Ground Broken for First Temple in Wyoming
Contributed By Julie Dockstader Heaps, Church News contributor
On a much-anticipated day in this “star of all valleys,” a spring snowstorm receded and daylight broke through as some 2,500 people gathered for the groundbreaking of a new temple here, the first in Wyoming, on April 25.
Speaking to the crowd seated on chairs, blankets, and even horses, Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy presided over the ceremony, turned the first ceremonial shovelful of soil, and offered the dedicatory prayer for the Star Valley Wyoming Temple, announced by President Thomas S. Monson during the October 2011 general conference.
“If you look at the temples that dot the earth, there is usually a very high concentration of members of the Church … or in very much urban centers. And to think, Afton, Wyoming. This is a unique thing,” Elder Christensen said. “It's a gift—it’s a gift of God to the great heritage that’s here.”
Members and others from the area, including from parts of Idaho, began gathering hours before the groundbreaking services, keeping warm under blankets and under umbrellas. They spread out on what was once the Haderlie Farm south of Afton and just east of Highway 89. The program was also broadcast live to stake centers in Afton, Thayne, and Kemmerer, Wyoming, and in Soda Springs and Montpelier, Idaho.
In addition, perhaps tens of thousands watched live streaming via the Internet.
When completed in the next two or three years, the 17,000-square-foot edifice will serve members throughout western Wyoming. Members here travel to either the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple or the Rexburg Idaho Temple.
In his remarks, Elder Christensen called the new temple “a link between your ancestry, those early pioneers who came here and suffered and weathered and eked out a living. [The temple] links the generations together.”
Looking out toward what is called Hale Canyon, named for some of the early Mormon settlers, Elder Christensen exclaimed, “What a beautiful site. It will become a landmark. It will become a sacred place for this valley.”
Conducting the services and addressing the congregation was Elder Kent F. Richards of the Seventy and Executive Director of the Temple Department. He asked those direct descendants of the early settlers to raise their hands.
“Isn’t that wonderful?” he said, as many raised their hands.
He called the temple “a new beginning. It’s a beginning of faith and courage of your generation and your children. They will yet one day look back at your faith, and they’ll remember the day that you were here for the beginning of this temple.”
Other speakers on the program were President McKell W. Allred, chairman of the groundbreaking committee and a former Afton stake president; Elder Christensen’s wife, Debora; Elder Richards’s wife, Marsha; and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming.
Taking part in the groundbreaking with Elder Christensen were Area Seventies and their wives, as well as civic and local Church leaders. Also attending was U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming.
The groundbreaking occurred in four “phases,” including the Church and civic leaders. Afterward, individuals and families were invited forward.
Speaking to the Church News, President Allred said that in the last month, as the snow has melted, he has seen “young women in their white dresses with their families taking pictures on the temple site, Young Men and Primary classes, and families. “Every day that I pass the site, there is someone there, to be on sacred ground and to make that historical memory for that child in the picture.”
One young woman was there to make her own memory. Hannah Weston, 15, of the Fairview Ward, Afton Wyoming Stake, rode her horse to the back of the gathering with her father and brother. She looked out toward where the temple will rise and said, “There are no words to explain it, to get this opportunity to go do baptisms for the dead more often and to inspire us.”
Construction on the new Star Valley Wyoming Temple is scheduled to begin Monday, April 27. There are 144 temples in operation with another 29 announced, under construction, or being renovated. The Payson Utah Temple will be dedicated June 7, 2015.
Elder Kent F. Richards of the Seventy conducts and speaks during the groundbreaking services of the Star Valley Wyoming Temple Saturday, April 25. Nearby is the artist rendering of what will be the 17,000-square-foot edifice. Photo by Julie Dockstader Heaps.