Orthodox Christian church brings more religious diversity to Utah County

A rendering shows the design of the new Greek Orthodox Church that is being built in Payson. (Ken Hoglund)

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The Greek Orthodox Church is building a chapel in Payson, near The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Payson Utah Temple. This church will be the second of its kind in the state of Utah, the first being located in downtown Salt Lake City.

“It will bring culture,” said Father Justin Havens, the priest of Salt Lake City’s Greek Orthodox Church. “It will bring music. It will bring architectural beauty.” The new building will serve those living in Utah County who would otherwise have to commute to Salt Lake City to worship.

The church will have high ceilings and golden domes, symbolic of the ascension of Christ, that can be seen from I-15. Havens compared the building to a lighthouse to which spiritual strugglers can look for refuge and peace. The new rural setting will also give the congregation’s many children room to run and play.

Another church building in Utah is a necessity for the growing congregation, who, according to Havens, are squished like “sardines” in their current building.

“When a church reaches 80% capacity, it starts to stifle the growth,” added church member Kevin Flanagan, lamenting the difficulty of recognizing and reaching out to visitors in such crowded quarters.

Despite logistic difficulties, Flanagan said it is a joy to see so many people flocking to the Orthodox faith.

Members of the Greek Orthodox Church stand in their building in Salt Lake City. The new Greek Orthodox Church in Utah County will better serve the growing congregation’s needs. (Ken Hoglund)

Flanagan’s own conversion to the Orthodox faith began eight years ago when he met Havens. An active Latter-day Saint of nearly 30 years, Flanagan began studying the Orthodox church, which he said he had never heard of before meeting the priest. Over his years of study, during which he served faithfully in various ward and stake callings, he became converted to Orthodoxy.

“It wasn’t so much that I was leaving Mormonism,” Flanagan said. “It was simply a matter of being drawn to the Orthodox faith.”

Orthodox teachings have a lot in common with those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to Havens. Both churches claim to be the original church established by Jesus Christ, both teach eternal marriage and the centrality of families and both encourage active participation and whole-hearted spiritual conversion.

Havens said he’s happy to be in Utah, where he feels his friends and neighbors are loving and faithful, and where he said people have become noticeably more open and amicable in the last decade and a half. He encouraged Utahns to not allow their openness to detract from their own faith, but to engage in loving and compassionate dialogue.

“I’ve been amazed at the lack of awareness of other religions,” Havens said. He added that he is often mistaken for a Jewish Rabbi because citizens of Utah aren’t usually familiar with other Christian faiths.

The construction of a new church and the subsequent arrival of a new faith group in Utah County could help encourage learning and religious diversity in Utah County, Havens said.

“I hope it will bring a place for people who might be seeking a different level of spiritual knowledge or those who may be seeking a different type of worship,” Flanagan said. He also said anyone who comes seeking a learning opportunity “will find people who love their worship, who love their Savior and who love their community.”

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