The Baton Rouge Temple: 18 Years of Refuge from Storms
Contributed By Savannah Hopkinson, Church News contributor
- The temple was unharmed during Hurricane Katrina.
- Historic flooding in 2016 did not affect it.
- It has been a “house of refuge.”
The Baton Rouge Louisiana Temple has seen a lot since its dedication 18 years ago.
The announcement of the temple at the October 1998 general conference came just months after President Hinckley’s announcement to build smaller temples. It was one of the initial 30 announced and was an answer to members’ prayers in an area where Church history dates back to 1841. At the time, two members mailed $10 to Joseph Smith, telling him there was a small branch in the area and requested that an elder be sent.
More than 4,600 attended the four-session dedication presided over by President Gordon B. Hinckley on June 16, 2000. During the temple dedication, Ole L. Christensen, a local temple coordinator, was among many who called it a “house of refuge.”
“When confronted with the snares and entanglements of this life, we are grateful for this temple as a place of refuge, of safety, of serenity, and peace,” he said.
That sentiment would become quite literal when, just five years later, the area was hit by Hurricane Katrina. The category five hurricane had a final death toll of 1,836 and left major parts of Louisiana and Mississippi devastated.
Miraculously, the temple was unharmed by the storm. Latter-day Saints in the area were accounted for, with many having lost everything. Frances Drake, a widow, had just returned from serving a mission and made several home renovations, only to have everything submerged in the floods. The stake center adjacent to the temple became a safe place for many who were displaced.
Members were quick to respond, and a local bishops’ storehouse was turned into a command center. Church volunteers from all over the country donated 17,400 days of service and participated in “epic” cleanup efforts.
The temple closed its doors for a few weeks in September 2005 following the storm. When it reopened, temple President V. Kenneth Dutile wasn’t sure what to expect.
“We operated on a very slim basis,” he told the Church News at the time. “Everything was short—both workers and patrons. We had to do whatever we had to do to keep it going.”
They kept going. When patrons arrived with damaged temple clothing, workers helped patch things together since the temple had such a small supply of their own. Over the weeks, patrons borrowed less and less until everything had been replaced.
By the beginning of the next year, the temple had to begin putting patrons on standby because too many were arriving.
In 2016 historic flooding hit the area, affecting 146,000 homes in the southern Louisiana area. Members from surrounding states arrived in large numbers to help muck out homes. In total, more than 4,300 arrived to help and used the temple and nearby stake center as a gathering place.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said he had “no doubt God sent you here.”
The temple closed this year for renovations and is expected to be rededicated next year.
Through 18 years of storms and flooding, the Baton Rouge Temple has fulfilled its call as a place of refuge not just for members but for the whole community, and it will continue to do so for years to come.
A group of about 350 is a small part of the over 4,300 Mormon Helping Hands volunteers who arrived for a weekend cleanup project in 2016. Photo from Church News archives.