Visitors center dedicated to 'spiritual learning'

A new St. George Temple Visitors Center was dedicated Oct. 30 by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Council of the Twelve as a "center of spiritual learning for all people."

The striking 11,000-square-foot facility is located on the southeast corner of the temple block, not far from the old visitors center, which was only about one-third its size. Construction of the new facility was begun last January and completed in September. With an open glass front providing a view of a large replica of Thorvaldson's Christus, the new center beckons members and non-members. Already more than 25,000 people have visited the facility.Dedication-related events on a pleasant fall day included tours of the center, a special meeting Saturday morning with Elder Wirthlin addressing area priesthood leaders, the dedication ceremony at a stake center across the street from the temple block, and concerts Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the historic St. George Tabernacle with a special bi-regional choir and other musicians.

"We felt very good about the dedication events," said Elder Dixie L. Leavitt, visitors center director who serves with his wife, Sister Anne O. Leavitt. "The dedication was a culminating time following a lot of hard work and weeks of preparation. And more importantly when I say culminating are the efforts of previous directors and missionaries who have served here. It was a much-needed facility, and now that we have it, it is beautiful. We have been opened just over a month and have had comment cards from most of the visitors that are very positive."

Elder and Sister Leavitt are the parents of Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, who was invited, as governor, to attend the dedication and was asked to speak. In addition to Elder Wirthlin, other General Authorities who were present included Elder Malcolm S. Jeppsen of the Seventy and Utah South Area president, who conducted; and his first counselor, Elder Albert Choules Jr. of the Seventy. Elder Jack H Goaslind, second counselor in the area presidency, had another assignment. Speakers included Elder Wirthlin, Elder Jeppsen, Elder and Sister Leavitt and the governor.

Prayers were offered by St. George Temple Pres. J. Thomas Fyans and Pres. Keith S. Humpherys of the Utah Provo Mission. Regional representatives, stake presidents and other local Church and civic leaders also attended.

Elder Wirthlin began his address by bearing testimony of the divinity of the calling of prophets of the Church, from Joseph Smith through President Ezra Taft Benson. He noted that Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson were at that same moment in St. Louis, Mo., breaking ground for a temple there as the Lord's work moves on and fills the earth. (See St. Louis groundbreaking story above.)

He also mentioned the uniqueness of Elder Dixie Leavitt's first name and its tie-in with the day's events in an area widely known as "Utah's Dixie."

"I've thought many times that the father of Dixie Leavitt must have loved this land of southern Utah so much that he named his son Dixie. What a great name he bears, and what honor he has brought to it. And Sister Leavitt is a queen and great member of the Church."

Elder Wirthlin challenged the 1,400-plus people present to rededicate their lives to the Lord and His purposes on this day of dedication. "I hope that we will resolve to do more, to be better and kinder persons, and better missionaries, so that the work of the Lord will indeed progress and grow in this beautiful city.

"Opportunities will come to you that perhaps have not come before as vast numbers come here, to the land of the honeybee, [a landT of much prosperity, from California and other states that are having so much difficulty. The Lord has blessed this state of Utah, and particularly St. George.

"I hope that we will be better members of the Church, and that we will be examples to all who come here. Many of them will say, `There is something different here.' They will sense a spirit they have not sensed before. That spirit and difference is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is in such rich abundance in this area."

He discussed the role the new visitors center will continue to play in touching the lives of the many visitors and newcomers to the area. Due to its dry, mild climate and colorful scenery, St. George is a popular retirement and vacation spot 310 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. It is one of the fastest-growing cities in Utah.

"This visitors center gives us an opportunity to give people coming into the area a priceless gift, that is the gospel. Truly this is a haven of a warm climate, a climate that so many enjoy so much. But we cannot come here solely to rest, but are here to do our duty and teach the gospel with kindness, fairness and in clarity to our friends and neighbors. The place to do this best will be this magnificent visitors center."

As he concluded, Elder Wirthlin mentioned the symbolism of the visitors center being located in the shadow of the temple. They provide both a beginning and culmination point of learning and understanding. In the visitors center, people are introduced to the gospel and learn its basic precepts; in the temple only yards away, they eventually receive the highest ordinances of the gospel.

In his dedicatory prayer, Elder Wirthlin said: "Let thy Holy Spirit touch the hearts of visitors and our friends of this beautiful area and also those who come here from our own nation and from distant lands. Bless our members as they come to this visitors center that they may be uplifted and strengthened in their faith. May this beautiful building be a center of spiritual learning for all people. May all of those who come here learn to appreciate and ponder the sacred truths taught here."

Elder Jeppsen recounted the history of Church visitors centers as places of welcome and teaching, beginning with the construction of the Nauvoo House in 1841 under the direction of Joseph Smith. He mentioned the erection of the first Bureau of Information on Temple Square in 1902, and traced from there the development of modern visitors centers at Church sites worldwide.

Elder and Sister Leavitt spoke on the mission of the new visitors center in helping members and non-members alike come unto Christ, and in providing a serene, spiritual place to help share the light of the gospel with others.

Gov. Leavitt, a Sunday School gospel doctrine instructor in his ward, added comments of personal testimony and experience concerning the spiritual uplift that occurs in Church visitors centers.

Following the dedication, the governor told the Church News that the St. George Temple and visitors center have not only great spiritual and historical significance, but also have a "very intricate and important part on the entire fabric of this area" as "very significant attractions."

"Literally thousands of people come to this area specifically to see the temple. In that respect, it serves as a magnet for people to come from all over the world. This is not just an important event in terms of the Church and its progress, but also to this area and its economic vibrance."

Gov. Leavitt said that he, his five brothers and their families have "lived vicariously" with their parents the progress of the new center.

"You can't help but go through that experience as a family without having it take on a more unusual significance. It had that today. I was grateful to have been invited to come and to share the moment with them."

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