Symbol of heritage, testimony

A unique temple - the only one in the Church to be built from an existing structure - was dedicated in this eastern Utah town of 7,900 Sunday, Nov. 2, by President Gordon B. Hinckley.

The Vernal Utah Temple, the 30th temple to be dedicated or rededicated by President Hinckley, became the Church's 51st operating temple and the 10th in Utah. Eleven dedicatory sessions were held Nov. 2-4.Construction of the pioneer-era building was first begun in 1898. It was dedicated in 1907 as the Uintah Stake Tabernacle. Today, with the statue of the Angel Moroni trumpeting from the east tower, the Church's newest temple seems symbolic of not only pioneer roots in Utah's Uintah Basin, but also of a deeply embedded heritage of service and testimony.

In the Sabbath pre-dawn hours, members from throughout the temple district of eastern Utah, western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming began arriving for the traditional cornerstone session and first dedicatory session. Standing in lines and in clusters, people huddled in coats and blankets in the crisp fall morning. Children snuggled against parents or sat at their feet, many clutching white handkerchiefs.

The morning began with an 8 a.m. cornerstone session in the temple. After addresses by Church leaders, President Hinckley and the other General Authorities and temple officials and their wives exited the building for the ceremonial sealing of the cover stone. Greeting them was a 240-voice choir of adults from the 14 stakes throughout the temple district singing "The Lord's Prayer."

Despite the chill in the air, the atmosphere was warm and reverent as some 2,000 spectators watched President Hinckley apply the mortar with a trowel originally used in the construction of the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

After President Hinckley applied some mortar, he invited those with him to do the same. Participating in the ceremony were Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder W. Eugene Hansen of the Presidency of the Seventy, who is also executive director of the Temple Department; and members of the Utah South Area presidency, Elder Ben B. Banks, Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander and Elder Neil L. Andersen, all of the Seventy. Also taking part in the cornerstone ceremony were Sister Marjorie Hinckley; members of the temple presidency, Pres. Alva C. Snow and his counselors, Venil P. Johnson and Don M. Walker; and temple matron, Jean Olsen Snow, and assistant matrons, Gae Johnson and Ruth Walker.

Then, as is the custom at most cornerstone ceremonies, President Hinckley invited several children to participate. One child must have been a little nervous, because the prophet quipped, "Smile about it."

Encased in the cornerstone of the temple are histories of the Ashley Valley, of the stakes in the temple district, and of the Uintah Stake Tabernacle; and information pertaining to the temple groundbreaking, open house and dedication. Also included were a biography of President Hinckley and pictures of the temple presidency.

A total of 3,528 attended the first dedicatory session, with about 790 seated in rooms throughout the temple. The remainder participated in the dedicatory proceedings via closed circuit television in the four stake centers in Vernal. Speakers during the first dedicatory session were President Hinckley, and Elders Oaks, Hansen and Banks. Accompanying their husbands were Sister Hinckley, Jeanine Hansen and Susan Banks. June Oaks accompanied her husband to a session later that day.

Some 25,000 attended all 11 sessions, with the concluding session Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 4. The dedicatory prayer pronounced by President Hinckley during the first session was read by him or his counselors, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust, in subsequent sessions.

During the three-day dedication, President Hinckley was present for two days of sessions. President Monson arrived Monday morning, Nov. 3, to participate in sessions that day. He and President Hinckley took turns conducting. The final day of dedication, President Faust presided over sessions. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve participated in sessions Monday, while Elder Neal A. Maxwell, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, took part the final day. Elders Hansen, Banks, Neuenschwander and Andersen participated all three days of the dedication.

Also participating and speaking during the dedication were members of the temple presidency and the matron.

"This is a unique temple," Elder Banks, chairman of the temple committee, told the Church News. "Seeing the tears in the eyes of people, listening to the beautiful hymns and the prophet speaking is something I'll never forget."

Gayle McKeachnie, vice chairman of the open house and dedication committee, spoke of the community's response to the temple. "We've all been involved, the whole community - members, friends of other faiths. It's a community temple. We're a small community and we've had thousands of people helping. We've had people help with parking and ushering during the open house who are not members of the Church, but who wanted to participate. That's been exciting."

A main reason the open house and dedication has been such a community affair is because the tabernacle has been part of the Ashley Valley since the early days of pioneering here, according to Church officials involved with the dedication. A plaque near the west doors identifies the edifice as being on the Utah Register of Historic Places and explains that the building is "devoid of gothic detail common in church architecture and is a more simplified and almost civic variant of the Georgian New England church form."

During the conversion and expansion of the building, careful attention was paid to preserving this form, according to temple project manager Lloyd Hess. He described the work as "the highlight of my career. Because this was a restoration, which I dearly love, I put my whole heart into this."

Brother Hess explained that some 1,500 brick on the outer wall were crumbling, so replacement brick of similar color was obtained by dissembling a century-old home in Vernal. The home was donated by the owner, a member of another faith. Some of the brick was also used to build the west gates of the temple grounds. (Please see June 15, 1996, Church News.)

In addition, the west tower on the building was rebuilt to exact specifications of the original tower and a duplicate tower was built on the east end, upon which the statue of the Angel Moroni stands.

Speaking of the pioneer significance of the building, Derek F. Metcalfe, managing director of the Temple Department, explained that the restoration extended to the furnishings of the temple. He said replicas of turn-of-the-century furniture were created for the sacred edifice. In fact, he related: "The arm chairs in the celestial room are replicas of the original arm chairs that the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency used in the Salt Lake Temple. If you look closely, you'll see that the fabric is horsehair."

This dedication was somewhat of an emotional one for Brother Metcalfe, who is retiring the end of December. "It's a great privilege to be here and to be able to participate," he said, speaking of temple dedications. "This is the 33rd temple dedication or rededication I've attended. This is as spiritual as any of them."

The Vernal Utah Temple will open for ordinance work Wednesday morning, Nov. 5. With the dedication past, the real purpose of a temple begins, explained Pres. Snow. "It's a blessing if we take advantage of it. That's the only way it's a blessing to us. To have it here and not use it is no blessing to anybody."

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed