At first glance, the Lubbock area lives up to one of the stereotypes of Texas: you could stand in one of the plowed fields a few miles outside of this city, turn in a circle, and see nothing but horizon in any direction.
As you approach the city, its buildings, houses, and roads stand out from the plains like man-made intrusions meant to signal that humans passed this way.
But it would be a mistake to judge the area only by what you see at first glance.
Scientists at Texas Tech University could tell you there is a rich and varied environment on these plains. People of the city can tell you there is a rich cultural environment here too. Members of the Church will tell you that the hand of the Lord has touched this place, particularly since the dedication of the Lubbock Texas Temple in April of 2002.
The temple has blessed lives in many different ways.
Duane Moss was employed by the government for 44 years, much of that time in soil conservation. He knows what will flourish on these fertile plains. He and his wife, Merlene, have lived in Brownfield, about 40 minutes south of Lubbock, since 1966. This agricultural town is surrounded by cotton fields. But step into the Mosses’ backyard and you will find lush green lawn punctuated by fruit trees—peach, apple, and pear—and a grape arbor. A vegetable garden is tucked neatly into a space at the back.
In addition to the produce from their garden, the Mosses have seen other things blossom here: their family of seven children, now serving in the Church in locations across the United States, and a local branch that flourishes despite its small membership.
Between them, the Mosses have a wealth of experience in Church leadership positions. They are temple workers now, driving to Lubbock several times a month. Back in 1977 when Brother Moss was called as stake president, the stake extended more than 200 miles (320 km) from below Brownfield north through the panhandle of Texas to Oklahoma. Now the temple district covers that area and more—nearly 147,000 square miles (380,700 square km). It includes stakes headquartered in Abilene, Amarillo, Lubbock, and Odessa, Texas; in Roswell, New Mexico; and the district in Fort Stockton, Texas.
In the early 1960s, when the Mosses were baptized, the nearest temple was in Mesa, Arizona, a very long day’s drive away. With the dedication of the Dallas Texas Temple in 1984, the drive was cut to about six hours. Now, most members anywhere in the Lubbock temple district can manage to fit a temple trip into one day.
Long-time members in this area have associated together in the Church for many years, and patrons appreciate the fact that temple workers know them when they go there, Brother Moss says. Members feel this is their temple.
Brother Moss is a temple sealer. “One of the blessings of the temple has been getting members more involved in family history work,” he comments, listing several members in the area who are active in bringing family names for ordinance work.
Annabell Lines of the Lubbock Fourth Ward and her husband, Harrald, were among those members. Since her husband’s death in November of 2003, she has focused more intently on family history, partly to ease her loneliness.
After two missions, the Lineses had planned to move near a temple where they could serve regularly. Instead, they felt impressed to move near their son in Lubbock. It turned out that they were able to serve him in a time of need. And as it turned out, the temple found them.
When President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the building of the Lubbock temple during general conference in April of 2000, members in the Lubbock congregation wept for joy, Sister Lines recalls. Harrald put his arm around her and whispered, “Well, we’re going to be near a temple.” The Lineses, called as temple workers, began their training in Dallas immediately, working two shifts a day in the temple when they made the trip instead of just one.
One month after the dedication of the Lubbock temple, Harrald was diagnosed with cancer. They knew his time would be short, so they worked two shifts a week in the Lubbock temple for as long as Harrald could continue. “He loved that temple so much! When I’m in the temple, I feel close to him, and I feel at peace,” Sister Lines says. “Without the peace and comfort of the temple, I don’t think I could get through.”
“I was one of those ‘golden’ contacts,” says Dottie Kay, of the Lubbock First Ward. “I always knew, even as a little girl, that I had a Heavenly Father.” When she learned of the gospel at 19, she accepted it immediately.
Life did not automatically become easier. Her two marriages ended in divorce; she has been single since 1995. A son served time in prison. But through all her difficulties, Church service has been a constant. She has taught every class in Primary; an avid student of the gospel, she believes that she gained more from those classes than anyone else. She has served in a wide variety of leadership positions. But the opportunity to serve in the temple after its dedication was a highlight to her. “I could not have survived the past 10 years without the temple.”
While visiting her son regularly in prison, she drew spiritual strength from regular visits to the temple. Traveling to the Dallas temple meant arranging a day off work. Now, she says, “In 10 or 12 minutes, I can drive across town to the [Lubbock] temple to receive that strength.”
