Relocating: Why we should build chapels with access to public transit

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.


  1. My ward includes a large section of the poorest part of a large city. Public transportation options, especially on Sunday, are lousy (although a main bus line does go by the church–just not very often on Sunday, and most riders have to take at least two buses to get there). Two years ago, a downtown branch location got shut down, and those who had attended that conveniently-located branch got sent to the suburban wards, which are much more difficult to get to. Some of our members spend more than three hours traveling to and from church.
    Many of the members drive a good distance out of their way to give rides to other members, although we’re told that members need to find their own way to church if they can. Requests from the ward leadership (who, in our small ward, are often the ones providing rides to others) for a church bus have been denied.
    It’s a tough situation. A church building in the downtown area or one easily accessible by public transportation even on a Sunday would do wonders. Unfortunately, many US cities lack decent weekend public transportation, and downtown is an expensive place to build.
    It’s a tough situation to be in.

  2. Bro. Jones says:

    I’ve ranted about this very issue in many a thread, so I won’t retread it. All I can say is thanks for raising the issue, Natalie. It’s one thing if it turns out that in a given ward, most of the members are located outside the city and putting the building within their reach is the most efficient overall. It’s another when seemingly nobody lives next to the chapel, and even people with a car are spending 20-60 minutes traveling to church.

    I used to accept the argument that temples had to be located in quiet, peaceful areas that might not be on a major thoroughfare or transit line. But the Hong Kong, NYC and future Philadelphia temples seem to imply that an urban location can still provide a space that is sacred. So I really don’t get it.

  3. The building of new meetinghouses is controlled almost entirely by the stake president. This includes location, building style, and interior design. Church headquarters only dictates the budget and allocates the funds on an annual budgeting cycle.

    My assumption from past experience is that the building you mention was built where the stake president thought it would best serve the needs of the members of the wards and branches that meet in it. If you feel that a future building should be built in a different location, the best course of action is to make your thoughts and opinions known to your stake president.

  4. Well said.

  5. Natalie,
    Amen. Especially contrasting my time in Virginia with my time in NY, I also feel strongly that temples should be accessible by public transportation to the greatest extent possible.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    Areas with easy access to public transportation tend to be already developed and populated and as such, land prices and zoning regulations tend to be more prohibitive towards activities such as building large chapels and temples. This is probably an obvious point, but the Church isn’t putting its buildings out in the boondocks because it likes the privacy.

  7. Feeding off Steve’s comment

    LDS demographic trends tend to drive the placement of new chapels. Chapels are built where the members are now and will be in a generation or 2. This tends to be in suburbia based on LDS demographics.

    The church tends to SELL buildings in urban areas as the members flee for the burbs

  8. In my town, it wouldn’t much matter. No public transit (except from our town to the bigger city 30 miles south) on Sundays anyway.

  9. Oh come now, Steve. What would be wrong with knocking down some of the “more efficient, affordable houses in cities with public transportation” owned by older folks in developed areas to make room for a chapel?

  10. Building an urban chapel backfired on us a little bit here in Minneapolis. We’ve got a chapel located in relatively urban south Minneapolis on a major street with decent transit options. While we enjoy a wonderfully diverse ward, our YM/YW demographic is extraordinarily small. As a result, our stake and ward leadership has determined that our youth activities should be combined with the youth activities of a suburban ward that has more teenagers. So every Wednesday evening, the youth, parents, and leaders of the YM/YW all travel 30+ minutes to a suburban chapel while our very close and conveniently located chapel sits empty.

    It’s particularly frustrating for those of us who chose to live in the more urban part of the city specifically because we like having things conveniently located.

    Of course, this could just be a ward boundary problem… but that’s a different topic, I guess.

  11. Scott, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against bulldozing the homes of the urban elderly. Basically I am like Mr. Lacey in that epic film, Batteries Not Included. The problem is that due to hipsterism and artistic migration, there are probably some young rich white people interspersed amongst those feeble evictees, so simply taking the wrecking ball to their tenement slum is inevitably more complicated.

  12. John Mansfield says:

    Sam B., when you were in Virginia, what did you find lacking in the Ride-On #5 connecting to the Red Line? It runs near the temple several times an hour, under a quarter hour from the Silver Spring Station.

  13. It’s interesting to see new chapels going up in Manhattan.

    Someone at one point mentioned that the property and the buildings cost many millions of dollars and that building them is not a financial gain for the church. They were pushing the importance of respecting and maintaining the buildings – which I understand completely.

    I suspect over time the Church is becoming more and more capable and willing of building in urban areas – even though it is expensive.

  14. bbell: do you have any evidence of recent sales of church buildings in cities, or of member flight to the suburbs? Your comment seems to fit the 1960s better than the current decade.

    For example, the church sold the Brooklyn Ward Building in 1962–a terrible tragedy. But, at the same time, it purchased another building in Brooklyn to meet the needs of the members here. And, in the past 15 years, five new buildings have been built or purchased in Brooklyn, three in Queens, four in Manhattan (plus the temple). Sure, some people leave. but the membership numbers keep going up.

  15. John Mansfield says:

    By the way, this is an old issue, almost as old as Christianity.

    Urban religious activity became much more decentralized as a result, and cities even became spatially fragmented in some parts of the empire (in Gaul in particular), with little settlement nuclei around scattered churches, and in some cases a traditional city centre left in ruins.

  16. Truly, we push the poor and indigent out of our chapels by not situating them near outlets for public transportation. Some people simply cannot afford cars. Now, what would Jesus say to that? I think he would be quite disappointed. BTW, nice anecdote on the stories of hardships endured while transporting to church. LOL.

  17. For frak’s sake, Steve. An inner-city chapel wouldn’t necessarily dislocate elderly people. The church could buy an old warehouse, or whatever.

  18. A huge part of the problem, of course, is the idiotic automobile-based planning model that has driven development in the U.S. for nearly the past 100 years. Until we free ourselves from that model (and bulldoze thousands of acres of tacky suburban housing–where can I sign up??), the problems Natalie B. mentions will persist.

