruvian Amazon, in fact we live less than a mile from the Amazon River. It’s a very poor town, the whole area is depressed and poor for even Peru. The people live in shacks of wood, leaves or tin and if they’re wealthy, they live in cement block houses. At one time or another, the Church was very successful here, with loads of baptisms and they built loads of meetinghouses to accomodate the growing number of Saints.

For what must have cost the Church hardly anything at all, they built very nice buildings. Shiny tile, wrought iron fences, gardens, basketball courts and futbol fields. Air conditioning. These buildings are beautiful. Here, where they don’t have very much, they feel decadent and luxurious and being the culture-shocked girl that I am, it’s nice to step inside these lovely buildings and sit in air conditioning to follow a well-known Sunday program. And there’s not just one of these buildings. There are several. Maybe not Utah number, think California number of area church buildings.

They are however, in the context of this poor town, a little bit creepy. Most other church buildings, predominantly evangelical Christian, with a few traditional Catholic buildings, are like people’s houses. If they’re lucky, they meet in crumbling cement buildings, painted in some bygone time to spruce them up. And since we don’t sing like the evangelicals, our meeting houses are also very quiet. Silent even. Attendance has dropped dramatically (I’m guessing as I don’t know the ins and outs of history of the Church in Iquitos) and these palatial buildings have about 40 regulars and some missionaries.

So despite my love of the air conditioning, I feel awkward about these rich church buildings. I don’t know anything about anything in building churches and like I said I’m sure these buildings hardly cost the Church anything to build, but I wonder why they chose to build meetinghouses that are so ostentatious. And in fact so darn right foreign looking. I wonder why they didn’t just get some nice cement houses, paint them nicely, maybe even put an air conditioning unit, so that they could blend in with the rest of the community, to appear as if they belong. Is it detrimental to look wealthy and foreign? Is it important? Does it help the Church seem more stable? Or does it just reflect what the Church is?

I can’t really judge since it surely makes me feel comfortable but our money definitely looks funny. And in a place with its fair share of drug running, I’ve met people that think Mormon churches are a mechanism for money laundering. I laugh and say, they’re into cleaning but I think it’s something other than money.

For fun, here’s a photo of a Mormon church and one of a local evangelical Christian church.




  1. So, poor churches for poor people? That’s the alternative you’re considering?

  2. I would have killed for a meetinghouse like that in the philippines.

  3. Peter LLC says:

    There are some pretty small and sketchy buildings–think converted apartments–in the shadows of some of Europe’s grandest cathedrals to balance the karmic debt. What seems extravagant here is how much the church spends per convert.

  4. Jonathan K. says:

    “I feel awkward about these rich church buildings”

    If you feel this way, chances are, so do others, and it is probably hindering the mission of the church in many countries, so this is a serious issue. Unfortunately, because of the church growth and the number of buildings built worldwide, the church feels that universal standardization is the answer for all LDS buildings. So what supposedly works for a suburban Salt Lake meetinghouse is given a local stylized “facade” to apply in California, Mexico, Germany, Nigeria, etc. Talk about a dishonest portrayal of our values! Putting a mask on our buildings to make them appear to be what they are not. No wonder people question our motives and think we are hiding something!

    While a local architect typically will do the construction documents, the “design” comes from Salt Lake. Because of this, the church is showing very little concern for the local areas where they are building. The building is only adapted to site conditions; the overall design is not being modified by the local architect. An actual architect DESIGNING the building to fit the needs of local congregations would solve these problems. Of course the church will answer that this is cost-prohibitive, but if that is true, then we are building too many buildings. We should only build what the people can support.

    My position in the USA is actually the opposite of yours…I feel awkward calling our meetinghouse a “church”. The entire plan is centered around a large sports arena with a beltway of halls around. This leads to congestion when trying to get anywhere…wait, am I talking about a church or the suburbs? We always hear about how our buildings are functional, but they aren’t! No one every knows where to go, and you can’t get there because of all the hallways!! So they are non-functional, and either hideously ugly, or overbearingly wealthy. In either context (rich or poor) they don’t work.

    No universal standard will ever be appropriate around the world, and it is very disappointing that the church leaders don’t recognize and address this. Entering our meetinghouses has never given me a feeling of reverence or awe, but almost every other church I have ever been in has. Even a humble church can bring spiritual feelings if it reflects the people. We shouldn’t be trying to clone little Wasatch Front values all over the world. The people and cultures of the world have much more to offer, especially when meshed with the gospel. And it wouldn’t look anything like the current standard meetinghouse.

    And don’t even get me started about the scratchingly-painful carpet on the walls…?!?

  5. I have not travelled extensively, but the Church always does their building first class. They use the best materials available, they are made to last, etc. I appreciate that the Church makes this investment and takes a long-range approach rather than skimping and trying to do things as cheaply as possible. In the long run, I believe this approach ends up saving money.

    I think this also reinforces the teaching that we make the best with what we have. If someone lives in a run down shack, maybe seeing a nice church building would inspire them to do some minor repairs. Who knows….

    Anyway, I say enjoy the AC and the fact that you have a nice building for church meetings and activities.

  6. Not poor John. I’m not suggesting anything, just saying it looks weird. And I’m wondering why it got made this way when it’s so obviously weird. Plus, you could have a really nice building that’s not quite as noticeable.

    I can’t complain cuz it does make me feel comfortable. But I’m an American. Not an Iquitenan.

  7. Aaron Brown says:

    “Is it detrimental to look wealthy and foreign?”

    Yes. And no, some of the time. The wealth and foreigness (specifically, Americanness) attracts some to the Church, repels others. The wealth of the Church, as reflected in the Church’s buildings abroad, is a draw for some investigators who are intrigued by the wealth, and who want to associate it, at least in my experience.

