News Story

The Mormon “Open-Door” Tradition of Hosting Visitors

In his homes in New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, Joseph Smith often entertained visitors, those he invited and others passing through town. In fact, he built a hotel in Nauvoo, Illinois, to accommodate the frequent guests who called upon him and other leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The geographic locations differed for Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, but the extension of hospitality continued as the members of the Church settled in the West. In fact, one early guest, Horace M. Greeley, editor of the influential New York Tribune, called on President Young in 1859. Greeley, traveling through the western regions of the country on a crusade to encourage settlement of the vast spaces, stopped in the recently established Salt Lake City. Greeley recorded his impressions in a September 1859 issue of Harper’s Weekly magazine.

“We were cordially welcomed at the door by the President, who led us into the second-story parlor in the largest of his houses,” Greeley explained. The editor then interviewed Young and other Church leaders about the “doctrines and policy of the Mormon Church.”

Other notable people visited Salt Lake City during the early years of the Church.

The rousing marches of composer John Philip Sousa likely inspired toe tapping in an 1896 concert at the Tabernacle on Temple Square. Renowned speaker and author Helen Keller and aviator Charles Lindbergh also appeared in the landmark building based in the heart of the city. 

Greeley’s recorded visit and those of many other guests reflect the warmth and welcoming attitude displayed by Church leaders and members alike. Visits to Church sites, such as the Temple Square complex, rank high on the itineraries of tourists and travelers to Salt Lake City.

At no time in their histories did Utah and, by association, the Church garner more worldwide attention than during the 2002 Winter Olympics, when thousands of athletes, media and spectators descended on the city. Historian Jan Shipps of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis recently told National Public Radio that the Olympics showcased Mormons as “gracious host[s] … friendly and welcoming.”

Millions of visitors, famous or not so famous, annually tread the manicured grounds of Temple Square, the site of not only the architecturally significant Tabernacle but also the granite-walled temple that has become a symbol synonymous with the Church itself. 

Folks arrive at Temple Square and the surrounding sites of the Church headquarters — the Conference Center, Family History Library, Museum of Church History and Art, Joseph Smith Memorial Building or even the Church Office Building — as visitors on family or personal vacation treks, as business people on a break from conventions or other meetings, as leisurely wanderers or as notable or invited guests. 

Upon arriving at Temple Square, guests are greeted by young women from all parts of the world serving as full-time missionaries for the Church. These young missionaries are supported by a group of nearly 1,300 part-time volunteers — couples or individuals who, with the young missionaries, give brief tours and explain Church history and beliefs to interested visitors. Volunteers invested nearly 240,000 hours in their 2007 hosting assignments on Temple Square. 

In 2007 an estimated five million people stopped to explore Temple Square, one of the most frequently visited tourist destinations in the state. Records indicate visitors represented every state in the United States as well as 83 different countries of the world. 

A Baptist couple from Cyprus described their visit as a “spectacular stop on their world tour,” while Georgian Orthodox guests from the Republic of Georgia observed, “Your church is not just a building but a way of life and an example to others.” 

Among other guests were a group of Asian ministers of many faiths from California, all wearing bright red shirts bearing the message “marriage — one man and one woman.” The group, traveling to a national meeting in Washington, D.C., stopped in Salt Lake City because they “knew many people here feel the same way we do.” 

Previous exposure to Church teachings and practices often influences government, business and religious leaders of many countries to carefully examine such teachings in a Salt Lake City stopover. 

On a recent visit from New Jersey, a group of Hindu swamis inquired about Church methods of teaching young people. These religious leaders of another faith expressed concerns about the youngsters of their own belief system and invited help from Church leaders. The swamis discussed the various types of teaching materials employed by the Church in classroom and missionary training and also investigated printing and distribution operations in the everyday business management of the Church. 

Such visits sometimes occur after community leaders in other countries or states encounter the local Mormons as neighborhood volunteers, participating in vital area service or humanitarian projects.   

The First Ladies of Peru and Paraguay, for example, visited Salt Lake City to tour humanitarian and welfare facilities of the Church. Both represented their respective countries as ambassadors of appreciation for the supplies and services distributed in their homelands.

Whether guests arrive on Temple Square with titles and pedigrees or not, the enthusiastic and dedicated guides who serve as full- and part-time missionaries show the traditional hospitality that has existed in the Church since the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. 

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