  19. But Kathy, you are very insensitive to the plight of urban Virginia squatters. These individuals represent a great bounty for missionaries tracting through the slums, and you would displace them?

  20. Just bringing the mountain to Mohammed. Consider the possibilities: instead of only being used on Sundays and weekday nights, the chapel could be put to good use as a homeless shelter.

  21. Mark B,

    I know the church is growing in NY City. I think this is an outlier.

    Check out SLC proper for example. Westside etc.

  22. With the resources at our disposal, the Church could simply buy jewels for the local residents, which would turn red when the person reaches a certain age. Then Church-hired “Sandmen” could take those people to the Carrousel.

  23. Bro. Jones says:

    #22 Clap clap clap clap. :)

    (Actually the red jewel is a blue and white jewel, and it only lights up for 19-year-old male students at BYU who don’t serve missions.)

  24. Renewal–isn’t that like re-baptism?

  25. Alternatively, Steve, small traces of melange could be introduced to the water supplies in Virginia, thus lengthening the lives of urban residents, who would consequently not be bothered as much by the great distances, and also give them heightened awareness, so that such journeys would be safe.

  26. As well as providing everyone with blue eyes, so they can be more like Jesus.

  27. Dunno. I’m a proud, proud suburbanite and will stand in the way of any attempt to move me into an urban area.

    Consider the possibilities: instead of only being used on Sundays and weekday nights, the chapel could be put to good use as a homeless shelter.

    What magical kingdom do you live in where your building is only used Sundays and weekday nights? :)

    (Our building is used Sundays, every weekday morning for 2+ hours, Tuesday afternoons and nights, Wednesday afternoons and nights, Thursday nights, and almost every Saturday. Fridays and Mondays are the days where it’s seldom used.)

  28. I live in the magical kingdom of South Jordan, Utah, where we trudge 9/10 of a mile to church every week, uphill both ways. And the blinding light connecting the two temple spires interrupts my sleep.

  29. I suppose if we give spice-gas to the heads of every home, they will eventually achieve the power to fold space around them and teleport themselves to Church, thus obviating the need for public transport.

    I hear that the Arrakeen, Arrakis stake is behind in fast offerings.

  30. I suppose if we give spice-gas to the heads of every home, they will eventually achieve the power to fold space around them and teleport themselves to Church, thus obviating the need for public transport.

    You’re forgetting their soft, pink helpmeets.

  31. I hear that the Arrakeen, Arrakis stake is behind in fast offerings.

    It is true–there have been all kinds of problems with the missionary work as well, since that one stupid quote from J. Reuben Clark about the melange being against the WoW keeps popping up.

  32. NYC isn’t an outlier–it’s just ahead of the rest of youse.

    The whole of the Wasatch Front is in the grip of the “let’s try to replicate Los Angeles” disease. It’s little wonder that in an area with woefullly bad public transportation, with homes and businesses so spread out that nobody can get any place without a car, people choose to live in South Jordan or at the foot of the Widowmaker rather than at 19th South and Main.

  33. Since this is one of my favorite rants, can’t let this one go without commenting. I don’t know which of my recent situations was worse. Even though it completely identifies me, I’ll name cities and let you be the judge.

    (1) Living in central Columbus OH and driving past not one, but TWO buildings built as LDS chapels (one is for the young adult ward, the other sold off long ago) within the ward boundaries and less than 10 blocks from my house to drive 20+ minutes to the chapel (and temple) that was inaccessible via public transit and out of the ward boundaries. Oh, and then being prodded to help with rides for Tom, Dick, and Harry who lived in the remnant “projects” on my side of the ward because nobody who I passed along the way would want to backtrack. Never mind they had vans for their established families and we were in a small, just out of school car.

    (2) Living car free in Portland (totally doable) including riding my bike or a bus to the nicely located chapel. But the temple apparently was more appropriate in a suburb easily accessible to cars on the freeway but a difficult transit route (this might, however, change in time as Portland increases their rail lines). Taking the youth of this inner city Portland ward (and firmly middle class mind you) was minimum a 25 minute drive. Never mind we were always assigned the 6pm time slot to add an additional 40 minutes onto the drive. Nothing like taking 10-15 miles of stop and go freeway traffic to put you in the mood for the temple.

  34. I can relate. Boy, can I relate. As the RS president in an urban ward of a large southern California city, our chapel is located 15 miles from the city center. Since the city stopped weekend bus service on the line that was near our chapel, our attendance has dropped precipitously since most of our members are in the lower-income bracket and don’t have cars. The trolley does stop relatively close by, but unfortunately the chapel is on the opposite side of a major freeway.

    Our ward council meeting ends 45 minutes before our meeting block begins since every one of us on the ward council has to return to the city and provide rides for other members to be able to attend. I really wish there was a better solution.

  35. re: 22
    Oh wow, a Logan’s Run reference. Awesome. Steve ftw!

  36. One of my favorite rants, too! I was ecstatic to learn of the Philadelphia location — perhaps because I, too, had my frustrating years of DC temple travel. (For John Mansfield, I took the Ride-On many times in those years, but had to find another way home because then, at least, it only ran to and not from the temple in the evenings.)

    Tim (#1) at least there is a public transportation option. Does your ward set the meeting schedule to make it most feasible? Or simply ignore it? Scheduling was a problem for my son when he spent the summer of 2007 in Wells, England: He could get to church on the bus on time — but in Bristol, not in the opposite direction to the meetinghouse for the ward that includes Wells. There was a bus on Sunday, but not early enough to make the meeting schedule. Fortunately he had a great experience with the very welcoming folks in Bristol.

  37. John Mansfield,
    Mostly that I have never heard of the Ride-On number 5. I couldn’t find a way to get to the temple using public transportation, and no one in our ward knew of a way. (This was before Google Maps had a public transportation option.)

  38. Off transit lines = non-attendance for me. As it stands, I have a 20 minute walk from the nearest bus stop to get to my chapel, and if I miss the return bus, I get to wait for an hour for the next one.

