ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Despite temperatures dipping below zero, almost 10,000 people toured the newly remodeled Anchorage Alaska Temple the last week of January. Members came from all over the state — from the North Pole to Juneau.
Hundreds of members volunteered their time and talents to organize and implement the many facets of holding an open house. It's a daunting task, especially when dealing with freezing weather and an over-abundance of snow. Missionaries in the area helped wherever there was a need, from ushering to emptying the garbage.
Special VIP tours for contractors who worked on the temple, the media, religious leaders and dignitaries including Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski and his wife, Nancy, and Alaska State Sen. Lisa Murkowski, were well received. The beauty and spirit of the temple touched hearts and many requests were made to learn more about the Church's beliefs.
The temple, which was dedicated Jan. 9, 1999, has been closed since April 2003 for expansion. It has been greatly missed by the members, who have had to make arrangements at other temples far away for endowments and weddings.
Temple President Merrell Briggs expressed his joy at the coming reopening of the temple. He feels the temple here has impacted the members with increased spirituality. "It's a wonderful thing for the youth to participate in baptismal sessions, with the atmosphere of quiet and reverence, which they are not used to in the noise of their world."
Alaska Mission President Kent B. Petersen likes his missionaries to attend the temple once a month. "It builds spirituality among the elders and sisters," he said. "The open house has brought a public visibility. It makes contacts easier — 'You may have seen our new temple.' The recognition level affects the Church. Our ultimate aim leads to the temple."
Many major and minor miracles occurred to help the open house be successful. Temple committee member Gary Child was in charge of ushers and tour guides. He tells of two visitors who spoke only Russian. "We weren't prepared for them. Guides and visitors were put together on a random basis. They happened to get a tour guide who spoke Russian — the only one who did."
Ordinance worker Marge Swartz noted that the temple was beautiful and peaceful. "It's like going into another world. It sets the pace for the day when you go there. I am anxious for the work to begin!"
One visitor, Mely O. Han of Anchorage who is not LDS, attended with her two children. "The temple is truly holy and sacred, purified and extremely clean. My children said it smells like God, like a brand-new home for His children to come home. It was a wonderful time to teach my children that if we live like we should we can always feel like this. I don't speak English good (she is from the Philippines), but the Holy Spirit is talking through my heart."
Youth attending seemed especially touched by the experience. Two boys, 9 and 11, brought Bob Busby of the Campbell Creek Ward, Anchorage Alaska Stake, to tears as they quietly picked up tiny pieces of lint they noticed in the celestial room. They felt the temple should be perfect.
Perhaps, 10-year-old Andrew Freeman of the North Pole Ward said it best: "When I entered the celestial room, my heart stopped! It was the best feeling in my life. I can't wait until I get my temple recommend and come back to this temple (and do baptisms)."
Andrew and his parents drove more than 400 miles over winter roads to attend the open house. Andrew turns 11 the day of the dedication.
The temple will be rededicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley on Feb. 8. On Feb. 7, in conjunction with the rededication, will be a regional conference and cultural event, with a cast of 600, including 450 Primary children.