An article on a temple dedication could be very short. We could give you the bare facts — on 3 Sept 2006 the 19,500 square foot, Sacramento temple was dedicated in four sessions by President Gordon B. Hinckley and will serve approximately 85,000 Church members in 21 stakes.
Yet, when Scot and I go to a temple dedication, we are looking not just for the facts, but for far more. Knowing that we are the eyes and ears of so many Latter-day Saints — Meridian readers — who would like to feel the spirit of a temple dedication, we begin a quest from the moment we arrive on the temple grounds.
We want to understand the invisible forces at work that have moved and stirred people to accomplish such great work, to feel the sense of unity and oneness that suddenly enlivens the Saints when they are getting ready to dedicate a temple.
It is as if for a few days, all the bands and shackles of mortality have been thrown off, and we are all in touch with a flood of light from the heavens.
We once read in a talk from Elder David Bednar, that his wife, Susan, prays before she goes to Church on Sunday to know who she might serve or help in the congregation. That thought resonated with me because we have also felt reliant on the Spirit for guidance.
We come to a temple dedication with the names of some contacts we should interview, but more than that we want to delve into the heart of what really happened. Scot prays for eyes to see and capture the best photography. I pray for a heart to feel, and for people to cross our path who can tell us the story behind the story. We want to see more than readily meets the eye.
Like Elisha’s servant who needed to have his eyes opened to see the heavenly army who was round about him, we seek to have open eyes to see what makes a temple dedication such a heavenly event.
Two Days before Dedication
We arrived at the 47-acre, golden temple lot, two days before the dedication, caught our first glimpse of the temple and saw a hive of activity. The rising hill where the road takes you to the temple grounds is golden. I call it golden euphemistically with eyes of love. The grass was blasted with heat from the soaring August temperatures, but true to form, as we drove further onto the temple grounds, there it stood with cooling, picture perfect surroundings, living a different law from our telestial world.
A fountain played before the gray, granite temple, the flowerbeds were laid out in lush variety and the grass was verdant.
Around the world, everywhere it is the same. In Africa, where moist tropical heat ages and dilapidates buildings, the temple stands out as a jewel. In The Hague, in the Netherlands, the temple is a portrait of meticulous grooming and care.
Here is why. With the dedication two days away, many are working on the temple. The 168,000 people who came through the open house, including the many wheelchairs that passed through the temple, left a nick here or a mark there. But a temple that is being dedicated has to be perfect. That’s the unspoken standard.
So today, long after the open house and just a few hours before the prophet will be here, some people are power washing the sidewalks. Another group is touching up the fence. A punch list has been created so that every last possible detail can be superior in workmanship and function.
I came around the temple to an open back door where a painter was applying a second coat of paint — for the second time. He had been working on the temple for three days until late at night to get finished, saying, “I just didn’t like the way this second coat looked, so I’m taking it off and starting again. I know the prophet will probably never notice this door, but this is work for the Lord and I want to give it everything I have.”
I asked his name and he wouldn’t tell me, pleading that he remain anonymous. He wanted to do his work without fanfare, with an eye only to pleasing the Lord’s all-seeing eye.
It reminded me of talking to the painters at the Nauvoo temple, who painted the backside of every pillar at the top of the ceiling — a place that will never be seen again — until they shone.
“I would stay and chat,” he said, “but already I’m four hours behind.”
How else can you express your gratitude to God, except giving him all you’ve got? Painting the backside of columns and repainting nearly perfect doors is a painter’s way of saying, “I will not hold back even the smallest part. I will not reserve my energy or store it for another day. What I am I give.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke of our willingness to submit wholeheartedly to the Lord, saying,
While we see this quality in the quiet but spiritually luxuriant lives of the genuine, spiritual heroes and heroines about us, the lack of it keeps so many of us straggling in the foothills and off the peaks in the adventure of full discipleship. I refer to our hesitancy and our holding back in submitting fully to the Lord and His purposes for us.This holding back is like leaving Egypt without journeying all the way to the Holy Land, or waiting in Nauvoo for the railroad to come through, or staying permanently at Winter Quarters. (Willing to Submit, May, 1985 Ensign)
The people working on the temple the Friday before the dedication reserved no part of themselves, but offered every skill to the Lord. The platform that would be used by the prophet and his party for only twenty minutes during the cornerstone ceremony was of superb craftsmanship, created with love by the Tongan group.
During the open house at the stake center, a sister watched near the door for new fingerprints, and with Windex and a cloth in hand, took opportunities between waves of visitors to clean the windows back to sparkling.
