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Orlando Temple opens for tours; thousands attend open house

Civic, religious and news media representatives are among tens of thousands of people who have viewed the newly constructed Orlando Florida Temple as a month-long series of open-house tours have commenced.

"The open house has been attended very well by the local community," said Alvie R. Evans Sr., vice chairman of the temple committee and a regional representative serving the Orlando and Tampa Florida regions. "Everywhere we went [in Florida] people were excited about it."Elder Evans said the new edifice has been accepted so well in the community that the local news media have unofficially christened the site on which the temple stands as "Temple Hill."

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve was among Church leaders who hosted two days of "VIP" events on Sept. 8-9.

Those events began with a news conference that attracted representatives from three local television stations, several area newspapers and a magazine.

"Elder Ballard personally conducted them on a tour of the temple, and afterward he did media interviews in front of the temple," said Genean McKinnon, spokeswoman for the temple.

Afterward, government and educational leaders toured the temple. In the evening, neighboring residents within a two-mile radius responded to invitations to come tour the sacred building.

"Over 1,500 people came through that evening with their families to see the temple," Sister McKinnon reported.

The next day, local clergy gathered for a tour. Pres. Joel H. McKinnon of the Orlando Florida Stake has been active for several years in the local chapter of the National Council of Christians and Jews. Sister McKinnon said the interdenominational group worked with the temple committee in inviting the clergy to the special tour, and the response was overwhelming.

She said the chapter was helpful in offering support when the Church sought zoning approval for construction of the temple. The group used the temple tour as a pivotal event for its quarterly meeting, which was held afterward.

"Elder Ballard was wonderful with them," she said. "They asked some very pointed questions, and he responded very well. All of the comments our stake presidents heard at the quarterly meeting were very positive."

Through the day, other government and business leaders toured the temple and attended a dinner that evening. Among those attending were U.S. Rep. John Micah; Orange County Chairman Linda Chapin; Orange County School Board Chairman Lydia Gardner; Mike Schweitzer, immediate past president of the Florida Association of Broadcasters; Dick Batchelor, chairman of the Florida Environmental Regulatory Commission; and John Haile, editor of the Orlando Sentinel.

Church members who attended the dinner included three stake presidents, the temple president, the Florida Tampa Mission president, the manager of the Deseret Ranch, and the temple open house committee. Sports figures Greg Kite, a Church member who plays for the Orlando Magic, and his teammate Jeff Turner attended, as did Danny Ainge of the Phoenix Suns, who was in town for a golf tournament.

"Elder Ballard spoke for just a few minutes," Sister McKinnon said. "He told them what an exciting and unique event it was for the Church to open a temple in Florida, and that the Church appreciated the opportunity to share it with the community in which it was built. Then we went into the temple chapel. He gave a brief overview of the gospel and said he was going to take them from room to room in the temple and tell what function each room served and how those functions relate to our beliefs. He encouraged them to ask questions along the way."

She said that the feeling among the group was so warm that many lingered in the foyer of the reception area after the tour was completed.

On the first day of the public open house, Sept. 10, more than 10,000 visitors came. Sister McKinnon said that TV reporters have commented on how well the event has been organized.

Open house visitors view an introductory video, walk through an exhibit and then tour the temple interior. Volunteer tour guides answer questions and render assistance.

"We have four telephone lines for people to call and obtain tickets, and they have been ringing non-stop," she said. In fact, Adele Banks, religion writer for the Orlando Sentinel called Sister McKinnon to double check the accuracy of the telephone numbers the Sentinel had published. The writer had heard from several readers who had been unable to get through on the ticket reservation lines, (407) 425-LDS1 or 1-800-425-LDS1.

The hours of operation for the telephone lines have been extended to 7 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. as a result of heavy demand.

The temple contains approximately 70,000 square feet on a 13-acre site near the intersection of Windermere-Conroy Road and Apopka-Vineland Road, across Lake Down from Isleworth. The temple spire rises to approximately 165 feet, with a statue of the Angel Moroni atop the spire.

The open house extends through Sept. 30, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

The temple will be dedicated Oct. 9-11 in 11 separate services to be attended by Church members in Florida and in the Savannah Georgia Stake. The temple district includes some 95,000 Church members in that area and another 77,000 in the Caribbean.

A traditional cornerstone ceremony will precede the first dedicatory service on Oct. 9.

It will be the Church's 46th operating temple.

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