The largest gathering of Church members in the Northwest of England since the Church's first area conference at Manchester, almost a quarter-century ago, participated in the groundbreaking for the Preston England Temple Sunday, June 12.
Cars and coaches flooded into the area as more than 10,500 members of the Church from throughout the length and breadth of Britain gathered in the green fields of the Chorley site. They were there to be part of another milestone for the gospel in the British Isles and, in particular for the Northwest of England, since the announcement of the Preston Temple was literally a fulfillment of prophecy.Presiding at the groundbreaking was President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency. Also participating were Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve; Elder Kenneth Johnson, president of the Europe North Area; and his counselors, Elder Hugh W. Pinnock and Elder Graham W. Doxey, all members of the Seventy.
The ceremony was particularly poignant for President Hinckley, who in his address reminded those attending that he had served as a missionary in Preston 61 years ago. Before the meeting began he walked through the crowd, shaking hands. Tears flowed as he once again met and embraced local member Robert Pickles, now in a wheelchair, who was a member-missionary companion for a youthful, 23-year-old Elder Hinckley.
The invocation was offered by regional representative Elder J. Roy Caddick, and the benediction was given by Gertrude Corless from the Preston Ward. She, too, knew President Hinckley back in his missionary days.
A regional choir of 400 voices under the direction of Neil Rushworth, with Alan Webb at the organ, brought a sweet spirit to the occasion, helping to brighten a gray and somewhat overcast day. The mood of the meeting was far from gray, though, as speaker after speaker reflected on the significance of a new temple for the British Isles and the British Saints.
"This is an emotional experience for me," said President Hinckley, as he began his talk. "Never, all those years ago, would I have dreamed that a temple would be built here. This will become our ensign upon the mountain. A temple is a unique structure: a monument to our convictions, belief and knowledge that life is eternal; that we go on living after death."
Several times during the weekend, which also included a missionary meeting and two regional conferences, President Hinckley asked that all adult members of the Church be worthy to have a temple recommend as soon as possible.
Elder Ballard commented on the size of the gathering and remarked that he, himself, had been a missionary in Britain some 46 years ago. "May the spirit of the temple touch your hearts as never before," he said.
Elder Johnson described it as "a day of new beginnings. I foresee a new era," he said. "I see thousands of people accepting the truth and coming to this temple to take upon them covenants. This is a glorious day."
Elder Pinnock reminded all gathered: "The temple helps us to understand eternity; it is the focus of our lives, and our activity in the temple represents all that matters most. Temple attendance means that we will go on to be better citizens, helpful neighbors, better parents and grandparents."
Elder Doxey reflected on the specter of emptying churches, generally, in Britain: "As the churches are emptying, the prisons are filling," he commented. "As the clergy decreases, the police increase."
At the conclusion of his address, President Hinckley offered a prayer of dedication on the site, after which the regional choir sang "I Know That My Redeemer Lives."
With the speeches over, President Hinckley, Elder Ballard and the area presidency participated in the actual groundbreaking. After President Hinckley turned the first shovelful of earth, and the rest of the General Authorities had broken ground, President Hinckley invited children in the congregation to come forward and play their part in the groundbreaking, too. They needed no second bidding, and in a very short time, the five General Authorities were busy helping and supervising their young charges, who enthusiastically threw themselves into the task.
For many, attending the groundbreaking entailed a grueling trip of many hours, but was an occasion that they felt they could not miss. The temple will serve the northern part of Britain - roughly from Birmingham, in the Midlands, upwards. The feeling among those attending was that this will be their temple and they want to be a part of it from groundbreaking onward.
The Preston England Temple will be the second temple in Britain. When the first - the London Temple, near Crawley, Surrey - was opened in 1958, Church membership in Britain was 6,500. Today, that number has grown to more than 160,000.
Also attending the ceremonies were many dignitaries from the area, including the mayor and mayoress of Chorley, local councilors and the chief executive of Chorley Borough Council. Invited guests also included local residents whose properties border the site. Church member dignitaries included serving and former mission presidents and regional representatives, plus Britain's only LDS member of Parliament, Terry Rooney, along with his wife, Susanne. Many news media representatives were also present.
President Hinckley chatted with Councilor A. Gee, the mayor of Chorley, before the meeting began. The mayor emphasized how pleased residents of the local community are to have the temple being built here and pledged continuing support, saying that he looks forward to continuing cooperation between the Church and the Chorley Borough Council. President Hinckley, in turn, thanked the mayor for all that the council and its officers and officials had done to date. When the groundbreaking itself began, President Hinckley invited the mayor as Chorley's `first citizen' to join him in the symbolic groundbreaking, which he did.
The contractors are already on site, and construction will begin very shortly. It is anticipated that the temple will open in about 21/2 to three years.
"I hope I'll have the privilege of returning in 1997 for the dedication," President Hinckley said. Everyone echoed that thought.
The Preston Ward today claims the honor of being the oldest continuously functioning unit of the Church anywhere in the world. When the first missionaries arrived in Britain in 1837 they went almost immeditely to Preston, where one of their number, Elder Joseph Fielding, had a brother living there. Elder Heber C. Kimball and others of those early brethren had some remarkable missionary experiences in the villages of the Ribble Valley area, not far from the Preston Temple site. James and Lavelle Moss wrote about Elder Kimall: "During his last vist to Chatburn and Downham in 1838, Elder Kimball experienced a great spiritual moment as the children of the villages walked the mile between them singing hymns and holding hands, while their parents called down blessings upon Elder Kimball from their houses. He reported that he wept so profusely at the time, he had to leave the road three times to bathe his eyes in the nearby streams so he could see the road. He felt the Spirit so strongly he removed his hat and felt like removing his shoes as well. Finally, he bestowed an apostolic blessing upon the whole region in response to the great spiritual manifestation he received.
"When he returned to the United States, Elder Kimball reported the experience to Joseph Smith. The prophet then told him:
Did you not understand it? That is a place where some of the old prophets travelled and dedicated that land, and their blessings fell upon you.' " This prophetic insight confirms the belief of many in Britain that earlier prophets and apostles walked here. Elder Kimball's grandson, President Spencer W. Kimball, also referred to this in the 1971 Area Conference when he said:I should like to think that the whole of this great land is blessed and still carries a blessing from our Heavenly Father from great and holy men who have walked its shores." (Historic Sites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the British Isles, Publishers Press, 1987, out of print.)
The groundbreaking ceremony for the Preston temple had taken just over 11/2 hours, but as the exodus from the site got under way, the air of excitement and expectation could still be felt. For most, this was the first experience of a temple groundbreaking ceremony, since groundbreaking for the London Temple took place on Aug. 10, 1953.
Truly, it was a day of "new beginnings" and a time for all British members of the Church to rededicate themselves to the concept of the temple, to be worthy to hold a temple recommend, and to the fuller living of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
Navuoo, Carthage events to honor Prophet, Hyrum
The 150th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, will be commemorated through a series of events scheduled by the Church.
A commemorative program has been scheduled for Sunday, June 26, at 7 p.m. (CDT) at the jail property in Carthage, Ill., where Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed June 27, 1844. The program will be telecast live over the Church's satellite network to LDS meetinghouses equipped with satellite dishes in the United States and Canada. It will be rebroadcast in Utah at 8 p.m. (MDT) over KBYU-TV.
Earlier in the day, at 2:30 p.m., one of two known remaining "sunstones" salvaged from the ruins of the Nauvoo Temple will be unveiled at the temple site. The stone has been on display for many years at Nauvoo State Park. The state of Illinois, owner of the stone, has designated the Church as "custodian" of the stone. A similar sunstone is owned by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
On Monday, June 27, the actual anniversary of the martyrdom, the VISN cable television network will air on its Faith & Values Channel a special at 9 p.m. (EDT) about Joseph Smith. The special, "A Marvelous Work and a Wonder: Remembering a Prophet," will review historical events and take a look at the Church today.