Rebuilding of magnificent temple

NAVUOO, Ill. -- A sense of joy and spirituality returned to the Nauvoo Temple Lot Oct. 24 when President Gordon B. Hinckley presided over groundbreaking ceremonies for the rebuilding of the Church's second temple.

A little more than 153 years ago, Latter-day Saints had to abandon the temple they had recently dedicated. Soon, President Hinckley said, "There will grace this sight a magnificent structure, a re-creation of that which existed here and served our people so briefly during that great epic [Nauvoo] period of the history of the Church."For the groundbreaking ceremony, people filled more than 2,600 chairs for the event with hundreds more standing or sitting on the grass at the temple site.

The setting was ideal for the day eagerly awaited by members of the Church since President Hinckley announced during April 1999 general conference that the Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt. (The new edifice will be named the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.) Sunlight drenched the congregation settled under a blue Sunday afternoon sky. The block's large trees loaded with autumn leaves added a colorful contrast of red, orange, yellow and green.

President Hinckley and his wife, Marjorie, were accompanied to the ceremony by Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife, Kathleen. They had just arrived from Michigan where they had participated in the dedication of the Detroit Michigan Temple that morning and the day before. Conducting the meeting for the groundbreaking was Elder Donald L. Staheli of the Second Quorum of the Seventy and second counselor in the North America Central Area presidency. Elder Eyring and Elder Staheli offered remarks during the ceremony.

Also among those attending were Nauvoo Mayor Tom Wilson and members of the city council who just five days earlier had approved the granting of a building permit for the temple. Others in attendance were government and business leaders; citizens of Nauvoo, including members of other faiths; leaders and other guests from other religions; and missionaries and members of the Church from surrounding areas.

The special significance of the day was voiced by Shannon Mahaffey of the Chesterfield Ward, St. Louis Missouri Stake, who said after the groundbreaking, "The last time something like this happened here, it was done by Joseph Smith."

Looking back on that era of Church history, not long after the Prophet was martyred, President Hinckley said: "I can just see the people in 1846, the wagons that bitter, bitter cold day going down Parleys Street to the water's edge, getting on a barge, moving across the [Mississippi River] up on to the higher ground and looking back on this sacred structure which they had labored so hard to build and realized that never in this life would they see it again. It is difficult to imagine their emotions."

President Hinckley called the time of the groundbreaking a "happy day" in Nauvoo "where it all really began." He noted that although the Kirtland Temple was the first built in this dispensation, "there was no ordinance work in that temple," as there was during a brief period in the Nauvoo Temple.

President Hinckley commented on the excitement generated among Church members by his announcement of the rebuilding of the temple. "I'm grateful for that wonderful looking back on the part of our people to the pioneering historic days of this Church," he said.

Referring to the Nauvoo Temple as beautiful and large, he shared an experience from an earlier visit when Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy and North America Central Area president used weather balloons on the temple lot to outline the area and height of the sacred building. "I was amazed at the height of it," President Hinckley said. "I knew the dimensions in feet, but I'd never envisioned that height."

The temple will be built again to that height and with the same exterior look as the original, he said, funded largely by contributions "from those who love the Lord and love this work."

Noting some changes in construction from the original, he said it will be built of reinforced concrete faced with the same kind of stone as the original. "It will be stronger and will last a very long time," he said.

Inside, some changes will be made to accommodate current building codes and ordinance work, he said. The first floor of the five-story temple will include an assembly room as in the original, but the second floor, which was also originally an assembly room, will be occupied by ordinance rooms.

President Hinckley said, "I hope to live long enough to participate in the dedication of this wonderful building which means so very much in the history of this Church, in the history of my family, in the history of your families, so very, very many of you who are gathered here today."

The idea of rebuilding the temple is not a new one. President Hinckley said that his father, while president of the mission that included Nauvoo in 1939, suggested to the First Presidency that the Nauvoo Temple be rebuilt. But the idea wasn't accepted at that time when the country was just coming out of the Depression and the Church didn't have a lot of money.

His father was disappointed at that time, President Hinckley said, adding, "But I count it something of a strange and wonderful coincidence that I've had a part in the determination of rebuilding this temple."

There has been some concern among the citizens of Nauvoo about the impact the temple will have upon the community of 1,200. President Hinckley confirmed the belief that the temple will bring thousands of visitors to Nauvoo, but said, "This building, in my judgment, will do more for Nauvoo than anything that has happened here in a long time."

President Hinckley told local residents that when the reconstruction is finished, the temple will be open to the public "to look it over carefully and thoroughly." Then it will be dedicated for sacred purposes.

"This will be the House of the Lord. It will be dedicated as His Holy House. It will be reserved and set aside for the accomplishment of His divine and eternal purposes. It will occupy a special place in the belief and testimony and the conviction of this people. It will have great historic significance. It will be a thing of beauty and, I hope, a joy forever."

At the conclusion of his address, President Hinckley pronounced a dedicatory prayer upon the site.

Elder Eyring, in his remarks, spoke of one of his great-grandfather, John Bennion who, while on a mission in England, visited a former prime minister of that country. Elder Bennion was asked how he, being so poor, seemed so educated and to know so much. Elder Eyring recited his ancestor's answer: "My education was in the kingdom of God and its priesthood."

Then Elder Eyring said: "Our belief is that within these temples we are taught things that lift us and give us a perspective on life as it will be in the worlds to come, but as it can be here. Everything that happens in these temples is uplifting and gives people hope for this life and for the world to come."

Elder Staheli directed part of his remarks to the residents of Nauvoo. He said: "As a new temple is built here, we hope that you will be just as proud of it as we, and just as excited about the blessings it will bring, not only to the members, but to the non-members."

Following the benediction, President Hinckley, Elder Eyring, Elder Staheli, local Church leaders, Mayor Wilson, and others went to a specially prepared spot, took shovels and ceremonially broke the ground for the temple construction.

President Hinckley invited other special guests to participate and then announced that anyone in attendance who so desired could also take a shovel and turn some soil. Hundreds accepted the offer and lingered in line for as long as an hour to have a chance to be a part of that history.

Many members from the area also had the opportunity to participate by offering service. Dan Hahl, second counselor in the Nauvoo Illinois Stake presidency, said that bringing together the services needed for the event was a challenge because there was such a short time between the granting of local governmental approval to proceed and the actual event.

"In three days they put it all together," he said.

Music was provided by a Nauvoo Illinois Stake choir, and members of the stake and missionaries also took care of site preparation, ushering and security. Pres. Hahl said that people outside the Church sometimes don't understand the value to the Church of the willingness its members have to serve. "The Church teaches that service," he said. He also added that the members of the Nauvoo Ward who live closest to the Nauvoo Temple Lot and provided so much of that service, willingly stood or sat on the ground during the ceremony so that special invited guests could have the chairs.

Many members who attended expressed appreciation for the peace and spirit felt in Nauvoo, particularly with President Hinckley present for the temple groundbreaking. Brother Mahaffey, who made the drive from St. Louis with his wife and five children, said: "This is holy ground to us. We were delighted to be a part of this in some small way."

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