A chilly wind buffeted guests arriving for dedicatory services at the new Jordan River Temple on Monday morning, November 16. But the chill soon faded with the warmth of President Marion G. Romney’s greeting: “My dear brothers and sisters, we welcome you to the House of the Lord.” The welcome was extended to some 160,000 Saints seated in the temple and the Tabernacle during fifteen dedicatory sessions November 16–20.
It was the second time in less than ninety years that a temple had been erected in the Salt Lake Valley; the Salt Lake Temple, begun in 1853, was dedicated in April 1893. “Never did most of us dream of such a thing happening,” reflected Donovan H. Van Dam, president of the new Jordan River Temple, in remarks at the opening session. He noted that the Church has already built six temples in Utah, and another so close to Salt Lake’s historical temple was not seriously anticipated. However, he added, “The Lord had plans for further spiritual development nearby.” Construction of the new temple began in June of 1979.
Short hours before the initial service was to begin, news media announcers had predicted that President Spencer W. Kimball would likely remain confined to his room at the Hotel Utah, where he was convalescing following surgery and a lengthy hospitalization. So it was with tears and joy that dedication participants welcomed the president as he entered the Celestial Room just before the service commenced. Following the session he visited each of the temple’s ordinance rooms in a wheelchair, accompanied by President N. Eldon Tanner (also in a wheelchair), President Marion G. Romney, President Gordon B. Hinckley, and other Church and temple administrators.
President Romney, who conducted the session, made brief introductory remarks which reminded the congregation of the sacredness of this occasion. In holy temples, he said, “there have occurred some of the greatest spiritual manifestations recorded in ecclesiastical history. We hope and pray that all who participate in this meeting this day will be spiritually attuned so that you may receive the enlightenment and understanding that can come through the Spirit.”
President Tanner addressed the congregation, pointing out that “This temple has a little different history than others.” He noted that the land upon which the temple was built was given to the Church; also that the entire cost of construction (and maintenance for many years to come) had been donated by Saints in some 134 stakes of the temple district. “We asked the people if they would pay for this edifice—and they said yes.”
“How fortunate we are,” he continued, “as members of the Church, to have a temple in our midst, where we can see it every day.” President Tanner’s counsel to parents was to discuss the temple often with their children and to “teach them to walk uprightly before the Lord.”
Elder Mark E. Petersen called upon us as members of the Church to “dedicate ourselves, as well as this building, to the work of the Lord.” Speaking of our relationship to God, he emphasized that “It is a most natural thing for us to become like our Heavenly Father, because we are his children. We have a spark of divinity which allows us to become his heirs.” Obedience, he said, is the gateway to salvation. “Covenants remind us constantly that indeed we are the children of God. Dare we forget them or disregard them? God has introduced a great new dispensation in these latter days, and we are the custodians of that dispensation.”
The dedicatory prayer, prepared by President Spencer W. Kimball, was read at the first session by President Romney. The prayer was one of gratitude, thanksgiving, and allegiance to a loving Father in Heaven: “We are grateful for the knowledge thou hast given us that thou art our Father. Let us come before thee in sincerity of heart and purity of life. We thank thee for the infinite love manifested in the atoning sacrifice of thy Son.” Fervent pleas were made in behalf of Church leaders, missionaries, and members of the Church who will make the temple “ready to receive thy beloved Son at his second coming. We pray that thou wilt accept this holy edifice, that an atmosphere of holiness will prevail in this, thy house. May all that is done herein be done with an eye single to thy glory and to the building of thy kingdom here on earth.” The edifice, its fixtures, and its exterior surroundings were dedicated to the Lord and his work.
Then came a flurry of white handkerchiefs and the “Hosannah Shout.” The choir performed the “Hosannah Anthem,” and as the congregation stood to join them with “The Spirit of God Like A Fire is Burning,” the Spirit did indeed burn brightly in the hearts of those who had come to the House of the Lord.