    Rides are nice, but I will likely never be able to drive a car. That is my reality, and so I often feel like I am always asking and never giving. It grows old after a while.

  39. I have to say that in my experience the problem has much more to do with general building and public transport philosophies in the US than anything specific to the church. For instance, my current ward covers over 200 square miles without a single type of public transport within it’s boundaries (and no, I don’t actually live in a rural area), so people without cars getting to church is going to be a problem no matter where the chapel is located.

  40. Vada,
    Although that sounds horrible, if there is no public transportation, it makes sense that church would be inaccessible by public transit. But at the very least, in cities where public transit is an option, it seems that churches ought to be near stops

  41. I think the problem is uniquely American, for the most part. A couple of my chapels I attended in Germany were in the suburbs, but all of them were easy to access for anyone living in the same city. (The problem there is many cities of 100,000 or more don’t have branches or wards–the chapels that existed were easy to get to with the superb public transportation there as long as it was in the same city, but there just aren’t enough active members to have a meeting place in every city).

  42. StillConfused says:

    I would assume that the factors involved in the Church’s decision were financial (cheaper real estate) and insurance (more insurance claims on buildings in the city). In Utah, we have a drive mindset. I can recall people driving to Church who lived 2 doors down (seriously). That mindset can also have something to do with it.

  43. John Mansfield says:

    I suspect that a lot of people don’t know much about the public transport options that do exist. For example, Los Angeles is reputed to be a city that requires a car to get around, yet in my years there I often went days or weeks at a time without using mine while travelling between Santa Monica, Inglewood, Venice Beach, Westwood Village, and the Greyhound terminal east of downtown. Faulting that buses don’t run all night or that they require connections or a half mile walk or take quite a bit longer than cars seems like a lack of connection with what public transportation is. I say this as someone who for over a decade up till ’04 rarely drove to work and often used other means of travel to church as well. I do agree that suburban building locations can make getting there harder, and a bit of civic presence is a nice thing.

  44. Jim Donaldson says:

    I have lived in the ‘downtown’ ward in Denver for 30 years. Five years ago, the church purchased a rundown used Art School building, gutted it, and tried fairly successfully to stick a full suburban building on four floors, with parking on the first. It is a very cool, practical building, 6 blocks from the state capitol. It was built to be easily accessible to public transportation, but the infrequent Sunday transportation schedule turns out pretty much to defeat that. The building is in a high density population area and we have many ward members who can simply walk to church, but many of us drive off in the opposite direction from the church to pick up ward members on the outskirts of the ward. It’s okay. It’s the Christian thing to do. The church was obviously sensitive to the issue and invested a lot of money on the strength of that sensitivity.

    There is a little irony in that the building is about 4 blocks from the site of a beautiful 1919 building (that got its style from the Cardston Temple) that was sold 20 years ago, knocked down, and replaced with condos. The developer was another local bishop. I think, as much as I loved that old building, the cost of modernizing it, adding classrooms, removing asbestos, etc., made continuing its use not cost effective. But the location was terrific and the church ended up by solving the problem twenty years later by building the new one 4 blocks away.

    Some of the other buildings in the stake are near the end of the world, attracted by inexpensive lots and growth patterns. The church usually guesses right about those growth patterns and soon they will be in the middle of their developments, if they aren’t already, albeit drowning in urban sprawl.

    Lately nearly all the new church buildings in greater Denver are built adjacent to new suburban high schools, also near the end of the world–that way the kids can go to early morning seminary and walk across the parking lot to school. It also provides needed (and inexpensive) parking for church, especially for things like stake conferences. So, at this point, the location of new high schools seems to dictate the location of church buildings, at least here.

    By the way, the church, I believe, is a self-insurer. They don’t insure any of the buildings. The thinking (correct I’m sure) is that it is cheaper to have to replace one occasionally than pay premiums on all of them all the time.

  45. In Canada, two very different experiences.

    Lethbridge, Alberta is heavily Mormon but the married student ward was on the far side of the West Lethbridge suburb in the middle of a field. There were condos about 10 blocks away, and those were the closest dwelling to that chapel. Most of the ward were, of course, professionals, so the married students on the West side without cars were almost totally out of luck. I had to set aside 5 hours on Sundays to accommodate the meandering bus schedules

    In Montreal, the Montreal ward moved from an old firehouse, which became the Spanish and Chinese ward building to a new, small format, 2 floor building built on a weirdly shaped peice of land in a more upscale area of town. Both locations were directly across from metro stops. The stake center was as close as it could be to the Angrignon metro stop, which comes out essentially in the middle of a park.

    It is disingenuous to state that this is a church problem. It’s a public policy problem. Outside of a very few urban locations, public transit in North America is uniformly awful.

  46. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    bbell is correct regarding Salt Lake City. Where I live which is an historic district an older ward and stake center were torn down and the property sold. I worship in a beautiful old chapel built in 1927, and according to the ward records, over 90% of our membership turns over every year. Only the older members such as myself stay because we own our homes here. This is the case throughout the old city, the Saints move out and others move in, usually because only they want the older smaller homes there. Latter-day Saints are now a minority in the Salt Lake Valley but are a significant majority in the counties to the north and south of us (Davis & Utah) where the newer larger homes are to be found. There are several former LDS churches that are now
    the Guadalupe Center, the Salvation Army Church and a Tibetan Buddhist Temple. Location is a game based on guessing the changing demographics of the city or area.

  47. Natalie – I couldn’t agree with you more. Even with less-than-ideal public transit in the US, there could be more forethought into the purchase of sites adjacent to bus lines or other transit. One positive is the Calgary temple which is way out at the edge of development of the metro area, but is very close to a new light rail station. I actually did a post bemoaning the fact that almost all of our temples are built on the bleeding edge of cities where there is no infrastructure.

    The real problem is all of our standard chapel plans are suburban models – they cannot be built in urban centers – custom projects must be done for those. And after seeing the custom chapels done in NYC, maybe it is best that they stick to building in the suburbs? Interestingly, even some suburban jurisdictions are refusing to allow the church to build our standard plans there – example South Jordan – Daybreak community.

