This beautiful structure, constructed in the pioneer era between 1883 to 1898, was the heart of the community.
On Saturday May 12, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, presiding at the groundbreaking service for a new temple, said “No other public space in Provo has ever had such a valued and varied use and no other structure in this county has been such an integral part of the civic and religious life here.”
The temple will be called the Provo City Center and will use the remaining outside structure of the former tabernacle as its walls. The new temple, which will serve 8 stakes in Provo and 8 in Springville, stands close to the Provo Temple.
“Many of us were devastated to hear of the fire and the destruction in the building just a few short years ago,” Sister Patricia T. Holland told the 5,600 people gathered on a picture-perfect spring morning. “I remember when I called to tell my children of this accident, they wept. This was their stake center. This was their center of strength. This was the stake house that gave them spiritual security.
“We all believed with Isaiah, that this was the stake that shall never be removed, a tabernacle that shall never be taken down…We all felt bereft and shaken and quite forsaken as it was partially burned. However, what we thought was devastation has, as with all things of the Lord, turned out to be a marvelous celebration this day.”
Elder L. Whitney Clayton quoted the Psalmist: "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."
“It is truly significant that the prophet made the decision to restore the tabernacle as a temple,” said Elder William R. Walker, executive director of the temple department, calling it “a unique and inspired decision.”
For a long time, the sad remains of the tabernacle stood shored up with no decision about the building’s future. “We know that many of you have prayed for this day,” Elder Walker said.
He told the story of a woman who had sent a letter to President Monson who said though she had not been a member of the Church, she had grown up in Provo and that she had found peace and serenity on the grounds of this tabernacle like nowhere else. She cried and cried when the tabernacle burned. When President Monson announced that it would be restored as a temple, she cried and cried again.
An Act of Faith
“Could it be a more beautiful morning?” Elder Holland asked, “and these grounds filled as much as possible with faithful people making history. Sometimes we are so close to history, we don’t realize we are making it. It dawns on me that this will be the largest group probably ever again to gather on this property.”
He said, “There is something in the promise and the prophecy and the devotion in a groundbreaking that is an act of faith.” He reminded the audience that the Saints didn’t have a successful experience with their first experiences trying to build a temple.
In Kirtland, he said the people gave their time, their energies and their china to build a temple, only to leave it to apostates, discontents and genuine enemies of the Church. They didn’t have any more success in Independence where the promise was declared but not realized. In Far West, they barely got four foundation stones laid before they were hounded out, and finally the Saints were driven from their temple in Nauvoo where they left, ready to cross a wilderness to who knows where.
They made a staggering journey to the west where they hoped they could find a place where god had made a place for them where “none could hurt or make afraid.” Within hours, if you can count a couple of days in that way, Brigham Young marched out to the center place of that geography, planted his cane and said, we’re going to build a temple.
Elder Holland suggested that people might have said, “Do you really, really mean that? How good is your memory Brigham? How much work do we have to do just to survive? They didn’t know that just a few years from then Johnson’s Army would march into the territory.
Brigham answered in words like these, “Some have wondered and some have asked if we should try to build another temple. They have asked if we should be here tomorrow to enjoy the effort we’ve expended. I don’t know the answer to such questions. I don’t know where we will be tomorrow. I don’t know if we will be able yet again to enjoy the fruits of our labors. This I do know. We are a temple-building people. We should build a temple here and everywhere we go and by the hand of the Lord and by the power of Almighty God, we’ll live to see the fruits of our labors.”
“We’ve got it easier than they had,” said Elder Holland. “We cried when a tabernacle burned. As difficult as that is, it doesn’t rank with those early years when temples burned and people walked a long, long way.”
He said that wherever we go and whatever the challenges, when the storms of life swirl around us, we still build temples and we are going to build one in the heart of Provo and I love the symbolism of what that means.
The Protection of a Temple
Sister Holland told the crowd that they had just returned from the Kansas City Missouri Temple dedication. It was striking to her that this temple was within 6 miles of Liberty Jail, less than one hour from Adam-ondi-ahman and close to Haun’s Mill—all scenes of persecution and sorrow for early members of the Church.
Now a dedicated temple stands there whose motif is the olive branch, signifying that peace was once more established in an area that had once given the Saints so much unrest.
No one passing the construction site of the San Diego temple at first paid much attention to it. It appeared to be like any other construction site. Footings were placed and utilities were brought to the site, but it wasn’t remarkable. The steel super structure was put in place and eventually white cladding was welded on to the super structure. Then the building began to look unique. Finally spires went up and there came a day when the Angel Moroni was placed on the tower of the temple.
Elder Clayton said he remembers the first time he drove by the temple and saw it like that. Now, cars weren’t whizzing by heedless of the building. Now traffic slowed. “Everyone was staring to the east, looking at the temple.”
As work progressed, floors and separating walls were added. The temple was made to look exquisite inside and out. “How apt an analogy,” Elder Clayton said. The Lord begins by doing the rough construction on our souls.
“As we keep the commandments and become firmer in our devotion, the steel superstructure is put in place. The longer we do what is right, the beauty inside of us is reflected on the outside and then the Lord does the fine tuning. The interior is embellished in every way and we end up inside and out blessed because of the work of the Lord on us.
After the talks were concluded, Elder Holland gave a prayer. He said, “We’ll dedicate the soil, the ground, the environment for the construction that is about to unfold here.”
Then those on the stand were invited to take a shovel and turn the ground.
A new temple has begun, healing the hearts of those who loved a tabernacle that once stood here.