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Cover Story: New temple in a 'place of history'

COLUMBIA, S.C. — One of the original 13 colonies and rich in American history and heritage, this state is now the location of the newest House of the Lord.

President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Columbia South Carolina Temple Oct. 16-17, with four sessions on Saturday and two on Sunday. Speaking at the sessions in addition to President Hinckley were Elders Dallin H. Oaks and M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Monte J. Brough of the Seventy who is president of the North America Southeast Area of the Church.

The capital of South Carolina, Columbia is located in the center of the state. The temple is situated in a densely wooded neighborhood of southeastern Columbia interspersed with immaculate homes and churches. The new temple serves some 40,000 Latter-day Saints including about 30,000 in South Carolina and the rest in portions of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

One of the new generation of smaller temples, it is constructed of imperial marble from Danby, Vt., about an hour's drive from Sharon, birthplace of the prophet Joseph Smith, according to project supervisor Bruce Catanzaro. Surrounded by loblolly pine (a native species) and oak, it is adjacent to a parcel of property owned by the Church and expected to be cleared and used for a meetinghouse in the future. The grounds are planted in crape myrtle (a summer-blooming shrub), large holly, mums, dogwood trees, maple and oak, in an effort to reflect the natural beauty of the setting, said Tom Anderson, landscape contractor and a member of the Dutch Fork Ward in the Columbia stake.

Hurricane Irene, which was assaulting the Florida coast, had threatened to dampen the proceedings. Early forecasts called for rain both days of the dedication. As it turned out, clear and sunny weather prevailed on Saturday. Warm showers during the sessions on Sunday morning let up in time to allow President Hinckley and the other General Authorities to depart safely by early afternoon, immediately after the last session.

"We're happy to be dedicating this temple in Columbia, S.C.," President Hinckley said in a brief interview between sessions. "This is a place of history. South Carolina figured prominently in the birth of this nation."

President Hinckley said South Carolina today is a solid and substantial part of the United States.

"The gospel was first preached here 160 years ago," he noted, "when a missionary came down here [from the North] in 1839 and baptized one man. In the generations that have followed, hundreds and thousands of people have joined the Church. We have placed a temple here in Columbia because it's the capital of the state and somewhat in the center of the state. There will be other temples built in the South. We are constructing a temple in Birmingham and another in Memphis, which will add to the number which will serve the faithful Saints in this great area of the country.

"We are happy to have Pres. [David V.] Yarn as president of this temple. His grandmother was an early convert to the Church and was so very faithful and active, and her posterity have been prominent in the affairs of the Church in this part of the land."

The missionary to which President Hinckley referred was Lysander M. Davis. Upon his arrival in South Carolina just nine years after the Church was organized in this dispensation, he was surprised to find several people already prepared for baptism. They had been influenced by a new Church member in the area, Emmanuel Masters Murphy, who had previous contact with Joseph Smith. Reportedly, the Prophet had told him to warn the people of the state of impending destruction in accordance with the revelation and prophecy on war recorded today as Section 87 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Membership in the Church grew despite some opposition and persecution. By 1861, the prophecy on war had come to pass. That and the westward trek of faithful Church members slowed the growth in South Carolina.

But missionary activity resumed in 1875 with the organization of the Southern States Mission. Columbia received its first missionaries in 1894, and a Sunday School was organized here in 1898, with a full branch following in 1917.

Longtime Church members in the temple district look back with gratitude on the growth of the Church here. In Aiken, S.C., near the border city of Augusta, Ga., Mary Ann Lynes fondly recalls her girlhood when missionaries were almost a constant presence in the family home.

She remembers "growing up under quilts" attached to frames as Relief Society sisters in her home worked on the projects to aid the needy.

Over the years, members say, they have seen their proximity to a temple gradually shrink, first with the construction of the Washington D.C. Temple in 1976, followed by completion of the Atlanta Temple in 1983. Now, with the temple in Columbia no more than an hour or two away from most areas in the district, they feel especially blessed. And some faithful members who had been serving as workers in the Atlanta temple are now pleased to transfer their service to a temple closer to home.

Even those whose LDS roots do not extend back for generations feel the gratitude.

Pres. Randy L. Sigg of the Charlotte North Carolina Stake and his wife, Kathleen, met as students at Penn State University in the 1960s. They were influenced by the example of friends who joined the Church at the time, but were not prepared to receive the gospel.

"A year later, living in Charlotte, married to the girl I loved, with a baby in my arms, I was completely changed," Pres. Sigg related. "And when the missionaries said, 'Brother Sigg, families are forever,' that was what I wanted. That was the hook that got me, and I wanted to know more."

Regarding the temple dedication session they attended, Sister Sigg said: "I will never for the rest of my life forget the feeling in the Celestial Room. I will never ever forget that feeling that confirms everything I've been taught since I joined the Church. There is no doubt!"

It is such knowledge that has sustained Mark and Judy Wilcox, members of the Hendersonville Ward, Asheville North Carolina Stake. They found out the morning they were to attend their scheduled dedication session, at which Sister Wilcox was to sing in the choir, that their son, Brad, had perished the previous evening in a car accident. After they received priesthood blessings, she elected to go ahead and sing.

"The choir only had 18 members; I felt that I was needed," she told the Church News three days later. "I'd been planning to sing praises to the Lord. I had come to the temple to do that. The fact that I had something tragic to come home to did not change the fact that I wanted to sing praises."

Brother Wilcox said there never was a question in their minds that Sister Wilcox would go ahead. "One of the things that came very quickly to mind," he said, "was a comment from Brigham Young . . . that both of us had pondered upon and talked about quite a bit in home evening and other times. It was to the effect that . . . our responsibility is to do the things that the Lord has asked us to do. If something happens that seems traumatic, it's all in the Lord's hands. He knows what's happening. Look around and see what the blessings are from it. Keep going."

Both of the Wilcoxes said they drew comfort from President Hinckley, who paused for a few moments in his dedication talk and addressed a few words to them about the Plan of Salvation and some of the things that are learned in the temple.

"We fully know that President Hinckley is a prophet; there is no question in our minds about that," Brother Wilcox said. "But I wonder if he understands what an incredible blessing it was to us as a family to have him address comments to us."

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