Another of her three sons has had difficulties that have kept him out of the Church as well, but despite these, the spirit of the gospel touched him. In the two years after the Lubbock temple’s dedication, Sister Kay was able to take more than 500 names there for ordinance work because of her son’s service in preparing them.
“It has been truly the most wonderful thing in my life to know that I can go to my Father’s house and work,” Sister Kay says. For members, there is undeniable comfort in the knowledge, she says, “that the Lord wants you back home, along with your posterity.”
Bishop Steven Crooks of the Lubbock Second Ward and his wife, Donita, have never feared rearing their children where they are not surrounded by Latter-day Saints. But, he says gratefully, “The temple is a strengthening influence.”
Being near the temple has strengthened the Crooks children’s sense of reverence. Oldest daughter Julie, now attending school away from home, said that standing just outside the baptismal area in the temple and looking in reminds her that others could be watching from beyond the veil of mortality. Amber, 18, calls the temple “an important little piece of heaven on earth.” Shayla, 14, calls the temple “a place to forget the world and worldly things.” Jacob, 12, thinks of it as “a very secure place.”
Bishop Crooks’s professional field is instructional design. He sees the temple as a place of learning where the Lord employs some of the best teaching techniques, but with powerful assistance not available in other settings: the influence of the Holy Ghost. “To me, the temple is home, and it’s light, and it’s love. That’s the feeling I have when I am there.”
The Crookses’ son Stephen, 17, says the influence of the temple has also been felt by many who are not members of the Church. It has offered numerous missionary opportunities as friends ask questions about Latter-day Saint beliefs and willingly listen.
“The temple has opened up so many ways to talk about the gospel,” says Karen Stratton, wife of stake president Lorum H. Stratton. One of her coworkers, not a Latter-day Saint, told Sister Stratton that when she feels troubled or has difficulties in her life, she often drives to a place where she can sit and look at the temple until she feels better.
Her daughter Shelley Stratton Nettles says this new community awareness led to discussions about the gospel with the insect control man and with her son Cameron’s soccer coach. Son Lance Stratton says when friends ask what Latter-day Saints do in the temple, he is able to give basic explanations about eternal covenants. Daughter LaRee Stratton Karren says, “There are many great Christian people around here, and when you talk to them about having an eternal family, they’re thrilled.”
Since Lubbock is located in the religiously active “Bible Belt” of the United States, community reaction to an LDS temple was expected to be strong. There was very little opposition. President Stratton, who served as a guide during the open house in 2002, said most visitors went away with deep, positive spiritual impressions, both surprised and changed by the experience. One woman, teacher of a comparative religions class in her Protestant church, apologized for teaching false information about the LDS Church. She promised it would not happen again.
The temple tour became a community event, with interest building as the open house went on. People came back and brought family or friends. Local residents who are not members of the Church still express gratitude for the opportunity to visit the temple.
Members who take advantage of the temple find strength to face individual challenges. Parents find the temple is a beacon for youth and little ones. (Anna Stratton, wife of Lance, says they cannot take their children to the stake center without stopping to look across the parking lot at the statue of Moroni atop the temple.) Husbands, wives, and children speak of how a spouse or parent is affected positively by temple attendance.
President Stratton says the spiritual level of the stake has risen because so many members and leaders are involved at the temple. Nine members of the stake’s high council, for example, serve as ordinance workers.
Temple activity in the stake was high immediately after the dedication, then fell off a bit. “That is one of our challenges,” President Stratton comments. One of the ways stake leaders are handling the challenge is to encourage those who have been strengthened and uplifted by temple attendance to share experiences and stories with other members, helping them see the value of temple worship.
Some members of the Lubbock stake recall a memorable talk given by Jay B. Jensen, first president of the Lubbock temple. (He was released in November 2004.) President Jensen recounted the story of Nephites who gathered for King Benjamin’s address and pitched their tents facing the temple so they could see and hear him (see Mosiah 2:6). President Jensen’s point was the individual need to focus on the temple and its blessings.
Having served as stake president in Lubbock before the temple was built, he now sees the temple strengthening every individual who takes the opportunity to worship in it, starting with the temple workers. “It makes me want to be a better husband, a better father, and a better grandfather,” he says. Unfortunately, the “tremendous impact” that the temple can have on individual lives “is lost on more of the members than it should be.”
But those who take the opportunity to visit the temple frequently are gaining spiritual reinforcement against the debilitating influences of the world. Many are growing into leaders in the Church and in the community, he says.
Because of the temple, he adds, “I have a sense that this community is better, and better favored in the Lord’s eyes.”