Speaking in the October 2019 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson said, “The temple is where you will receive your highest spiritual treasures.” In this same address, President Nelson announced plans to construct the Orem Utah Temple, in addition to seven other temples. For the first time, the new temple announcement was made in the women’s session.
Less than a year later, I had the unique opportunity to attend the Orem Utah Temple groundbreaking on Saturday, September 5. Though the COVID-19 pandemic caused ceremony attendance to be small, it was no less sacred. Throughout the ceremony, I was reminded of the spiritual treasures this temple will enable the Saints in this area to have. And the things I learned will forever change my own worship when I attend the temple.
1. Christ Is Our Centerpiece
You may not know where the Orem Utah Temple site is now, but that won’t last for long if you ever drive through Utah County.
As I turned up the dirt road that leads to the temple site at approximately 1471 South Geneva Road, the site’s proximity to the Frontrunner tracks and I-15 astounded me. Before the ceremony began, a southbound and a northbound Frontrunner train passed just a few feet away. I considered how anyone who takes that commuter train will have a spectacular, unobstructed view of the house of the Lord. That view will be rivaled by those traveling along the interstate.
The Orem Utah Temple site on groundbreaking day. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
During the groundbreaking ceremony, Elder Evan A. Schmutz, First Counselor in the Utah Area Presidency, noted that the temple should be a symbol of our lives. “As the temple lifts us, we should lift others,” he said. “As the temple stands as a beacon for all to see, so should we be a candle set on a hill letting our light shine to all the world.”
And now each time I drive past the Orem Utah Temple, I’ll consider what I’m doing to lift others just as the temple lifts me. Maybe some of the people in those 700,000 cars or some of those train commuters will think the same.
To me, temples worldwide stand as a testament that the “salvation of the Lord shall be declared to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” (Mosiah 15:28). And while I thought about my fellow Latter-day Saints in San Palo Sula, Honduras, who were breaking ground for their country’s second temple on the same day, I also thought about how the temple is for everyone in the Orem area. After welcoming those in attendance in English, Elder Walter F. González, Second Counselor in the Utah Area Presidency, also extended a welcome in his native Spanish, “Estamos muy contentos para extender una cordial bienvenida a la palada inicial del templo de Orem en Utah.” Alberto Puertas, a bishop of a local congregation who was in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony told Church News, “We feel connected to the temple and to temple work because culturally, families are so crucial for the Latino community.”
Another population that will be blessed by the temple is the Utah Valley University student body. University president Astrid S. Tuminez was one of the few in attendance at the ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions, as was UVU junior Tori Thomas. Thomas knows the blessings that can come from temple worship as she served a mission as an ordinance worker in the Provo Utah Temple. Of her temple experiences, she told me, “It has changed and blessed my life. I just have felt closer to the Savior and to our Heavenly Father and also just to my ancestors. That’s where I feel them the closest. And it’s just amazing to see how the temple changes others' lives.”
Elder Christensen reemphasized the importance of the Orem Utah Temple for singles in an interview with me after the groundbreaking.
“This is a place where they can come and work, come and serve, come and minister,” Elder Christensen said. “It ought to be the centerpiece of young single adults or single adults—to be connected to the temple. You don’t have to be sealed as eternal families to enjoy the temple. In fact, we make covenants individually. That’s where we should be.”
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2. A Righteous Responsibility
As part of his remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony, Elder Christensen noted that since becoming prophet just under three years ago, President Nelson has announced seven more temples in Utah in addition to announcing that many of the pioneer temples will undergo major renovation—like the Salt Lake Temple and the St. George Utah Temple.
Elder William K. Jackson, General Authority Seventy, spoke during the ceremony about how “having other temples in close proximity will not diminish the eternal importance and significance of this sacred building.”
“That blessing will come with responsibility,” Elder Jackson said. “Human nature has taught us that proximity and ease sometimes lead to complacency, so this is something that needs to be challenged. You will need to schedule time to attend the temple, to write it down in your day planners, to make it a regular and rejuvenating ritual. It is our prayer that a great multitude will gather here, as at the temple in the time of the Savior’s visit to the Americas, and that great and marvelous works will occur here.”
Elder Jackson, who was called to be a General Authority Seventy in April, served as the president of the India New Delhi Mission and knows firsthand what it’s like for Latter-day Saints to not have a temple in close proximity. Maybe that’s why I found his next statement so powerful:
For many of our brothers and sisters who live around the world, the temple is a once-in-a-lifetime experience due to distance and expense. And yet, I want to bear my testimony to you that their reverence and commitment to the temple is amazing. Though many will have just a single opportunity to attend the temple during the course of their life, their enthusiasm for temple work and their longing to be there is palpable. Keeping their recommends current and up-to-date and their covenants front and center are marvelous witnesses of the desires of their hearts and they are to be commended for their integrity. Likewise, I know that we here today—and more particularly the people of Orem and Vineyard and Provo and surroundings—are as equally committed to this house and to the work that will be performed here.
