My stake recently opened a new building in which my ward happens to meet. It is an undeniably beautiful, modern building. It is also located thirty-minutes outside of the city where many of the ward members actually live and is accessible only by car.
While I don’t know the political context which led to the decision to build in such a distant spot, and I suspect that in this case there were good reasons for the decision, the noticeable drawbacks of having the chapel so remotely located makes me think it is worth discussing why we should strive when possible to plan chapels that are more accessible via public transit.
It is not uncommon to hear stories in Mormon culture of the sacrifices members make by walking to church. However, such stories are typically told within the context of the mission field or the 1800’s, obscuring the fact that even within well-off areas of America, there are still many members who cannot drive to church because they either lack a car or are physically unable to drive. To these members, locating chapels away from public transit lines means limiting their access to church events, since it is not always possible for them to get rides from others. Remote locations unintentionally limit LDS worship to those wealthy enough to make the trip, and the location of the chapel means that we lose visibility amongst (often less wealthy) city dwellers.
But even for those who can afford the trip, these locations prevent the building from being used to its full potential. Rather than being a community hub where people want to host gatherings for both members and non-members, the length of the trek discourages people from attending activities and encourages people to host activities in their homes instead. While there are many positive aspects to in-home gatherings, it is a shame for them to come at the expense of larger activities and for the church to be a place where many go on Sunday’s only. Compare this situation to that found in, for example, Manhattan. There, YM and YW are able to take public transit to youth activities, greatly relieving parents of the burdens of escorting them and allowing them to feel that the building belongs to them.
Housing data in my state largely indicates that we are moving towards a more urban society–one in which young people dream of more efficient, affordable houses in cities with public transportation rather than suburban McMansions. If twenty-years from now the LDS population follows that trend, it would make sense for chapel building to follow it, too, when doing so is a possibility.