Paying tribute to the lives of early settlers and faithful Latter-day Saints of the area today, more than 7,500 people gathered on a clear, warm morning Nov. 13 at the site of the new Gilbert Arizona Temple to break ground for its construction.
Elder Claudio R.M. Costa of the Presidency of the Seventy spoke to the audience and offered the dedicatory prayer. The audience included local elected officials. Many watched the groundbreaking service broadcast at local stake centers.
"Today is a historic day because we break the ground for the construction of a temple," said Elder Costa in his remarks.
The Gilbert Arizona Temple was announced by Church President Thomas S. Monson on April 26, 2008. The site for the 81,000-square-foot temple is on the southeast corner of Pecos and Greenfield roads in Gilbert, which is southeast of Phoenix in the Salt River Valley. The temple district will include primarily Gilbert, Queen Creek, Chandler and Tempe, according to Church officials.
Elder Costa commended local members for their faithfulness.
"Saints in this area are honored among Church leaders," he said, adding that when he had previously visited the area for a stake conference he left with a desire to be better because of the examples of faithfulness he encountered. He said that his life would be forever linked to the area because of his privilege to be a part of the groundbreaking.
Elder Costa urged Church members to attend the temple often once it is built. "When we attend the temple, the spirit of revelation abounds in us," he said.
He noted the tremendous growth that has occurred since the first stake was established in Gilbert in 1975 – now there are seven stakes in Gilbert, five in Queen Creek, four in Chandler and four in Tempe.
Elder William R. Walker, executive director of the Temple Department, said he has been asked why the Church would build a temple so close to the Mesa Arizona Temple, which is about 14 miles away.
His answer is that the Mesa temple has been consistently one of the busiest temples in the Church and has become inadequate to meet the demands of the members in the area. "The Church is so strong here and it is growing," he said.
Elder Walker also noted the faithfulness of the local members — past and present.
"Everyone in the Church knows that there are wonderful, faithful and dedicated Saints here in Arizona," he said. "I am sure Heaven smiles upon this event as ancestors, grandparents and parents look down with joy to see continued love for the Lord and love for the temple.
"This site is becoming a holy place and will continue to be so through the eternities," Elder Walker said.
The Gilbert Arizona Temple is one of 157 temples announced, under construction or in operation. In Arizona there are temples in Mesa, Snowflake, The Gila Valley and another announced to be built in Phoenix.
As the groundbreaking ceremony concluded, a dedicatory prayer was offered by Elder Costa. Included was a blessing on those living in the area, a prayer that the temple's influence will touch the hearts of non-members as well as members, that children and youth will get a vision of eternal life and that adults will take care of their children and follow Christ.
Gary Richardson, a third-generation Arizonan, attended the groundbreaking service and said he believes that the temple shows the "tremendous growth and faithfulness of the Saints."
"The Church has had a great anchor in Arizona since the earliest days," he said. "The temple is a reflection of that strong base and growth in Arizona."
Tempe West Stake President Christopher Clason said the temple will be a great blessing to all those who have been faithful in attendance and have a love for the temple.
"Missionary work will increase and people's lives will be blessed," he said.
Gilbert Arizona Stake President David Layton said he is looking forward to opportunities that the temple will bring to friends and neighbors. "So many friends who I know and love will have an opportunity to go through the open house and feel the Spirit," he said.
Jay Andersen, president of the Gilbert Arizona Higley Stake, said: "Both in and out of the Church, having the temple here will be a blessing."