Our Meridian staff takes you to the frontlines of the important news stories in the world and in the Church.  Through the power of cyberspace and instant communications, we have a photo essay on the burning Samoa temple while the embers are hot, take you in multiple images with President Hinckley as he first tours the newly rebuilt Kirtland, and give you the most intimate picture of POW Ron Young through interviews with his mother, who shares with us what she can’t share with any other media—her most personal spiritual feelings about his capture.

            Meridian’s headquarters is an electric place to be as we have our finger on the pulse of the news as it happens, and 400,000 readers stay in touch to keep us aware of breaking stories.  Often, to be on top of events, we are up through the night, changing tomorrow’s cover to put you at the center.

            “How do we gather photos of the burning Samoa temple,” we asked when we got the news.  This demands a photo essay, but we are not in Samoa.  We published what we had and asked for more from any reader in Samoa.  Soon our email has contributions—pictures that wrench our hearts to see Moroni still standing as the conflagration devours the sacred edifice. 

            This is the power of the Internet.  We are connected to each other as never before, sharing our pain and our joys, our heart in the face of life’s dramas and a world that swirls and turns faster than we comprehend.

            Can it really already be the last of 2003?

            This year Latter-day Saints were at the heart of some major events.  Most news outlets who have compiled their lists of top stories of the year have included the recovery of Elizabeth Smart in that list.  It was, from the lips of even the most hard-boiled reporters, a miracle. Likewise, captured Ron Young’s return from Iraq stirred and heartened the American public.

Significant News

            As we have reviewed the year’s LDS stories, to give you our take on the most newsworthy, we are unanimous in one area.  The most critical and far-reaching news that will affect our world is not strictly about the Church or its members, so it is not on the list.  Still we have no doubt that the current challenge to the definition of marriage is the most significant struggle facing us, with more power to alter and erode our world than anything else.  Long after today’s news about economic recovery or even the capture of Saddam become history, our children and grandchildren will live with the consequences of an altered world if we lose the meaning of marriage. 

            The Supreme Court’s striking down the Texas sodomy law and the Massachusetts decision on same-sex “marriage” will fundamentally restructure  American society unless intervention is taken.  Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia said the decision by the court was effectively decreeing the end of all morals legislation. In Canada and in some other countries across the world the attack on marriage is further along.

Meridian’s Top Ten

            Yet our listing of news stories here is about the Church and its members.  It is our year’s wrap up, a pause to reflect, knowing that 2004 will soon be coming at us with its own cascade of remarkable moments.  The first one will undoubtedly be January 11, when a new temple will be dedicated in Ghana, the first in West Africa.  Meridian will be there so you will be, too.  But first, let’s remember 2003.

One–Elizabeth Smart’s Return

We chose this as our top news story, not because it affected the most members, or because it had any specific impact on the Church as a whole, but because it came upon the public as a wash of unexpected light.  She, whom we thought was dead, was found.

            The newscasters were using words rarely heard on television. “It’s remarkable, unbelievable, incredible. It’s a miracle.” They were saying that in a time of unrelenting bad news, they enjoyed reporting something wonderful.

            What turned not just Salt Lake City, but the nation and the world, to jubilation was the return of fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart to her family after being kidnapped at knifepoint from her bedroom last June.

            Fox reporter Shepherd Smith said, “She has to be one of the most excited girls in one of the most excited families in the country.”

Two—LDS Pilot Nathan White Buried at Arlington

 The war on terrorism has taken many forms and affected our lives in many ways.  An obvious and outward part of the war that dominates the daily news is the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We focus on the sacrifice of Nathan White as a symbol of all those men and women who have left their homes this year to fight, and for those who have been wounded or died. Nothing, though, brought the war more to the forefront of our lives and the lives of Meridian’s readers than being at Arlington for the burial of LDS Navy Pilot Nathan White.

          We had received e-mail and phone calls wondering if we could cover the funeral for the family at Arlington.  Being based in the Washington D.C. metro we quickly rearranged our schedules so that we could.  We had no idea of the profound affect this would have on us.  This experience at Arlington has become one of the highlights of our lives.

            Many of Meridian’s readers will remember the moment that Nathan’s widow, Akiko, tenderly helped her little daughter, Courtney, place her hand over her heart.  That moment, captured in sequence as the casket was taken from the caisson, moved untold thousands across the nation.  We published it as a Viewfinder.

Three—POW Ronald Young Jr. Rescued in Iraq

POW stories are rife with torture for the soldier and anguish for loved ones at home.  When Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young, Jr, 26 was captured by the Iraqis when his Apache Longbow helicopter went down in fierce fighting over Karbala 50 miles southwest of Baghdad, Meridian’s story was how his parents Kaye and Ronald Young were finding comfort and support.

            Thus it was a Sunday morning of special thanks at the Georgia home of Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Young Jr. when his parents were notified of his rescue in Iraq. They first made a definite identification of him from a video shown on CNN hours prior to the official notification. “I’m ecstatic,” Ronald Young Sr. said. “It’s him! It’s definitely him.”

    Ward member and friend, Carla Toole, was helping to answer the phone at the home of Ronnie and Kaye Young after the news seemed to take flight, and what seemed like the ‘whole world’ began to call. “We are so proud and so happy today,” said Toole. “Our faith kept us on a high and when we heard that the Prophet had prayed directly for Ronald Jr., we all knew he would come home to us.”

