Taking Temples to the People

By LaRene Porter Gaunt

Associate Editor

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The building of smaller temples, some in remote areas, brings more Latter-day Saints the precious blessings that come from temple work.

“I thank the Lord daily for our temple,” writes Gloria Palenske, who lives in an outlying area of Alaska but now serves as an ordinance worker in the Anchorage Alaska Temple. “A few weeks ago I stood in the temple foyer as a greeter for sisters who were coming to attend an afternoon endowment session. Across from me the glass-doored baptistry was in full view and in use by youth from an Anchorage ward. The afternoon light from the west wall of stained-glass windows illuminated the font and the participants. I wish I could convey the intense spiritual experience I felt as I watched the quiet, steady movements of the baptisms with the recorder and witnesses sitting above and the youth quietly waiting their turn to participate. Standing on the other side of the glass wall, I felt as if I were watching from the other side of the veil. Tears filled my eyes, and I gained again another testimony of the truthfulness of the work we do.”

Sister Palenske’s testimony is typical of that of thousands of Latter-day Saints who now enjoy the blessing of a temple near their homes. These testimonies come in response to the ongoing fulfillment of the desire expressed by President Gordon B. Hinckley in the priesthood session of the October 1997 general conference to “take the temples to the people” (“Some Thoughts on Temples, Retention of Converts, and Missionary Service,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 50).

“There are many areas of the Church that are remote, where the membership is small and not likely to grow very much in the near future,” President Hinckley said. “Are those who live in these places to be denied forever the blessings of the temple ordinances? While visiting such an area a few months ago, we prayerfully pondered this question. The answer, we believe, came bright and clear.

“We will construct small temples in some of these areas, buildings with all of the facilities to administer all of the ordinances” (Ensign, Nov. 1997, 49).

With this announcement, President Hinckley opened a new era in temple building. Since then, plans to build 49 smaller temples have been announced; as of 31 December 1999, 12 of these have already been dedicated (see sidebar below).

Same Spirit, Same Blessings

Two floor plans characterize these temples: one plan has one endowment room that seats 50 people, and the other plan has two endowment rooms that seat 40 people each. The baptistry is located on the main floor, adding to the beauty of the foyer and eliminating the need for a basement.

Though all of these temples are smaller than ones in the past, none of the essentials are missing. They accommodate baptisms for the dead, the endowment service, sealings, and all other ordinances to be had in the Lord’s house for both the living and the dead. Sessions are available in multiple languages.

In all of these temples, the tall, narrow stained-glass windows allow warm sunlight to pour into the foyer area with its high ceilings, white floors and walls, and large floral arrangements. In this beautiful setting of radiant light reflected off white surfaces, simply walking into the temple can be overwhelming. Soft-spoken temple workers check your temple recommend.

The temple experience is conducted with the same dignity, sanctity, and order found in any Latter-day Saint temple. The beauty and spirit found in the celestial room are the same, insights into gospel truths are the same, personal revelation is the same, and strengthening of our relationship with our Savior is the same.

“I have been a faithful member of the Church my entire life, but I never conceived of the joy and the enlightenment that we receive by weekly temple attendance,” continues Sister Palenske. “Nor did I imagine the ripple effect of goodness that would extend outward to our family by our temple service. We are refined spiritually by frequent temple experiences, a blessing never before realized. We are so grateful for our temple in Alaska.”

A Sense of Belonging

In the Latter-day Saint colonies in Mexico, after the groundbreaking for the Colonia Juárez Chihuahua México Temple, members helped clear boulders, dead trees, and branches from the dry, hard-packed earth. Robena Ortiz and her family were among those who helped. “My mother, who is 92 years old, brought a rake and raked the ground in the heat of the summer,” says Sister Ortiz. “I encouraged her to stop and rest in the shade, but she said, ‘No. I am doing it for mi templo (my temple).’”

Reactions such as these are common. These feelings grow out of the intimate relationship members have with their temples. While the temple provides members with the opportunity to receive ordinances and spiritual solace, the members in turn officiate, set the schedule, clean it, and tend the landscape.

