This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
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.
As for trying to skip a stone off more than one LDS meetinghouse at a time, it would be easiest in the 30 instances in the three counties that The Tribune identified where traditional chapels are about a block apart, or less.
It happens even more if meeting places are included for some specialty congregations that gather in locations such as nursing homes or buildings on Brigham Young University's campus.
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.
Utah County boasts five spots where traditional chapels are adjacent to one another, sometimes side by side, sometimes at 90-degree angles on the same plot, and sometimes directly across the street from the other. Two places are in Orem, and others are in American Fork, Springville and Payson.
Some places without adjacent chapels still have them spaced closely.
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.
They sometimes look as if two back-to-back buildings were pushed together to share the same walls such as a pair of two-chapel buildings in the Rose Park area of Salt Lake City along 1200 West.
One in Kearns on 5015 South added chapels to the east and west ends of a building that began as an Army theater when the township was a World War II military base. Utah County sports at least four double-chapel buildings. The double-chapel buildings house up to 10 LDS wards each, or as few as four.
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.
He notes his entire stake, or regional cluster of Mormon congregations, meets in just one chapel which is unusual in the LDS Church and means that another stake is literally next door.
It appears to be an exception, rather than the rule, for an LDS congregation in these counties to have a building of its own.
Traditional meetinghouses in the three counties have an average of 2.7 congregations sharing each building. Only 40 chapels appear to have only one ward meeting in them.
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.
One meeting place is the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the former Hotel Utah, in downtown Salt Lake City. And most major buildings on BYU's Provo campus serve double duty as Sunday meetinghouses for student congregations.
For example, the school's Joseph F. Smith Building plays host to 21 congregations, according to the website. Sixteen meet in the Harris Fine Arts Center; 14 in the Martin Building; and 12 in the Wilkinson Student Center, among many others.