`Thirsting, hungering for the word'

President Brigham Young had announced his intention to get his wagons and leave for the West on Feb. 3, 1846, yet the Nauvoo Temple was "thronged all day."

"Looking upon the multitude and knowing their anxiety, as they were thirsting and hungering for the word, we continued at work diligently in the House of the Lord," President Young recorded. (History of the Church 7:579, quoted by President James E. Faust at April 1997 general conference.)

Reminiscent of this incident from Church history, the Salt Lake Temple was "thronged all day" on Sept. 25, with members of the Salt Lake Holladay North Stake "thirsting and hungering for the word" of the Lord.

In what temple officers regard as the most intensive stake temple day in recent memory, some 700 stake members went to the temple at various times from 5:30 in the morning to 8 at night and engaged in sealings, initiatory work, endowments and baptisms for the dead.

"We have 59 stakes in the temple district, and we try to schedule with the stake leaders two or three stake temple days during the year," explained temple Pres. Carlos E. Asay. "The Holladay North Stake [on its temple day] brought a host of people, and they made this place hum."

Almost every sealing room was in use by 5:30 a.m., Pres. Asay said.

Stake Pres. M. Richard Walker explained, "This is the culmination of an effort started at our stake conference in May of last year, when we were challenged by Elder Han In Sang of the Seventy to strive to be a Zion people and to truly be a stake of Zion."

In the months that followed, in stake and ward conferences, speakers dealt with the concept of Zion, and the family as the most important organization in time and eternity and as the center of the stake, Pres. Walker explained.

Eager to maintain that focus, the stake presidency in June pondered what could be done, especially in the context of sacrifice and the Pioneer Sesquicentennial.

"I had a very strong impression that we needed to make a sacrifice in the temple," Pres. Walker related. "And this feeling of 1,997 temple ordinances being performed in one day became very, very strong. I had an absolutely peaceful feeling that if we would do that as a stake, it would be acceptable as a sacrifice to the Lord of our time and efforts." (The figure was arbitrarily selected to signify the year 1997.)

The stake presidency obtained support from the high council and bishops in the stake, then wrote a letter to the entire stake.

"In the letter . . . we issued a call to every member of our stake who either had a temple recommend or who was worthy to hold one to set aside all other matters on the 25th of September, come to the temple that day and worship the Lord," Pres. Walker said.

With 1,050 recommend holders in the stake, the high council determined each ward would have to perform about 300 ordinances for the stake to meet its objective of 1,997, with an ordinance being defined as an entire sealing session, an initiatory session, an endowment or a group of baptisms.

"The wards just took it to heart," the stake president said. "The beautiful thing about it is it caught hold everywhere." The following items illustrate:

Stake members away from home supported the endeavor by attending temples in London, San Diego, Provo and Cardston. A group of elderly sisters, for whom the steps in the Salt Lake Temple are difficult to negotiate, spent the day at the Jordan River Temple.

A sister who is not a member of the Church but who regularly attends a ward in the stake took a day off from work so she could watch the children of those who attended the temple. The same sister in a meeting challenged those who could not go to the temple to fast on the temple day in behalf of those who were going.

An elderly sister, unable to attend the temple because of declining health, arranged to have her step-daughter go in her behalf.

The Holladay 29th Ward, a single-adult ward in the stake, has only 35 recommend holders, yet ward members insisted on performing its share of ordinances and far exceeded it.

Members of one ward in the stake, the Valley View 2nd Ward, performed 460 ordinances, far more than has been performed by the entire stake at previous temple days.

In the afternoon, 60 Aaronic priesthood youth and young women were baptized for the dead. That was as many as the Salt Lake Temple could handle, so members of the single-adult ward who did not hold regular temple recommends went to the Jordan River Temple to be baptized for the dead.

One family canceled a trip to Disneyland, losing money already paid in deposit, so as to be in town for the temple day.

Arrangements were made in advance so as not to overwhelm workers at the Salt Lake Temple.

"One of our great high councilors, Rolfe Aase, went to the temple first of all to see if it was even feasible to do that many ordinances in a single day," Pres. Walker said. "We thought perhaps we'd have to have our people go to several temples."

But Brother Aase, himself a temple worker, came back with a detailed schedule, and assignments were made from it in an orderly fashion.

"One thing that is so important is that the priesthood leaders and bishops contacted everybody," said Pres. Kenneth E. Coombs, second counselor in the stake presidency. "There were many who had not been to the temple for many years, but with this impetus, they had a renewed desire to go. There were those who decided now was the time to qualify themselves to receive their endowments. Many individuals came to do one session but stayed for three or four because they didn't want to leave."

Added Pres. John R. Gaskill, first counselor: "A thought that I have had since then is that rushing to the temple and then rushing back to work or home, I have not really gotten the spirit of the temple the way I did when I went down there for the day and did several ordinances. I must have had 10 people come up to me and ask when we are going to do this again. One sister said she'd like to do it three or four times a year."

Pres. Coombs said a sister told him she really felt the magnitude of what the stake leaders were asking when she heard the symbolic figure 1,997, and she was then willing to sacrifice.

The number was exceeded, totaling more than 2,200 ordinances for the day.

"But I have told stake members that the numbers really aren't even important anymore," Pres. Walker said. "What is important is what we all felt that day and what was done."

As for the time they spent in the temple being a sacrifice, some stake members said they did not consider it as such, Pres. Walker said, especially when they pondered the sacrifices made by the early Saints who completed the Nauvoo Temple, knowing they would shortly have to abandon it. "And then, as soon as they arrived here in the Salt Lake Valley, to go and build this beautiful temple, when many of them didn't even have homes to live in. We have told our people we don't measure sacrifices one against another. The important thing is they did what they were called to do, and their lives will be blessed for it."

The stake president said the leaders never dreamed their people would respond to the extent they did. "And it's been a great blessing to all of our lives. I think a lot of people caught the vision of what the temple really is, more than just a place to go and do an ordinance. It is to them a house of worship, the house of the Lord."

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