    Oh, and I would love to know the location of your new modern chapel that you mentioned.

  48. Tim, my best friend and classmate from my college days was until the first of the year in a supervisory capacity over the Church’s Chicago / Mid-west area. He was here this past September checking possible urban sites in downtown Milwaukee. I know the church is very aware of the urban site issues you raise. At least for Milwaukee, ‘someone’ is seeing an urban trend in membership, though I don’t know if it’s convert or member moving driven. (After spending the day looking at a number of sites, I took him to a Cubs game at take Wrigley. Guy works hard.) My old ‘home’ ward, Logan Square in Chicago, is still there on the same site it’s been on for at least 80 years. Near the bus, subway came about 40 years ago.

    As an architect I’ve have had some, though not recent, dealings with our church and other denominations. There is a lot that goes into the selection of a site, for both meetinghouse and temple. Zoning, (in particular required parking,) setbacks, landscaping ordinances, building codes, stormwater retention, public transportation, and highway location are just a few of the issues that might have to be addressed before a site is finalized. Some communities resist turning previously tax-generating property into non-tax generating property. Some require special use hearings and permits. It’s a wonder anything get built.

    #44 Jim, some of mission was spent in Denver and surrounds (in a previous life). I’m sure I attended some services in that building. I especially liked the lowered ceilings on the side aisles. BTW take a look at Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park, Il and see of you don’t find some resemblance in the Cardston Temple.

  49. Terrakota says:

    “But at the very least, in cities where public transit is an option, it seems that churches ought to be near stops”. My husband works in Real Estate in the Church, and this is one of the things they always consider. But there are so many other things that need to be right with the building, that finding a perfect building right next to the subway exit is almost never a reality. But in our area it’s no more than 10-13 minutes of walking distance. It’s not much.

  50. I don’t know what the process is in other areas, but when I was a bishop a few years back on the East Coast we acquired land for a new chapel. It was the ward’s responsibility to scout for potential sites and, subject to what was on the market and could be host one of the church’s building plans (with some modifications), we basically had final say about what parcel would be purchased. We were not given a firm budget; the site’s utility seemed to be the church’s regional real estate team’s primary concern.

    Given that we knew that a large number of members took public transportation to get to church, access to public transport was among the top three criteria for the site and we rejected two otherwise exceptional sites due to a lack of bus service. Transport was clearly going to be important to our ward but I can imagine situations where other concerns are more important (I was surprised that the real estate team had no objections to siting a building outside the ward boundaries, although we as a ward felt strongly that it should be inside the boundaries.) Ultimately, with the help of a real-estate savvy member who never attended but had a lot of affection for the church, we found what we felt was a great site that met all of our most important criteria. On the local leadership’s recommendation, the church moved immediately to acquire it. There were other bidders, but the church’s ability to make it an all-cash transaction meant we had the inside track.

    The area where I felt we compromised most was that the plot allowed for about 20 fewer parking spaces than we thought would be ideal and given the cost of the land we couldn’t justify an underground parking garage to rectify the problem. We didn’t anticipate that this would be a problem in the near term but dreamed of the day when we would have the happy problem of vexing neighbors with people parking on the street. As it turned out a house on an adjacent lot was gutted by a fire a few days before we submitted our bid. Some months after we closed on the property the church was able to acquire that piece of land as well which solved any future parking problem.

    In summary, my experience is that at least some of the church’s siting decisions are decentralized and highly dependent on what the local membership perceives its needs to be. Hopefully posts like this will raise awareness about the need to consider public transport as part of the process.

  51. anon for this. says:

    I wasn’t going to post, but can’t bite my tongue any longer.

    I don’t drive. I bought a flat 5 mins walk away from our ward building, which had been there for 40 years and is within a 5 minutes walk of major train and bus routes, and a minute from the motorway.

    18 months ago we were closed and the congregation moved to bulk up attendance at an adjacent ward, which is housed in the stake centre.Said stake centre is at back of beyond, over an hour’s journey by public transport including two buses and a 30 min wait in between. Both buses only run once an hour; no bus service on weekdays after 6pm.One of the buses fails to arrive and, hey presto. Due to the timing, a 3 hour block becomes almost 6 hours.

    I needed transport for me,and my grandchild (for whom I care most weekend overnighters) baby buggy, car seat. It became such a hassle trying to organise this, I gave up, and haven’t been able to get out for a year.

    Other families lived near me and were in the same position- none now attends.

    I read and study best I can, but the knockon effects are horrendous. No partaking of Sacrament for a year. My recommend has expired, no chance of a new one. Can’t afford to move again just yet and couldn’t leave my daughter with the baby anyway. So I just plod on, although appear to have fallen off the radar as far as the ward is concerned. I live the commandments, study, do what I can, and am confident Heavenly Father is understanding of the position.

    Before the ward closed, my stake president met with me and said they would organise a minibus for the carless members. That never happened. I can’t help but think if stake leaders throughout the world had to travel everywhere by public transport all the time, they might be somewhat more enlightened. As things stand, I’d suspect the ward is relieved I have stopped asking for transport as it resolves a problem (although my complete loss if independence and having to hang around for whoever was bringing me home to finish all their church business was something no-one could solve). After 30 years activity though, it is disheartening.

    Eventually I will be able to move, and pick up again.Until then I just spend 3 hours during the week making sure I study, read, undertake family history research, and hope it all passes.

  52. We don’t need no public transportation. We’re Americans. We live in the suburbs. We drive everywhere. Gas is only $3 a gallon. You should be grateful you don’t live in some socialist country.

  53. Researcher says:

    So sorry about that, anon. It sounds like you have joined the ranks of those who live in the far reaches of Zion who are not able to move when the church moves, like the people whose stories Ardis sometimes tells over on Keepapitchinin, or whose stories are told in the history of the Southern States Mission. Back during the gathering-to-Zion period of the church, members sometimes could not move to Utah due to family or economic circumstances, and sometimes it would be years before they had contact with the church again. I hope that does not happen with you!

