FRESNO, Calif. — Putting shovel to soil this time of year is nothing new to people of the Central San Joaquin Valley, a rich agricultural area.
But the hundreds who wielded shovels in light rainfall here March 20 were preparing the ground for something far greater than food and fiber. They were breaking ground for the Fresno California Temple — the Church's 99th announced temple and California's fourth. It will be the first in the central part of the state. Other temples are in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Diego.
"From the days of the sailing of the ship Brooklyn to San Francisco Bay in 1846 and the forced march of the Mormon Battalion, California has taken a key role in the history of the Church," said Elder John B. Dickson of the Seventy and president of the North America West Area, who presided over and conducted the groundbreaking services. "This is another of those great days."
The 10,700-square-foot temple is being constructed on a site adjacent to the Fresno California West Stake center in a residential area in northwest Fresno. Metropolitan Fresno has a population of about 1.5 million. The new temple district includes 28,000 members in eight stakes, covering about 150 miles. Some of the wards in the stake are in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Local Church leaders, sensitive to the needs of the neighborhood and not wanting to cause traffic congestion, limited the number of people at the groundbreaking to about 3,000. Each stake president has a video of the groundbreaking that will be made available to wards and branches. The program, which had been scheduled on the temple site, was moved into the stake center when it was apparent it would rain.
After the groundbreaking services, those attending walked to the temple site for the ceremonial turning of the first shovelful of soil. Helping Elder Dickson were Pres. Trevor Beatson of the California Fresno Mission, stake presidents and civic leaders, including Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and Councilman Chris Mathys. Afterward, others in attendance, including children and families, took turns with shovels.
In his remarks, Elder Dickson said that since that day in April 1830 when the Church was organized once again, it has begun to fill the whole earth. "We now find ourselves on the threshold of unprecedented growth and expansion," he declared.
Speaking of the Book of Mormon, he continued: "What a blessing it is to have this other testimony of the Savior amidst the unbelief of the 20th and 21st centuries. Through these scriptures we have more fully come to understand that God is our Heavenly Father, that we dwelt with Him before this earth life and that part of His plan for our happiness was that a way be prepared for us to return to Him one day. . . .
"We have also learned that the family is the central unit in Heavenly Father's plan for His children," Elder Dickson explained. "This brings us to the purpose of our being here today, for we know not only that families are basic and important, but they can also be eternal. The building that will rise on this sacred piece of property is a building dedicated to the proposition of helping us to establish eternal families."
Elder Dickson added: "Let us make sure that this new temple is always a holy and sacred place to us, a place where our children and generations unborn can come and feel peace in a troubled world. May it be a place that non-members of the Church will also recognize as sacred and holy, whether seen from a distance or as they step onto the grounds."
Also speaking during groundbreaking services were Pres. James R. Maxwell of the Fresno California West Stake, Pres. Steven E. Tree of the Porterville California Stake, and Pres. Larry Lawrence of the Fresno North stake.