As he spoke, I pictured the Latter-day Saints around the world who have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the temple. Truly, as we attend the temple for our kindred dead, we are performing once-in-a-lifetime work for them. I left the groundbreaking ceremony with an even greater desire to treat my opportunities to attend the temple as once-in-a-lifetime moments.
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3. Our Journey of Becoming
Elder Christensen noted that where the first shovel would turn would be the approximate location of the Celestial Room. As he said that, the words spoken by President Nelson during his first address as prophet came to my mind. He said they had decided to host the broadcast from the annex of the Salt Lake Temple, a symbolic way to “begin with the end in mind.” As I watched Elder Christensen and others turn over that first shovel of dirt, I thought about how they, too, were beginning with the end in mind.
“The experiences we will have here will quicken us along our journey of becoming, and brothers and sisters, it is all about becoming,” Elder Jackson said during the ceremony.
During his remarks, Elder Jackson shared some of the many ways the Orem Utah Temple will bless those who attend:
This temple will be a place of personal revelation and learning. It will be a refuge, a sanctuary of peace in an often cluttered and noisy world. It will serve to mend, help, strengthen, and encourage all who come here to worship and to be edified. This temple will be a place in which we will learn our purpose. We will learn who we really are and what we are worth. It is within these walls that we will come to understand the purpose of life. In this temple, we will walk upon that covenant path and undertake many of the steps to becoming as our Savior commanded: complete, finished, fully developed. It will be in this temple where we will have the opportunity to serve, to be responsible for others, and selflessness will be the result. We will gain a greater love for our ancestors and heighten our sense of belonging. Malachi’s promise will be fulfilled as we turn our hearts outward to our ancestors, for they without us cannot be made perfect, neither can we without them be made perfect (see Doctrine and Covenants 128:15). We bless others and in turn bless ourselves. Temple work is a refining and transformative process. It is a labor of love to become a savior upon Mount Zion.
Ralph Zobell, a member of the groundbreaking committee, has seen for himself how Malachi’s promise is being fulfilled. After the ceremony, he shared with me how many ties he has found to the temple and the history of the Church in the area in his own genealogy, from his great-grandfather owning property just down the road from the temple site to his wife’s great-grandfather being the first stake president in Orem.
“We did not have to go very far for all this history—it’s in our own house,” Zobell said.
Perhaps the spirit of Elijah is what made this groundbreaking even more memorable for me. Orem is a city that I love because of the special place it holds for my family. My mother grew up here and, in some ways, Orem became a second home to me as I spent summers at my grandparents’ house on 800 South. Now, I was attending a temple groundbreaking ceremony just three miles away from the house where I spent summer days bouncing with my cousins on the trampoline.
After the ceremony, another member of the groundbreaking committee, K.C. Shaw, approached me. He had learned that I was Russ Brown’s granddaughter and had worked with him for years. He told me my late grandpa was his mentor. My grandpa had passed away four months ago to the day, so through somewhat unexpected tears, I told him he was my mentor too. Then I had a moment where words escaped my mouth that I hadn’t yet realized were true myself:
“He’s here today with me. I know he’s so excited about this temple.”
Of course he was there. How could he not be? My grandpa was the Orem City Engineer for years and was instrumental in securing and developing an adequate water supply for Orem. I realized that the water he secured for Orem could now be used for baptisms for the dead, and maybe those baptisms would be for people he’s teaching on the other side.
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Look Forward with Gladness
Elder Christensen told me about how, like everyone else during the pandemic, General Authorities have not been able to attend the temple. He shared with me how he had just had the opportunity to attend a sealing two weeks ago.
“It was amazing—the Spirit—just to be there, just to sit there,” he said. “I would encourage everyone not to be discouraged, but to look forward with gladness.”
As I got in my car to leave, I reflected on what I had learned from the temple groundbreaking: how I wanted to make sure Christ was the centerpiece of my life, how I have a righteous responsibility to perform temple work, and how the temple can help us become better. When I started to pull away from that sacred site, I noticed the line of construction vehicles already in place, as if the bulldozers themselves were anxiously waiting to begin building this house of the Lord. And I realized I wanted to mirror that same anticipation as I too look forward to attending the temple once again. For now, I look forward with gladness.
Lead image and images of the groundbreaking ceremony: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
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