    I know from my family’s experience in our current ward that it takes an awful lot of persistence and a very thick shell to keep asking people for rides, but I also know that we rarely mind providing the rides. I sure hope that the members there can be understanding and helpful. (Or that they can repent and start being understanding and helpful!) Do you have visiting and home teachers? You might want to keep letting the ward know that you want to come to church. After all, the church has a scriptural mandate associated with your circumstances; see Doc. & Cov. 136:8.

    And, I also know what you mean by the “knockon effects”; I couldn’t attend church for the better part of a year due to my son’s health, and it got old very fast. The worst part was missing the sacrament. When you’re used to the spiritual sustenance of the sacrament, it’s a real shock to suddenly have that unavailable.

  54. Anon, maybe it’s time to call the Stake President every Saturday night until he fulfills his promise to you!

  55. Natalie B. says:

    Thanks for all of these comments. It seems that although more convenient locations might not be possible all the time, right now we could a) provide buses/organize carpooling and b) plan meeting times around the public transit schedule at those churches that are accessible by public transit.

    I’d love to hear more of your experiences with this issue: What challenges have you had and what solutions have you found?

  56. John Mansfield says:

    JrL (#36), it looks like service has improved with runs continuing until 12:30 AM, including on Saturdays. I’ve actually never used the #5, but preferred walking the mile to the Forest Glen Station. (I have used several other Mo. County and Metro bus routes.) I doubt the Manhattan Temple is any more accessible than the D.C. Temple.

  57. Natalie B. says:

    #56: The Manhattan Temple is extremely accessible. It’s located near Lincoln Center. The only real issues are that on weekends various subway lines get closed.

  58. John Mansfield says:

    Information is important. Sometimes people don’t know what is available. I remember about 14 years back (pre-Google Maps, as Sam B. mentioned) being at a community fair where large maps of the complete Baltimore bus system where being given out. I picked up two, and when I gave one to my branch president, his face brightened with the relief that comes from puzzlement being replaced with knowledge. Along those lines, giving rides may not be the best thing for helping others get to church; it may be better to take the extra time to ride a bus to get to them and then ride another to church with them. I had a call one night from the bishop asking me to help two young men who had moved into the ward get to church the next morning. I walked the mile to their place, then walked with them the mile and a quarter to the church. The bishop was happy with this; they now knew how to get themselves to church and continued to do so during their months with us.

    I was curious to see if the Church’s website gives transit directions for getting to my area’s temple. It doesn’t do so directly, but does have a link there to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s home page. Putting in the temple’s address in the trip planner there gave correct directions. Maybe something like this on our ward web pages would be a good thing.

    Realistic expectations may also help. Buses aren’t as quick as private cars and never will be. Using transit to get to church is going to take extra effort and time just as it does for getting anywhere.

  59. John Mansfield says:

    Yes, Natalie B., the Manhattan Temple is extremely accessible, and the D.C. Temple, on its leafy, suburban, 52-acre site, is just as accessible, unless requiring a short bus connection is disqualifying, in which case we’ll just have to forget about public transit and stick to cars.

  60. Every church should be built right next to where you live. The fact that this doesn’t happen is proof that America blows.

  61. MikeInWeHo says:

    Outsider question: Why don’t wards with these problems just get minivans and run shuttles on Sunday? The Evangelicals and especially the historically Black churches in the inner-city are all over that, and from the looks of some of their vehicles they’re not spending a fortune on the service. If you live in a big city like me you probably see church buses running around town all the time. I like the ones painted interesting colors with cool names like “United Holiness Tabernacle Spirit Filled Missionary Church of God in Christ.” The people on board always look happy.

    Latter-day Saints have so many more resources at their disposal than those Christians. Do any wards run van service?

  62. #51 is heartbreaking. Although my building is on a bus line and my socialist state (NY)/city offers extensive rides (door to door) for the disabled, we do have a rather extensive network of member pick-ups. My family growing up spent about an hour and a half both before and after Church providing rides, so that seems like a normal Sunday to me, but frankly, the car seat requirements make it pretty impossible to provide rides–my kids can’t simple all squish in to the back of the car like I did in the dark ages of the eighties. Their seats take up a lot of space, so I am not of much use.

    The ward I was in previously had been going through the building stage the years I was there and, indeed, the local leadership made the picks. I am sure they ruffled some feathers–no site can please everyone, right?

  63. John Mansfield says:

    That may not be sufficient, gst. In LA, I lived next to the stake center, and each Sunday I would walk past it, push the stroller up the hill for a view of the ocean, and down to my ward’s building a mile away.

  64. MikeinWeHo–here are my guesses at why we don’t see that: insurance, wards not wanting to obtain/maintain a vehicle, likely drivers stuck in ward council meeting right when pick up should happen, no way to accommodate everyones’ meetings (choir practice, presidency meeting, VT appointment in the foyer, tithing settlement, etc), no vehicle could accommodate kids with their car seats legally and any meaningful number of people, ours is not a Sunday only Church–would people also expect rides to Seminary, YM/YW, RS Enrichment, scouts, and basketball? How do you choose which 15 carless members get picked up? You couldn’t get everyone.

  65. Even in the Bay Area, which has pretty good public transportation and especially decent bus service in Oakland Berkeley (I lived in two locations in roughly the same neighborhood in North Oakland and attended wards in those two cities), Sunday morning public transport is incredibly limited — it’s hard to get to a lot of places people would like to and that are easy to get to M-F. About the only thing the Church could have done would have been to build chapels right on the BART lines and that would have been prohibitively expensive and a bit of gamble (especially for lines that weren’t yet built).

    That said, I agree with the basic premises of Natalie’s post and would point out this is only one issue (although the major one) related to LDS wards and American Metropolitics.

    Reuben in #10 alludes to a bit of this issue in the Twin Cities, but a major reorganization of all the stake’s last year in Minnesota has led to a situation where rather than shaped like blobs, the stake’s in the Twin Cities are pie slices, with each. It makes a lot of sense from the perspective of providing leadership to the inner ring suburbs and the inner cities, but I don’t know that it’s an ideal long-term solution.

