REDLANDS, Calif. — The long awaited Redlands California Temple public open house began Wednesday, Aug. 6, with three days of receptions for special guests. Members of clergy from other faiths, civic and government officials, educators and business leaders were led by the North America West Area Presidency and Area Authority Seventies and their wives through the rooms of the temple.
During these extended tours, visitors received information on the temple and various ordinances performed and had the opportunity to ask questions of the Church authorities.
The last of the groups was literally historic. More than 250 historians, museum and historical society board members, re-enactors and descendants of the early San Bernardino Valley settlers were invited from all over the region. This may have been the largest gathering of this type in the area and, with few exceptions, the guests were not members of the Church.
As they arrived, guests were paired with local Church leaders and members who have served for many years with public affairs on historical activities and developed close relationships with these particular visitors. The reception was the high point for these leaders and members as they could see the fruits of their labors.
"Over the years, we have discussed the contributions of the Mormon pioneers with these folks," remarked Marilyn Larson, who played a significant role in locating valley descendants. "Tonight though, we are able to teach why the pioneers lived as they did; we can teach them about the principles of faith, sacrifice and loving our neighbors."
Close to 100 of the guests were descendants of the pioneers who were sent by Brigham Young in 1851 to Southern California to establish a way station for missionaries and emigrants and serve as a source of supply for Utah. Many pioneer families were represented, such as Apostle Amasa Lyman, Jefferson Hunt, Thomas Holladay and Joseph Hancock.
Temple construction missionaries Jerry and Libby Quinn has been on the temple site since the groundbreaking. "Every time I walked inside the temple during the construction, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that the early pioneers were anxious for the temple to open," Elder Quinn said. "They had set aside a lot in the colony for a temple, and now their dream will be realized and bless the lives of their posterity."
Organizers also gathered descendants of the other valley settlers, such as the Native Americans, Jewish merchants, Spanish rancho families and African-American pioneers who were an integral part of the San Bernardino Mormon colony.
Josephine Trujillo Smith, great-great-granddaughter of valley protector Louis Trujillo, brought several members of her family. "It is such a great honor to be invited here tonight," she said.
Serrano Indian descendant Goldie Walker's great-grandfather sold leather goods in the colony. As she entered the ordinance room with beautiful clouds hand-painted on the ceiling, she remarked with tears in her eyes, "I think I can feel a bit of heaven here."
Native American families were particularly interested in the painting of Christ in the Americas that hung on a temple wall, and asked to know more.
One of the African-American pioneer descendants commented that she was overcome with emotion and tears had come to her eyes as she took the tour. She explained that such an experience had never happened to her before, but "it was a wonderful feeling, not a sad one." She and her family asked for more information regarding the Church.
Guests from San Bernardino synagogue Temple Emanu El were very pleased that the tour included a historical display that recounted the friendly relations between Mormon pioneers and Jewish merchants in the colony. The temple, though, was the highlight of their tour. (Please see related article on this page.)
Their escort said, "The reverence they demonstrated when they entered the temple reflected their understanding that they were on hallowed ground."
"It was a precious experience to walk through the temple with those who don't have an understanding of the gospel," commented escort Charlene Heiss. "It is heartwarming to recognize that they felt the Spirit and the peace there in rich abundance."
"This is the most beautiful place I have seen. I don't want to leave," said one guest.
The Redlands California Temple open house continues through Sept. 6, excluding Sundays.