If you want to be genuinely cheered at year’s end and feel a sense of being affiliated with something hopeful, energetic and rolling forward with continued power, take a few minutes to contemplate just a few of the top LDS stories of 2006. It is a reminder that while all around us things may seem to run down, the Church maintains a remarkable vibrancy and is a sure and steady beacon of hope that will never fail.
Temples continue to be announced and built at a breathtaking pace. President James E. Faust reminded the crowd at the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple groundbreaking ceremony that President Gorbon B. Hinckley was “the greatest temple builder in the history of the world.” Few of us stop to contemplate the miracle of being alive in a time when temple spires dot the landscape.
Four new temples were announced this year in Guatemala, Philippines, Honduras and Vancouver, British Columbia. Ground was broken for two new temples in Salt Lake Valley just five months apart from each other, and South Jordan, Utah, became the first city in the world to anticipate having two temples when the Oquirrh Mountain Temple is completed in two years.
It seems, in fact, that groundbreaking ceremonies are the symbol of the Church’s vitality and growth as not only temples, but university buildings and chapels across the world are all underway at one time.
We are also reminded and are grateful at this season that we see miracles — not only the tender mercies in our own lives from the Lord, but in the surprising, nearly unprecedented vigor of our 96-year-old prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, who started this year with surgery to remove a cancerous growth and bounced back to preside and speak at temple dedications in Sacramento and Finland. When he spoke at the recent groundbreaking of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple, he had the wit, the strength and insight Latter-day Saints have enjoyed for the many years he has served us.
Each year at this time, Meridian’s editors pick the top ten LDS stories from the year. We don’t put them in any order, but compile them to remember how noteworthy the year has been. Here are our picks for 2006. For many of them, Meridian was on the front line, bringing you coverage that was immediate and up close.
Follow the hot links to the original stories.
1. President Hinckley Becomes Oldest President of the Church
On November 2, 2006, Gordon B. Hinckley became the oldest man to hold the office of President of the Church in this dispensation. David O. McKay had held that distinction previously, but President Hinckley passed the mark, reaching 96 years and 133 days.
He had referred to the upcoming landmark in his October Conference address: “Now, as all of you know, I am somewhat old in years. I had my 96th birthday last June. I have learned from many sources that there is considerable speculation concerning my health. I wish to put the record straight. If I last a few months longer, I will have served to an older age than any previous President. I do not say this to be boastful but rather grateful. Last January I underwent major surgery. It was a miserable experience, particularly for one who had never previously been a patient in a hospital. Following this was the question as to whether I should undergo further treatment. I chose to do so. My doctors have called the results miraculous. I know that the favorable results come from your many prayers in my behalf. I am deeply grateful to you. The Lord has permitted me to live; I do not know for how long. But whatever the time, I shall continue to give my best to the task at hand.” (Ensign, November 2006, The Faith to Move Mountains, p. 82).
When asked about the milestone as it passed, he played it down by saying, “Of course I’m the oldest living President. I’m the only living President!”
2. Church Joins with Diversity of Faiths to Support Marriage Protection Amendment
In June, the United State Senate voted on a constitutional marriage protection amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Before that vote, Elder Russell M. Nelson joined a cadre of 55 religious and civic leaders to sign a letter and participate in a press conference in the nation’s capitol in support of the amendment. These leaders included rabbis, archbishops, evangelical leaders, priests of the Greek Orthodox Church and more.
They acknowledged that it may not have happened ever before in American history when, religious leaders of so many different persuasions have united across their differences to stand together in support of a common goal. They called the move “unprecedented” and said that with the future of marriage at stake, “We cannot stand idly by.”
Before the June 7 vote, the First Presidency sent a letter to be read over all the pulpits in the United States stating, “We, as the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, have repeatedly set forth our position that the marriage of a man and a woman is the only acceptable marriage relationship.” It then went on to say: “We urge members to express themselves on this urgent matter to their elected representatives in the Senate.”
The amendment failed in the Senate, but the Church had taken a significant stand.
In July ground was broken for the Draper Utah temple, and on a blustery day in December, ground was broken for the new Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple. When these two temples are completed, each built on a similar design of 60,000 square feet, Salt Lake Valley will have four temples. In fact, someone standing on the rise of ground at the Oquirrh Mountain Temple will be able to see all four temples at once.
President Hinckley noted that originally the name of the temple was going to be the South Jordan Utah Temple, but concern over confusion with the nearby Jordan River Temple had made Church officers reconsider.
“People won’t know how to spell it,” quipped President Hinckley, in remarkable form given his 96 years, “but they don’t have to spell to come to the temple.” He said many don’t know how to spell “Timpanogos” and some don’t know how to spell “Salt Lake” but it is with “rejoicing and gladness” that we initiate this process of temple building.
The Church must have the building process down to a science because, in addition, to the temples under construction, this year President Hinckley also dedicated a new LDS Business College Extension in Salt Lake and he celebrated his birthday by breaking ground for the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors’ Center on the BYU campus, which will be fully funded by private donations. President Hinckley also provided at a ceremony marking the completion of the renovation of the Relief Society building in Salt Lake City.
4. Santiago Chile and Papeete Tahiti Temples Rededicated
After undergoing colon cancer surgery in January, President Hinckley was already invigorated enough by March to travel to Santiago, Chile to rededicate the temple there.
With its rededication, the Santiago Temple — the second to be built in South America and the first to be built in a Spanish-speaking country — became the Church’s 122nd operating temple.