    The real scandal, quite frankly, is the number of basketball courts built in countries where everyone would rather play futbol. What’s up with that?

    Aaron B

  8. Yeah, what is with that basketball courts? I haven’t seen them be used yet. That is a scandal.
    Dammit, I should re-write my post.

    Jim, I think if these people had money they would make repairs or improve their housing situations. They just don’t have the money.

  9. And Jonathon I can’t believe you don’t think the wall carpeting is beautiful. I mean the wovenness? The little pokey outey threads? beau-ti-ful.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Amri, does the one you posted a picture of above have a basketball court inside, just like a U.S. building?

  11. nah. The courts are usually outside. I think they would pass out if they got to play basketball in air conditioning.

  12. I also appreciate that the buildings, like the gospel, are somewhat uniform or at least familiar wherever one goes….

    Maybe a peculiar people deserves a peculiar building in which to meet….

  13. Damned if they do; damned if they don’t. Too expensive if architectural firms are employed; too expensive if original small buildings can’t expanded easily and made to look like they weren’t expanded. Too cheap if they aren’t built to last; to cheap if they don’t have enough space for all the activities that accompany a full ward. Overall quality with a cost-conscious model is fine with me – but I’m a greedy, arrogant, ethnocentric American, so what do I know?

    #4 – I don’t know where to start – and I’m afraid of what I might say if I do start. Suffice it to say that we disagree about as much as it is possible to disagree on this topic.

  14. Ray I think you’d have to see them in the town. They are strikingly strange. Which is not to say I disagree, or care how they are. Just an observation that I never ever would have thought about until I saw it.

    Also, maybe they are weird because hardly anyone is active anymore so it is a possibility that when things were booming it was the best choice to make buildings this way. Now no one goes. So they are big beautiful mostly empty buildings. Which brings up another question to me: when there is an influx of people joining do you immediately build? Do you wait and see? Is one faithful and one faithless? I have no idea, but it’s interesting to me to think about.

    And you are an ethnocentric American.

  15. In spite of the obvious worldwide popularity of futbol, which I dearly love, the Celestial Sport is clearly basketball. Hence, a church built around a basketball court. Which I love even more.

  16. amri, that discussion (building plans based on an assumption of membership stability) is one that I would find fascinating – and the real issue, imo.

    Can you imagine the outcry if there were 180 people meeting in a building built for 60 – just to account for a potential drop in future membership? I can hear it now: “You ethnocentric Americans will build beautiful, big buildings in America and Europe, but you make your members meet in these little copies of our poor churches. Racist pigs!” Again, damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

    Finally, criticizing the Church (not you, btw) and calling it dishonest (among other things) is something I’m not going to try to address. #4 was hyperbolic in ways I simply detest, so I’m not going there.

  17. Don’t be embarrased by the buildings. I remember when the branch looked worse than the other picture you showed.

  18. btw, amri, #13 was not directed at you or the post in general, at all.

  19. The church went through a phase (maybe we are still in it, to some extent) where the assumption is that a large, new building is conducive to missionary work and that all the new members will pay tithing and offset the costs of construction. If you build it, they will come.

  20. Out of curiousity, do you know if any attempt is being made to consolidate units to better utilize the buildings?

    I know in the US there is a constant effort to sell properties that are under-utilized. I wonder if that is looked at elsewhere in the world.

    On the wasatch front where I live, it seems the church cannot keep up with the need for buildings. We have wards in our stake that have to meet in buildings in another stake.

  21. The real scandal, quite frankly, is the number of basketball courts built in countries where everyone would rather play futbol. What’s up with that?

    Amen!! The saints in Canada hereby demand ice hockey rinks.

  22. I know in the US there is a constant effort to sell properties that are under-utilized. I wonder if that is looked at elsewhere in the world.

    Not to threadjack but this is something that has really bothered me lately. Our stake has 8 wards (well, 3 are actually branches, 2 spanish and a deaf branch) and we have 5 buildings. Two of those buildings are stake centers (one was a stake center in a former stake which was consolidated with ours and no longer actually used as a stake center). Both stake center buildings are used by only one ward each. The other 3 buildings have one ward and one branch in each one. Buildings must be expensive to maintain and it seems so odd to me that we have such an abundance of buildings in this stake.

    One or two stakes over this is not the case at all. Our friends all over the valley (Phoenix area) are meeting 4 and sometimes even 5 wards in a building.

    We just realigned our stake last year so I know that’s probably not in the works anytime soon. Does this seem really unusual to anyone else? It seems incredibly wasteful to me and also really pretty unfair to all the other wards who have to share with so many other wards and have been doing that for years.

    I guess I’m wondering how involved salt lake is in the decisions and how much of it is a local decision.

  23. While in Puerto Rico for a few months on business, I attended church at various locations on the island. The construction was modern, yet only one building I knew of had A/C and the rest were without. Church was essentially held “outside” because there were no glass windows or window screens–only metal slats that open and close to expose the outside. Upon returning to the States, it was a blessing to find myself again in well-maintained and air conditioned buildings.

    Since I have traveled some, I have seen a similar pattern in the layout and design of most church buildings. Some draw in unique architectural features only found in the area. Others look “foreign” when compared to the local scene. More recently, the Church has intentionally designed the buildings to fit a certain pattern. That’s why you can travel almost anywhere in the world and readily identify one of our church buildings.

    Amri, you should feel blessed to belong to a church that is willing to help impoverished people rise above their pitiful circumstances, not only partake of the fullness of the gospel but help them feel a sense of self-worth, care and dignity for their own well being. “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). Although our church does not rightfully pride itself in its riches, it does seek to establish Zion in all places. And, from what I understand, Zion is no poor place, neither is it extravagant, but it is pleasant and pleasing and peaceful.

