England's second temple - and what will be the 52nd operating temple in the Church - was opened to the public May 16 in this suburb of Preston, site of the oldest continuous Church unit, the Preston Ward, which dates back to 1837.
The Preston England Temple was toured by 9,000-10,000 people on each of the first two days of its two-week open house, said Bryan J. Grant, the Church's director of public affairs for the Europe North Area."We set up a ticket hotline, and we've had, to date [May 19], 102,000 people ring in to book a tour of the temple," he said. "What we don't know, of course, is how many people are just going to drop in."
The open house lasts through May 30, with tours conducted from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. The dedication is scheduled June 7-10.
Located in the county of Lancashire next to Junction 8 of the M61 motorway at Hartwood Green, the temple will serve faithful Latter-day Saints in the country from Birmingham north, and also Scotland and Ireland, Brother Grant said. The London Temple, first dedicated in 1958, will serve Church members from Birmingham south.
The new edifice "has been very, very well received in the community," Brother Grant noted. "We've gotten some excellent media coverage. All of the newspapers - national and local - have commented favorably on the temple. We had a wonderful media day with about 70 media representatives in attendance, including national and local radio, television and newspapers."
On Sunday, May 17, the entire two-hour religious program on BBC Radio Lancashire was devoted to coverage of the temple opening. In addition to Brother Grant, it featured interviews with Elder Cecil O. Samuelson of the Seventy and president of the Europe North Area, and his counselors, Elders Spencer J. Condie and Wm. Rolfe Kerr, both of the Seventy.
Meanwhile, dignitaries have responded to invitations for special tours.
Brother Grant quoted a Blackburn magistrate as commenting following a tour of the temple: "I've been very moved. I think you people will be an influence for good in this area. We are delighted."
"We had a couple tour the temple who own a Georgian mansion, so they're used to very elegant living," Brother Grant related. "When they came out, they walked around the temple about three times to come up with a word that described how they felt about it. And they said the word they came up with was `exquisite.' "
Brother Grant said he took a man on a tour who is a justice of the peace in the northwest of England, "and he said he's never experienced anything like it. He's been to Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral, and never sensed anything like what he sensed in the celestial room [of the temple]. He's determined to bring his wife back and take her around the temple too."
Although some resistance to the construction of the temple was manifest initially by nearby residents, that has melted away as the edifice has taken shape and as local Church members have met with neighbors and resolved concerns.
"Suffice it to say that a few weeks ago, Bishop Bernard Walsh here in Chorley went personally to every door along the Preston Road that borders the site and extended a personal invitation to every family there to come and visit the temple," Brother Grant related. "Very, very many have responded, and we've organized a special tour in which the neighbors to the site came and were received as VIP guests and taken around the temple by a member of the area presidency.
"Every single person along that road was delighted at what they now have, as it were, in their back garden. One lady even said that you ought to know I was the person who organized the group against the temple.' She said,I think it's a lovely building.' And so they've all been won over."
Among Church members who have come to the open house are Alexander and Jean MacDonald, members of the Hamilton Ward, Glasgow Scotland Stake. Elder Samuelson, while a missionary serving in Scotland in 1962, baptized the MacDonalds. Shortly afterward, they moved to another part of the country and lost contact with the Church.
Elder Samuelson searched out and recently located the MacDonalds. He visited and personally invited them to attend the open house. They came on May 19, and he took them on a tour of the temple, along with their bishop and home teachers.
"As they left, one of them commented, `Where would we have been if we had stayed active [in the Church]?' " Brother Grant said. "We're hoping they now will come back into full activity."
An estimated 2,500 Church members from some 24 stakes are working as volunteers in various capacities to help with the open house.
Sister missionaries are stationed at information desks and have been receiving more than 80 "good solid referrals" a day, Brother Grant said. "These are from people wanting to actually receive the discussions and learn more about the Church."
He added: "The young men missionaries are acting as ushers and doing a wonderful job in terms of taking disabled people through the temple. At one point, we had 18 wheelchairs in the temple at one time."
Weather during the opening days of the event was "absolutely glorious," Brother Grant said, adding, "It's more like Arizona than Lancashire over here at the moment in terms of temperatures."
The temple is part of a 15-acre complex that includes a new stake center, missionary training center, apartments for temple workers and lodging for patrons who have come from far locations. It also includes a reception center with a Beehive Clothing outlet and Family History Center.
Modern in design, the temple is finished in Olympia white granite from Sardinia, Italy. With 210,033 square feet of floor space, it has four ordinance rooms, four sealing rooms and a baptistry with the traditional font on the backs of 12 sculpted oxen.
The temple is 102.3 feet by 174.9 feet, with a 155-foot-high spire topped with a statue of the Angel Moroni.
The restored gospel has been preached in England since 1837, when Elder Heber C. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve arrived at Liverpool with six others. They began missionary work in Preston, baptizing Great Britain's first LDS converts in the River Ribble.