HOUSTON, Texas — Sterling Pack's shirt was heavy with perspiration by the time the third session of the Houston Texas Temple dedication was underway. A straw hat and perhaps a lump of sunscreen shielded his crown, but the Gulf Coast heat flushed his face as he helped shuffle cars in and out of the sprawling temple parking lot.
The ushers and other volunteers working inside the granite temple were cool and dry. No matter. Sterling Pack, a branch president and member of the temple transportation and parking committee, was a contented man. Whenever the sun bordered on unbearable he simply glanced at the newly dedicated temple, thought ahead a few days and anticipated the happy work that would soon be taking place inside.
"Next week, four couples from my branch are going to be sealed here. They've been waiting for this temple," said President Pack, his eyes misting. "This building is our crown jewel."
Thousands of Southeast Texas members joined President Pack on Aug. 26-27 to witness the dedication of the Church's 97th temple. President Gordon B. Hinckley presided over the dedication, offering his spirit, presence and counsel at each of the eight dedicatory sessions. The prophet was accompanied by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Seventy and counselor in the North America Southwest Area.
The dedicatory weekend reminded many Houston-area members of their rich Church history — and left them eager to explore a promising future.
Elder James Olson, an Area Authority Seventy, remembers moving to Houston 28 years ago "and driving vast distances to attend meetings. The idea of having a temple within an hour's drive was just unimaginable to us."
Before the Houston Texas temple was announced, area Church members like Elder Olson could only hope to attend a temple once or twice a year.
"Now there is a temple here," he said. "The temple has lighted up the city of Houston and our neighbors are taking a look at us. The Church is going to have an increasing influence for good in the lives of the people of Houston, members and nonmembers alike."
Houston-area members struggle to contain their excitement over the elegant edifice of a classical modern design that claims a prominent corner in a beautiful Houston suburb. The multi-leveled temple is built across 34,000 square feet of floor space that ascends to an azure spire crowned with a gold statue of Angel Moroni. The temple is designed to accommodate large numbers of faithful members — each of the two ordinance rooms seats 50 people.
Southeast Texas has been a designated haven for the faithful since the early days of the restored Church. Years before the pioneer migration to Utah, Church leaders regarded the Republic of Texas as a possible refuge for those being persecuted in Illinois. In 1844, Houston was a town of muddy streets and wooden sidewalks when Brother Lucien Woodward was assigned to study the feasibility of Texas as a safe spot to gather the saints, according to Church history.
Church units in Southeast Texas were scant and scattered in the early days of the 20th Century. In time, local membership jumped as vigorous missionary work was set in motion by long-time residents and new members moving into the area seeking work in the fledgling oil industry. The Houston Stake was formed in 1953 with 3,800 members in 15 area congregations in 48 counties.
Today, that stake has blossomed into 22 stakes.
"The growth of the Church in this area has been nothing less than a miracle," President Pack said. "Today, our stakes are as strong as you will find anywhere, even in the core of the Church."
The Houston Texas Temple district serves 83,000 members and covers a respectable chunk of the Lone Star State — stretching across the capital city of Austin, through historic San Antonio, east to Beaumont and south into the cattle and cotton lands of the Rio Grande Valley. Hundreds living outside Houston traveled to participate in the temple dedication sessions. The services left them satiated with the Spirit of Elijah, yet hungry for a temple in their own communities.
"We are thrilled to be here . . . but we hope San Antonio is one of the next areas chosen for a temple," said Wes Barton, a member of the San Antonio 9th Ward of the San Antonio Texas West Stake.
Duran Elkins, a member of the stake presidency in the Harlingen Texas Stake, said the Houston temple will leave the members of his stake dreaming of a temple in the Rio Grande Valley, "but we have to be deserving of a temple." The missionaries and members near the Rio Grande baptize "about a ward a year," President Elkins said. He and other leaders now want to strengthen, retain and prepare those new members to enjoy their temple blessings.
The faithfulness of members in Southeast Texas has been rewarded with a temple. Those who keep the faith can realize all the Lord's blessings inside a holy, dedicated building in northwest Houston, said President Pack. The temple belongs to families. Even the handrails leading to the sealing rooms inside the Church are designed to accommodate young people. President Pack and others like to imagine children finding support from those handrails while walking down the temple halls to be eternally sealed to their parents.
Enjoying the blessings of a new temple, listening to a prophet's words and marveling at forever families has left thousands of Southeast Texans reveling in the spirit.
Now, said President Pack, "this temple is accepted of the Lord."