  24. Bandanamom,
    I believe units are generally very vocal when they have need for buildings and perhaps less vocal when buildings are in excess. In my area, it is probably fairly easy to determine where growth is occurring, so there is relatively little risk of investing in a building that will not be utilized. It is probably much more difficult to determine what buildings should be sold and units consolidated. There are people in Salt Lake who deal specifically with these issues, and in some cases it must be difficult to know what is in the best long-term interest of the church….

  25. Jonathan K. says:

    #16 The church is true, but it’s certainly not perfect, and where I feel it can improve, I will blatantly say so. Regarding the honesty comment, I was not calling the church dishonest, but the collective buildings are dishonestly reflecting the people, the culture, and the church itself because it is a false front, hiding who we really are – a people of cultural depth and diversity. We are not all the same as our buildings would suggest…

  26. A few observations from my own missionary service in the lower Amazon basin:

    –At the time I served (1999-2001), the Church was very liberal with its funding for new construction. At the time I was told that the decision to build or not to build was the sole province of the local stake president–if he requested a new building, he got it.

    –In urban centers (Belem, Sao Luis), the contrast between LDS churches and other buildings wasn’t as stark–it didn’t blend in, exactly, but it wasn’t ostentatious either.

    –In rural areas, however, the situation was much as Amri describes. In Oriximina, for example, the LDS church was probably the third most beautiful building in town (the Catholic church and city hall were numbers 1 and 2)–and bar none, was the highest quality building in terms of design and workmanship. It was the only building in town designed with an eye to the seismic instability that apparently exists in the region: the Church’s engineers built on an abnormally deep foundation that incorporated springs. Other churches poked fun at this, telling their members that the Mormons believed that at the Rapture their church buildings would all ascend up to Heaven.

    –I thought the architectural design for the majority of the LDS churches in the region was ingenious and very functional. We once visited a Seventh Day Adventist church that consisted only of a sanctuary–no classrooms. When they wanted to break away into smaller classes, all they could do was seat the classes in the sanctuary according to pew and have each “class” carry on a discussion as best that they could. I’d take a “cookie cutter” building with honest-to-gosh classrooms over the typical Latin-American, chapel-only church building any day.

    –I don’t think the Church’s retention issues in Latin America have to do with building construction so much as shoddy missionary work. But there’s a certain “pioneer spirit” that goes with church meetings held outside of a conventional chapel–the feeling that at any moment this could all go away if we don’t do our darnedest to make it work. Once a permanent building goes up, that spirit goes away and people get a little bit lazier.

  27. Whoever said that the Church always uses the best materials available is mistaken. There is a substantially higher standard for temples than for meetinghouses–so the meetinghouses cannot as a matter of simple logic be built of the best materials.

    Some of you ought to come to the East New York 1st or 2nd Branch meetings next Sunday. The building where those branches meet–it’s a tough part of Brooklyn–looks more like the second photograph.

    Air conditioning is a huge waste of scarce resources. All those architects who design buildings for hot climates without decent natural ventilation should be reassigned to the Nunavit area. Funny thing is, 50 years ago almost the whole world survived without airconditioning. Now we’ve all gone soft.

  28. Jonathan K. says:

    “All those architects who design buildings for hot climates without decent natural ventilation should be reassigned to the Nunavit area.”

    You are describing the LDS church architects in SLC. This is exactly another problem with a universal standard for the world – it doesn’t take into account climate and environmental differences between various regions. All the buildings are designed by an architect in SLC. And the current design doesn’t provide flexibility to the local architect for natural ventilation, natural daylight, using treated rain water, or any sustainable feature that would be highly desirous in a remote or poor area. How can you have any natural light in the building – it consists of an enormous roof?!?

  29. Huh?

    The church building in Oriximina, for one, did not have a/c except for a window unit in the branch president’s office.

    It also had a water tower incorporated into the roof, since the municipal water only ran every other day.

    LDS church buildings do have a lot of common traits, but there are more local variations than one might first think.

  30. All the buildings are designed by an architect in SLC.

    how do you know this?

  31. anonster,

    The church flirted with local architects I believe in the 50’s and 60’s, before going to the standardized plans. While it made for some interesting buildings in some areas, we have one in our stake that does not meet code for handicapped access, is laid out in unusual and unhelpful ways, and is not to seismic code. It’s has been slated a couple of times for demolition, but so far has survived. It also had (and I believe still has) some of those awful orange plastic chairs.

    The move to a standardized architecture was driven by a desire to reduce the cost of new buildings through greater economy of scale and materials. As such, the actual cost of building the standard versions of the ward building, or “Sage” plan as it was called at the time, actually went down as they built more and more of them, especially in Utah. The cost of doing the electrical work, according to one of many contractors utilized by the church in the 1980’s, dropped by around 50% over just a few years.

    I think the idea was to save money to enable the church to build Amri’s building and many more like it throughout the world. The sameness is a reflection of some economic realities, and though there are issues with a cookie cutter approach, the results have not been all bad.

    I remember reading in Sunstone about air conditioning some 15 or 20 years ago, and how the uniform thinking did not always meet the real needs, due to a kind of redlining. If you were north of a certain line on the US map, you didn’t get air conditioning, which included some of the Boston area chapels, IIRC. It also led to air conditioning one side of our ward building on the Wasatch front in the late 80’s, but it turned out to be the East side of the building, already cooler than the west side in late afternoons. As our ward was the last of four wards meeting in the building, we suffered through many hot classroom sessions.

    This also extended to the air conditioning controls. When our ward was suffering so much with the hot summer weather, an engineer in our ward who was also the EQ president, got access to the AC controls and reset them to better cool the building. However, the FM group, or whatever it was called at the time in 1990, came back in and reset it to the settings dictated out of their managers in Salt Lake.