Typical are the experiences and feelings of those who attend and serve in the Monticello Utah Temple, which was dedicated in July 1998 and is the first of the smaller temples in use. “Most of the temple recommend holders know each other, so there is more personal service on an individual basis,” says Monticello temple president Lisle Adams. “As a result, there is a lot of input about the temple from members to the temple presidency and to our ordinance workers. This brings about a great integration of temple, church, and community.”

Also contributing to a sense of belonging is the fact that temple schedules are set according to appointments members make in advance of temple attendance.

“There is a commitment that comes from making an appointment, a feeling that the temple is open in part because I said I would be there,” says President Edwin Hawkins, temple presidency second counselor and temple engineer in Monticello. “Originally it was thought that members would need to make an appointment so they would know whether or not there would be a session. However, it quickly became clear that members needed to make an appointment to make sure they had a seat.”

Monticello has sessions every day but Sunday and Monday. The 50 seats of its single endowment room are filled nearly every session. When a group of up to 50 people wants to attend a session together, they can call President Adams to schedule an extra session.

No More Traveling for Days

“Now our youth go to the temple weekly to perform baptisms for the dead,” says Robena Ortiz of Colonia Juárez, “and they are excited because they can do family names. We are grateful that we have to drive only 20 minutes to the temple. And since we don’t have the expense of long drives, overnight stays, and extended baby-sitting, we can now attend more often.”

Rafaela Fimbres of Colonia Juárez adds: “I hope to encourage my son to go on a mission. Now we can go to the temple grounds and walk around and feel of the Spirit there.”

The blessings of sealing are now more easily available to newlyweds and entire families who were previously unable to afford the trip from Mexico to the United States because of the exchange rate on their money. In many cases, the sealings have involved several generations.

For many of the lifelong residents of Colonia Juárez and of Colonia Dublán, the experience is the same. First, the elderly husband and wife are sealed together. Then their children, who are married with their own children, are sealed to the elderly parents. The Spirit is strong as the elderly parents watch each of their married children be sealed to their spouses. Tears fall freely as the grandchildren are then sealed to their parents—family after family.

Churchwide, those who have found it especially difficult to travel long distances or costly to stay overnight—such as members with disabilities, those with farms or jobs requiring continual attention, or couples with young children—are now regular attenders.

“The temple has united us with people in outlying areas,” says Thomas Livingston, who oversees the baptistry in Monticello. “Members in isolated areas have hungered to have associations with other Latter-day Saints. The temple has given that. It has also soothed feelings of rivalry that existed between some towns and made us brothers and sisters again.”

Everything Is Better

In areas with smaller temples, the temple experience becomes integrated into the fabric of the Church community; the temple becomes the center post of Zion in the area—the unifier. There is a sense among the people that everything is better now that the temple is here.

“When I open my front door, the first thing I see is the temple. That is true for many of us,” says Sister Fimbres. “We feel strengthened by it, and it has brought members closer together. There seems to be more love in our community.”

Robin Ramsay of Monticello says: “The temple has become woven into all our conversations. And our children are growing up with a realization that the temple can be a part of our everyday life. As soon as our daughter turned 12, she wanted to go to the temple to do baptisms.”

President Robert Anderson, temple presidency first counselor and temple recorder in Monticello, says: “Coming to the temple makes everybody better. We have more endowed members now with recommends and more members attending the temple. There’s an increase in sacrament meeting attendance, family history work, donations, and spirituality.”

These are the results you would expect. When the temple becomes the center post, the unifier, it blesses the lives of the Saints as individuals, as families, as wards, and as communities. It is the embodiment of what Isaiah taught in ancient times and what Moroni referred to in Moroni 10:31: “Awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion; and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled.”

Clockwise from left: Members rejoice at the dedication of each temple (photo by Gerry Avant, Church News); Anchorage Alaska Temple (photo by Ray Hafen); President Gordon B. Hinckley at the dedication of the Monticello Utah Temple (photo courtesy of Church News); baptismal font in Monticello temple (photo by Jed Clark, © by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.).

Above: Columbia South Carolina Temple (photo by Scott Lloyd, Church News); with the building of more temples, the opportunity to be sealed for time and all eternity is now more readily available (photo by Brian K. Kelly, electronically composed).

Worthy young men and young women when they reach age 12 can enjoy the opportunity of performing baptisms for their deceased ancestors. (Photo by Tamra Ratieta, electronic composition by Charles M. Baird.)