'God is smiling down on us'

Birmingham, ALA.— Joe Faulkner looks forward to being sealed to his parents and two deceased brothers. Steve Chambers is grateful a temple is now within 30 minutes so he can regularly attend with his wife, who was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Lillian Tingle has 96 names ready and waiting. Rick Merrill looks at his 8-year-old son, Jared, who is unable to speak because of disability, and pulls him to his cheek. The boy smiles at the touch and sound of his father.

"He feels the Spirit," said Brother Merrill. "When we came to the open house, he was not silent. He feels the Spirit and expresses it with his cooing."

With the dedication of the Church's 98th operating temple here in Birmingham, Sept. 3, 2000, by President Gordon B. Hinckley, the blessings of temple worship are becoming available to more and more Latter-day Saints throughout the world. While all express gratitude for their closer proximity to these new edifices, each individual has close to the heart even more personal feelings. People such as Brother Faulkner of the Gadsden Ward, Birmingham Alabama Stake; Brother Chambers of the Birmingham 1st Ward; Sister Tingle of the Gardendale Branch, Birmingham stake; and Brother Merrill of the Athens Ward, Huntsville Alabama Stake.

"In the last year, I've done more first-time temple recommend interviews than the previous five years," Birmingham Alabama Stake President Richard D. May related after the first of four dedicatory sessions on this humid southern September day. "Our members have been so excited. They've been working more diligently on their family history. During our open house, I saw a lot of less-active members come out. They said, 'We're ready to get back to living the gospel.'

"When we broke ground a year ago, we had about 23,000 members show up," President May said, adding that in his remarks during the groundbreaking on that rainy day in October 1999, he said, "The heavens are weeping for joy."

"Today," President May continued on the day of dedication, "God is smiling down on us. We've got a beautiful sunny day, but inside the temple, the members are weeping for joy."

Accompanying President Hinckley to Birmingham were Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Gordon T. Watts of the Seventy and first counselor in the North America Southeast Area.

Elder Haight celebrated his 94th birthday on Sept. 2 while in Birmingham as he was presented a cake. In addition, Elder and Sister Haight celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary Sept. 4, the day after the temple dedication. During the cornerstone ceremony the morning of Sept. 3, President Hinckley told those gathered outside the temple about Elder and Sister Haight's anniversary. An excited "Ah," went through the gathering.

It was difficult for most of the 4,809 attending the dedication to contain their excitement. The day before the dedication, women of the dedicatory choir from the Montgomery Alabama Stake sat on a bench on the temple grounds for pictures — each clutching a white rose given them by the brethren of the choir following a rehearsal. The choir director, Ann Louise Pattillo, had crutches by her feet. At the end of July, she had hip replacement surgery. She did not miss a single choir rehearsal.

"I think having this assignment," she told the Church News, "I was blessed to go beyond what I normally could do. I felt like if I said yes, I would be helped to be able to do this."

"This" included giving individual voice lessons to each member of the choir during the weeks before the dedication.

With her eyes misting, temple matron Sandra L. Rich, who is serving with her husband, temple President E. Allen Rich, wondered what different road their lives would have taken had she not let the missionaries in her door 40 years ago in Houston, Texas. "They introduced themselves as visiting ministers," she recalled. "The Lord knew that if they had said they were Mormon missionaries, I would not have let them in. It started from there."

President and Sister Rich well recall the names of these young men — Elder David Bingham from Utah and Elder Grant C. Mortensen from Idaho. Later, Elder Bingham returned home, and Elder Donald G. Laws from California joined Elder Mortensen. "[Elder Bingham] told us of a temple in Salt Lake where families can be sealed for time and all eternity," Sister Rich explained. "I asked, 'Can we go there?' "

"There came this enormous smile," she added, chuckling. They joined the Church that year, and on June 14, 1962, their 10th wedding anniversary, they were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. Today, they have two children and three grandchildren, and President and Sister Rich say that 40 years ago they never dreamed a day like today in Birmingham, Ala., would come.

Neither has Brother Chambers, whose wife, Caryn, has the primary progressive form of multiple sclerosis, meaning her illness is very aggressive. His love for his wife is evident; on the day of the dedication his thoughts were on how she introduced him to the Church. In fact, in the early days of their relationship and marriage during the 1980s, he thought he would "save" her from Mormonism. "I was a rock against joining, but I was like a redwood tree. When I fell, I fell," meaning when he gained a testimony, he never looked back. They were sealed in the Atlanta Temple on April 23, 1993.

Today, he is stake mission president and newly elected city councilman in Homewood, a suburb of Birmingham. Their two children, ages 10 and 11, have pieces of leftover marble from the temple in their rooms and they even made small personal donations to the building of the temple. "They have a vested interest," Brother Chambers explained. "As a family, we're more rooted now. We've always been temple-oriented, but to have it right here to touch it, to experience it firsthand," he said, makes a big difference.

The experiences of all those attending the dedication of the new Birmingham Alabama Temple were as varied as their ages. But 12-year-old Rebecca Laxson — whose long red hair stood out against a white dress — probably most appropriately tied them all back together. The young member of the Gardendale Branch, said, "This is the house of the Lord and we should respect it and be really reverent in it."


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