    Didn’t mean to threadjack, but air conditioning seemed to be mentioned a lot in this thread.

  32. Jonathan K. says:

    #30 Church’s Worldwide Meetinghouse Standard Plan Program – News from the Church 10 Jan 2006

    They talk about meeting urban needs, but this is a very small percentage of the buildings compared to the suburban/rural members.

    Pres. Hinckley is quoted here as saying the meetinghouses are beautiful and that they meet the needs of the people. I have to respectfully disagree. There is nothing “of good report or praiseworthy” about our buildings. As far as churches go, they are not beautiful. There is a reason no meetinghouse has ever been recognized with a design award. And how can a standard building that is mostly the same everywhere meet the needs of a worldwide church and people with diverse cultures and backgrounds?

  33. There is nothing “of good report or praiseworthy” about our buildings.

    Awww, c’mon. You can’t tell me those little white fiberglass towers the Church has been retrofitting its buildings with don’t stir a little something in your heart!

  34. JK – I will address this once and leave it alone. If you want to raise the total cost of building our meetinghouses (which what you proposes undoubtedly will do), tell me what other funds you want to reduce. I respectfully submit that while the Church is not perfect, it has taken great pains to find a proper balance between attractive, functional and affordable.

    This appears to be a pet peeve of yours. I have no idea if you are an architect or in another profession that would be focused on building construction. I simply submit that the Prophet didn’t make that comment in ignorance – that he knows FAR more about the decisions than you and I – and that I am more than satisfied with the decision. The standard model is highly functional for the needs of a ward – and is just as beautiful as the vast majority of churches in my area. If you want Catholic cathedrals, sorry; if you are comparing to 90% of the regular Protestant churches being used throughout the world, ours measure up well – especially for what they are intended to provide. The Church has absolutely NO desire to compete for a design award; do you *really* want to argue that it should? If so, again, tell me where you would reduce costs in other areas to pay for it.

    If you want to prove me wrong, link a site that shows an average meetinghouse for any Protestant denomination, along with the cost to build it. If the building is more beautiful than our standard model, and if it cost in the same ballpark to build, you have a case. Until then, it’s nothing more than a difference in individual taste.

    My final point: Quit making contradictory complaints. You keep alternating between complaining about size and perceptions of cost projecting an image of wealth and then complaining that they aren’t beautiful enough (to win awards) – which increased beauty would increase cost and exacerbate an image of wealth. You can’t have it both ways, and you are proving what I said twice about “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

  35. kevinf,

    The chairs have been retired.

    You didn’t mention the water leakage problems.

  36. I haven’t heard anything about consolidation as of yet. I’m still learning to speak Spanish so they might have told me and I didn’t realize it.

    Also, a/c probably is a huge waste of resources but when none of the world I live in is, I love it. It makes me think that heaven might be air conditioned. Except that it ruins the earth and the earth is supposed to be heaven right? So a/c might be ruining heaven. It’s all very confusing. It’s just that cool air in the Amazon is fair and delightsome. And white and delicious.

    All the churches in Iquitos look the same. Which leads me to believe they were built in the same era or by the same plans. Also because they are so nice, there are huge fences built around them with spikes coming out the top. If you’re poor, you’re not going to find yourself on the steps of a Mormon church.

  37. Amri–

    I’m not sure how Peru is, but in Brazil it’s cultural tradition to fence off even the front yards of structures. A couple of the LDS churches in areas where I served had similar spiked fences. Most other churches–and a number of private homes–preferred to use brick walls, with broken glass cemented on the top to deter fence-jumpers.

    In one of the towns where I served, the locals had taken to hanging used condoms on the spikes of the fence surrounding the church.

  38. Jonathan K. says:

    #34 It would possibly raise costs. A local architect is already involved – just let them suit the design more to the needs and wants of the local congregations. So it would involve less administrative direction from SLC and more design by the people who know about where they live. (If cutting costs is required, Scouting is very expensive and could be replaced with a YM program similar to that of the YW?)

    While Pres. Hinckley didn’t make that comment in ignorance, just because he says something is beautiful doesn’t make it beautiful. Most Protestant (Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, etc.) churches are far more beautiful than ours. My experience in my travels is that people desire great beauty for their places of worship and most churches are more successful at it than we are.

    My point with the design award was not that we should strive for that, but that the design community will recognize beauty and good design when it is built. I know of no beautiful, well designed building that has not received some recognition from the design community. And that is independent of the size, cost, or scale of a building. There is no contradiction. Some of the best buildings are small, humble, and inconsequential.

    And to me, taste has nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with well thought-out design that fits the people and location it is to serve. So if a huge roof, no natural light or ventilation, endless hallways with carpeted walls, all situated around a sports facility fits all LDS people and locations ideals of what it means to worship God, then so be it.

  39. I can see both sides. Personally I’m glad that the members in places like Iquitos or Lagos get new, modern facilities just like more wealthy church members (by the way, it is very cultural normal to have a building surrounded by a stone wall in South America–it’s not just a defense mechanism). It’s comforting to me to know that money is distributed throughout the church and not just to those whose tithes are bigger. On the other hand, I have to agree with Jonathan that more local input is needed in design, both for aesthetics and functionality. We were recently in Hawaii for a few weeks visiting family and attended church in three different buildings. Two were built decades ago and had great design features for Hawaii–good ventilation through slatted windows (even in the chapel), ceiling fans, tile floors, covered lanais and walkways, etc. One was a newer building in the “racetrack” style and everyone hated it. For one thing there are no good common areas for gathering and talking besides two teeny lobbies that are right outside the chapel. The air conditioning is just dumb, because in most areas of Hawaii you don’t need the expense if you have well-placed windows and ceiling fans.

  40. Huh. The realities of the international church highlight some of the weird disparities created by money. A lot of folks outside the U.S. see the church as a rich foreign entity, and that totally skews perceptions.

