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Airline to Heaven: Elder Pace’s Idea for (Very) Small Temples

Tom - October 15, 2007

Elder Glenn Pace of the Quorum of the Seventy was the visiting General Authority at our stake conference yesterday. His talk was about a lot of things. In one self-deprecating aside he said that he had an idea for small temples a long time ago when he was in the presiding bishopric.

The well-known problem at the time, which persists to a lesser extent to this day, was that there were too few temples to serve the saints in remote areas where the Church was not firmly rooted. His idea was to make a big airplane into a travelling temple. You would enter the front and come out the back endowed/sealed. He deadpanned, “You could even prop an Angel Moroni up there if you wanted.”

He was contrasting his cockamamied idea to president Hinkley’s inspired idea for building a lot of small temples around the world. But as he was talking about it my wife and I looked at each other and she mouthed, “That’s a good idea!”

Now that I think more about it, I can see some cons to a travelling temple, not the least of which would be that it would be hard or impossible to make a jumbo jet parked on the tarmac feel like a sacred place. But it would make the temple ordinances available to a lot of people who don’t have access to them.

At the risk of steadying the arc, I say go for it. It’s not like there isn’t a precedent for a traveling temple.

It seems like Woody Guthrie would also think it a good idea. Here are his prophetic words, by way of Wilco (listen in the radioblog in the New Cool Thang sidebar):

There’s an airline plane
Flies to heaven everyday
Past the pearly gates

If you want to ride this train
Have your ticket [recommend?] in your hand
Before it is too late

If the world looks wrong
And your money’s spent and gone
And your friend has turned away

You can get away to heaven
On this aeroplane
Just bow your head and pray

Them’s got ears, let them hear
Them’s got eyes, let them see
Turn your eyes to the lord of the skies

Take this airline plane
It’ll take you home again
To your home behind the skies

Well a lot of people guess
Some say no and some say yes
Will it take some and leave some behind?

But you will surely know
When to the airport go
To leave this world behind

Oh a lot of speakers speak
A lot of preachers preach
When you lay their salary on the line

You can hold your head and pray
It’s the only earthly way
You can fly to heaven on time
Fly to heaven on time

Them’s got ears, let them hear
Them’s got eyes, let them see
Turn your eyes to the lord of the skies

Take that airline plane
It’ll take you home again
To your home behind the skies

Your ticket you obtain
On this heavenly airline plane
You leave your sins behind

You’ve got to take this flight
It may be daytime, might be night
But you can’t see your way if you’re blind

Them’s got ears, let them hear
Them’s got eyes, let them see
Turn your eyes to the lord of the skies

Take that airline plane
It’ll take you home again
To your home behind the skies


  1. Prince’s David O. McKay biography recounts serious discussions among senior LDS leaders during McKay’s tenure about purchasing and fitting out a cruise ship (or smaller equivalent) as a portable floating temple that could go the more remote members rather than vice versa. That idea, too, never got off the ground, but it is interesting that it got a serious hearing.

    Comment by Dave — October 15, 2007 @ 7:25 am

  2. I wonder if there’s a Woody Guthrie lyric that fits the floating temple idea. Probably. Dude was prolific.

    There is something that just doesn’t feel right about a ship or a plane as a temple, but I’d probably get used to the idea if something like that were implemented.

    Comment by Tom — October 15, 2007 @ 7:31 am

  3. Once inside such a “floating temple,” I doubt you’d feel any different than in any other LDS temple. I’m not privy to the discussions in question, of course, but I suspect the limited longetivity of an oceangoing vessel would be troubling. It is my understanding that LDS temples are generally built to last 100 years, structurally. A cruise ship would be outmoded and obsolete in a much shorter time, limiting the life of such a temple. If one had been commissioned during the McKay administration, I’m sure it would have been replaced several times by now.

    Comment by Nick Literski — October 15, 2007 @ 7:41 am

  4. Yeah. Ships can be huge. It would feel very temple-ish on the inside. And it would be really cool and serene if you were out in open water.

    Comment by Tom — October 15, 2007 @ 7:44 am

  5. I think it’s an absoltely awesome idea. Think of all the places where people will never hope to get to the temple.
    The temple could go to them. I love it. I mean, for reals. I think we should all write to the prophet. I’d feel terrific contributing to something like that.

    Heck, Jon Huntsman could pay for it all by himself.

    Comment by annegb — October 15, 2007 @ 8:05 am

  6. Planes and ships don’t sound very practical, but what’s wrong with getting a semi-truck or two that convert into a temple. You park them in the stake center parking lot, do the transformers thing and BOOM, salvation.