    One thing that I’d suggest in terms of solutions is that LDS not rely solely on organization-driven solutions and instead put their efforts in to charter schools and home school co-ops, multi-generational living and apartment living (and advocacy), jobs in the trades and small business entrepreneurship, neighborhood revitalization and recolonization (gentrification — but of the crunchy con rather than the yuppie/hipster sort), etc. so that we can maintain strong units over time in areas where there are already strong wards or weaker units that offer the promise of rather than relying on the jobs and educations of the meritocracy (which move us from metro area to metro area and thus outer suburb to outer suburb) and the public schools which push so many Mormon families in to outer ring suburbs. Of course, as I mention in the post linked to above, outer ring suburbs may very likely experience some major stresses and decay over the next few decades so some of them may also be locations for centers of strength and activity. Certainly, the one I live in now would be an excellent candidate if we can hold on to some of your families and bring back/retain some of the current generation of youth.

  66. Related to #64:

    Which is exactly why we need to streamline what’s required and where it takes place. For example, there’s no reason most YM/YW activities couldn’t take place in member’s homes, community centers, library meeting rooms, etc.

    Many meetings could happen via phone conferencing and less meetings would need to happen if online tools (and not just e-mail) were being used.

    I personally think that we should move sacrament to an hour (with shorter talks — not talk needs to be more than 8 minutes), Sunday School + passing time to 40 minutes and the same for the second hour (plus 5 minutes opening exercises). The remainder of the time would be for mingling in the cultural hall/gym — setting up home teaching/visiting teaching appointments, arranging for rides, socializing, fellowship, etc. Heck even fit 15 minutes of choir practice in up on the stage. Some families would leave right after the last meeting, but that’s okay too.

    Sure, there’d be some noise issues with the other ward that’s in the building, but there are noise issues with the current meeting schedule.

  67. I’m sorry, John Mansfield, but there’s no comparison between accessibility of the Washington and Manhattan temples. Suggesting that a station near the end of one Metro line, with a “Ride-On” bus connecting to the temple, is somehow equivalent to being in the center of an integrated system of subway and commuter rail lines is just nonsense. The west side IRT local stops across the street from the temple, the express lines stop six blocks away, the 8th avenue IND lines stop six blocks away at Columbus Circle. All those trains run 24 hours a day, and even in midnight hours run every 15 minutes. Even the poor souls who have to live in New Jersey can take NJ transit trains to Penn Station or NJ transit buses to the Port Authority at 42nd street, both just two or three subway stops from the temple.

    And that doesn’t begin to address the question of how someone in, say, in one outlying part of Washington would get to the temple. The fact is, if convenient public transportation means you can move from point A to point B conveniently, so long as those two points are along the same line (see SLC’s Trax), then “convenient” is a lie for most everybody.

  68. Natalie B. says:

    Another thought: I’ve often wondered why we don’t podcast sacrament meetings for people who are physically unable to get to church. Why not everyone has access to technology, it could help keep more people connected.

    I think a good point is made that this is not a Sunday only church. Unfortunately for me, now that the building is so far away, church (in its organized form) has become a Sunday-only experience. I just can’t spend an hour on week days driving there and back, especially during rush hour when it takes even longer. But providing ways for people to get there on Sunday is better than never getting there…

  69. Mark B.,
    Plus, for those poor benighted souls who live on the East Side and who aren’t willing or able to walk across Central Park, a crosstown bus stops less than a block from the temple.

  70. Steve (#29): You raise an interesting example. Everybody in the Arrakis Stake knows that the best way to get to church is to walk without rhythm.

  71. John Mansfield, it looks like the Ride-On is not #4. And the timing problem still exists: There is only service Mon-Fri, and the last bus passes the Washington Temple at 6:43pm, making it impossible to use the bus to get to and from the temple outside of work hours. It is good to see “Mormon Temple” on the timetable, though!

    I’m glad to hear that someone walks the “mile to Forest Glen.” I’ve thought about trying that when on a DC trip. But Google Maps says it’s 1.6 miles — too far for many temple patrons. And from Google Streetview, it looks like most of the route lacks sidewalks, making it largely unsafe for many patrons.

  72. John Mansfield says:

    Mark B., if it’s connected, then it’s connected. I only need one route to a given target, and having a dozen more doesn’t change that. I used transit to travel from an apartment in Baltimore to the Washington D.C. Temple. The connections worked in a timely manner. I’ve never needed to arrive at or leave the temple past midnight; good to hear that the work is proceeding around the clock in New York. What a city!

  73. esodhiambo says:


    I have no idea where you live, but for most of my life, we have lived at least 20-30 minutes from Church. I have to wonder what the average commute time is in the Church. If you are used to UT set-ups, I can see why you might think an hour is too much time to travel–it might seem outrageous; if you grew up driving 45-60 minutes to Church one way (not to mention the many who drive and hour+), well then, 30 minutes sounds downright dreamy. Most LDS who live east of TX and not in a major city do drive 30 minutes and longer to get to Church. Routinely.

  74. John Mansfield says:

    JrL, I wasn’t thinking of #4, which stops in front of the temple, but of #5, which runs down Capitol View and continues past midnight seven days a week. If walking to that stop disqualifies it, then, again, we aren’t being realistic about the limitations of public transit.

  75. #71, I can personally attest to the danger of walking the “mile” from the DC temple to the Forest Glen Metro station. No sidewalks and a windy narrow road. I think I probably lost a shot with a girl I was interested in because I asked her to walk that route with me when we attended the temple together.

    When I was in DC (summer of 2004), the bus that drops you off immediately in front of the temple does not run on Saturdays and stops on weekdays at about 6pm. So you can get to the temple, but you can’t get out.