    When I was on my mission in Guatemala, one weird old lady accosted us in the street, and yelled at us for a good ten minutes that she would never become Mormon, no matter how many hundred-dollar bills we offered her. She specifically mentioned hundred-dollar bills at least a dozen times, and described loudly and in great detail about how we had a stash of hundred dollar bills that we used to buy converts.

    I think she really hoped that we’d offer her some money. Of course, we were flat broke, with maybe 60 quetzals (about ten bucks) to our name, which made it really hard not to laugh at her claims.

    We did try to give her a few pamphlets, but she seemed pretty disappointed once she realized that we really weren’t going to try to buy her soul with lots and lots of hard cash.

  41. It would be interesting to know what the locals think of it (on the money level rather than the design level, which is a very different topic IMO). I know as the resident American I perceive the American influence of the church differently than the locals, and sometimes I am more sensitive to these things than they are. (And sometimes less sensitive, so who knows?)

    In other places, some effort to fit into the envioronment is required by local building statutes, etc., but Iquitos probably doesn’t have a ‘cinder block only’ building ordinance.

    BTW, it’s greast to have you post from Peru. I’ve been waiting anxiously.

  42. Amri,

    Do you mind me asking what you and your husband are doing in Iquitos?

    I studied tropical medicine there a few years back. It is one of my favorite places: the market, motorcyle-cabs zipping around, Belen, sloths, etc. Fascinating!

  43. “If you’re poor, you’re not going to find yourself on the step of a Mormon Church.”
    After the members in Iquitos cast out the poor, did they also install a Rameumptom? It would be interesting after you’ve become more acquainted with your co-religionists in that town to have a follow-up on how they feel about the building. Maybe there really are inactive members there who would participate with the church if only it met in a shabby concrete block building, the only kind their impoverished minds can feel comfortable in. Or maybe they enjoy nicer buildings, too, given the chance.

    Here’s a wild guess. A visitor to a new land is struck most by the things that are different, such as poverty of an unaccustomed extent. Things that are more normal to the visitor are more transparent and not as well recognized as also being a part of the new land. How do the LDS buildings in Iquitos compare with the schools and the commercial buildings?

  44. chads–my husband studies dengue fever and VEE, he’s a microbiologist and this is his dream job.

    While it’s true that some places have short cement walls around their houses, most houses don’t (it’s too expensive) and churches never ever do. I know all of you think I am wrong, but actually I’m right. Churches here, Mormons excepted, do not have fences. The Church builds the fences to protect their properties, not to keep anyone out necessarily but it does sometimes. I mean, it’s a fence.

    And John, it’s the same way in the US. We take care of the poor in many ways, but our churches are not places where the poor go in acts of desperation, to get a hand out or sleep on a step. You must think I’m criticizing, seriously, you used Rameumptom on me.

    The locals like their buildings, though they know as well as anyone else that they are a part of a wealthy church. I’m glad they have these nice places too, it’s just the buildings look weird. And other non-Mormons I’ve talked to, that know nothing of the Church except to see their buildings, think we’re into money laundering and drugs.

    I don’t really care that we look so wealthy, I’m just pointing out that we do and that in certain contexts, it looks surprising.

  45. Can you tell us anything about the Casa de Hierro in Iquitos that Gustav Eiffel designed and built in Paris that was then shipped to Peru? Does its foreignness scare people away from it?

  46. The Casa de Fierro is largely ignored. Most are disappointed by it. Again, I know you must think I’m wrong but I do live here, which gives me an edge up on all googling powers.

  47. cj douglass says:


    So what supposedly works for a suburban Salt Lake meetinghouse is given a local stylized “facade” to apply in California, Mexico, Germany, Nigeria, etc.

    This is simply not true. Read Mark B.’s comment in #27.

  48. cj douglass says:

    Also Kaimi,

    You bring up an interesting story. While serving in a small Southern Utah town I heard some immigrants talk about getting paid to join the church. But they weren’t necessarily wrong. (ie. you come to church and we’ll help you pay your bills)

  49. The idea of all those buildings being unused makes me sick to my stomach. In my husband’s home town in England there has been a stable branch (now ward) for generations with no building. It’s very difficult for the church to grow with out a home.

  50. One final comment from me on the topic of church meetinghouses- obviously other religions have some beautiful, ornate buildings. While a missionary in Spain I saw many cathedrals that were amazing structures, for example. These buildings are interesting to see, in my opinion, they add little to the ability to worship and may even detract from that. I appreciate the simpleness of our buildings, and even though they may stand out and even seem extravagant in some parts of the world, I believe their simplicity allows the latter-day saint to focus on the real purpose of the building, which is worship and learning.

  51. I’m in Lagos and our local church building (a rented house) is a pretty depressing, crumbling building and too small for our congregation. The Stake President says the church won’t rent our ward a new building until our percentage of tithe payers is higher. We did, however, just get church funds for a new generator, which is nice after weeks of no power to run the ceiling fans and microphone. The Stake Center is a nice building for Lagos (no air conditioning, of course), but in the States people would consider it inadequate. The church is building new housing for the mission offices and residences and they knocked down the old building with workers using sledgehammers and hauling away rubble by hand. The new building is not, by Western standards, first class construction — so Jim (#5) I would voice my dissent there. But the church has to pay so much here compared to what the members are able to contribute, that I think the Nigerians probably think their church buildings are quite adequate. But, as an American living here, I would LOVE to have Amri’s church building.

  52. CAW- good point. I think often those of us in the comforts of the US forget about others such as yourself in distant parts of the world, and we do take much for granted here. Is it safe to say though that church’s buildings are generally at least as good of quality and often of better quality than other buildings in the area?