In his remarks during Saturdays’ devotional in the stadium, President Hinckley said of the Santiago Temple, “Now that it has been beautified, enlarged, and strengthened, it will increasingly bless the lives of the marvelous Saints of Chile.”
Saints who had prayed earnestly that their prophet would be well enough to make the trip paid a touching tribute to him as they spontaneously began waving white handkerchiefs as the 400-voice choir sang the closing hymn, “I Believe in Christ.” They continued waving throughout the hymn, turning the 50,000-seat stadium into a sea of white. After the closing prayer, President Hinckley again stood, and waved his own handkerchief back. A “wave” then started going around the stadium as the general authorities departed the stand.
Click here to read Meridian’s report of the event.
In November the Papeete Tahiti Temple was rededicated after an extensive renovation.
5. 4000th Broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word
Some things just endure, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s vast appeal to people across the decades is one of them. This year the choir saw its 4000th weekly broadcast, marking its 77 years on air, the longest running broadcast in the world. Ever since 1929, the choir has filled the airways with song and the choir seems to grow better every year.
In fact, the choir is so wildly popular that getting a ticket to its Christmas concerts in the 21,000- seat conference center has become difficult, and people watch for the very hour those hot tickets are available. Since 2001, the choir has joined voices with star of stage and screen Angela Lansbury, Broadway diva Audra McDonald, and opera luminaries Bryn Terfel, Frederica von Stade, and Renée Fleming. All of these performances have been videotaped and produced for later nationwide release on PBS television. To read more about the choir, click here.
Bravo to our melodious choir!
6. Sacramento California Temple Dedicated
Members of the Church were on hand at Sutter’s Mill near Sacramento, California, when gold was discovered in 1849, but the real gold was delivered on 3 Sept 2006, when the 19,500 square foot, Sacramento temple was dedicated in four sessions by President Gordon B. Hinckley. It will serve approximately 85,000 Church members in 21 stakes in an area rich with Church history.
The real story of this temple, however, was behind the scenes, because the open house was scheduled for August, but the spring brought a ceaseless downpour of rain. 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.”
An average of 325 Latter-day Saints showed up a day to personally landscape the temple, and with those working on the cultural celebration, more than 10,000 volunteers had given significant amounts of their time by the day of the temple dedication.
Click here for a photo essay on the Sacramento Temple as morning touched the temple spires.
7. Helsinki Finland Temple Dedicated
The Church grows slowly in Finland, at a glacial pace. After more than 50 years, the country only has 4500 members — but such remarkable members, founded in granite, unshakeable. When covering the temple dedication, we talked to some members who have more than 90% activity in their branch. Thus when the Helsinki Finland Temple was dedicated in October, it was a joyous, long-anticipated event. The temple district covers twelve time zones, is the largest in the world, and takes in Saints from Finland, Russia, Lativa, Lithuania and Estonia. It is truly an example of people from many nations, some who have been at political odds with each other in the past, becoming knit as one.
Most gratifying for the Finns is that 55,000 people attended the temple open house — this in a country that is essentially secular, and where organized religion is regarded with some suspicion. The press was so glowing that news of the temple open house was widely known in the country and referrals and Book of Mormon requests numbered 2,713! To read the articles on the Helsinki temple, go to www.ldsmag.com/Finland.
8. Would You Vote for a Mormon for President?
This was a year for Latter-day Saints to make political news. Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, became the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, making him the highest ranking LDS lawmaker in history. Kristin Cox, who is a blind, young mother and a gifted administrator, lost in her bid to be lieutenant governor of Maryland and Congressman Ernest Istook lost in his bid to be governor of Oklahoma.
Still the race that could make the most waves for Mormons is the possible presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. To this point, the majority of the media coverage on him has centered on his faith, which they call a “minefield” in his presidential bid. They ask such questions as, “How does a devout Mormon woo religious activists critical to winning the GOP presidential nomination when many of them are openly hostile to a faith they regard as a cult?”
Mitt Romney will obviously try to move beyond this issue in his candidacy, but even if this attempt is successful, Latter-day Saints and their faith will certainly be in the spotlight for the foreseeable future. Go read Meridian’s analysis of this issue click here.
9. Efficient Helping Hands
When there is a disaster — and they seem to be happening with increasing frequency — the Church is immediately and quietly on the scene with perhaps the most efficient welfare and humanitarian services in the world. This is offered without fanfare or much public relations. The object is just to help.
In May, a volcanic eruption and earthquake in Indonesia took more than 5,000 lives and left more than 200,000 people homeless. Local members gathered in churches and prepared thousands of meals that were delivered to the earthquake survivors day and night for five days and provided beds and mattresses for hospitals. Within three days of the disaster, a 747 jet supplied by Islamic Relief Worldwide left Salt Lake City supplied with medical equipment and thousands of hygiene kits.
When the plane arrived in Indonesia, 12 trucks transported the relief materials to church buildings, where it was donated to people in need. The Church also organized to contribute to the long-term relief of the people.
The Church is organized to respond quickly and efficiently to aid the suffering — and this is only one example of many that could be cited.
The Church celebrated two significant milestones in 2006. In August, a cultural celebration in Monterrey, Mexico, marked the 125th anniversary of the Church in that country — where more than one million church members reside. Fifteen thousand guests came to see 3,000 performers dance and sing.
This year also marked the 150th anniversary of the handcart pioneers and was noted, among other events, with a major documentary carried nationally on the Public Broadcasting System called Sweetwater Rescue: The Willie and Martin Handcart Story.