Four—Samoa Temple Destroyed by Fire

Not since an arson set fire to the Nauvoo Temple in 1848 has a temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints been ravaged and decimated by fire.

  We have the sense, in fact, that our temples our protected from such disaster, but Wednesday evening 9 July 2003 at about 7:00 the Apia Samoa Temple burst into flames much to the horror of those who looked on.

Eyewitness, Rich Alton, noted, “The angel Moroni was an important symbol throughout the night.  As the fire progressed, the flames slowly inched their way up the tower that supported Moroni. The members’ greatest hope, when it became clear there would be nothing left of the temple, was that the angel Moroni would stand tall at the end of the night.”

            Elder Jerry King, Pacific Islands Public Affairs Director, said that the members were pleading for the statue of Moroni, “Don’t let him leave.”

            Within a few days the First Presidency announced that a new temple would be built in its place.

Five—The 25th Anniversary of the Revelation on the Priesthood

If you had already been born and were a member of the Church, June 9, 1978, you remember in vivid detail exactly where you were the minute you heard that President Spencer W. Kimball had received a revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy males.

            Elder Marion D. Hanks, an emeritus General Authority who was there said, “Hallelujah. I thank God I lived long enough to see this day.” 

Church historian, Leonard Arrington, said that within five minutes “my son Carl Wayne telephoned from New York City to say he had heard the news.  I was in the midst of sobbing with gratitude for this answer to our prayers and could hardly speak with him.  I was thrilled and electrified.  I felt like the Prophet Joseph Smith said we should feel about the gospel:  “A voice of gladness!  A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy.” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:19)

            Meridian Magazine published a 25th anniversary cover story celebrating this marvelous event.

Six—The Rebuilding of Kirtland

As reporters for Meridian, we are often on the frontlines of Church events, finding the key players to interview to get the inside story. Our questions are different than the journalists from other news outlets.  We are not just interested in the facts, but the spiritual fastenings behind them.  We wonder, what is the invisible spiritual reality behind any Church story? We explored this in detail in Kirtland, Ohio.

In a series of cover stories and photographic essays, Meridian celebrated the restoration of historic Kirtland, remembering one of the Church’s most significant chapters. We published articles on the dedication of the new sites, we accompanied the Prophet on his tour of the restored Kirtland, we enjoyed the story of Karl Ricks Anderson and others who felt an urgency to see this project completed.  Each article we published was richly illustrated with photographs that took you there.  We gathered all the stories into a special edition.

Seven—Mormon Tabernacle Choir Celebrates 75th Anniversary

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word,” the longest continuous running program in America, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir not only received a prestigious award from President Bush, but took to the road on a tour of the northeastern United States.  It took three charter planes to transport the 335 Choir members able to get away, a 25-piece woodwind, brass and percussion ensemble from the Orchestra at Temple Square, two conductors, two Tabernacle Organists and an entourage of spouses and guests from Utah, but the effort was well worth it.  Crowds roared their approval at a Fourth of July concert with the Boston Pops and not even melting in the humid heat of Washington D.C. daunted the choir’s remarkable sound.  Robb Cundick took readers along on the tour in a jaunty style in three articles in Meridian,  The first was “Notes from the Northeast” the second was called appropriately “Notes from the Northeast II,” and you can guess the title of the third.

Eight—Church Announces Salt Lake Downtown Development

Since it is headquartered in downtown Salt Lake City, and the temple built from pioneer sacrifice is at its center, the Church is committed to keeping the city center alive and healthy. Demonstrating that irrevocable commitment, the Church announced in October plans to construct new higher education facilities adjoining its world headquarters. Additionally, the Church announced that it will invest hundreds of millions of business-generated dollars in redevelopment of downtown commercial properties it owns including the newly-purchased Crossroads Mall.

Projected construction and completion dates will not be available until Church planners and architects complete more study on the site. 

            In addition, an agreement was reached in July concerning the much-embroiled Church plaza. A historic agreement was finalized when Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and H. David Burton, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, signed legal documents extinguishing a controversial city easement across Church-owned land in the heart of the city. The ACLU has sued the city, contending the Main Street Plaza deal that eliminated a public easement on the church-owned plaza violates the U.S. Constitution. The Church was later added as a defendant in the case, which is the second lawsuit the ACLU has filed over the city’s sale of Main Street to the church.

Nine—California Fires

Some 400,000 members of the Church were affected by the devastating fires in Southern California in late October.  The fire created a domino affect in the whole area.  Businesses shut down.  Banks closed.  Mail was not being delivered.  Electricity was cut off to many areas.  Schools were closed. For those who were forced out of their homes and were staying in hotels, it was hard to even find a place to eat meals because restaurants were closed. Top that with a grocery strike and transit strike, and one begins to get a feel for how difficult it was for many, many people who were brutalized by these fires.  More than 730,000 acres were burned, 3,500 homes were destroyed and property damage exceeded $2 billion.  Scores of LDS families lost their homes in the fires.

Ten—General Primary Broadcast to Nearly a Million Children

On Saturday, February 8, 2003,  President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke to nearly a million children in an unprecedented worldwide satellite broadcast commemorating the 125th anniversary of the Church’s Primary organization. Meridian’s editors interviewed Sister Colleen Menlove, Primary General President of the Church, just two days before the broadcast.

From all of us at Meridian to all of you in our online, cyber-world community of Latter-day Saints in more than 177 nations, we wish you and yours the happiest of new years.