  53. Jonathan K. says:

    #47 Urban conditions may be an exception, but they are a very small percentage as I stated in #32.

  54. Our ward’s rented building is about the same as other Nigerian built homes in the area — it is definitely not as good quality as residences here built to satisfy expatriates. The bathrooms are to be avoided at all costs, and each week there are high piles of sawdust around the podium where the wood worms have eaten into it. I haven’t seen any other buildings here built by the church besides the Stake Center — but my understanding of the local church built buildings is that they are somewhat above the local quality of construction (which isn’t saying a lot).

  55. My experience in South Africa was as follows.

    Buildings similar to US buildings where they were stakes or long established districts.

    The Church built a fabulous branch building in a township called Kwa Magxaki near Port Elizabeth after the membership hit a certain size. The building was far superior to any church building in the area. The local members were so proud of that building. Many of the inactive ones came back after the building was complete.

    In Queenstown the church had purchased and modified a really large home on a main street into a church building. It had a working kitchen, heating and AC, and even a pool for baptisms. A granny flat had been converted into the local district office.

    Investigators were often shocked by the quality of the buildings considering the poverty that many of them lived in. My understanding is that both of the units mentioned above are now wards about 12 years later

  56. Jonathan K. says:

    #50 Beauty does not equal ornate and ornate does not equal beauty. I wish our buildings were simple, but they are actually far from it. Simplicity is hard to achieve and is beautiful. Cheap accordion room dividers is not simplicity. Painted walls with carpet on them does not equal simplicity. Non-functional buildings where no one knows where to go and endless hallways and a huge roof does not equal simplicity. I believe that our buildings hinder our ability to worship and learn.

  57. JK,

    I love the cookie cutter ward buildings and find them quite functional. I hate my locally designed building and consider it a mess. So there.

  58. #56:
    We’ll have to agree to disagree then. How can someone not know where to go in the building? Sorry, I don’t get that….And exactly how do you have a huge building without a huge roof?

    To me, the buildings are very practical. What changes would you propose that would also maintain cost, quality, construction time, etc.?

  59. i think that local differences need to be thought of. Sometimes i think the motto of the church building is “make the world utah” i have seen chapels build in colder areas then utah and yet the church put in the same type of trees in the landscapes that the would in utah. Needless to say that the tree aren’t looking so great. Also, in another chapel they built it the same way that they wold have in utah with the pipes in the ceiling but the in canada though pipes froze and made a mess. the world is not utah, so while standardized plans can be used there should be more freedom to make local changes.

  60. It’s called standardization. It’s intended to look familiar to members. “Anywhere you go the church is the same.” It’s supposed to look familiar, sound familiar, feel familiar, no matter what country you are in.
    Same reason most the temples built around the same time look similar if not the same.
    Does anyone camplain about the temples not looking latin, or asian enough?
    church buildings are church buildings. It’s intended to be go like this “Oh look, there another Mormon building. I can tell just by looking at it.” That’s the idea.
    And as far as being nice. It’s the house of worship, where we want to invite the spirit. It should be, by far, the nicest looking building in any neighborhood, anywhere in the world.

  61. JK,

    I compare our cookie cutter buildings to the average Christian church being built around here, and even the couple of megachurches mostly look like converted warehouses, often built with metal walls, to accommodate the large open space for the sanctuary. The beautiful buildings here in Western Washington are mostly much older, Methodist or Presbyterian buildings, not to mention the Catholic Cathedrals. But the new stuff going up? Not on a par with our average Ward or Stake building with the correlated plan.

    I really wanted our ward building to have one of the prefab steeples, and actually helped to pick out one of 7 or 8 versions available, but the city wouldn’t approve the new height of the building. We are left with the funky art deco three post metal spire thingy next to the front door. I can’t seem to find any other words to describe it, but I suspect you’ve all seen them.

  62. BTW,

    I got a chance to spend a few days in San Diego a couple of weeks ago, and I have to tell you, the San Diego temple is just AWESOME. I think that David Byrne even mentioned it on his blog as looking vaguely “Flash Gordon”-like, but he thought that was good. that’s a choice piece of architecture in my book.

  63. Also, are we so spoiled now that we feel the right to complain about our places of worship?
    they’re too nice, they’re too wierd, they don’t look like they fit….

    This is pleasing unto the Lord?

    What else can we complain about? Someone brought in Oro Wheat bread the other week for sacarament instead of the usual cheap wonder bread?

    Not enough more important things to worry about?

  64. It must mean I’m spoiled Tom. You’re right. It’s just being spoiled that makes me notice that the churches in Iquitos make us look like we’re money launderers.

    It’s funny that we like that they look the same wherever we go. Not a lot of people in the world get to travel like we do so I’m pretty sure the non travelers couldn’t care less if all the buildings look the same or not.

  65. What do our temples make us look like anywhere? they’re the most extravagant buildings in most the areas they are. Should we dumb them down to so as not to stick out? Look at the Lima temple.
    The idea, is they should stand apart from their suroundings. It should look glorious, heavenly, beautiful.

    Walk down the streets of Harlem, there’s a gorgeous LDS chapel, in a quite gloomy ugly area. It sticks out like a sore thumb.
    Should we build anything less, anywhere?

    Now there are some inner city chapels on the east coast that are just rented out buidings. You’d never know they were churches. I bet those members long to have a real chapel. but the church can’t seem to get the land and permits to build in those old cities (same holds true in europe)

  66. Just so you know … the Jyväskylä ward building was praised as an excellent example of modern architecture which has influenced the urban landscape of the city according to my FiL, the ward’s building manager. I think it’s hideous, but hey, the eye of the thingamajingy.

  67. Amri,
    Tom in #63 is not Tom from Nine Moons and Kulturblog. Just so you know.

    I need a more unique name. I think I’ll go by Tominator from now on (not really).

