OMAHA, Neb. On soil sanctified 153 years ago by the faith, sacrifice and deaths of Latter-day Saint pioneers en route to the Great Salt Lake Valley, ground was broken Nov. 28 for the Winter Quarters Temple of the Church.
Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy presided at the ceremony, which took place on the temple site, located adjacent to a pioneer cemetery owned by the Church and graced by a bronze statue depicting a father and mother who have come to dig a shallow grave for their child who had suffered and died from exposure. Nearby is the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, dedicated in 1997 by President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Historic Winter Quarters is located in Florence, a district of Omaha that was annexed by the city around the turn of the century.
Elder Pinnock, president of the North America Central Area, was joined in the groundbreaking by Omaha Mayor Hal Daub; Nebraska State Sen. Dan Lynch; Omaha City Councilman Lormong Lo; Elder Kay H. Christensen, Area Authority Seventy; Elder Truman F. Clawson, visitors center director; Pres. Gary L. Pocock of the Omaha Nebraska Mission; and stake presidents from the Omaha, Papillion and Lincoln Nebraska Stakes and the Council Bluffs Iowa Stake, which comprise the temple district. A multi-stake choir performed.
Some 3,500 people attended the services with clear, crisp weather prevailing, despite a forecast of rain.
Addressing the congregation prior to giving the dedicatory prayer, Elder Pinnock mused: "It would be impossible to discuss the Winter Quarters groundbreaking and the future temple to be located here without discussing Council Bluffs [Iowa] just across the [Missouri] river, the Mormon Battalion that was mustered there and that departed from that place.
"And yet, it's difficult talking about Council Bluffs without acknowledging Mt. Pisgah and Garden Grove, Iowa, which also provided temporary places of rest and consolidation for the Saints as they left Nauvoo, [Ill.] and as we focus momentarily upon the many pathetic, painful problems the Saints had encountered in Nauvoo which led to their expulsion.
"We also see, in our mind's eye, the beautiful temple which stood there in Nauvoo and which is now being reconstructed. Or what about the glorious revelations and visitations that occurred in the temple at Kirtland [Ohio], where the Savior appeared along with Moses, Elijah and Elias? Or back still further to Palmyra [N.Y.], where a young Joseph Smith knelt in a grove of trees and there communicated with the Father and the Son and, a little later, Moroni, and from that experience we have the remarkable Book of Mormon."
In fact, Elder Pinnock said, the temple groundbreaking at Winter Quarters is in some ways a culmination of a broader chain of events that commenced with the recent temple groundbreaking in Palmyra and continued with the one in Nauvoo in October.
"And now, here in Winter Quarters is the third historic site where a temple will be erected in these latter days, where members and non-members will be blessed to have a glorious temple erected on the very spot where we are today."
Elder Christensen, invoking the words of President Gordon B. Hinckley, said this is a glorious time and a wonderful season, the latter-day dispensation, a season of restitution which is the focal point of all that has gone before.
"Within the next few weeks, we will celebrate again the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for which I am most grateful and appreciative. We will also commemorate the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It was the 23rd of December. It was 152 years ago, on Dec. 28, . . . in what was then known as Kanesville [present-day Council Bluffs], when Brigham Young was sustained as the second prophet of the Lord in this dispensation."
Elder Clawson, who conducted the services, referred to the bronze statue of the father and mother burying their child at Winter Quarters. "Now today," he said, "on this end of the hill, we will take shovels in our hands to dig not a grave but the foundation of a special building, a temple, to be built for the blessing of all who choose to enter that they may also bind together forever their families. And so, the magnificent view from here allows us to contemplate both the past with its dead and the future represented by the beautiful new temple which begins today."
Mayor Daub also referred to the site on which is located the pioneer cemetery and Mormon Trail Center and on which will stand the temple.
"I hope you felt as my wife, Mary, and I did as we approached this special place, that we indeed are gathered on a promontory, a prominent place, a hillside with its special history and its most significant view, a quiet place, indeed, a historic place," he said.
"This promontory has a special significance to this church. It has a special significance to the city of Omaha. And so, on behalf of all the citizens of our community, I want you all to know how delighted we are, how excited we are about the progress that is being made here by the people of this church."
The mayor noted that within the Council Bluffs, Iowa-Omaha, Neb., metropolitan area are some 12,000 Latter-day Saints. He said it is a church "that is growing, that is full of life and vitality and holds hope and promise for the families and for the future of the Church's membership. The Church itself is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, that destination for those who here traveled in 1846 and spent that terrible winter, [and the next year] traveled to that place that became the Church's city promised by God, leaving behind this place, now with the cemetery that is owned by the Church, a beautiful historical center that has been completed, and now the Winter Quarters Temple.
"So as historic as is this place, it will now become even more historic. And it is for that that those of us who are not members of the Church have great respect and admiration for the endeavors that have occurred and that are now about to occur. Florence is a beautiful place. This high promontory, as it sees the rolling river pass by it, bears the misery and the memory of so many who have been here and who are interred here. Let us always revere, let us always remember and let us recognize this temple will stand as a monument and testament to the good will of God and the peace and harmony of all mankind."