With several firm taps from a clenched fist, the two titanium hemispheres of the earth-shaped Sunday School Sesquicentennial time capsule clanked shut, sealing inside the artifacts and mementos of a current generation to be opened in 2049 by a future generation that is largely yet unborn.
"This is historic," said President Gordon B. Hinckley. "This is a significant thing that we do. . . . May the memories of this day remain ever green."
In the Empire Room of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on Dec. 8, the eve of the 150th commemoration of the founding of the Sunday School, President Hinckley presided over a special time capsule sealing ceremony that was organized similar to the Sunday School meetings held during the past 50 years.
"We ask that each of you sign the roll as it is passed along your row," said Elder Harold G. Hillam, of the Presidency of the Seventy and general president of the Sunday School, who conducted the ceremony. "These sheets will be placed in the capsule prior to its closing."
After opening the ceremony with music by an eight-member ensemble who sang a medley of three hymns written for the Sunday School, Elder Hillam held a plastic-bound book high in the air for all to see and said, "This book contains all the sacrament gems that we've had in the Church since they were instituted in 1910." (Sacrament gems were recitations by the congregation spoken prior to the blessing of the sacrament. Sacrament gems were discontinued in August 1980 when the consolidated meeting schedule was instituted.)
"I would like to recite three of them, and invite those in the congregation who remember the sacrament gems to join with me," he continued. When many in the congregation of about 300 joined with the reciting of the first gem, Elder Hillam noted, "We now know you attended Sunday School."
After reciting the gems, Elder Hillam turned toward the members of the First Presidency who were seated on the stand, and said, "There is something significant about those three sacrament gems. They were the ones recited in Sunday School on the day each of you was confirmed a member of the Church."
Elder Hillam concluded his remarks by reading the final paragraph from a letter written by President Hinckley for the time capsule. "May this great organization continue as a force for good and may it touch the lives of uncounted millions who will come into the Church prior to the opening of this time capsule."
Following the singing of several musical selections by a children's chorus, President Hinckley offered remarks, saying, "It is to me a miracle that every Sunday, throughout the entire world, the Sunday Schools of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meet together and study the same lessons in their respective age groups.
"All of this has a tremendous binding effect on the Church. In these teachings is the glue which holds the Church together and becomes the basis for our individual testimonies."
Each member of the First Presidency was then invited to load something of personal importance into the time capsule.
"I've chosen to place the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price written in the Portuguese language," said President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency. "As a missionary in Brazil 60 years ago, we didn't have these published scriptures. It was very difficult to move the work forward. In the 33 months I was in Brazil, I baptized one person."
Then, referring to that baptism, President Faust asked Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve who was seated on the first row, to relate his recent experience.
Elder Oaks told how he was visiting a mission and was introduced to a missionary who was the eighth son to serve a mission of a particular family. "[One of the] parents of the family was baptized by President James E. Faust," he said.
President Thomas S. Monson placed a Dec. 8th issue of the Deseret News in the time capsule. A front page article detailed the second interview President Hinckley is scheduled to have with talk show host Larry King on his nationally broadcast show Dec. 24.
Holding a piece of cement that had been spray painted with graffiti, President Monson said, "This is a portion of the Berlin Wall. As the wall came down 10 years ago, we watched the darkness of tyranny give way to the light of truth." He invited Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of Twelve to join him in placing the chunk of the wall in the capsule. "Each of us worked closely with the faithful saints in East Germany. We were together when we received approval from the East German government for full-time missionaries to enter that country, so I feel it is fitting for both of us to place in the capsule this piece of history," he said.
President Hinckley's contribution to the time capsule was the blueprint plans for the construction of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple that is to be a replica of the Nauvoo Temple dedicated in 1846.
"I think of that magnificent and historic temple, constructed in the days of the poverty of our people," said President Hinckley, referring to the original Nauvoo Temple. "Now, it is being rebuilt. I hope the [Nauvoo Illinois Temple] will be a bright and shining star among the buildings of the Church."
To finalize the loading of the capsule, President Hinckley held a chip of the granite facade from the Conference Center which is currently under construction. "This piece was broken off when the tornado in August blew a crane onto the building," he said.
Holding a silver-plated trowel used in the cornerstone ceremony of the Billings Montana Temple, President Hinckley said it represented the last temple to be dedicated before the closing of the time capsule.
Among the last items to be loaded were the detailed operating instructions for the laptop computer. Sealed with argon gas in a special compartment, the computer had been loaded with many documents, manuals and images detailing the Church at the time of the closing.
The BYU students who engineered the construction of the time capsule, namely Burke Hunsaker, Ray Henderson, David Preece and Hank Howell, then hoisted the top half of the time capsule with a specially made bar and placed it over the bottom half of the capsule where it was guided into place by Craig Yost and Robert Todd, chairman of the Sunday School Sesquicentennial Time Capsule task committee. With a firm tap from his clenched fist, the top half was fitted into place and sealed for the next 50 years.
"I'm looking forward to the opening," quipped President Hinckley. "I hope I'll be here."