    I don’t have any complaints about your post. Our churches in Brazil feel foreign as well, in some good ways and potentially bad ways, though the good outweighed the bad in my experience. Several units that I served in met in rented storefront type spaces similar to the spaces used by the small evangelical churches and I hated it—it was echo-ey and uncomfortable. Some of my discomfort was probably due to my Americanness, but a lot of it was due to the fact that these were not spaces designed for group meetings and they were without exception bare-bones as far as decor and hardware goes. They were gray and drab. And bad acoustics are bad no matter where you are.

    Two of the areas I served in opened new chapels when I was there and it was very much cause for celebration and gratitude among the locals. We didn’t have the same kind of perception problems that you describe. And our buildings were usually in decent areas where they didn’t stick out too much. Some of them blended into the surroundings quite well, actually, even if they were unlike any other church meeting houses.

  68. BTW my wife is from Ecuador. I’m quite familiar with the metal shack homes, and the quality of life in those poor towns. I’m not commenting as an ignorant American that’s never left the UT, AZ, CA area of the states. And I served in the ghettos in New Jersey.
    Just FYI

  69. Other Tom, I’ll switch I’m probably newer here. you already had “Tom”
    Sorry for the confusion.

  70. I didn’t think it was you Tom the Tominator.
    Though that is a good name.

  71. TomGuero is automatically the coolest Tom thus far, by virtue of the moniker. Living in a metal shack home in New Jersey doesn’t do much for you though.

  72. And Norbert that is one ugly building. But it is unusual, you have to give it props for that.

  73. Amri, jinx.

  74. LOL. I actually have an apartment in Phoenix, but metal shack in NJ does sound tempting.

  75. Guero = cooler word for “white guy” plus an homage to to a great Beck album, so a little double duty there.

  76. TomGringo is not cooler than me! And to prove it I’m going to go by TomInRainbows from now on.

  77. Hey, Geiro is cool, gringo? that’s just mean. lol jk. TomInRainbow? hahaha ok he wins, that’s funny.

    And on a side note back on topic:
    Instead of our money looking funny, shouldn’t their lack of money look funny? As bad as that might initially sound, lets go slightly deeper:

    One mission of the church is perfecting the saints. We are to be of one heart, and one mind, with no poor among us. rich give to poor to make the rich humble, and the poor must be humble enough to recieve….until everyone is on equal ground. (United Order)
    money needs to be brought into these areas all over the world. The disparity of wealth on this planet is so disgustingly uneven.
    If one step to becoming of one heart, one mind, with no poor among us to building beautiful churches in impoverished areas, then I say let the construction begin.
    “done ranting now”

  78. Jonathan K. says:

    #58 People are satisfied with mediocrity because they don’t like change, are used to the status quo, and don’t know any better.

    Myyrmaki Church in Vantaa, Finland. To me this is worship and reaching to the ideals and perfection that God asks us to reach for. I have been to this church and the space is breathtaking without being overbearing or ridiculously expensive. (At the very least, I would love for such a space in a Celestial room). And if we’re going to standardize something, why not standardize something beautiful?!?

  79. #78 – Cost compared to the current model? Functionality of the rest of the building for an LDS ward? Is this a typical church in the area? Without this type of info, we easily could be talking apples and oranges.

    BTW, since you mentioned temples, the San Diego temple celestial room beats this hands down.

  80. BTW, all who complain about having a basketball court and no place to gather – Our churches don’t have gyms and basketball courts; they have “cultural halls”. I know that might not satisfy some people, but a cultural hall gives us a place to gather in every building – even if the hoops are not lowered and no sport is played there. It’s another way to save cost and space by combining an area for sports, physical activities, group meetings (including dinners and other meals), etc. while also allowing for additional space beyond the normal chapel area for special events. I have been in literally hundreds of churches in multiple countries, and I have yet to see a more practical application of consolidated space.

  81. Ray,

    But I love basketball. I don’t complain about the presence of the hoops in the cultural hall, I think it’s wonderful. Over the course of a year, more baskets are made than meals consumed in there. It is good to know that it can be used for actual cultural events, though. Some of our ward YM/YW uses include dodgeball, human foosball (think lengths of pvc pipe and handgrips), broom hockey, and extreme ironing. Just a few from my personal experience.

  82. Jonathan K. says:

    #62 & #79 – I agree that the SD Temple is beautiful. The reason is because it was designed by a local architect, not SLC. He is non-LDS and took the ugly standard (i.e. Boise, Chicago, etc.) and turned it into a work of art.

  83. Jonathan K. says:

    #60 – I am familiar with standardization and what it’s purpose is. I just disagree with it.

    “Does anyone complain about the temples not looking latin, or asian enough?”

    Yes – I do. The church used to design both their meetinghouses and their temples based on the culture and location.

    “And as far as being nice. It’s the house of worship, where we want to invite the spirit. It should be, by far, the nicest looking building in any neighborhood, anywhere in the world.”

    I agree, unfortunately LDS meetinghouses are among the ugliest churches in the USA – on par with Costco, strip malls, and Walgreens. If you look at the portfolios of the local architects and builders working on our churches, you’ll find that those are the types of buildings they specialize in. I challenge you to ask any design professional in the world what they think of our meetinghouses. And there is a reason no one in the community uses our buildings for music and concert events like all other churches do – it’s because the acoustics are terrible. (It’s hard to feel and invite the spirit when you can’t hear the choir.)

  84. Jonathan K. says:

    #63 “Also, are we so spoiled now that we feel the right to complain about our places of worship?
    This is pleasing unto the Lord?”

    You’re right – the Lord would much rather have us do nothing, hang our heads down and continue to accept mediocrity in the church.

