SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City has plans to expand to Utah County, the beating heart of the Latter-day Saint faith.
Both faiths claim to be modeled after the original church established by Jesus Christ himself, but Orthodox Christians do not believe in the same “great apostasy” Latter-day Saints do. They believe Christ’s church from the first century continued on until today.
Father Justin Havens, who presides over the congregation in Salt Lake City, says Utah County has been overwhelmingly welcoming.
“Even in my fifteen years in Utah, I’ve seen more of a progression toward more of an interest in other things,” said Havens, dressed in his priest robes at the former synagogue-turned-church in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. “People are really searching…My desire is to build like a spiritual hospital and experience something fresh, something new…and yet something ancient at the same time.”
Last year the church bought the property in Payson for $400,000, which was paid off through fundraising. To build the church, parishioners still need to raise $700,000. A portion of that has been granted by a generous donor. The church hopes to match that donation ($350,000) in the next six to eight weeks. The church will be located near the Latter-day Saint temple in Payson. The rustic, Russian-style Orthodox church is slated to be completed this fall. Fundraising efforts are still ongoing for future phases of the project.
“We’re happy for a kind of more country feel…a peaceful feel…a prayerful kind of sanctuary for anyone who wants to come,” said Havens.
He also said many of his congregation travels from Utah County to worship in Salt Lake City. The sister church will address the growth the faith has experienced over the last decade, Havens said. This week is the faith’s Holy Week, with Orthodox Easter set to be celebrated April 28.
Havens said nearly half of his growing congregation are converts from other faiths – including the Latter-day Saint tradition, which also makes the claim that it is modeled after Christ’s original church. Of course, many other Christian denominations make that assertion, too, including the Catholic Church.
Havens said only two people in Utah County have expressed dissent about the new church being built at 1200 South and 1950 West in Payson, and that wasn’t for religious reasons; he said they were concerned about farmland diminishing in the ever-growing area.
But Havens said people of all faiths in Utah County have welcomed more diversity of faith in an area that is 85 percent Latter-day Saint.
He said Latter-day Saints, who are equally staunch in their belief in theirs being Christ’s church, are excited to see another faith standing up for something eternal.
“We think that’s a bold claim, but it’s one that we make in love,” said Havens. “Even in Utah County, where it’s majority LDS, people have been very respectful – even inspired – by us believing something and actually sticking to it.”