On this Friday, Duane Hall had come over to temple just to see if they needed an extra hand because he said “the logistics of carrying all of this off are just plain scary.” At least 747 seats had to be set up inside the temple for the dedication, 29 monitors working well so people could watch the proceedings. Every volunteer team has to work together with smooth, unruffled efficiency. “We have to quickly finish up the work without disrupting the spirit of the temple.”
Just as in so many of the Lord’s orchestrations, people came together to play small and large parts, but all very significant in the unfolding of events. “This has always been a wonderful, peaceful place,” said Duane.
The Church has owned this 47 acres since 1971. It was purchased from Aerojet and had originally been the home of a large recreation center for the company.
The Church remodeled the recreation center into the Mormon Center, a large stake house, and the rest of the land had been used all these years for recreation. “I remember when we’d come up here for Pioneer picnics or to hear the American Legion brass band,” said Duane.
Harvey Greer was the stake president in the area when the building and land came for sale in September of 1971. President Joseph Fielding Smith recommended that the Church buy the land and building, but because there was so much excess land, the members had to pay for it themselves.
President Greer said, “When I drove to the top of the hill on the land, I could actually see a temple standing here. I really knew that was the purpose of the land and knowing that gave me the courage to ask the Saints to raise the money and move forward on its purchase.
“You always worry about the cost of operations, the security of this much land, but I was absolutely certain what the purpose was.” Remarkably, his stake of Saints raised the money in a month.
“How do you get a stake to do that?” President Greer asked. “They were so wonderful, I just had to get out of their way.” Another lesson in consecration.
Preparing the Way
President Hinckley announces temples in General Conference, and as members, we sit back and wait for the announcement that they are going to be built and going to be dedicated. Yet, there are many hurdles to cross between the announcement and the fulfillment. One of these is often the planning commission of a city or county.
This was not a problem in Sacramento, again because of some steady, unspoken work. In 1998, President Hinckley made a firm statement about how important it is to work with people of other faiths on projects and to reach out to friends and neighbors. Richard Montgomery, who served as the Director of Public Affairs for the Church in the area moved on to head up Interfaith Relations and joined the Interfaith Council. He said, “When we have that kind of relationship, it is always easier to get a temple built.”
There couldn’t have been a better choice, for the best word for Richard is kindly. He has the gift of radiating love, even to strangers — even to a reporter like me. I thought as I was talking to him, “he cares about me. He takes special interest and time for me.” I suspect that he makes everyone feel that way. What a remarkable gift.
After a short time on the council, he was elected president — for a one-year term. When it came time to elect a president the second year, they said, “We want you,” so he served again. Finally, on the third year, he was drafted again, “because” said a prominent Muslim cleric, “we love you.”
Opportunities began to abound. Bishop of the Catholic diocese asked him to come down and offer a prayer for peace. The Sikhs invited him to speak when Pope John Paul died. A Jewish representative to the council asked him to pray at their congregation when they had to let the rabbi go. He became close friends with the imams of Sacramento. And he loved them all.
It wasn’t surprising then what happened when the Planning Commission met to decide whether to grant a permit to build the temple. About 100 Latter-day Saints showed up to the commission to plead their cause.
“They may have been concerned when they also saw at the meeting representatives of nine other faiths — Catholics, Jews, Presbyterians, 7th Day Adventists, Episcopalians, and many others.” Richard said, “They came to say we support the Mormon Church in building this temple.”
The commission members said, “In all our time, we’ve never seen this kind of cooperation from the Interfaith Community.”
The date was set and published for the Sacramento Temple open house — July 29-August 26. That means that everything had to be set and ready for that day, but the weather didn’t cooperate. March brought six weeks of drenching rain, setting back the schedule.
Sister Colleen Erickson, whose husband Elder Boyd Erickson, was the missionary overseeing construction said, “It seemed like whenever we needed good weather for a concrete pour or whatever, we would pray and our prayers for the most part were answered. Sometimes, with a delay of a day or two, but they were answered.
Then, after the day and night rains of early spring, “the entire temple site was deep in mud and standing water, and none of the site work could be accomplished. We were all praying that the rains would cease, but our prayers were not being answered as they always had been before regarding the weather. It really puzzled us. We felt that the Lord had been in charge all through the construction process and for some reason now it just wasn’t happening.
It wasn’t until two weeks before the open house that the grounds were ready to be planted and sodded — but the grounds contractor had moved on to another job.
