Many New Yorkers may not grasp the tremendous impact of Gordon B. Hinckley, the president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who died yesterday at 97.
The Mormon church experienced incredible growth, nationally and internationally, since Hinckley became president in 1995.
When he took over, the church was still seen a regional sect, confined to Utah and the American West. But today the church has 13 million members worldwide and is increasingly seem as a major player on the national religious scene.
Hinckley increased the number of Mormon temples around the world from 47 to 124, making it possible for the most dedicated Latter-day Saints to live far from Utah. Temples are where Mormons in good standing take part in the church’s most important rituals.
The church announced plans way back in 1996 to build a temple right here in Harrison, on Kenilworth Road, just off I-287. But lawsuits and the town’s approval process slowed things down. In 2004, the church opened a temple in midtown Manhattan.
I’ve asked church officials repeatedly what might happen to the Harrison property. The answer was always the same: It’s President Hinckley’s decision.
Hinckley, in fact, drove through Harrison himself before the church bought its property. He was a real hands-on leader, despite his enormous international responsibilities.
The LDS church believes that its president is indeed a prophet, who runs things based on revelations from God.
We’ll soon learn who the 16th LDS president and prophet will be (and maybe, someday, what will happen to the Harrison property).
Here’s the coverage from the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, a paper owned by the Mormon church.
And here’s the coverage from the independent Salt Lake Tribune.