CAMBRIDGE – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints yesterday broke ground on a $20 million worship center in East Cambridge.
The Cambridge stake center, as the building will be called, will house four Mormon congregations – two of which worship in English, one in Portuguese, and one in Spanish – as well as the headquarters for the Cambridge stake, which is a geographical unit, akin to a diocese, that in this case includes an estimated 4,000 Mormons worshiping in 14 area congregations. Construction is expected to begin Wednesday and wrap up in February 2010.
The brick-clad building, which will front on Binney Street, will be significantly smaller than the Belmont temple, and will not have a statue of the angel Moroni atop its white steeple. But the building, because of its role as a stake center, will be larger than the chapels, or meeting houses, in Belmont, Boston, Cambridge, Lynnfield, and Revere.
The chapel in the building will accommodate 250 to 300 worshipers, but the building will also have a basketball court that, when combined with the chapel, could seat as many as 1,200 people for regional meetings, according to Grant Bennett, a spokesman for the project.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is by dint of her status as a “university professor” at Harvard, as well as her Pulitzer prize and her MacArthur “genius” grant, one of the most prominent Mormons in academia. She said in an interview at the groundbreaking that the church’s decision to build the stake center in East Cambridge reflects what appears to be a trend – at least in the Northeast United States – in which the predominantly suburban church is investing more in urban areas. Ulrich is a member of one of the East Cambridge congregations that for the past five years has been worshiping in the former Kendall Boiler and Tank Building. The local congregations, she said, are a mix of academics, young professionals, and recent immigrants.
“This development expresses the church’s commitment to the urban core,” said Ulrich, adding that the church has also recently constructed a facility in Harlem. “It tends to be a suburban thing, and to commit this money to an urban center and to maintaining members here is significant.”