  85. Amri,

    A few thoughts:

    We know how you feel about the church buildings in Iquitos. How do the local members feel about them?
    If there has been a decrease in activity or members in Iquitos, to what do you attribute this to? The buildings? Leadership? Shaky testimonies? The CIA? I served in Peru in the early 70s and Iquitos was the not only the most coveted area (probably due to distance from Lima and the exotic location) but it was also the source of most of the mission legends.

    In my own experience, the first year and a half I was in areas where we met where we could. It wasn’t until I was sent to Tacna that I went to a regular church-built chapel. It was great. The local leadership was complete, without missionaries serving as counselors, secretaries, EQ presidents, etc. I thought the building as a logical extension of the growth of the church and the members seemed to feel the same. It was a point of pride (good pride, I think) among the members.

    So my impression is different than yours, but then again, I was there as a missionary.

    Oh, and the deal with bars and fences. They are all over down there. I guess you know that. But then again, I’ve been in parts of Vegas that I see the same thing!

    The last point has to do with the “sameness” of LDS buildings. I guess the church has a job to do and when building bunches of churches all over the world and trying to be responsible in spending the tithing funds, certain procedures are followed that seem to provide the desired results. But I have heard it said that when dealing with the church building department you better have a giant-sized testimony because it will surely be tested!

    Well, anyway, I hope you enjoy you time in Iquitos. I’m jealous!


  86. #83 You complain about the looks of our temples? Wow, that’s awesome.
    Take it up with the Lord; let Him know how unpleasing this all is to you. Maybe if He realized that this just wan’t meeting your standards He’d tell the leaders to stop.

  87. A building department responsible for building….i dunno thousands of buildings and accomodating new members and building requests worldwide. Doing so with probably their very best intentions to meet the needs, and have them built in timely fashions and be responsible with tithing funds…sounds tough to me.
    But I guess their efforts just aren’t good enough for some people.
    We should all picket outside their main office, and get some new people in there. These people obviously need to be replaced..I mean what are they thinking anyways! Do they know how unhappy we are with their efforts?
    Such an easy task you’d think they could get it right.
    Also known as “I’d like to see you take their jobs and do better”

  88. Also remember, back in the day, the rate at which buildings were built was MUCH slower, they had more time, as the demand was not as great.
    We’ve needed to switch from making hand made ferrari’s to making production line Ford Tauruses. There’s needs world wide and those needs are trying to be met ASAP. Members want buildings, they want temples…no, they need buildings and temples, and they need them now. Ask someone who is without either if they want it now, or should we just take the time to design a brand new builing so they will need to wait even longer….what you think these members will pick?

    Do you really feel the tithing funds are being used foolishly, and that the department is not trying to get buildings made for members as fast as they can while meeting standards? *shakes his head*

  89. And there is a reason no one in the community uses our buildings for music and concert events like all other churches do – it’s because the acoustics are terrible. (It’s hard to feel and invite the spirit when you can’t hear the choir.)

    Ummmm … no.

    It’s because when you have three wards using the same building, there aren’t any *openings* in the time slots for anyone to have a concert or music event.

    And acoustics? Please. Here in Texas, the megachurches have terrible acoustics. Most of their members like our Church design.

  90. Jonathan K. says:

    #86 – What does an ugly temple or church have to do with the Lord? Do you think that my opinion of our buildings has affected my relationship with God?

    #87 – I never questioned anyones intentions. My only thought is that everything would be easier WITHOUT a centralized building department – especially since the church is so large now. Why not let the local architects do their job? By spreading it to the professionals all over the world, we can build as much or little as we like.

    #88 – I never said anything about tithing funds being used foolishly. And I’m sure they are working as fast as they can at church headquarters. However, a local architect could do it faster because it would be their only commission with the church.

    #89 – The megachurches are now a standard for the church to aspire to? (i.e. because they are terrible, it’s ok that we’re terrible?)

  91. If a local architect could do it faster, do yu not think that church headquarters would have thought of that by now? Wouldn’t HF have said by now “Look, you could get my children to church much faster if you only did this…”
    It like me having no banking experience thinking that i know how a bank should handle their business better.
    I’m sure they know what they are doing up there.
    I’d bet the idea of decentralizing the construction of buildings has been thought of, and it did not happen because it’s less effective, and much harder to verify the spending of tithing money properly.
    Take comfort in the fact that those guys are smart, and have probably thought of nearly all alternatives…and the way it is is the best way.
    If there was a faster, more efficient way…I’m thinking HF would have stepped in by now because that is affecting His children directly.

  92. I’m out of this, guys. It’s going nowhere, and the same old same old is being recycled ad nauseum.

  93. Jonathan K. says:

    #91 You are assuming that I have no experience with architecture and construction. And just because the church is true, I would never assume that it is doing everything the best way it could be done…the church is historically slow to change, and it can always improve in my opinion.

  94. Good call Ray, it’s not.
    The “armchair quarterbacks” of the world just tend to bug me. Those people who assume and believe they’ve got the best way when they have no experience in the matter. I guess we’re now armchair quarterbacking the church offices too.
    That’s my final rant on this topic.

  95. sorry, no Johnathan I’m not assuming you have no architecure experience. I’m assuming you have no experience working in the churche’s building department.
    Architeculal experience does not translate to knowing how to manage how that department functions.
    That’s all.

  96. Steve Evans says:

    TomGuero, for the love of Pete start spellchecking.

  97. OK this is a site policed by the grammar police. I will pay more attention from now on. My apologies.

  98. #83 — in response to church acoustics: in Houston our stake has a long-time tradition of a joint Christmas concert with the large neighboring Catholic church. We alternate hosting the concert. Though they have a lovely large roundish sanctuary with more space to fit the different perfoming groups, and their space is lovely with a nice stained glass rose window, our building has the better acoustics, hands down.

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