COLUMBIA, S.C. — Elder Gordon T. Watts encouraged more than 3,500 Church members — as construction on the Columbia South Carolina Temple begins — to also begin a "program of personal construction that we will be as exemplary as this beautiful temple when it is completed."
Speaking at groundbreaking ceremonies for South Carolina's first temple Dec. 5, Elder Watts of the Seventy and first counselor in the North America Southeast Area, said the spirit of Elijah that prompts members to do temple work is in full swing.
"We have an enormous amount of work to do, my brothers and sisters, to accomplish what lies before us," he said. "This temple is being built for that purpose and we must prepare ourselves to be busily engaged in the process of exaltation."
Elder Watts, who was accompanied by his wife, Connie, presided at the dedication ceremony, held in South Carolina's capital city in 80-degree weather — a record-breaking warm temperature for Columbia in December. Many of the thousands of Church members in attendance used umbrellas to shade themselves from the hot afternoon sun.
Elder Brent H. Koyle, an Area Authority Seventy, attended and conducted the groundbreaking services. Also attending were Elder Alvie R. Evans, an Area Authority Seventy, and stake presidents and their wives from the 11 stakes included in the Columbia temple district. Others attending were dignitaries that included State Sen. Warren Giese; L. Wayne Bryan, executive minister of the Christian Action Council; Richland County Councilman-elect Jimmy Bales; Michael Watson and Sanders Tate of Watson/Tate Architects; and Bob Henrickson, representing Walbridge General Contractors.
Located in the southeast corner of Columbia — between Trotter and Caughman roads — the temple will be build in a residential neighborhood on property the Church purchased more than 20 years ago as a site for a potential meetinghouse.
During brief remarks, Elder Watts said that the Columbia temple is the 95th announced by the Church. "We must be a light on the hill, sending a beam of righteousness to all around us," he told the gathered members.
He called the new temple "an ensign to the Lord," pleading with members, both young and older, to prepare to enter it. "There are certain obligations and commandments required of the Lord before we are extended the privilege of entering His Holy House," he explained. "If changes are required in your life to gain entrance into the temple let us begin now. . . .
"All that you do in your life should be directed to the temple. God is at the helm and this is His work."
Elder Koyle also urged members to get ready for the temple. "Everyone of you . . . come to the temple — come and claim your blessings. It is a sacred work," he explained.
Church pioneers Evan D. Ginn of the Asheville North Carolina Stake and Gwen Slay Llewllyn of the Columbia South Carolina Stake were asked to share their testimonies during the dedication ceremony. Brother Ginn spoke of his grandparents who joined the Church in the late 1800s after offering two missionaries water and a place to sleep and were later persecuted because of their Church membership.
Sister Llewllyn recalled, as a 13-year-old girl, preparing buildings with her relatives for Church services. She encouraged the young people to treat their bodies as temples so they can be worthy to enter the House of the Lord.
As part of the ceremony, Elder Watts, Elder Koyle, the dignitaries and stake presidents broke ground for the future temple. Elder Watts then invited a few Primary children and young men and young women to "represent the young people whose lives will be benefited now and in the future as a result of the temple" to participate. Others then participated in the ceremonial process by turning over the soil.
The Columbia South Carolina temple district includes the Columbia, Greenville, Charleston and Florence stakes in South Carolina; the Charlotte South, Charlotte Central, Asheville and Hickory stakes in North Carolina; the Augusta and Savannah stakes in Georgia; and the Kingsport Tennessee Stake.