Four years ago, the Church had just dedicated its 50th operating temple, the St. Louis Missouri Temple. Four months after that temple was dedicated, President Gordon B. Hinckley explained in the October 1997 general conference that after prayerful consideration, the Church had decided to begin a plan to construct smaller temples that would have “all of the facilities to administer all of the ordinances. They would be built to temple standards, which are much higher than meetinghouse standards. They would 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” (Ensign, Nov. 1997, 49).
Since that historic announcement, members in many areas of the world have begun to experience the blessings of temples that are nearby and convenient.
Last year, the Boston Massachusetts Temple became the Church’s 100th operating temple. Since then, many other temples have been announced, dedicated, or are being built. The New Era recently traveled to two areas—Oklahoma City, Oklahama, the day the temple there was dedicated, and Detroit, Michigan, after that temple had been dedicated—to see how these temples have affected the lives of the youth in the area.
When members were invited to join a special choir that would sing at the Oklahoma City Oklahoma Temple dedication, Mary Brunson jumped at the chance. Singing? Absolutely. Mary enjoys doing it and is quite proficient. She’s so into performing and singing that she has a sticker that says “Drama Queen” on the bumper of her car. “I really love to sing,” she says.
So after months of practice for the special event on July 30, 2000, she compared the differences between performing on stage and singing at this occasion.
“It was worship here today,” she says after the first of four dedicatory sessions. “In a play you go out and perform. When I perform, it is pretending. Singing in the choir was not pretending. This was real. This is something that will stay with me.”
She’s speaking about both her experience at the dedication and the white marble temple that sits on the outskirts of Oklahoma City.
In the spring of 2000, the Oklahoma City Oklahoma East Stake organized the choir. Mary saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So did Ben Harrison and Jonathan Pierce. It didn’t hurt that all three are friends who love to sing—friends who were able to support and encourage each other during rehearsals.
“When we started practicing in the spring, the temple dedication didn’t seem real. It seemed so far in the future,” says Ben, 16, of the Choctaw Ward. Mary, Ben, and Jonathan stopped by the temple site at various stages of construction, watching the sacred building go up. With each passing month, the reality of the temple increased in their minds. Weekly choir practices in preparation for the dedication also helped.
“I really think it will draw us a lot closer to the Church having a temple here,” says Jonathan, 18. “We won’t have to drive all the way to Dallas.” Or Manti. Before the Dallas Texas Temple was built in 1985, the Oklahoma City members were in the faraway Manti Utah Temple district. For Jonathan’s family, temple visits have gone from a two-day journey to a four-hour trip to the 20-minute drive of today.
As Mary, Ben, and Jonathan walk around the temple grounds after the first dedicatory session, they all seem a little in awe of what has just occurred. Maybe at one time having a temple in Oklahoma didn’t seem real. But the three realize they just took part in something they know they’ll remember forever.
A lifetime of memories
“This was an experience you can look back on and remember most clearly because of how unique it was,” says Jonathan. “I really liked singing ‘God So Loved the World.’ Watching President [James E.] Faust put the mortar in the cornerstone and then singing that hymn made me realize God does so love the world that He is going to dot the world with temples.”
All three are also in agreement that they often assumed Oklahoma would never have a temple. But after President Hinckley’s 1997 announcement, it wasn’t long before the temple that will serve members in parts of Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri—as well as Oklahoma—was announced.
“This is such a great thing,” says Ben, standing near the temple entrance. “There were times when I thought Oklahoma didn’t have enough members to have a temple. But I’ve seen that we actually are strong, and the temple shows me how strong we can become.”
All three also believe the presence of the temple will help the youth in the area stay stronger in the Church. “A lot of teenagers do drift from the Church when they get to high school,” says Jonathan. “I really believe more boys will go on missions from Oklahoma if they’re able to go through the temple that they can call their own.”
They’re also sure of one thing. “We’re going to wear the temple out,” says Ben.
Twice a year, before the sun came up on Saturday morning, the youth from the East Shores (Michigan) Ward would pile into cars and vans. For the next four or five hours they would sleep, sing, play games, and anticipate their destination: the Toronto Ontario Temple. They would spend the afternoon doing temple work, then pile back in the vehicles and arrive home late in the evening.
Now the East Shores youth travel to the temple six times each year, but the travel time has been cut to about 25 minutes since the Detroit Michigan Temple was dedicated in October 1999.
When President Gordon B. Hinckley gave the dedicatory prayer at the Detroit Michigan Temple, he prayed that the people who performed the temple work, as well as those who had passed away, would be blessed. With the temple so close, the East Shores youth have had plenty of opportunities to experience the blessings of temple work.
