With overwhelmingly warm response, Missourians have welcomed completion of the St. Louis Missouri Temple in a dramatic contrast to the acrimony with which Latter-day Saints were driven from the state in 1838.
"I think we have not put up a temple where there has been better cooperation from community officials and from the people in general," said President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve. "There has been an almost unprecedented welcome."President Packer hosted government dignitaries, area clergy, news reporters and others in VIP tours April 23-25, beginning a four-week open house in which the public is invited to view the interior of the sacred edifice.
The open house concludes May 24. The temple will be dedicated June 1-5 in 19 separate services and then will become the Church's 50th operating temple.
Elder W. Eugene Hansen of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, and Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy and president of the North America Central Area assisted President Packer in conducting the 22 VIP tours. Numerous interviews were given to newspaper, radio and television representatives.
Among those attending were Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri, U.S. Sens. John Ashcroft and Christopher Bond, U.S. Rep. Jim Talent, Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson, Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives Steve Gaw, a number of Missouri legislators, four federal appellate judges, four state Supreme Court judges, mayors and other municipal officials
"There were many business executives and community leaders that came, and there was a large turnout of clergy," President Packer said. He added that dignitaries and news reporters asked many questions about the standards Church members keep, about the growth of the Church, missionary work, youth programs and doctrine.
"A buffet dinner was served in the temple cafeteria for Gov. Carnahan and the other dignitaries, and they lingered and visited," President Packer said.
The governor, in fact, has been among the most interested visitors, said Menlo F. Smith, vice chairman of the St. Louis Missouri Temple Committee and newly called temple president. "He came with his wife and a couple of their married children with their spouses. They spent considerable time at the dinner."
It was fitting that Sen. Bond should attend the open house. It was he who, as governor of Missouri in 1976, rescinded the infamous "extermination order" issued in 1838 by then-Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs requiring Church members to leave the state within 30 days under threat of extermination.
Public tours began Saturday, April 26, with waiting lines of up to a half hour, Pres. Smith said. Response has been so overwhelming that the telephone reservation system has been overburdened, he added. Calls for tickets are taken locally at 827-9430 or toll free at 1-800-595-5392.
"We have over 6,000 Church members involved in staffing the various positions" in connection with the open house, Pres. Smith said.
Elder Hansen reported to President Packer that 11,518 people toured the temple the first day of the public open house. Jean Mathews, multi-stake director of public affairs and a former member of the Missouri Legislature, estimated at least four out of five visitors to the temple are not members of the Church.
As for news media attention, "I don't know of any event here that has received more coverage other than the World Series," Sister Mathews said. All five St. Louis television stations, two wire services and a radio network were represented at the news conference and tour.
Exemplary of newspaper coverage was a front-page story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that continued to a full page inside. USA Today on April 30 published a full-page article with graphic illustrations of the temple interior.
Located in the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country, the temple is situated on a 14-acre site adjacent to U.S. Highway 40 and has approximately 59,000 square feet of floor space.
With architecture somewhat reminiscent of the Nauvoo Temple, the exterior is of white granite and cast stone, enhanced by art glass windows and graced by a gold-leafed statute of the Angel Moroni atop a single spire rising 150 feet.
Inside are a baptistry, chapel, celestial room, four sealing rooms, four ordinance rooms, administrative offices, a cafeteria and service/maintenance facilities.
Project manager Steve Herman of Chiodini Associates, architects for the temple, said the building, while traditional in shape is modeled after the requirements of the users.
Included in the temple district are more than 93,000 Church members living in Missouri and parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.
While the Church had a stormy history in Missouri in the 19th Century, residents of St. Louis were more tolerant toward the Latter-day Saints. People in St. Louis never participated in persecution, and the city gave protection to Mormons who fled the turmoil in western Missouri in the 1830s and to refugees from Illinois mobs in the 1840s. Beginning in 1841 and lasting through the Nauvoo and into the Salt Lake City periods, European converts to the Church passed through St. Louis when immigrating to Zion.