  76. Natalie B. says:

    73: I know that 30 minutes one way isn’t far compared to what some drive (and I really admire you for it–I’m really not trying to minimize anyone’s sacrifices–just to ask how we could lessen the burden), but given when we get home from school/work and the fact that my husband and I share one car so have to coordinate priorities, it is too far for me to participate in discretionary mid-week events. I probably couldn’t even make it to most of them on time. But, again, the main point of this post is that some people can’t drive there, which means that they can’t participate even on Sundays when there is no way to walk to or to take public transit to church and they can’t find a ride.

  77. #75, nothing like getting a girl to walk to the temple with you so you can “get a shot with her.”

  78. While on the subject of the DC area, the church recently purchased an non-descript office building in Crystal City that it is converting to a meetinghouse. We have some very forward-thinking leadership who pushed for the building despite non-traditional aspects (less parking, no large cultural hall, etc.). The building will have easy accessibility via metro or bus, to say nothing of the close walking distance for many large apartment buildings. I believe the plan is for two of the singles wards (they just created a third) to use the building and perhaps, longer-term, the church could tear it down and build its own meetinghouse, although a parking garage would be necessary.

  79. esodhiambo says:

    #78–ahhhh Little Provo gets a building.

    #76–yeah, there are lots of one-car families around here, which does take a lot of coordination.

  80. #75–if she won’t walk a mile to the temple with you, it’s probably better that things stopped where they did.

  81. anon for this. says:

    #53: one HT visit last year 9he is on stake presidency) and a couple of more recent VT visits; the non member husband of one of my VTs has offered me a lift to events he attends; haven’t broached baby issues yet!

    #54: if I thought there was any point….

    #61: I think there are lots of issues with minibuses, as has already eloquently been discussed; evidently these problems weren’t thought through sufficiently at the time.

    #66: we held YW at my home for a year when we had to move out of the previous building for repairs:the girls enjoyed the comfy chairs and access to the kitchen, so maybe you are onto something there for some meetings!

    #68: agreed. My favourite Sundays now are General Conference, which I can access at home, and so feel ‘normal’ (whatever that is).

    In a previous ward several of us travelled an hour each way to church; that building was opposite a train station and on a bus route. Didn’t mind the journey in the least as if I missed the bus I could catch the train, and once on the transport, you were warm and dry.

    Hopefully future stake presidents and other decision makers are reading these posts, and may at some point remember the discussion if ever faced with similar experiences. I just wanted to highlight the very real human and spiritual impact these choices make on the lives of those over whom they have stewardship. Thanks for the opportunity!

  82. Natalie B. says:

    78: That sounds like a great idea.

    I’ve had very positive experiences with non-traditional buildings. I grew up near Detroit, and at one point we had stake conference in a former Greek Orthodox chapel (if that’s what they are called in that faith). It was gorgeous.

  83. Natalie B. says:

    78: Another reason that I love this idea is that students and young singles are often amongst the people who don’t have cars and for whom the location of the church really matters. The only period of my life where I came close to going inactive was in college. I had no car, and due to a bad bus schedule, I had to walk an hour in each way. This was fine in the summer, but is was bitterly cold in the winter and forced me to walk through a neighborhood that was somewhat unsafe. Due to such safety concerns, I never felt able to attend any night activities and consequently felt very disconnected from the ward.

  84. I usually ride the bus to my work in Boulder. Last time I tried to take public transportation to the Temple in Denver from my workplace, it involved a bus, a transfer to another bus, a transfer to the 16th street shuttle, a transfer to light rail, a forty-five minute wait, transfer to another bus, and then a goodly uphill walk around the squirrly little streets of a subdivision. It took 3 1/2 hours, one way (it would have been longer had I left from home). I met my husband there, and he gave me a ride back home. It’s not that it is impossible, it’s just incredibly inconvenient.

  85. Terrakota says:

    Until we had a car, it always took more than an hour for us to get to Church. And it is an average here. Because my husband was a branch president, we would leave home on Sundays around 8 a.m. and come back around 7- 8 p.m., with a baby, and a stroller, and all the many things that come with the baby: we had to take a bus, then metro, and then walk. I never felt that this was a big deal (of course, I wasn’t the one to carry the stroller with the child up and down several flight of stairs) until we had a car, and then a second car, and now I’m spoiled. I remember that time with much fondness.

  86. #78 – so glad to hear that about D.C. Really quite a necessary move for that area – when there are that many LDS living so close together, there should be a place to go to church close by. Also, they really need to drastically reduce the size of their single’s wards, and having available meeting space will probably help.

    With regards to this subject. I attend church in an urban chapel, and there are definitely some downsides. Parking is a nightmare, and because the area of town is kind of shady the building is inconveniently secure. It can take a while for people who live outside of the city to get in (and this is a substantial percentage of my ward), and traffic getting into and out of the city can be terrible at incredibly random times.

    That said, I’m glad the church is where it is, because I think it is a service to some of the most people who would have the most difficultly getting to church if it were elsewhere.

  87. I grew up in a ward with a meeting house about half-an-hour away from anywhere. The land was donated and there had formerly been more members in that small town, but they all died or moved away, leaving much of the ward with long travel times. I always wished the building had been built closer to the local university so it was a gathering place rather than a far-off destination. I agree with Natalie B. and others that a central building near a public transportation route would help increase activity rates of the most at-risk demographics like young adults or people under economic stress.

  88. Natalie B (82) – That old Greek church is near Palmer Park, right? My parents lived about half-mile away (down the street out of the front door of the Church) when they were first married.

  89. Natalie B. says:

    88: My memory is fading a bit, but I’m pretty sure that is the one.

  90. It would work, UTA has limited service on Sunday. Everyone would need to move down town Salt Lake City or near Trax.

    UTA only cares about the bus system in down town Salt Lake City, Avenues and the University of Utah.

    Last Month UTA Cut Back Service to Save $500K, Keeps BONUSES Worth $600K.

    Its all about Trax, FrontRunner and soon to be Streetcar.

  91. Glenn Smith says:

    During discussion of the location of our mid-90’s meeting house, we were advised by PBO that the goal is a meetinghouse within 30 minutes drive. Has anyone asked the building department what the current standard is? Natalie, have you asked your stake president or even Bishop why the location choice was made for your building?

