300,000 visitors tour Portland temple

Following a major media effort, a total of 314,232 people - fifth highest in Church history - toured the Portland Oregon Temple during its 22-day open house.

Some 21,000 people visited on the final day, Saturday, July 8.The temple, which was opened to visitors on June 15, has now been closed for cleaning and preparations for its dedication on Aug. 19-21.

The open house lifted the Church into greater significance in the area, and offered a soft introduction for visitors to its principles. With more than 240 pictures of the Savior displayed in the temple, the tour re-affirmed to many that Christ, indeed, is the center of Latter-day Saint worship, said James Bean, vice chairman of the temple committee who has headed the local effort since 1984.

"The Church has always been well-respected in the area," he said. "Now it is clearly apparent that the Church is a major influence here." He said many leaders of other churches were very supportive of the temple, and they feel the temple has brought a great spiritual blessing to the area.

He said that while his work with the temple has been one of "the choicest times of my life," it has not been without challenges. "Whenever temples are built, there are challenges that come. The saints are tested; it is almost as though the Lord wants the members to know how much they want a temple. It really isn't easy."

Even though it wasn't easy, the open house went smoothly, he reported. Visitors to the temple felt a special spirit there, and "tens of thousands of them" wrote of their positive impressions.

One visitor wrote, "We marveled at the marble, the setting, and the architecture. It is awe-inspiring. No finer house could be built for the Lord."

Those sentiments were echoed by many others who waited up to 45 minutes in lines that stretched from the temple grounds down one hill and up another, a quarter of a mile away.

"At times, we were taking 2,500 people per hour through the temple," said Brian L. Smith, Portland area public communications director.

"They were walking heel to toe, about three deep, as quickly as we could courteously move them. We had youth volunteers slipping on foot coverings as frantically as they could."

Leaders estimated that more than half of the visitors were not Church members. And among the members, a number were less-active.

One commented, "I've been away from the Church for several years now. I haven't felt the Spirit in all that time. This experience today has convinced me that I must come back - I'll see you in Church tomorrow."

Visitors eagerly received pamphlets and brochures that were available following the silent tours. Smith said box loads of literature - not including the 900,000 inserts that were distributed before the open house - were taken. "It was a super experience to see them reading the pamphlets as they walked to the parking lot," he said. "We struggled to keep materials on hand - they just flew out of here, especially during the last couple of days."

Volunteers and full-time missionaries were available for those who had questions. The first converts, who were introduced to the Church at the open house, are being baptized this week, reported Pres. James J. Eardly of the Oregon Portland Mission.

Pres. Eardly said "hundreds and hundreds of referrals" have been received, and many missionaries took investigators to the temple open house. "It has a very strong, positive effect on investigators," he said. "Everything about it has been upbeat. It is having a great leavening effect on the area."

Smith said that to announce the open house, 80 radio spots and 60 television spots were played by area stations. "Whenever the spots were broadcast, the phones began to ring at the temple information center," he explained. "The last I heard, we had received more than 10,000 phone calls."

More than 9,000 members served as volunteers at the temple. The director of the tours, Ed Walunas, spent thousands of hours in planning and organizing the tours. Leaders said many of the volunteers spent 15 and 16 hours a day at the temple during the open house.

Volunteers also assisted with special wheelchair tours for people with disabilities. "About 8 percent of the visitors took these tours," said Smith. "These tours were a very nice feature of the open house."

Church members, too, have felt the spiritual uplifting, said leaders. "Every stake acknowledges an increase in home teaching and visiting teaching," said Bean. "There is a tremendous awareness on the part of the saints in having temple blessings available to them.

"The real work will begin when the temple is dedicated," he declared, "and members come back to do the work for which the temple was built. There is a good spirit among the members, and they desire to prove themselves worthy of this great blessing."

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