Temple in Sweden is as spiritual magnet to grateful members

Several weeks ago, Stockholm Sweden Temple Pres. Bo G Wennerlund listened as members of the Church from Russia bore their testimonies in a meetinghouse just a few hundred yards from the temple. The special meeting was held the evening before the members, numbering about 100, returned to Russia after spending nearly a week at the temple. During that week, most received their own endowments; a few had been to the temple before and had returned to perform ordinances for their ancestors.

Pres. Wennerlund, a convert to the Church in 1949, has listened to and been inspired by hundreds of testimonies. But those borne by this particular group of Russian Latter-day Saints awakened deep-seated emotions."Those Russian Saints stood up there bearing their testimonies, so humble, so grateful to be able to come to the house of the Lord," Pres. Wennerlund said. "They were impressed with the temple and its beautiful surroundings, and with the meetinghouse, which they said was like a temple to them because it is so beautiful.

"As I listened to them, I suddenly remembered my first visit to Salt Lake City in April 1976, and I knew just how those Russian Saints felt. On my first visit to Utah, I saw the Salt Lake Temple, and as I walked around in the beauty of Temple Square, I thought to myself, `Here I would like to live and die.' I loved going to the temple. I was so impressed with everything I saw. I looked and looked, trying to commit everything to memory. I couldn't believe I was actually there; I didn't want to think about leaving such a wonderful place. I dreaded the thought of returning home.

"I went to general conference in the Tabernacle and heard the Tabernacle Choir. It was all too marvelous to comprehend. Then I remember distinctly that a certain feeling came over me as one of the General Authorities was speaking. I didn't understand what was happening but I had the strongest desire to return home. I couldn't wait to get back to Sweden. I thought, `I am a Swede. Sweden, not Utah, is my place. I am going to return home and help build the Church in Sweden. Someday, members of the Church will come to a place in Sweden and feel about it the way I felt when I saw Temple Square the first time.'

"As I listened to the Russian members speak about how grateful they were for the opportunity to come to the temple in Sweden and how they hated to leave, I realized that our temple grounds are to them what Temple Square had been to me. As I spoke to them at the end of the meeting, I told them about the feelings I had 19 years ago. Then I said, `You are Russians. You should be proud of your country. Go home and be a blessing to your nation.' "

Now, as Pres. Wennerlund stands at the door of the temple and welcomes members from far-away places, he warmly greets them with one hand and gently nudges them back to their homelands with the other. As a Church leader in Sweden whose past callings have included serving as a branch president, mission president and regional representative, Pres. Wennerlund knows the strength that comes to small units of the Church as members go to the temple.

He also knows how difficult trips to the temple can be for members who live far away from them. "I know it was a great, great sacrifice for many of us to make the trip to the Swiss Temple all those years before the Stockholm temple was dedicated in 1985," Pres. Wennerlund said. "I was a branch president when the Swiss Temple opened in September 1955. Our district planned a temple trip in June 1956. I felt my family didn't have enough money to travel abroad. The mission president, Eben R.T. Blomquist, came up to me one evening in January and said, `You are going to the temple, aren't you? You're the branch president; you ought to set an example for the members.' I told him that we had budgeted everything as tightly as possible, that we barely had enough money to buy food after we had paid our bills. I told him that if the temple were in Norrkoping, a Swedish city about a two-hour ride by car, that I couldn't afford to go even there."

Following Pres. Blomquist's counsel, Pres. Wennerlund became committed to finding a way to take his family to the temple. He and his wife, Maude, discussed how much money they would need to save. "She told me I shouldn't complain if we had gruel several nights a week for dinner," Pres. Wennerlund said. "I told her that would be OK. But even with her expertise in cutting back on our finances, we still needed another 100 kroner a month to save enough to go to the temple in June."

With strict budgeting and an unexpected raise at work, he was able to take his family to the temple. "This is just my story," he said. "I know there are many others; I don't know the details of all of them, but I know that members have really prayed for the way to be opened for them to go to the temple."

