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Washington Temple marks 15 years of 'work of eternity'

Approximately 1,100 Church members attended an anniversary assembly Nov. 19, launching a planned year-long celebration of the 15th anniversary of "Washington's Temple."

Speakers during the assembly reminsced about the building of the temple and emphasized the importance of temple work.For 15 years, the Washington Temple has had a visual and social impact. A beloved landmark seen by travelers on the 495 Beltway that links Maryland and Virginia, radio and television stations refer almost hourly to "the temple" in their traffic updates. Pictures of the temple, with its Christmas lights, are used throughout the holiday season by most television stations.

Dedicated Nov. 19, 1974, by President Spencer W. Kimball, the temple itself is a significant missionary tool, contributing to the triple membership growth of the Church in the greater Washington, D.C., area since the dedication.

During the special assembly held in the temple, Thomas Bell, temple president, admonished priesthood leaders, their wives, veil workers and special guests to "preach, teach, and expound the scriptures pertaining to temple work and raise your voice in testimony of what temple worship means to us and to your families and to your loved ones."

Extolling the divine nature of the work, Kay Bell, temple matron, talked of the special opportunity afforded those who work in the temple. "What a feeling of humility and gratitude we feel as we serve. . . . The work we do here is the work of eternity."

At the time of the temple construction, Julian Lowe headed two committees that handled hosting for the open house and arranged dedication ceremonies. His assistant, Ken Whitt, now serves the D.C. area as regional representative. Reminiscing, the two recalled that prior to the temple's dedication, more than 750,000 people toured the edifice. Included in the visitors was then-U.S. President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty. The tours resulted in 75,000 missionary referrals.

Pres. Mark Henderson, first counselor in the temple presidency, recounted the popularity of the temple tour.

He also related that the only experienced temple workers at the time of the dedication was a couple who had met and married while working in the London England Temple. In addition, 14 others were sent to Salt Lake City for training as ordinance workers and, together with this couple, 500 faithful temple workers were trained for the opening of the new Washington Temple.

The first ordinances performed after the 10 dedicatory sessions were baptisms for the dead by youths of the Cleveland Ohio Stake. That year, 449,974 ordinances were performed. This year, from October 1988 to November 1989, 632,271 ordinances were performed - a 40.5 percent increase.

The architectural uniqueness of the temple is apparent in the stained glass design that is illuminated at sunrise and sunset, combined with the arch motif that lifts one's eyes and thoughts upward.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, remarked on the special meaning those arches have to him. "One of the greatest memories I have of the Washington Temple is of my father's participation in its building. He finished school only through the ninth grade; however, [he] still progressed with a professional career as a tradesman/artisan. Because of this craftsmanship, he was called to help in the building of the temple's curved rooms. He knew exactly how to accomplish this construction problem, and in a relatively short period of time, he was able to help build those beautiful curved arches, rooms and moldings."

The tremendous growth of the Church created a demand for additional temples in the Washington temple district. Originally, the district covered from east of the Mississippi into parts of Canada and south into South America. Today, this same area is served by temples in Chicago, Atlanta, soon-to-be-completed Toronto, and eight temples in Central and South America.

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