With heightened interest in all things Mormon these days and construction of a temple here expected to start this year, Eagles coach Andy Reid hosted a community symposium Sunday night to field questions on just "Who are the Mormons?"
At a panel discussion at the Broomall meetinghouse of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Reid said that there has been an "unprecedented increase in curiosity about Mormons," which has "opened a lot of misconceptions about Mormonism." He later introduced another speaker who addressed some of those misconceptions.
In an interview Friday, Reid said he became a Mormon while attending Brigham Young University in Utah.
"I can't tell you I knew a lot about the church" upon entering BYU, he said. "I went there for a great education and to play football." After learning about the church, he said, he "liked the lifestyle. I liked the gospel part of it; I liked the family part of it."
He was drawn to the church's focus on intramural sports — "doing something healthy" — and its guidelines on "really clean living."
And as articles about Reid have mentioned, he also took an interest in Mormonism because of his love for his wife, Tammy, who practiced the faith.
As for the new temple that will be built in Philadelphia — the first Mormon temple in Pennsylvania — Reid said: "It's a great honor. ... For all the members of the church, it's a great thing to be able to do the Lord's work and enjoy the reverence that takes place in the temple."
You could call this "The Year of the Mormon, Part II." Others have already declared 2011 as "The Year of the Mormon."
"The Mormon Moment," declared a Newsweek cover last year, with the face of Mitt Romney, who is Mormon and now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Before Jon Huntsman bowed out of the Republican race in January, there were two Mormons in the running for president.
Culturally, stories about Mormon life (true or not) have attracted many non-Mormon audiences. It's still awfully difficult to get tickets to the popular Tony Award-winning Broadway hit "The Book of Mormon." (Right now, the earliest online availability for a pair of tickets is for January 2013!) And HBO's Mormon-flavored "Big Love" was a huge hit with many viewers, including our Daily News TV critic, who teared up while watching last year's finale.
Last but not least, construction of the new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' temple is expected to start on Vine Street, on the west side of 17th, by the end of this year. Expected completion would be two years later.
The neoclassical, granite-exterior temple, slated to be four stories tall and about 60,000 square feet, will have two soaring spires and will replace what is now a surface parking lot next to Philadelphia Family Court. To accommodate parking, an underground garage will be built.
The temple will be a few blocks from the newly opened Barnes Foundation on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and about a block from Logan Square and the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul.
"We are still in the design phase of the temple, and these temples are exquisite structures that take a great deal of preparation to complete," said Ahmad Corbitt, spokesman for the Philadelphia temple project and president of the Cherry Hill New Jersey Stake, which is like a diocese.
"Now that we own the property, we just have to catch up to complete the interior-design phase and all the necessary phases for the construction permit and then apply to the city for the permit," Corbitt said.
That process is expected to go smoothly.
The city's Department of Licenses and Inspections will be ready to work with the church when it is ready, said Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter's spokesman.
After the temple is completed, the public will be invited to tour it during an open house that will last a few weeks, said Corinne Dougherty, the church's spokeswoman for the greater Philadelphia area. But once the building is dedicated, only church members in good standing can enter the temple. Temples are designed for the performance of sacred ordinances.
For regular Sunday worship, Mormons go to a church or meetinghouse in the city or suburbs.
The Philadelphia temple site will include another building behind the temple. That building will include a meetinghouse, a family-services office for those in need of counseling, education services, and a family-history center, and will be public, Corbitt said.
Elder Robert B. Smith, the church's highest-ranking ecclesiastical leader in the Delaware Valley, said in an interview earlier this year that "the growth [of members in the area] has become sufficient now" to "support a temple." The "general trend," he said, is "to build a temple near members."
Now, the closest temples are in New York and Washington.
Corbitt said that the decision to build the temple in Philadelphia rather than the suburbs "was decided at the highest levels." The church leadership in Salt Lake City "considered the needs of those less affluent" and wanted to make sure the temple was "accessible to our inner-city members and to those, perhaps, who wouldn't have the means to go to suburban areas where we own some other property," he said.
Church numbers show that membership has grown 67 percent, from 18,500 in 1990 to 31,000 in 2010 in the Philadelphia Temple District, which includes the eastern half of Pennsylvania, South Jersey, Delaware and parts of northern Maryland. For Philadelphia and its four surrounding Pennsylvania counties, membership grew 84 percent, from 4,528 in 1995 to 8,352 in 2010.
At Sunday's panel discussion in Broomall, Corbitt addressed questions and misconceptions about the church.
Are Mormons Christian? Answer: "Absolutely, yes," he said in an earlier interview on Friday.
Some also think the church "is unwelcoming to blacks," he said. Corbitt, who is black and was born and raised in Philadelphia, said he would "help people understand that the church is one of the most inclusive organizations in the world."
And the thing about polygamy?
The church banned the practice in 1890. Its website declares that "polygamists and polygamist organizations in parts of the western United States and Canada have no affiliation whatsoever with" the church.
Corbitt said that he would "try to put the final nail in the coffin about polygamy. You think it's a dead issue and you would hope so for thinking people in 2012. But you never know," he said.