Many of the East Shores youth were at the temple when President Hinckley gave the dedicatory prayer. At that time, they had many expectations of what it would be like to have a temple so close. Now, more than a year later, they are looking back to see if their expectations were met.
When the Detroit temple was announced, Jessica Ellison, an East Shores Mia Maid, could hardly wait. “I remember the exciting feeling of knowing there would be a temple closer and we’d get a lot more chances to go.”
Michael Oniones, a teacher, shared in the excitement. “I knew it would be a lot easier to do the things we used to do at Toronto and other temples because it would be in our own backyard. We could go whenever we wanted.”
Jessica and Michael got their wish.
“We go every other month now,” says Erin Coons, a Mia Maid. “The Young Men and the Young Women switch; the girls go one month, and the next month the boys go.”
This is quite a change from the twice-a-year trip to Canada. But even though the temple is so close, the East Shores youth say going there is like entering another world.
Although the greatest expectation the youth had was to attend the temple more often, they have been flooded with other blessings.
In the temple, sacred work is performed that connects families through the generations. The East Shores youth say that, as they work in the temple together, they forge strong bonds with each other.
“You get to know the girls in your ward better because you go together,” Erin says.
The friendship the Young Men and Young Women develop as they attend the temple is stronger than with their other friends because of the important work they do in the temple.
“There aren’t many people you get to share such a spiritual thing with,” says Krista Lyke, a Laurel. “There’s a bond with those girls that you don’t have with your outside-church friends.”
A missionary now
One blessing that wasn’t expected by the East Shores youth was the opportunity the temple would present for sharing the gospel. But when a granite building with a gold angel appears on one of the main streets in town, people ask questions.
Erin took two of her friends through the temple during the open house.
“Even though they weren’t extremely interested in learning more,” Erin says, “it just felt nice to share with them what I believe in.”
A greater respect
The Detroit temple is one of the new, smaller temples. Since there is minimal staff, those attending are expected to help keep it clean. This means that when the youth finish with baptisms, they wipe around the baptismal font, help do the laundry, and make sure everything is left in order.
“It makes it more personal to you because you’ve taken care of it,” Jessica says.
Some of the cleaning responsibilities may not seem very pleasant, like cleaning the bathrooms. But, as Mike says, since it’s the temple, it’s a privilege, not a chore. “If you clean the bathroom, people may not think that’s so great,” Mike says, “but still, you’re cleaning the bathroom in the temple, and even to be in the temple is a great thing.”
When Moses was leading the Children of Israel through the wilderness, fiery flying serpents came down and bit them. After they had been bitten, the Lord presented a way for them to be healed. All they had to do was look at a serpent on Moses’ staff (Num. 21:8–9). “And because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished” (1 Ne. 17:41).
Since the Detroit temple has been built, the East Shores youth say it is quite easy to attend. But as it was with the people who died from the fiery serpents because the cure was so easy, it is also easy to say, “The temple is close by; I can go any time; I’ll skip this month and go next month.”
“We have to go to the temple on Tuesday or Thursday because we save the weekends for other stakes and wards that aren’t close,” says Krista. “So you have to change your priorities, because, if you’re in sports and you have a practice, you have to decide what’s more important, your practice or going to the temple.”
“Life doesn’t stop for you,” says Chris Young, a teacher. “Being closer to the temple does make it easier, but you still have to plan for it.”
Blessings closer to home
The East Shores youth say they are enjoying the blessings President Hinckley prayed for in the dedicatory prayer. One of the things he prayed for was that the temple would “shine as a bright and welcome light, a refuge from the storms and stresses of the world.”
Jessica, like the rest of the youth, says the temple has done that. “When you get to go, you don’t have to worry about anything. You feel so calm and special, and you don’t have the worldly matters to deal with anymore.”
As more temples are built around the world, more youth are enjoying the blessings and feelings of the Spirit that come with frequent temple attendance. “I feel that feeling more now,” says Mike. “Before we had to go far, to Canada. And now that the temple is closer, the feeling is closer.”
“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. 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” (Ensign, Nov. 1997, 49).
—President Gordon B. Hinckley
“‘Come to the temple.’ If not now, come soon. Pray fervently, set your lives in order, save whatever you can in hopes that that day may come. … The temple transforms the individual and makes abundantly worthwhile any efforts made to get there. For some who live at great distances from a temple, the temples will come to you before you might come to them. Keep your faith and your hope and determine that you will come—that you will be worthy and that you will come to the temple” (The Holy Temple, pamphlet, 1982, 1).
—President Boyd K. Packer
Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve