South Florida Latter-day Saints: ‘a temple people’

Credit: Jason Swensen
Credit: Jason Swensen
Credit: Jason Swensen
Credit: Jason Swensen
Credit: Jason Swensen
Credit: Jason Swensen
Credit: Jason Swensen


If a team of anthropologists on a tight budget wanted to study the Church’s worldwide profile, they’d be wise to base their operations in South Florida.

This “corner of paradise,” renowned for its sunny skies and cosmopolitan flair, is truly a microcosm of the global Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Visit almost any congregation — from Key West in the south to Naples along the peninsula’s Gulf Coast — and you will likely hear smatterings of Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole all mixed in with English (perhaps flavored by a distinctly Jamaican accent.)

The members themselves come not only from a variety of nations, but also from a rich mix of religious circumstances. Some were born in the Church — the children and grandchildren of faithful Latter-day Saints. Others have discovered the Church during their own lifetime in their native countries or after settling in the Sunshine State.

Despite their diverse personal histories, the South Florida members are united under a common moniker: they are a “temple people.”

On Sunday, May 4, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the Fort Lauderdale Florida Temple. It is the 143rd temple in operation. The dedication signals the Church’s solid footing in this region of the world. It also presents the members here with a divine mandate to further the gospel’s eternal work and mission.

“We now have a monumental responsibility,” said Miami Lakes Florida Stake President James Robinson. “We want the Lord to know it was the correct decision to build a temple in South Florida.”

Elder Ulisses Soares, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy who presides over the United States Southeast Area, said the members here are up to that challenge. They have proven to be a “faithful and consecrated people.”

“Now is their time to come to this temple with the names they have prepared,” he told the Church News. “And second, they have a responsibility to share the gospel and invite their neighbors to come to the temple.”

Faithful members of all colors and creeds in this region will forever celebrate May 4, 2014. The dedication of the temple — located prominently off the east side of Interstate 75 between Miami and Fort Lauderdale — is the culminating event in its rich Latter-day Saint history.

In the early days of the 20th-century, J.C. Neubeck, a member from Palatka, Florida, was sent to Miami to work for the Florida East Coast Railroad. A few years later, he was called to be the presiding elder over the few members living in the area.

The first Miami branch was organized in 1920. Brother Neubeck was its first president.

Other key local historical moments included the dedication of the chapel of the Miami 1st Branch by President David O. McKay and, in 1960, the organization of the original Miami Stake by Elder Delbert L. Stapley of the Quorum of the Twelve.

The first Miami Spanish-speaking stake was organized two decades ago.

Visit any observant LDS family here and you’ll likely find a portrait of the Florida Orlando Temple hanging prominently in their home. For almost 22 years, that edifice in central Florida has been a spiritual gathering place for these members to the south. Now they have a temple to call their own.

The tens of thousands of visitors at the recent temple open house encountered a sacred house of worship that is distinctly Floridian. The color scheme throughout the edifice is accented in cool blues and greens, reflecting the state’s tropical environment.

Sawgrass leaves, palm fronds and other local elements can be found represented in the ornate glass and metalwork in the baptistery and several other areas of the temple. Dark woods from Ecuador complement the interior stonework carved from marble and limestone.

Original artworks throughout the temple capture landscapes that could double as postcards for Everglades National Park. Meanwhile, the dramatic interior murals conjure a timeless Florida coastline not unlike the one once visited by Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer who came to Florida in the early 1500s.

The newly dedicated temple will forever be connected to the Church’s rich local history here. But, more importantly, it heralds a future of promise and growth.

Elder Stephen Thompson, an Area Seventy and longtime Florida resident, said the youth of South Florida would play an essential role in ensuring the success of the new temple. Youth conferences throughout the Fort Lauderdale temple district have focused on family history work. Young men and young women are being challenged to prepare names from their own families to be brought to the temple. Many are being called and trained as family history research specialists.

“The spirit of Elijah is working on them,” said Elder Thompson. “The work they will do in the temple will prepare them for missions. It will prepare them to be married in this temple.”

The Florida Fort Lauderdale Temple has already proven to be the region’s most effective missionary. Because of its location near the busy interstate, the temple has snagged the curiosity of countless motorists since the early days of its construction. Callers wanting to know more about the beautiful structure being built near I-75 bombarded one local television station.

Meanwhile, missionaries collected and followed up on stacks of referral cards during the open house period. Many have resulted in baptisms.

“Now our goal is to keep this temple open and busy,” said President Robinson.

M. Anthony Burns, a former Area Seventy and a prominent Miami-area businessman and coordinator of the temple dedication committee, said the Lord’s hand has been evident during the entire temple open house and dedication period.

“We are so thankful to have a temple in our midst — it will bring many blessings to our lives,” he said.

The members living in the Fort Lauderdale temple district, he added, have already demonstrated a willingness to make sacrifices for the temple. That spirit of giving will be essential for the new temple to succeed.

Temperate weather greeted members to the three Sunday dedicatory sessions. The days leading up to the event had been hot and sticky, so participants welcomed the relatively cool weather. Still, the happy spirit of the day was more a reflection of what was happening inside the Church’s newest temple.

“We are just so happy to have the house of the Lord so close to our own home,” said Davis Birch, a husband and father from the Stewart Ward, Florida Stewart Stake. “This is so exciting.”

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