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Faithful heritage in Denmark

Pres. Hinckley dedicates 118th temple, opens new chapter in Scandinavia

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A cold, stiff wind blew most of the day, Sunday, May 23. Early that morning, several dozen young men and young women shivered as they stood outside 12 Priovej, an address not far from the historic section of "Old Copenhagen." Comprising a choir to sing at the sealing of a symbolic cornerstone, they eagerly waited to catch a glimpse of President Gordon B. Hinckley as he arrived to dedicate the Copenhagen Denmark Temple.

From throughout Denmark, Iceland and the southern portion of Sweden, some 3,400 members gathered to participate in and witness the opening of a new chapter in the history of the Church in Scandinavia. The first chapter began with the arrival of Latter-day Saint missionaries more than a century and a half ago; the latest with the dedication of the Church's 118th temple.

In each of four dedicatory sessions, the past, present and future blended, each a complement to the other. None seemed more acutely aware of the vital contributions of Denmark and other lands of Scandinavia to the early growth of the Church than were President Hinckley and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, who also attended the dedication and spoke in all the dedicatory sessions. From these lands from the mid-1800s and into the next century came thousands of converts who gathered to Zion to help build the Church.

"Once the harvest was very large here," President Hinckley said of the Church in Denmark. "Thousands in those days who were converts to the Church . . . with faith, left this land and went to America." Many, he said, died on the way to the Salt Lake Valley. "Those who survived left a heritage that is wonderful."

Part of that heritage is the edifice that became the Copenhagen temple. President Hinckley referred to it as "a new temple in an old shell," explaining that the original building was dedicated as an LDS chapel in 1931 by Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve.

"It has served very well through these years," President Hinckley said. "It was deemed advisable that we should convert it to a temple. It is all new inside. It is in a good location, and we had the land, which is almost impossible to get in Copenhagen. A miracle has been wrought."

In dedicating the temple, President Hinckley prayed, "We thank Thee for Thy faithful servants who have come here as teachers of Thy divine truth. We express our gratitude for the many thousands who have responded to their message over the years. Most emigrated to their Zion in the early seasons of this work. Now Thy people are urged to remain and build Zion in this good land. That they might have every blessing, and that they might extend these blessings to those beyond the veil of death, this beautiful temple has been constructed in their midst."

While vast in geographical expanse, the temple district has a Church membership relatively small in numbers. In all of Denmark, southern and southwestern Sweden, the Faero Islands and Iceland there are fewer than 8,000 Latter-day Saints. However, the strength of the Church "is very good," according to Dee V. Jacobs, president of the new temple. And Elder Nelson, in a Church News interview, said the saints in the temple district have always been in a minority "and a minority, to survive, has to be strong."

President Jacobs said that Church activity is consistently strong. "On any Sunday, you can go to any ward in Copenhagen and you will find it is the same as the big wards in Sweden, and the wards in Sweden are like wards in the United States — you'll find second-, third- and even fourth-generation members of the Church. Members are raising their children in the Church. They work hard. Children have grown up in the Church, gone on missions and now their children are going on missions. That's where you see the strength. These members are true and faithful to the core."

Representative of the strength of the Church in Scandinavia is Bishop Michael Luno Kofod of the Ballerup Ward, Copenhagen Denmark Stake. Baptized at age 8, he served in the England Manchester Mission. He and his wife, Anny Kosgaard Luno, whom he married in 1978 in the Swiss Temple, have reared three children. The older two, a son and a daughter, have served missions; their youngest, a son, is 17. "In the four years that I've been bishop, 14 missionaries have been called from our ward," he said.

The strength of the Church in Scandinavia isn't limited to older members. For example, Sean Nielsen, 9, demonstrated a spiritual maturity far beyond his years. Several children had been invited to take turns placing mortar around the cornerstone as the dedicatory events got under way. He planned to take photos of the other children but as President Hinckley extended his hand to invite them to step forward, Sean's eyes clouded with tears.

Overcome by the spirit of the gathering and realizing he was in the presence of the Lord's prophet and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in the literal shadow of a temple, Sean began to weep. Elder Nelson put an arm around him and then President Hinckley beckoned him to stand by his side. There they stood, a 93-year-old prophet and a 9-year-old Primary boy, separated in age by a span of 84 years yet brothers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This small act added a significant line to the history of the Church in Scandinavia. It seemed as if the boy, through young eyes, could see his place in that history.

E-mail: gerry@desnews.com

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