Now, Pres. Wennerlund and other Swedish members greet temple patrons who have come from other countries to the Stockholm temple. He was a regional representative who had traveled to Salt Lake City for general conference when he learned that the Church planned to build nine temples. The Stockholm Sweden Temple was among the temples announced by President Spencer W. Kimball on April 1, 1981. The other eight were announced for Chicago, Ill.; Dallas, Texas; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Lima, Peru; Frankfurt, Germany, Seoul Korea; Manila, Philippines; and Johannesburg, South Africa.

"When the Stockholm Sweden Temple opened in 1985, there were 17,000 members in our temple district, which included Scandinavia and the Nordic countries: Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway. We have 20,100 members now. In addition to the original countries in the temple district, we have Russia and the Baltic States - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These came into the district after 1989, when missionaries could go behind what had been the Iron Curtain and begin baptizing people. There are about 4,000 temple recommend holders in the stakes and missions in the temple district; they perform between 42,000 and 50,000 endowments every year."

As with other temples that serve members from many nations, the Stockholm Sweden Temple is as a spiritual magnet that attracts and unites patrons who speak different languages. Sessions are regularly offered in nine languages: Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, Russian, Estonian, Spanish and English. Special provisions are made for other languages as needs arise.

When the temple opened for ordinance work on July 5, 1985, it was the Church's 34th operating temple worldwide; there are 47 working temples today. Before the Stockholm temple opened, members from Scandinavia and Finland went to the Swiss Temple; members in Norway generally went to the London Temple.

A Church-owned and operated guest house is located near the Stockholm temple, with 120 beds to accommodate patrons who travel long distances. In addition, many members in the vicinity of the temple open their homes to temple patrons. "Some people combine their vacation with their temple work and camp near the Baltic Sea," Pres. Wennerlund said.

When Swedish members see Latter-day Saints coming from great distances to the temple at Vasterhaninge, about 20 miles south of Stockholm, they empathize with the sacrifice of worldly goods and time they are making.

One temple worker, Gunnar L Balck, is among the Swedish members who made twice-yearly trips to the temple in Switzerland. "It was wonderful to have a temple so near to us," he said.

It generally took members two to three days to reach the Swiss Temple from Sweden.T Temple trips were organized. Traveling took place in different ways - by bus, by train, by ferry, and even occasionally by plane. The groups were varied since they included members from throughout the country.

"Our prayer was that some day we would have a temple in our own country. The time came when we were going to get a temple in our own land. We felt our prayers had been answered. In 1985 there stood a beautiful temple in Vasterhaninge, ready to receive members from Scandinavian and Nordic countries."

Brother Balck said that while many Swedish members in the Stockholm area miss the camaraderie of getting together and traveling to the temple in Switzerland, they are blessed in being able to attend the temple more often, not as a group but one by one. "For our spiritual development, we need to visit the temple as often as possible," he said. "The temple strengthens family ties and brotherly love in our wards, and it gives us strength to grow individually."

For years, Gustav and Agnes Palm went to the temple in Switzerland, sometimes taking their five children along so they could participate with other youth in baptismal ordinances. The children are all grown now, and the Palms have 25 grandchildren, most of whom live within walking distance of Brother and Sister Palm's home near Stockholm. Brother Palm was called to serve in the temple as a sealer last August. This call, he said, enables him to "go to heaven a couple of times every week."

Pres. Wennerlund looks forward to the day when the Stockholm temple is self-sustaining. "We would like for all of our temple workers to come from the membership of the temple district, but right now we have many temple missionaries coming from the United States," he said.

Elder Ike Olson and Sister Carol Olson will soon complete their 18-month tenure as missionaries serving in the Stockholm temple. "We didn't realize the challenge the languages here in the temple would present," Sister Olson said.

"Early on, we found out that the temple is truly the Lord's house," Elder Olson commented. They spoke of how the temple brings together people from nations that "have been mortal enemies for generations. Here, Estonians, Finns, Russians, Germans, Danes, Swedes and Norwegians work with one another, learn to love one another."

One emotional moment of the temple experience is when patrons from far-away places and temple workers and missionaries say their farewells. Hugs, kisses, tears and handshakes, accompanied by brave smiles, abound as the patrons prepare to leave on a journey that sometimes takes four to six days to their homes. "They wave goodbye," Sister Olson said. "Some look up at the statue of the angel Moroni and say, "Goodbye, Moroni; we may never see you again.' And then they sing Church hymns."

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