As wind-driven snow pelted a sea of faithful members of the Church who gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Billings Montana Temple, a young man remarked, "The Lord blessed this groundbreaking today with snow to make this temple ground white and pure."
More than 4,800 people from 12 states and two Canadian provinces attended the groundbreaking ceremony March 28, held beneath sandstone rimrocks in the midst of a spring snowstorm.An architect's rendering of the Billings Montana Temple was featured on the cover of the March 28 Church News.
Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy presided and conducted the hourlong ceremony. President of the North America Central Area, he was joined by his counselors, Elders Kenneth Johnson and Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy, in speaking at the service and breaking ground.
A choir of 700 youth, directed by Teddi Smothermon of the Billings 4th Ward, sang "Now Let Us Rejoice." The young singers came from throughout the temple district, which includes some 60,000 Latter-day Saints in Montana, North Dakota, western South Dakota and northern Wyoming.
The invocation was offered by Kenneth Shields Jr., a Native American who is president of the Poplar Branch, Glendive Montana Stake. There are 17 federally recognized Indian reservations within the temple district.
"We bring you personal greetings from President Gordon B. Hinckley, our prophet-president, who personally selected this beautiful site for a temple," Elder Pinnock reported. "He has a deep interest in this land and future temple."
Elder Pinnock thanked community leaders, including Billings Mayor Charles F. Tooley, (who was pleased to receive a shovel used in the groundbreaking ceremony), city council members, city administrators and staff, many of whom attended the groundbreaking. Local clergy who had supported the temple project throughout the process of obtaining governmental approval, braved the blizzard to attend the historic event.
A spirit of love and sacrifice was seen everywhere as people shared blankets, umbrellas, hats and gloves. A young man, noticing a young woman who sat shivering with open-toed sandals, took off his clean, white socks and gave them to her to warm her feet. A Protestant minister, in an act of kindness and respect, removed his own overcoat and placed it over the shoulders of Elder Pinnock, who had previously given his coat to an individual without one.
Elder Pinnock told the gathering that the day, March 28, was the birthday of President Harold B. Lee and President Spencer W. Kimball. He also mentioned it was the birthday of his father, who had died 16 years previously, and a grandson, David, who is 7 years old.
"I still miss my father," Elder Pinnock said. "I hope that he is witnessing this groundbreaking today. It is because of temples that he and Mother and those of their family will be together again, because we have been sealed."
Regarding the new temple and its grounds, Elder Pinnock said it will be "one of the most beautiful places in this area of the world. And that beauty will strengthen the lives of those who come to see what is here."
Elder Pinnock invited the members of the temple district to accomplish three tasks before the temple is dedicated: "Live the commandments and be the best neighbors and missionaries you know how to be; second, prepare a TempleReady file so you may come here in just 18 months to accomplish the vital ordinances and covenants for your relatives; third, continue to teach our youth to be worthy so they will be able to be baptized for those that have died and to prepare for their own eternal marriages."
Elder Johnson, first counselor in the area presidency, spoke about the efficacy of temple blessings beyond the grave. He said: "Death is a part of the plan of God. It is not the end, it is the beginning of the rest of our lives. Death is necessary for us to attain a fulness of joy."
He told the congregation that the work performed in temples will bless the lives of those who have passed through the veil of death without a knowledge of the truth.
"May we rejoice in this day and in this building and in the truth that there is a God in heaven, that the gospel has been restored, that the keys are on the earth and that what is sealed on earth is sealed in heaven."
Second counselor in the area presidency, Elder Robbins asked the members to "think about the temple as being the ultimate destination while you are here upon the earth."
He added, "The temple here on earth is a symbol of our celestial home." He invited members to hold a current temple recommend, saying, "If you are worthy to enter His home here, that is, perhaps, not a guarantee, but the clearest indication that you will one day be able to enter back into His presence."
Dora A. Jackson, a member of the Belfry Branch, Billings Montana Stake, pronounced the benediction. Sister Jackson was baptized 64 years ago in one of the first branches of the Church in the area. Following the groundbreaking, she said, "I just can't comprehend this; it is so overpowering."
After dignitaries turned over shovelsful of dirt, Elder Pinnock presented Mayor Tooley with a copy of The Mission, a book of photos pertaining to the LDS culture.
Maggie Koernig a 17-year-old Laurel from the Billings 8th Ward, Billings Montana East Stake, and a member of the youth choir, said: "It has been one of the most beautiful days of my life. Just sitting here and feeling the energy of all of us being together and strong in the faith and knowing that it is true was really awesome. Even though it was really bad weather, I wouldn't trade it for anything, being able to see the groundbreaking and know that some day I can go in that temple and be married."
A long-time member, Edward Jones of the Billings 4th Ward, Billings Montana Stake, said: "This is our dream fulfilled. I came here in 1939. Our conferences were lucky to have 35 people. The mission president, who at that time lived in Minnesota, said to keep being faithful and soon we would be a ward and then a stake and then we would have a temple. It's a dream come true. Now we will have our own temple."
Nestled beneath the rock rims that surround Billings on the north, the temple site is located at 3100 Rim Point Dr.
Construction commenced about 40 hours after the groundbreaking in clear weather that contrasted with the blizzard that prevailed during the ceremony. Snow was removed from the ground to prepare for more than 100 caissons to be driven down to bedrock to support the structure.
Completion is expected in the fall of 1999.