    Comment by Rusty — October 15, 2007 @ 8:05 am

  7. If I remember the discussion in the McKay biography correctly, I think the floating temple idea was scrapped when some of the, um, less progressive, apostles expressed reservations. One of McKay’s counselors, I believe (J. Reuben Clark, perhaps?), wondered why temple work was so urgent as to justify building such an unconventional temple, since most temple work will be done during the Millennium anyway. As Prince points out, that argument raises the question of why we should be building any new temples.

    If anyone has the Prince book on hand, you might want to look these things up, since my memory is obviously not 100% reliable.

    Comment by Steve M — October 15, 2007 @ 8:06 am

  8. Offhand, I would guess that coming under transportation regulations, especially international transportation regulations, would cut into the privacy of a moving temple. I have wondered a bit what changed that a temple needed to be a larger, significant structure for so long, and then it didn’t need to be anymore.

    Comment by John Mansfield — October 15, 2007 @ 8:41 am

  9. Seems to me that a plane would necessarily be boarded by all sorts of inspectors and whatnot in various countries it visited. That would likely cause some issues.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 15, 2007 @ 9:03 am

  10. As long as we’re dreaming, I say we convert Bruce Dickinson and make him the pilot. (Singer of Iron Maiden who also captains a commercial airliner.) How cool would that be?

    Comment by Susan M — October 15, 2007 @ 9:17 am

  11. Even existing temples are subject to inspection by fire officials, etc. Specific procedures are in place for such, and the inspector need not be LDS, let alone a recommend holder. Certain ritual items are put away during the inspection, so as not to be exposed to ridicule, etc. Such inspectors are personally accompanied by the temple engineer throughout their time in the building. I would expect similar conditions to exist if a temple were ship or airplane based.

    Comment by Nick Literski — October 15, 2007 @ 9:53 am

  12. If anybody wants to hear “Airline to Heaven,” Geoff J has kindly posted it in his radio blog at newcoolthang.com.

    Comment by Tom — October 15, 2007 @ 10:03 am

  13. When I first joined the church, I heard about this as a member of 8 months or so. Issues that arised, as I understood at the time, involving the cost of upkeep, the problem of whether to have all functioning components (baptistry, sealing rooms, endowment rooms), the logistics of having enough people in a remote location all ready to go to the temple at a single time, as well as whether an airstrip or a port was available, as well as dealing with customs, as well as staffing such a venture, as well as some things I am probably forgetting, made the concept of either a plane or a ship problematic.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 15, 2007 @ 10:27 am

  14. I remember hearing about this idea from a Seventy back during the time it was being debated. I think the small temples are cool, but why not both. I love the idea of proping an angel Moroni up on top. Brilliant.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 15, 2007 @ 10:43 am

  15. If you’re gonna buy an airplane, just have it hop around picking up members, then drop them off at a real temple.

    Comment by Last Lemming — October 15, 2007 @ 11:11 am

  16. Great idea in spite of its resemblance to “The Love Boat”… People think we’re weird now?

    Comment by cj douglass — October 15, 2007 @ 11:12 am

  17. I think Last Lemming has the best idea, yet. We should donate money to the “Fly people to the Temple Fund” and I’m betting we could get thousands of people to the temple that way. Pilots could donate their flying time –it could be their calling! No, I’m serious, here! It could totally work. My husband has been begging me to let him get a pilot’s license; think of all the good that could be done flying into remote locations and taking members on a trip of a lifetime. Not only would they get to travel for free, they’d get to a Temple faster, and what a vacation! Now that would be service.

    P.S. Tom, thank you so much for your comment the other day. It meant a lot.

    Comment by Cheryl — October 15, 2007 @ 11:35 am

  18. Another wrench in the plans for a flying temple: physics. I hate to think how much fuel it would take to get a plane big enough to be a temple off the ground and flying. You’d have to take alone a baptismal font’s worth of water — not every place in the world has any water to fill it with, let alone safe water. Nor is there always enough flat land to land a tiny puddle-jumper, let alone the 747 (or maybe bigger) size plane that would be needed.

    I think Last Lemming’s idea of small planes picking up and flying people to the temples is the best of both worlds. Build small temples all over so that more people can get to them more easily and use the planes to help even the people in the smallest, most remote branches get to a temple.

    Comment by Proud Daughter of Eve — October 15, 2007 @ 12:02 pm

  19. (Sorry for the double post) Also, think about the temple workers. Where and how would they live, working in such a temple? The logistics would be a nightmare — and anything big enough to be a temple and house all the workers would need rocket boosters to get off the ground. It makes much more sense to call people to work in the temples nearest them.