    {As an aside, and to brag, we were fortunate to have the same architect that remodeled the Cardston Alberta Temple.)

  92. The most common knee-jerk responses I’m seeing in this thread don’t seem hilariously compatible.

    People without cars = poor people
    Poor people = city dwellers/ urban folk
    Urban land = expensive
    Suburban land = cheap
    (were that the world were anywhere near this simple)

    The Church can and does purchase extremely expensive real estate not only in urban but also in suburban areas. Buying a parcel of land large enough for an LDS meetinghouse and a large parking lot in an affluent suburb certainly costs a lot of money. Of course, buying any land within blocks of a city center costs a lot of money too.

    Building a chapel in an urban area can often be cheaper than building in a ‘burb particularly because the Church usually does not need to buy as much land if they expect fewer of their members to expect a parking lot waiting for them. There’s expensive urban land and expensive suburban land. LDS chapels tend to be built on such land no matter what the population density of the ward area.

    Frankly, I wouldn’t be too upset to see the Church decide where to put chapels based on the cost more often. We’d see a heck of a lot more LDS chapels in poor neighborhoods. That would probably be good for a cadre of worshipers such as ourselves who profess to be “saints.” In my entire life, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an LDS chapel built in one of the poorest or most run-down areas of a ward.

    Of course bringing economics into this discussion really divides us far too much, and I apologize for doing that. The basic point of this post is an extremely sound one — Church leaders should make special efforts to make sure that building locations are as convenient as possible and that anyone who is willing to put forth a respectable effort can arrive with as little difficulty as possible.

  93. The end of that first sentence should read either “The most common knee-jerk responses I’m seeing in this thread seem hilariously incompatible” or “don’t seem compatible.” I couldn’t decide which version of the sentence I liked better, so I gave you a little bit of both.

  94. #51 – where I live it takes me 1.5 hours each way to get to church using public transit + the 3 hour block, + the extra half an hour or more you spread around before/after church. You’re not alone! Keep coming!

    It’s not fun to spend all that time transferring, waiting, walking, but doable once a week. Especially when I consider a lot of people have a daily commute of 1-2 hours or more to work anyway.

  95. Zack,92
    “I wouldn’t be too upset to see the Church decide where to put chapels based on the cost more often. We’d see a heck of a lot more LDS chapels in poor neighborhoods.”

    I know that sounds nice and all, but when cars get broken in every sunday, kids get mugged or raped to and from various activities, perhaps it won’t be such a great idea.

    No I’m not conflating all poor people with bad people, but the simple fact or more crime in the poor areas (generally) does not lie. If you put a church building in a higher crime area, which tend to be in poorer/cheaper urban locations, then you will get more crime at the church and its members, just as a mater of fact. This does not even take into account potential targeting of the building or members for appearing well-off.

    I’d be happier to see the church use a better metric like crime + proximity to members as a metric for future locations rather than cost.

  96. #92–
    While that list is certainly a generalization, it’s also very close to reality in the big city I currently live in. The wards in our city are shaped like a pie (much like a previous commenter living in a different city described). Land in the center of the city is very expensive. The poor people in the ward (mainly those without cars) live more towards the center of the city, in the not-so-nice parts of town. Those with a little (or a lot) more money and with cars live in the nicer suburbs.
    What that means is that the people on the outer edge of the pie have to drive considerable distances to pick up those without cars in the center of the pie, and then drive back out again to the outside of the pie for church. After church, same thing.
    And it wouldn’t be practical to place a chapel in the poor parts of town either, for reasons given by #95. Fortunately, not all areas downtown are shady areas. I wonder if the best solution in most cities is to have an inner-city ward with an inner-city chapel and import leadership if needed, instead of creating pie-shaped ward boundaries that spread the ward out more and make it more difficult for those people without cars (who are also generally poor) to get to church.

  97. sam,
    I’m not sure where you are, but in the big cities I’ve lived in, kids don’t generally get raped and mugged on the way to and from church, and suggesting that they do is both ignorant and fear-mongering.

  98. Sam B.,

    Kudos for a calm, reasonable response to a horrid comment. I tried responding several times but the censor kept getting stuck on a common barnyard epithet.

  99. Thanks Mark. Part of it was that I called someone else a moron on another thread just before I saw sam’s comment, so I had it out of my system.

  100. Besides, the previous moron, I mean, sam, should know — if he knows what he’s talking about — that the kids are more likely to get roughed or raped going out and in of the high-crime area than staying in.

    Just from experience of having lived in one…

  101. I seem to recall that the Ogden, Utah temple was built downtown for the very reason that it would be accessible to more people, even though a very beautiful scenic lot was available (free, I think) to the church up in the foothills. Many in Ogden considered it a slap that the church put the temple downtown when similar temples all along the Wasatch Front were located in the foothills (Bountiful,for example, also Provo). Since virtually no one in Ogden at the time used public transit, I can see why such thinking existed.

  102. GatoraideMomma says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more Wm Morris…

    Streamline the meeting schedule to consider those who must take multiple modes of public transit and even those who breeze in to the building in 15-20 minutes. The schedule is at least one hour too long on Sundays. It is true, Less is More. I am willing to bet more of members leave church grateful it’s “over” instead of wanting it to be a bit longer. A teenager in the ward told me this week she’s embarrassed to ask a friend to church b/c of the 3 block. YM/YW meet week nights and in seminary, they don’t want an extra hour on Sunday. Primary kids…many need naps. But when you add 1-2 hours in front and behind the meeting block for commuters, it is way too long and inconsiderate.

    Until recently when churches were required to be in commerical areas in our locals, they were “buried” in subdivisions where the church leaders hoped their proximity to the homes would generate missionary conversion of that neighborhood. Never worked. At least when placed out on the main roads/streets people can find the meeting houses and see them regularly which is probably better for growth in that department and a better use of the funds it cost to build the buildings than a tucked away location.