A temple located in their midst is a blessing for members of the Church in eastern Michigan, and its site is particularly significant to them, having figured into the travels of Joseph Smith and his family.
The Detroit Michigan Temple was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 23-24. There were four sessions the first day and two more the second before President Hinckley and his associates departed for Illinois to break ground for the rebuilding of the temple in Nauvoo.
The newly dedicated temple, located in Bloomfield Hills, a suburb about 15 miles north of Detroit, is the Church's 63rd.
Accompanying President Hinckley and his wife, Marjorie, were Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife, Kathleen, and Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Seventy and president of the North America Northeast Area and his wife, Lona Lee.
President Hinckley, in a Church News interview between dedicatory sessions, spoke of the people the temple will serve: "They appreciate it very much. They have indicated that they're so deeply grateful for this sacred structure and we, too, are happy that it has been erected here and dedicated and that the work of the Lord now goes forward here in this part of the earth."
Nestled at the bottom of one of the gently rolling hills in the area, it has the feel of peaceful seclusion even though it is in the middle of a highly populated area. Residences and businesses in the area are obscured by stands of trees still thick with colorful autumn leaves.
The roadway running in front of the temple is one of the Detroit area's major thoroughfares. It gives the temple good exposure to travelers, but is unobtrusive because it is a well-landscaped parkway and the temple is set back behind a large, grass-covered buffer.
When the day of dedication arrived, so did a cold front that brought a frigid wind and occasional showers of freezing rain.
"For the members, it's a warm day," bundled-up Bloomfield Hills Michigan Stake President Thomas C. Bithell was quick to say during a Church News interview in the temple parking lot between dedicatory sessions. Then, pointing to the temple, he said, "There's lots of sunshine inside."
Common themes among the members attending the dedication were the historic location of the temple, the selection of the site adjacent to the Bloomfield Hills Michigan Stake Center and a feeling of gratitude for a temple nearby.
President Hinckley noted that Stephen Mack, a brother of Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy, figured prominently in the early history of the Detroit area. "He surveyed the first road through what became Detroit," President Hinckley said.
Many members pointed out the road in front of the temple as the one Stephen Mack built. The Prophet Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum and his father, Joseph Smith Sr., visited the Detroit area in 1834, and because of the location and nature of the road and its relationship to the Prophet's uncle, "it would seem likely to me that they went by the temple site," Pres. Bithell said.
The prominent thoroughfare is now an asset for the Church, according to W.E. Barry Mayo, an Area Authority Seventy in the North America Northeast Area. "The temple has attracted enormous attention of people who drive up and down this Woodward Avenue which is, as you can see, an eight-lane main business street. We've had all kinds of people just stop in and ask questions," Elder Mayo said.
The temple site in Bloomfield Hills was one of the last considered during the search for a place to build the temple. Pres. Bithell, who was in charge of finding a site, said he considered property behind the stake center, but it wasn't selected because the temple would be hidden behind the meetinghouse. He said the property to the north of the stake center wasn't seriously considered because it was assumed the lot was too small. But after considering several properties near other meetinghouses, Pres. Bithell again looked at the tree-covered lot outside his office window and wondered about the northward property. It was measured "and it was just perfect," he said.
He said the lot was part of the original eight acres purchased for Michigan's first stake center in 1952. Although selling the piece was often under consideration, it never happened.
So now there is a temple on a lot where many members remember holding various outdoor activities in conjunction with their time living in the stake. Bonnie Shurtz, whose husband, Dave, is president of the Detroit River Branch, reminisced about her time as Primary president in the Bloomfield Hills Ward. "We used to have Primary activities right where the temple is, under the trees, and we never realized there was enough land there to build a temple."
The location is a great blessing to many members, but none more so than those who have lived in eastern Michigan since the area was in the Salt Lake Temple District. One of those is Harold Rice of the North Shores Ward, Bloomfield Hills Stake, who will be an ordinance worker in the new temple. He listed the temple districts he has been in since Salt Lake and the travel time required to drive to each: Washington, 11 hours; Chicago, 5 hours; Toronto, 4 hours; Detroit, 45 minutes. "And I've lived in the same spot for 50 years," he said. "We're thoroughly enjoying having this temple."
Cyrus J. Webber Jr., the temple president, said he and his wife, Glenna, are grateful for a temple nearby, but also expressed appreciation for the opportunity they had to serve as, respectively, a counselor in the presidency and assistant matron in the Toronto Ontario Temple.
Elder Mayo said, "Now we will spend more time in the temple and less time on the road getting back and forth."
For younger members of the Church, having a nearby temple is also appreciated. Melanie Wells, 15, of the Adrian Ward, Ann Arbor Michigan Stake, attended a Saturday afternoon dedicatory session. She said: "I've gone to do baptisms for the dead in the Chicago temple a couple of times and I really liked it. Now I'll be able to come here and do baptisms for the dead without traveling so far."
And Gregoire W.E. Louis of the Grand River Branch, Detroit Michigan District, attended a dedicatory session Saturday while anticipating receiving his own endowment there on the new temple's first day of operation. "That makes me feel great," he said. Within a few days after going through the temple he will leave to serve a full-time mission in the California Arcadia Mission.
Craig Sensabaugh of the Owosso Ward, Lansing Michigan Stake, will soon be 12 years old and looks forward to doing baptisms for the dead in the new temple. A convert of just two years, he said attending the dedication and seeing President Hinckley was "the second best experience of my entire life. So far, the top one would have to be my baptism."
Daniel F. Dunnigan, president of the Westland Michigan Stake, expressed the feelings that impressed him as the dedication approached. He said he thought of the phrase in the hymn "The Spirit of God" that says, "Let glory to them in the highest be given. . . ." Then he said, "If we use this [temple] the way it's supposed to be used, we will all be organized into eternal families. What better reason to give glory to God and Jesus Christ than because they have set up the plan to do that for us."