    Comment by Proud Daughter of Eve — October 15, 2007 @ 12:05 pm

  20. My second to last companion in my mission was the son of a brain surgeon and bought boat tickets for a large portion of our ward members to go to the Temple. It was really incredible. Because he didn’t want to just give it to them (at his mothers suggestion) he asked them to make him necklaces. I think they made him something like a 300 of them. He got a kick out of it, because he estimated he paid them about $20 a necklace, when they normally made about $.30.

    So make mine a vote for the transportation to the temple fund.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 15, 2007 @ 12:43 pm

  21. Actually, there is an existing LDS fund for assisting families who need financial assistance in attending the temple for their own ordinances. These funds are available for travel, purchasing garments, etc. It came up a few years ago when someone wanted to basically form a non-profit organization to do this. The fund doesn’t really get “advertised,” particularly since there is little need for it in the United States, but it’s there, and you can donate to it.

    Comment by Nick Literski — October 15, 2007 @ 1:36 pm

  22. Nick-
    Really? That is so cool! I’ve got to check that out…

    Comment by Cheryl — October 15, 2007 @ 2:40 pm

  23. It’s called the “Temple Patron Assistance Fund” and it pays for thousands of members to receive living ordinances each year. You can contribute by writing “TPAF” on the “Other” line on your tithing slip.

    Comment by J. Michael — October 15, 2007 @ 2:57 pm

  24. Thank you! I’m starting to think that it wouldn’t be bad if we had some kind of a class (or just talk?) donated to donations (haha! Donated to donations…) in the Church. I’ll admit I’m fairly ignorant when it comes to where we can donate our money.

    Comment by Cheryl — October 15, 2007 @ 3:02 pm

  25. What about where it says in the BD “In cases of extreme poverty or emergency, these ordinances may sometimes be done on a mountaintop. (see D&C 124:37-55)”?

    I’ve always wondered why we haven’t done this sometimes or at all. Maybe when it gets down to crunch time before the Millennium?

    Comment by Bret — October 15, 2007 @ 3:09 pm

  26. When I was working on the grad degrees 25 years ago, I had a friend who was an electrician for the church. He told us at the time about the plans for the flying and floating temples. The issue was that the temple would need to go to the members because the members couldn’t go to the temple. Unfortunately, many countries don’t allow their citizens to leave the country. So they would not be able to take a trip to a foreign temple even if someone else paid for the trip.

    At the time they were also considering putting mini-temples in Stake Centers.

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — October 16, 2007 @ 4:02 am

  27. Bret, in the early Utah decades, before the St. George Temple was dedicated, we used the Endowment House in our time of poverty.

    Comment by John Mansfield — October 16, 2007 @ 7:47 am

  28. Access to the temple is a problem overseas. In Germany, it was relatively easy because we just had to go to Switzerland, which was not too bad.

    Youth temple trips would typically become a second youth conference and last an entire week. We would stay in a Swiss civil defense bunker, which meant we could not break anything except for the neon lights.

    That actually happened every time when boys were jumping from bed to bed on the three level bunks.

    We would have one baptismal session per day and then spend the remainder of the time hiking and sightseeing. It was great.

    But it was also a financial stretch for many families.

    Comment by Hellmut — October 16, 2007 @ 7:48 am

  29. What concerns me is that the mini temples might trivialize the temple. When temple attendance required an effort, it did teach us a lesson about the nature of the temple.

    Looking at the pattern of mini-temples, as well as some of the larger ones in Utah, it feels like some statisticians and real estate developers are plopping them where ever tithing collection warrants it.

    At the same time, there appears to be more emphasis on ward and stake temple nights, which makes me wonder if there is a problem with self-motivated attendance.

    Comment by Hellmut — October 16, 2007 @ 7:56 am

  30. Thanks John for an absolutely useless fact I and everyone else already knew (unless you were being facetious). I’m quite sure the BD was written after that time.

    Comment by Bret — October 16, 2007 @ 3:19 pm

  31. [...] Nine Moons ? Blog Archive : Airline to Heaven: Elder Pace?s Idea …It seems like Woody Guthrie would also think it a good idea. Here are his prophetic words, by way of Wilco (listen in the radioblog in the New Cool Thang … [...]

    Pingback by | ideathink.info — October 23, 2007 @ 8:05 am

  32. [...] I concede that it’s entirely possible that either I misheard yesterday, or I wasn’t paying close enough attention every other time in the past when similar letters were read. But, on the off chance that this is new, I find it a very encouraging sign. I understand that the Church will always be run from the top down. But I’ve long wondered why the general leadership seemed so determined not to accept any feedback from the members, particularly when some members have such good ideas for making church better. [...]

    Pingback by Zelophehad’s Daughters | Something Different in the First Presidency Letter? — April 21, 2008 @ 1:30 am

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