The temple stood beautiful and finished, but the lot was red clay, some of it running in rivulets down the cement from the downpours. Muck and mud were everywhere from the heavy equipment that had been in tearing up the earth. Many looked at the situation and said, “We’ll never make it.” It really appeared hopeless. But the theme of the temple committee was “We can do it.”
Sister Erickson said, “Russ Mumford of Okland Construction came into our office in mid-July and gave the assignment of getting 20 volunteers each workday and 30 on Saturday to assist with preparing the site for the planting of trees and bushes, digging weeds and removing large cobblestones. We were also given the assignment of finding volunteers to clean the temple nightly up to the open house on July 29th.
“We felt somewhat overwhelmed but began calling. One hour later, Gary Close, director of physical facilities in the area, came into our office and said, ‘What can I do to help with the cleaning of the temple? I have 80 people I can call upon.’”
Sister Erickson said, “Did someone tell you of our need?” His response was a questioning, “No.” She said it was another little miracle.
Instead of 20 people showing, there was an average of 325 volunteers a day, working three shifts.
Between the landscaping, youth cultural celebration, and open house, the dedication ceremonies called on the efforts of 10,000 volunteers
You’d think with eleven days to go before the open house, there would be panic. Instead, Dick Carter said, “It was fun.” Volunteers started arriving. “We looked around for people who seemed to have any experience at all, we’d give them a yellow tape and say, ‘You’re in charge of these 20 people.’”
The heat was intense — what the locals call a “heat storm” with every day hitting well above 100 degrees — and one day hitting 113.
This was not for the faint of heart or testimony.
Every day assignments were put on a big white board on the construction trailer—and also reminders to drink lots of water.
Candy Ward, who came often to work on the grounds said, “When the Kirtland temple was built, the women crushed up their china so the walls would shine. We don’t get that opportunity today, but this time we could make a difference and we were so glad to do it.
“Everything we could complain about was like a blessing to us. It was the best experience of our lives really. It was amazing to watch the people.
“When we heard we needed volunteers, I started calling, and people would be here in 45 minutes with picks, axes, shovels, and wheel barrows. The camaraderie was amazing.”
One day Sister Erickson was talking to Becky Fellows, who was a small woman, covered in dirt, having obviously worked hard that day. She was five months pregnant, had just had dental surgery and had sick children at home. Sister Erickson asked her, “Why are you here?” Becky answered, “I have to be connected to my temple.”
It seemed that everyone who came to volunteer felt the same way. They wanted to leave their fingerprints on the temple so that they could tell their children and grandchildren that they planted a particular tree or bush.
Dirt covered the workers until friends couldn’t recognize each other. Days were endurance contests. Half of the hydrangeas died and had to be replanted. The sod on the south lawn was replaced three times before it survived the punishing heat. Sister Erickson said, “It puzzled us again why the weather was so brutal and we prayed that the elements would be tempered, but they were not. On the 24th of July, I was pondering this and the answer came, ‘No, toil, nor labor fear, but with joy wend your way.’ We felt sure that all who had volunteered were connected with the pioneers and all they endured. There was a reason that the weather was not tempered.
“The day of the beginning of the open house,” said Sister Erickson, the temperatures went down under 100 and at times significantly so. The mornings were cool with a nice breeze blowing. We had seen predictions of over 100 degrees for the day of dedication, September 3. It was so very cool that morning that some standing outside waiting for the cornerstone ceremony wished they had a sweater or jacket. Another little miracle. The Lord is in charge.”
Temples are about transformation. People are drawn to the temple to lift their lives. Communities are drawn together — and even the land becomes different.
Lisa West, who handled the media for the dedication, told us, “As much as I have always loved Mormon Center, I was uneasy when it was first announced that the temple would be built there. I was unsure if it was a holy enough place, worthy of the house of the Lord. Although there have been truly spiritual moments there — it has always felt much like a ‘recreation’ area as that was its original purpose when built. Over the years, little by little, the roller-skates were given away, the pool was filled with sand and is now a volleyball court. The barbecues and the playground equipment have been removed. And recently the tennis courts were demolished to make way for the temple president’s new residence.
“But when President Hinckley came and broke ground, I knew it was consecrated by the Lord and the feeling of Mormon Center changed completely. It is holy ground.”
During construction, “I was at the temple jobsite nearly twice a week. Every single time I stepped inside the gate, I could feel the Spirit. Even when it was a metal shell with wires hanging down and it was dark and cold. Even when tromping through mud and rocks in the hallways where there is now beautiful blue carpet. Every time, without a doubt, the Spirit was there.”
May all who enter feel it.
[Be sure and watch for a coming photo essay of the day of dedication]