With the Boise River bottom, mountains and buttes as a scenic backdrop, the Church’s 158th temple — the Meridian Idaho Temple — stands as a representation of the faithfulness and growth of the people and Church in the area.
Although not far from its neighboring temple in Boise located less than 10 miles away, the new temple will reduce demands on the Boise temple and accommodate the development and growth in surrounding areas.
What used to house a cutoff to the Oregon Trail and has been dubbed the “Treasure Valley” for its cache of resources, the area has continued to grow since the first settlers arrived in 1893. In recent years, those resources have attracted many corporations to build headquarters or large manufacturing plants in the area. Since 1994, Meridian, Idaho, has been the fastest growing city in the state.
But growth is nothing new for the area.
More than 85 years after the first organized meeting of about 40 Church members was held in 1932 in Meridian, Idaho, the area houses eight stakes, 63 congregations and more than 27,000 members of the Church, in addition to the recently dedicated house of the Lord.
Although Meridian has been on a map since the 1860s, it wasn’t until the 1920s that Church members began to settle in the area. Descendants of colonizers — sent by President Brigham Young to settle Bear Lake County in eastern Idaho — were drawn to the fertile soil, abundant water sources and a longer growing season.
The Church’s first organized meeting in Meridian was held on April 29, 1932, where 40 members met in a local parlor. Quickly, members faced the need for a larger space and Church meetings moved to a dance hall, where members would often go late Saturday night to clean up beer bottles and cigarette butts after the local dance was finished. Because of a leaky roof, members would hold newspapers over their heads to keep from getting wet during meetings.
In just seven years, so many members of the Church had moved to the Meridian area that the Church decided that a meetinghouse was necessary.
On Oct. 13, 1939, the construction of a brick building officially began, and after two years of construction the first LDS meetinghouse in Meridian was dedicated in June 1941.
Due to continued Church growth, soon after the first Church building was complete, it became too small and Church leaders began planning a larger building. Just 16 months later on July 20, 1952, former Boise stake president and then-apostle Elder Ezra Taft Benson dedicated a larger building for Church use. In June of 1972 the first stake was created.
Today the temple district includes 14 stakes in Idaho and two in Oregon.
At the groundbreaking for the new temple on Aug. 23, 2014, however, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles noted, “The construction of a temple is not about the number of stakes or number of members or any of those other metrics. The decision to build a temple in a particular location is about the hearts of the people. … The Lord has inspired his servants to construct a temple here as a reflection of devotion and dedication and faithfulness.”
Local stake president, President Jason R. Radford, said, “The Church has always been strong in this area, with a lot of good members.”
The area was settled by homesteaders, pioneers who broke it out of sagebrush, President Radford explained.
Many of their children, and now grandchildren, have become leaders of the Church throughout the valley. “The Church [is] strong and vibrant in this area,” President Radford said.
During the groundbreaking, Elder Bednar issued a challenge to the members of the district to be a “self-sufficient temple” where members bring their own family names.
In response to that challenge, President Radford said his stake has tried to become a “self-sufficient stake” with members finding ancestors’ names and preparing for the work to be done at the temple. “Many wards have done a lot of unique things to prepare,” he said, including youth firesides and combined activities.
“We have our names and we are ready to serve,” said Bruce Richardson of the Eagle 8th Ward in the Eagle Idaho Stake.
Hal Bunderson moved to the Treasure Valley 39 years ago with his wife, Mary Kay. The two raised their three children here and were in attendance when the Boise Idaho Temple was dedicated on May 25, 1984.
After he retired from his professional career, his “sweetheart” joined him as a temple worker. For the past several years, he’s served as a sealer in the Boise temple. Since his wife died four and a half years ago, he’s served every Wednesday and Saturday in that temple.
“I love the Lord. I look forward to His Spirit,” he said of his weekly service. “For a little widower like me, it sustains me. It lifts me.”
Members go to the temple to feel God’s love, Bunderson added. “You will feel it anywhere in the temple.” Bunderson said he hopes people who go will “pause long enough to feel God’s love.”
Bunderson will now serve as a sealer at the temple in Meridian, which is just down the road from his home. The Monday following the dedication he plans to participate in an endowment session and will perform sealings during his first shift the following Saturday.
For many of the youth, preparing for the temple has brought an added measure of strength to their lives.
“My school is less than a mile away and I can see [the temple] from some of the classrooms,” Maxwell Christensen said. “Seeing it a lot and being part of the cultural celebration has made it so we are more attached to the temple.”
For Vickie Lambert, watching the temple construction over the last few years has helped her keep the temple in her thoughts.
“We have been waiting,” she said. “I live two minutes away and I’ve been coming and watching as it has been under construction. To see it every day has been a blessing. There have been many times as they have been building the temple I have parked and watched. On those days you are having a hard day there is nothing quite like being at the temple.”
She added, “Some people say you don’t appreciate it if it’s so close to you, but I have lived all over the country and we absolutely appreciate having a temple so close. It is my dream to work in the temple.”
For J. Craig Rowe, who has served as the temple committee coordinator, the end of the dedication marked the beginning of the next chapter for Meridian.
“I am humbled and grateful for all of the work [from members for the dedication],” said Brother Rowe. “We’re excited; we are complete. Now it is time to go to work in the temple.”