Some of those who came shared a unique fellowship. In attendance through the week were more than thirty elderly brethren and sisters who, as youngsters, had participated in the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple nearly nine decades earlier. Most prominent among them was Elder LeGrand Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve. Elder Richards, 96 next month (February), was seven years old when he attended the Salt Lake Temple dedication. “I remember the experience vividly,” he said. “My mother brought us children to the ceremony. I remember the Hosannah shout and President Woodruff offering the dedicatory prayer. Mother had told us so much about the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and the spiritual manifestations at that time, that I was looking for angels all the time. I didn’t see any.”
Albert (“Bert”) Crane was also seven years old in 1893. His family lived in Harriman, Utah—a four-hour buggy ride from Salt Lake City. Seated in the Celestial Room of the Jordan River Temple prior to the first dedicatory session, he recalled that the family arose “very, very early” to make the ride in a white-topped buggy that April morning so long ago. “I remember my mother kept a special crystal dish on her dresser; that was where we children dropped our nickels and dimes, our contributions to the temple. We also gave our Sunday eggs as temple contributions.”
Bert’s mother carried his younger sister Lily, then three months old, to the dedication. Little sister, now Lily Haycock, is in her late eighties. “I don’t remember very much about that dedication,” she chuckled.
Sister Ivy Blood Hill, 94, recalled that her mother shepherded twelve Primary children to the dedication services. “Afterwards, we went to visit Brigham Young’s grave.” Her most vivid memories centered around an incident prior to the temple’s completion. “My father held my hand, and we climbed the scaffolding around the temple towers. He held me up to put a dime into the ball where the Angel Moroni would stand.”
“I remember,” reflected Natalie Thomas Parsons, nearly 94, “how excited I was to sing with a group of Primary children for the dedication. We climbed a very long flight of stairs, way up to the top of the room; that’s where we sang.”
A cousin to President Kimball, Helen Kimball Orgill, 96, now lives in Huntington Beach, California, but traveled from her retirement home there to attend the Jordan River services. She remembered walking, hand-in-hand with members of her Sunday School class, five blocks to the Salt Lake Temple. “Where our seats had been reserved, off to one side, I could look across a very crowded room. I remember looking out over a sea of white handkerchiefs waving; it was quite exciting. But the greatest part was when President Woodruff gave the dedicatory prayer. It was so spiritual.”
Some of the elderly guests had attended the Jordan River open house and toured the temple; others saw it for the first time as they came to the dedication from various parts of the United States. Their collective reaction to this temple of a new generation? “It’s very beautiful.” “Of course,” whispered Sister Haycock with a contagious grin, “there will never be another Salt Lake Temple.”
The Jordan River Temple, despite its proximity to the famous and historical edifice in downtown Salt Lake City, is, said Elder A. Theodore Tuttle of the First Quorum of the Seventy, “destined to become the busiest temple in the Church.” Indeed, if pre-dedication activity is any indication, the Saints will make extensive use of the new temple. Well over half a million people toured the building during a public open house in October; an estimated 15,000 volunteers have participated in all phases of the temple’s preparation; and some 1,500 workers have been called and set apart to serve as the temple begins official operations on January 4.
Already, said President Van Dam, this temple has become “a shining beacon on a hill,” a “jewel in the night. It has become a warm, inviting, throbbing part of mortality—and of immortality. The Lord has caused blessings to flow in so many ways.”
Early in the week, Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Quorum of the Twelve suggested deep spiritual meaning in the physical presence of the temple. He recounted the late Elder Matthew Cowley’s story about a grandfather who took his small granddaughter on a birthday visit to the Salt Lake Temple grounds. With permission of the groundskeeper, they walled to the large doors of the temple. He suggested that she place her hand on the temple wall and then on the door, saying tenderly to her, “Remember that this day you touched the temple. One day you will enter this door.” His special gift to his granddaughter was an appreciation for the House of the Lord. Likewise, counseled Elder Monson, “As we touch the temple, the temple will touch us.”