SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – An old joke says it’s impossible to throw a pebble in any direction in Utah without hitting an LDS chapel. Or maybe two.
A data analysis by The Salt Lake Tribune shows that wisecrack may not be far from the truth.
In Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties, someone with a strong arm probably could hit a Mormon meetinghouse from any rooftop in most populated areas. And church buildings sometimes are so close together – even adjacent – that the tosser might be able to skip the same rock off two or even more in a few select spots.
LDS.org, the Salt Lake City-based faith’s website, offers a mapping option to help folks find a meetinghouse anywhere in the world. The Tribune used that to compile a spreadsheet of Mormon chapels in the three Utah counties closest to the world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Here are some the findings:
The website lists at least 1,210 meetinghouses in the three counties. That is one for every 2.5 square miles, which includes a lot of mountains, wetlands and desert where no one lives.
Salt Lake County has one LDS chapel for every 1.3 square miles, while Davis is only slightly behind with one for every 1.4 square miles. Utah County – which is larger geographically – has one for every 4.6 square miles.
When it comes to population, the three counties have one Mormon meetinghouse for every 1,614 residents of any belief, not just Mormons.
Utah County has the most per resident, one for every 1,263. Davis follows at one for every 1,549 and Salt Lake has one for every 1,911. One reason the LDS Church has so many chapels is that it tends to have more and smaller congregations than other faiths. Congregations, or wards, are led by part-time lay leaders in designated geographical areas. Other religions tend to build cathedrals or meeting places for followers covering much larger areas.
The second-largest religious denomination in Utah is the Roman Catholic Church. The website for the Diocese of Salt Lake City lists 24 meeting places in the three counties.
That comes out to one for every 127 square miles or one for every 81,404 residents.
Utah is about 62 percent Mormon, according to Tribune analysis in recent years using county-level membership numbers the LDS Church gives to state officials for demographic purposes. In 2011, those estimates said Utah County was 81 percent Mormon, and Salt Lake County was 51 percent.
The Tribune identified at least six places where traditional Mormon meetinghouses are not just close, but adjacent.
On a Kaysville road, appropriately named Angel Street, two LDS chapels face different directions but share the same plot of land. Their parking lots back into to each other, but are separated by a line of trees. So it would be easy to walk from chapel to chapel. A car trip, however, would require a drive of about three blocks to their widely separated entrances.
An area in western Orem has four chapels within three blocks. In West Jordan, 3200 West has three chapels in five blocks and 2700 West has four in five blocks.
Some buildings have two LDS chapels inside, sort of a two-for-one. While they are technically just one meetinghouse, targeting them would be like hitting two chapels with one rock.
Two spots in Orem hit a Mormon jackpot – buildings that are adjacent and have two chapels within each. That could make it possible to hit four chapels with one stone.
One is adjacent to Utah Valley University (eight wards in one building, six in the other), and the other is at the corner of 800 South and 800 West (six wards each). Both are for congregations of young single adults.
Bishop Mike Barker, of the Provo YSA 161st Ward, which meets in one of the buildings on 800 South, says they mostly serve students from UVU and BYU along with others in the community.
He says having so many wards and people in one spot is not confusing.
“We say we are in the north or south chapel, and people figure it out,” he says. “If they do get confused, there are a lot of people around to point the way.”
Barker explains that the chapels have been there about a decade.
“It’s an efficient design,” he says, adding that the buildings are heavily used, including for midweek “institute” religion classes.
Many LDS meeting places – and their congregations – are not quite traditional.
The website lists, for example, 72 meeting places in care or retirement centers. Another 22 are in correctional facilities. At least three branches (small Mormon congregations) are in hospitals, including a mental hospital and Primary Children’s Hospital on Salt Lake City’s east bench.