Church Builder Introduction

    by James Perry

    Church Building

    Welcome to the Church Builders website. On these pages, you will find information about each of the chapels built for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and those who constructed them.

    The origins of the Church Building Programme are found in May 1833, when Hyrum Smith, Jared Carter, and Reynolds Cahoon were appointed as the Church Building Committee. The purpose of this committee was to raise funds for the building of the Kirtland Temple.

    The modern iteration of the Church Building Programme started in Tonga, in 1950, to construct the Liahona Church school, before the idea spread across the Pacific, and was extended to include places of worship. Church leaders had long been concerned with congregations having to meet in less than ideal circumstances. As part of an effort to bring the Church out of obscurity and to meet the needs of members, the Building Programme was born. The lessons learned by the Church Building Department in the Pacific area proved invaluable for the success of the programme elsewhere.

    In Spring 1950, permission was granted by the First Presidency for the purchase and construction of twenty buildings across the British Isles for LDS congregations to worship in. Church leaders experienced difficulties as they faced challenging post-war conditions. Due to the national housing shortage, residences could not be converted into a place of worship unless it retained its distinction as a residence. The Church worked around this issue by having the missionaries also use the buildings for their residence. If there was surplus residential space in the building, LDS families were also granted a tenancy. Often, the wall separating a dining room and lounge was removed to create room for a congregation to meet in, with missionaries utilising the upstairs area as their residence.

    The first purpose-built LDS chapel in the post-war period was for the Catford Branch, being completed in Spring 1951. Designs for other chapels around the country were completed, and negotiations took place to secure property to build them. The conditions for securing a chapel included membership of fifty members, a good percentage of tithe-payers, and positive past and future growth prospects.

    On 2 July 1954, the First Presidency appointed T. P. Bennett and Sons as the supervising architects for a new temple, which was to be built in New Chapel, Surrey. Construction was completed in 1958 and was dedicated by President David O. McKay shortly afterwards.

    In 1960, the programme was relaunched, and plans were made to provide congregations across the British Isles with an appropriate place to meet in. As circumstances had changed, the Church now pursued a policy of building purpose-built chapels across the country. President McKay described the change of direction as “A New Era in the British Mission”. Members and missionaries immediately went to work. Experienced Church Building missionaries from New Zealand arrived to share their expertise and to train British Church Builders. By June 1964, twenty chapels had been constructed, fifty more were under construction, and twenty-seven further buildings had been approved for construction to start that year. Branches across the country began raising money for their building funds, with a wide range of activities being held.

    Members contributed to the building of their chapel in one of two ways. Firstly, members were able to physically contribute to the building of the chapel by working on the site. Secondly, financial subscriptions could be made out to support the cost of materials for the building. During the 1960s, the Church operated on an 80 – 20 ratio, meaning the Church would finance 80 per cent of the cost if members would cover the final 20 per cent.

    The local members were supported by Church Builders, who served two-year missions on Chapel building sites across the country. An experienced skilled technician was called as the Church Building Supervisor, who oversaw the work and the missionaries. Often, there would be one supervisor and four Church Builders per construction site, who worked every day except for Sunday. These Church Builders lived in the homes of members and became part of the congregation for the duration of their time there. A central office in Surrey provided the plans, details, legal authorisation, and other required resources to enable the work to take place.

    Members of the Church and the Church Builders left an important physical legacy of chapels throughout the country that has served Latter-day Saint members for generations. We hope to encapsulate their experiences as a memorial to their efforts.

    To start exploring our collection, go to the Chapels list or visit the Church Builders list or back to the main page.