When M. Anthony “Tony” Burns moved to Miami from Utah 40 years ago, the closest Mormon temple was in his home state.
And while a temple has since opened in Orlando, the commute for Burns and the 30,000 other South Florida members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just got even shorter.
Built next to Interstate 75 near Griffin Road, the Fort Lauderdale Florida Temple — actually located in Davie — is the newest place for members to get married, worship and conduct baptisms.
“This is a really big deal for the community,” said Burns, the coordinator of the Fort Lauderdale temple committee. “It’s something that has been needed for a long time.”
South Floridians who have been driving past the stately facility with its nearly 100-foot-tall angel statue going up just east of I-75 between Griffin Road and Royal Palm Blvd. now have the chance to peek inside.
It will be open for tours through April 19. Once it is dedicated May 4, only faithful Latter-day Saints practitioners will be allowed inside.
“A temple is a sacred place,” said William Walker, executive director of temples. “You must live in a certain standard to qualify you to worship in the temple.”
The Mormon community broke ground on the 30,500-square-foot building housed on 16.8 acres at 3901 SW 154th Ave. in June 2011. Fort Lauderdale’s new temple is the 143rd temple built worldwide.
Walker said that Florida’s 140,000 Mormon worshipers needed a new temple, and that it will not be used for regular Sunday worship. Temples are used for special prayer services — especially for marrying a couple “for eternity.” Inside, worshipers make covenants to serve Jesus Christ and their fellow man.
But the 25 or so Latter-day Saints chapels around South Florida are open to everyone, and that’s where regular worship takes place, Walker said.
Church elders said part of the mission of their church is to extend an olive branch to all faiths.
Jacob Solomon, the president and CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, said he “easily accepted” the invitation for the Wednesday tour of the temple.
“It was a welcome introduction to the Mormon church and their practices and the role the temple plays,” Solomon said after the tour. “Relationships in general are very important, and I think it's important that they have reached out to people of other faiths.”
The lavish temple was built to fit in with its natural surroundings with blue, green and earth tones throughout the interior. Guests who tour the temple are asked to cover their shoes with plastic shower caps to keep the white carpet clean.
Sawgrass, palm fronds and other foliage are part of the décor throughout the building, which houses three “sealing rooms,” or places where weddings are conducted. There are also several worship rooms, a bridal suite, and men’s and women’s changing rooms.
Traditional artwork of Jesus Christ hangs on several walls. The ornate Baptistry is built on the backs of 12 oxen to symbolize the 12 Tribes of Israel.
As Walker led a tour group, he paused before entering the Celestial Room, which featured a Swarovski crystal chandelier. Worshipers go into the Celestial Room for silent reflection. Silently, Walker took a seat on a plush gold and green chair.
Each room has a specific purpose, he said.
And while the temple will be closed to the public, Walker said people are invited to walk around the landscaped grounds and enjoy the fountains and scenery.
Caryl Hattan, Davie’s vice mayor, said that the church “has done a beautiful job” and that the facility adds to the city.
“When you come down the highway and see it, it’s stunning,” she said. “I think they will be very happy here.”