Temple Week: Spiritual Crescendo for Stake Conference

Members of two Arizona stakes have learned to enjoy what one bishop calls a “spiritual crescendo” in their lives during a week of temple activity before their semiannual stake conferences.

The temple week was instituted several years ago by James Hamula, then president of the Mesa Arizona Salt River Stake, to help prepare members spiritually for stake conference. During four and one-half days leading up to their stake conference last September, they attended the equivalent of more than 2,500 temple sessions.

The Salt River stake was divided in September 1992. But President Hamula, who was called as president of the new Mesa Arizona Red Mountain Stake, felt temple week participation was so valuable that he immediately began planning a temple week for the new stake. Scott Farmer, now president of the Salt River stake, also plans to continue the temple week activities.

“Without question, temple week has been a tremendous blessing,” President Hamula says. Members gain far greater spiritual insight into the meaning of temple ordinances when they attend many times over a period of several days.

“It brings something to the stake conference that I don’t think we could get otherwise,” President Farmer adds. Members are more teachable; they come to conference with a certain excitement, a readiness to learn. Because of the spiritual benefits of their intensive temple attendance, they are urged to continue attending the temple frequently in following weeks if they can.

“We ask every temple recommend holder to attend as many temple sessions as his or her circumstances allow during the week. We leave that completely up to the individual,” President Hamula explains. Members may take part not only by attending endowment sessions but also by performing or participating in other ordinances. That way, young people can take part through being baptized for the dead. “All other stake and ward activities are suspended during the week, and the way is opened for members to participate,” President Hamula says. Members who do not have temple recommends are urged to qualify for them in advance or to attend temple preparation classes if they have not been to the temple yet.

The week begins with a fireside on the Sunday evening before stake conference. Later during the week, ward members, led by their bishop, have the opportunity to attend a ward temple session. Members of the stake presidency also serve stake members at endowment sessions preceded by devotional services. These special sessions “allow priesthood leaders to clearly see their role as shepherds,” President Hamula says.

During the temple week last September, members attended 2,512 times.

This surge in temple attendance builds a “spiritual crescendo” to stake conference, says Bishop Daniel G. Bodrero of the Fremont Hill Ward, Salt River stake. The influence of the Spirit of the Lord grows stronger in members each time they attend the temple during the week, he explains, and they go to stake conference meetings much better prepared spiritually to hear what the speakers say.

Taking part in the temple week requires sacrifices of everyone in a family: parents who are able to take time off from work to go to the temple; youth who pass up other opportunities with friends or offer free baby-sitting so young parents can go; and children who learn to cooperate better so their parents can attend.

“We have seven children,” explains Valerie Vennard of the Alta Mesa Ward, Salt River stake, “so we have to make a family effort of it.” Last September, their children (the oldest was eleven) helped them find the time because Sister Vennard and her husband had tried to teach the importance of temple work. Despite the family’s busy schedule, the week went well. They have learned, Sister Vennard says, that “when we focus on spiritual priorities, everything else falls into place.”

Family spiritual growth during temple week seems to be matched by ward and stake growth as members show greater love for one another, Sister Vennard says. After they have attended the temple several times, associating with each other in that setting, “when we do come together as a stake for conference, there’s a feeling of unity, a feeling of Zion,” she explains. “We’re already on a spiritual high.”

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson, except as noted

[photo] Photo by Leo Kapp

The “Write” Type of Competition

When it comes to helping members develop their talents, the Greeley Colorado Stake has some choice words to offer.

The stake’s writing contests began in 1990. Response to the second annual writing contest, in 1991, was gratifying—eighty-five entries, more than double the number of the previous year. Although the number of entries dropped to sixty in 1992, leaders still felt the activity was a winner because of its effect on the entrants.

Jane M. Choate, who coordinated the 1992 contest for the stake, reported that a number of writers who participated in 1992 “told me they wouldn’t have done it if not for the contest. One young boy who entered said he had never written anything other than a school assignment before.” Several entrants expressed gratitude for the opportunity to stretch themselves in writing; before the contest, many had never shown their work outside their families.

The stake’s competition includes categories for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and music. Judging is done by members of a local Latter-day Saint writers’ group who live outside the stake. Then, at a reception honoring all of the contest participants, some winning entries are read.

Cindy Newell, then of the Fort Collins Colorado Stake, coordinated the judging in 1991 and helped in 1990 as well. “I was impressed not only with the number of entries last year, but also the quality of the writing,” she says.

Finding time to write is like finding time to do anything else, entrants in the contest say. “I make time,” stresses Jeannie Lancaster of the Big Thompson Ward, winner in the adult poetry division in 1991. “The contest provided the encouragement I needed to get writing again.”

Her feelings were echoed by Janet Buck, also of Big Thompson Ward, who won the adult nonfiction category in 1992. “The contest gave me a reason to write. I was always planning on it; now I’ve done it.”

Carol Rehme, of the Loveland Second Ward, shared her love of poetry with her son Kyle and encouraged him to enter the 1991 contest. A high school freshman, Kyle had never written a poem before, but “In Season,” based on his love for the outdoors, won first place in the twelve-to-eighteen poetry division.

For the 1992 contest, Sister Rehme decided to write a children’s song, something she had never done before. She wrote both words and music. Her song won first place in the adult music category.

Personal and family histories were the source for many of the entries. “Sharing traditions with my children is one of my reasons for writing,” says Mary Danielson of the Loveland Third Ward. Sister Danielson draws from her childhood for inspiration in many of her stories. “The contest gave me a reason to expand my ideas.”

“Writing is one of the quieter gifts from our Father in Heaven,” says Sister Lancaster. “I enjoy hearing others share the things they have written and the insight into their lives it provides. It is wonderful to see how many people have a love of writing.”