Text by Maurine Jensen Proctor Photography by Scot Facer Proctor
No one felt more intently the meaning or significance of the day than Gordon B. Hinckley. He was in his element. Deeply moved in one moment, funny in the next, he showed the range of his nature, the fervor of his feelings. He had chosen this day, June 27, for its historical meaning. As he told the crowd at the coverstone ceremony, “This was Joseph’s temple.”
On the hot south side of the temple for the coverstone ceremony while the crowd sweat and wept at the same time, President Hinckley was gracious and funny with the quick wit that both warms and endears his listeners. As he placed memorabilia in a box that would be sealed in the temple wall, he joked, “How would you like to be placed in a vault like that and be sealed up?” As project managers struggle to seal the box and do their work with the coverstone, he laughs. “I thought you were professional. Should I show you how to do that?” He is human, approachable-a friend.
With graciousness, he remembered to acknowledge the people who made the temple happen. He invited each of the mayors from the surrounding towns to the pulpit. “I want to say you don’t get anything done in a community without the backing of the mayor.” Chuck Scholz, the mayor of Quincy, said, “The bonds that were formed back in 1839 are even stronger today, and we’d like to say thank you for what your church has done for those of us here in Illinois.” If the bonds are stronger, there’s not much question who had the wisdom to build the bridge. How does he do it? This ease with people, with uncanny ability to disarm the press or the policy makers is never more evident than on June 27.
“We could go on for a long time,” he laughed, “but the sun is hot and we don’t want anyone to have a stroke.” From the sweltering 8:30 a.m. coverstone ceremony, he moves around to the shaded west side of the temple for a press conference on the temple steps. Though he admits he hadn’t slept well the night before (“Strange bed”), he doesn’t look wilted, and he uses his cane more to gesture than for support.
At the press conference, President Hinckley was flanked in the back by Elder Russell M. Nelson and Elder M. Russell Ballard and their wives, other members of the Seventy, members of the new temple presidency and other support staff.. Arranged in a semi-circle before him are members of the press. Still photographers crowded the platform, clicking frantically. Scot was among them. Video cameras rolled silently.
Beyond the fence were hundreds of Church members, leaning through for a better glimpse. They love their prophet and feel a special power about him. They wanted to feel what he feels on this special day, understand what he knows, see what he sees. Everyone around him laughs when he says something funny and beams at a higher radiance because they feel the power of the Spirit. He started out by putting the day in context. “This is a very significant day for those of us of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We’re back in Nauvoo.”