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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 February 2008, 10:29 GMT
Welcome to Mormon heartland... Chorley, Lancs
Mormon temple at Chorley

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

With a Mormon vying to be the Republican candidate for president, all eyes in the church's heartlands will be on the primaries, but one of those heartlands is Chorley in Lancashire.

Driving down the M61 in west Lancashire one is struck by an extraordinary sight.

On the edge of Chorley, nestled near the motorway, is a gleaming off-white church-like building, a sharp spire topped with a gold angel.

But this is not a church, its lines are not that of a Norman chapel or a Gothic masterpiece. This religious building takes its cue from Salt Lake City, Utah. It is the main North West base of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, perhaps better known as the Mormons.

MORMONS IN THE UK
190,000 members
First landed at Liverpool in 1837
Oldest branch in Preston
New chapel every two months
4,900 new missionaries trained at Chorley since 1998
Source: LDS

Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney's religion means all things Mormon have been more in the news than usual. But how many people know that the Mormons' association with the North West of England goes back further than their association with Salt Lake City?

The oldest surviving branch of the church is not in the US, but in Preston. And at nearby Chorley, the church has one of its two UK temples as well as its missionary training centre.

This is the place where the clean-cut young men and women who turn up on doorsteps around Britain every day get their grounding in spreading the word. Since it opened in 1998, it has churned out 4,900 missionaries, only half of them from the US or Canada.

Christian dispute

While the temple at Chorley obviously has a definite religious - if slightly space age - feel, the plain brick buildings that surround it look more like a 39 a night motorway travel tavern than anything ecclesiastical.

And many of those locals who pass by have little idea of the exact nature of the religious grouping behind their doors.

Members of the church categorise themselves as Christians, although many in the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions have little truck with them.