ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The northernmost temple in the Church -- the Anchorage Alaska Temple -- was dedicated Jan. 9 by President Gordon B. Hinckley on a frigid, dark winter morning.
Despite the cold and short daylight hours typical here this time of year, 6,291 members -- some from as far away as the Yukon, a distance as much as 14 hours away by bus -- attended the seven dedicatory sessions held Jan. 9-10 of the Church's 54th operating temple. The new temple is the second of the smaller temples to be finished since the program to build smaller temples was announced by President Hinckley in October 1997. The first was in Monticello, Utah.Living in a land known for its oil pipeline, gold, dog sled races and brilliant Northern Lights, the 18,000 members in Alaska have worked and prayed for this moment. Before now, they traveled the 1,000-2,000 miles to the Seattle or Alberta temples.
More than 1,200 members attended the first dedicatory session the morning of Jan. 9, many waiting in long lines before entering the stake center adjacent to the temple. Temperatures dropped to 18 degrees, seemingly colder with a freezing breeze. Icicles, some about eight-feet long, hung from the eaves of the meetinghouse. Snow drifts reached about three feet high. The sky was overcast throughout the day.
Because of the cold, a long heated enclosed walkway was temporarily constructed between the stake center and the temple, which shielded members as they walked from the meetinghouse to the temple.
A warmth and quiet reverence permeated the dark morning. Some 314 were seated in the temple for the first session, while another 923 watched the proceedings in the stake center via closed-circuit television.
The dedication began with the 8 a.m. cornerstone session and ceremonial sealing of the cornerstone, on which are engraved, "Erected 1999." The area near the coverstone, located on the southeast corner of the flecked gray and white granite edifice, was enclosed in a small covered, heated structure that could only accommodate a handful of people.
As President Hinckley entered the structure, a 21-voice choir from the Anchorage Alaska Stake, directed by Cam Bohman, welcomed him as they sang "Holy Temple on Mount Zion." (Hymn No. 289.)
Accompanying the Church president to Alaska were his wife, Marjorie; Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife, Mary; and Elder F. Melvin Hammond of the Seventy and president of the North America Northwest Area, and his wife, Bonnie.
As the last notes of the hymn faded at the cornerstone ceremony, President Hinckley exclaimed: "Wonderful! Thank you very much."
Then, turning to the coverstone, he said, "All right, let's proceed." He picked up the trowel, dipped into the mortar and ceremoniously sealed the cornerstone. "How's that look?" he asked as he stepped back.
He then invited others, including Elders Hales and Hammond, to apply some mortar. Also placing some mortar in the joint were members of the temple presidency, Pres. Merrill D. Briggs and his counselors, Keith J. Anderson and R. Dan Farr.
Three local Primary children, Amanda Bentley, 8; Jeff Dee, 9; and Kyle Kirn, 6, were standing nearby. President Hinckley said, "Look at these boys and girls here. Come right up here."
The Church president helped each child take a turn with the trowel. Although at times jumping up and down to keep warm, the children seemed hardly able to suppress their excitement. As they waited for the ceremony to begin, Jeff told the Church News, "I want to help the prophet because I want this temple to be finished, and I know the prophet's true. I just want to help him today."
After the children were finished with the mortar, members of the choir then took turns at the cornerstone. Then, as President Hinckley and the others started returning to the temple, the choir burst forth -- in a spirit of exultation, singing the anthem, "Let the Mountains Shout for Joy."
Three of the dedicatory sessions were held the first day on Jan. 9, with four sessions the following day.
In summarizing his feelings of the dedication, Elder Hammond explained in a Church News interview: "I have been in many, many meetings and some dedicatory sessions of temples, but I have never felt a greater spirit of love and warmth and the Holy Ghost pouring out on the people than I did in those dedicatory sessions.
"The people were so excited and so touched. There were tears in every session. They were so happy to have a temple. And although this temple is small, I've never seen a more beautiful temple. Every ordinance of the gospel and of the priesthood can be received in that beautiful small temple. It doesn't have to be large and spacious."
Elder Hammond spoke of members who traveled great distances to attend the dedication. He told of one group that traveled some 14 hours from the Yukon on a bus. "When the prophet talked about those people [during a dedicatory session], he started to weep because he loved them for their dedication and their love and their sacrifice," Elder Hammond added.
"There was another group from the Juneau stake that was unable to make it to the dedication because of the fog and the weather," he explained. "President Hinckley hopes they will . . . come at a later date and go into the temple."
Rampant are the accounts of small but significant sacrifices made by members concerning the building of the temple and its dedication.
Anchorage stake Pres. Brent M. Wadsworth related: "Shortly after the [location of the] temple was announced, a sister in our stake came over that Saturday and spent the day cleaning up the paper and all the refuse because she couldn't bear the thought that the place that was going to become a sacred temple would be littered.
After the temple was completed, John-David Anderson of the Anchorage 6th Ward spent part of a day during the week of the dedication helping his dad, David, tape down television cables so no one would trip. The 18-year-old pointed to one spot in a hallway and said, "Right here is where the prophet will walk through."
One young woman, Allison Parks, 20-year-old member of the Singles Branch in the Anchorage North stake, found her breath taken away when entering the sealing room to clean prior to the dedication. She realized that in a little more than a week later (Jan. 15), she would be married there to her fiance, Tyler Clark.
"I had to sit down. It was a very peaceful and calming experience," she related, "to be able to stay there and just think. It was nice to be there with such a strong spirit even though it hadn't been dedicated yet."
The temple, which is near the major Seward Highway, is nestled in a grove of trees in a residential area of Anchorage, with the Chugach Mountain range to the east and Cook Inlet to the southwest.
A much-talked-about feature of the temple is the chandelier in the celestial room. The fixture sparkles with 6,000-8,000 individual pieces of Hungarian crystal, 140 lights, and weighs 700 pounds. From the outside, the chandelier light makes the windows appear gold. The creme-colored carpet in the celestial room is hand-crafted.
The love Latter-day Saints here have for their new temple was also evident following the dedication. The first endowment session the next day, Monday, Jan. 11, was filled to capacity.