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Temple melding members of three cultures

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Enthusiasm for the Church's 73rd dedicated temple has swept across New Mexico with the ease of a wind-tossed tumbleweed along one of this southwestern state's desert highways.

The first in the Church with its unique design, the Albuquerque New Mexico Temple blends with the majestic Sandia Mountain Range behind. In light of the setting sun, the temple casts a rose hue to match the deseret sands.
The first in the Church with its unique design, the Albuquerque New Mexico Temple blends with the majestic Sandia Mountain Range behind. In light of the setting sun, the temple casts a rose hue to match the deseret sands. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

"The spirit of the temple is growing and brooding over this whole area," said H. Vern Payne, vice chairman of the local temple committee. "Its influence spiritually will be significant."

Once released into a community, he added, the power of the temple is hard to contain — extending confidence to members, raising the stature of the Church in the state, spurring an outpouring of participation and blessing lives in ways few could have imagined.

At no time was this more evident than when more than 13,500 members attended four dedicatory sessions of the Albuquerque New Mexico Temple March 5, presided over by President Gordon B. Hinckley.

President Hinckley and his wife, Marjorie, were accompanied to the dedication by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Seventy and second counselor in the North America Southwest Area Presidency and his wife, Kathy.

Located prominently on the northeast edge of Albuquerque, the temple serves 51,300 members in 15 stakes and one district in the majority of New Mexico and part of Colorado.

The temple, the first in the Church of its unique design, brings together members in this area where three cultures meld — American Indian, Hispanic and Anglo. The exterior, made of Desert Rose pre-cast concrete with Texas Pearl granite at the base, looks pink in the sunset and blends into the towering Sandia Mountain Range, located just east of the temple.

With the magnificent mountain range looming in the background, more than 200 Church members gathered on the morning of the dedication — amid brisk temperatures, cold wind and rain — to watch President Hinckley place mortar to symbolically seal the temple's cornerstone.

President Gordon B. Hinckley accompanies Easton Wengert during cornerstone ceremony while Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Neil L. Andersen watch.
President Gordon B. Hinckley accompanies Easton Wengert during cornerstone ceremony while Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Neil L. Andersen watch. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

A combined choir of members from the Santa Fe New Mexico and the Albuquerque New Mexico South stakes and young adults from the Albuquerque metropolitan area, under the direction of Lonn Buckley, provided music outdoors for the cornerstone ceremony.

After placing mortar in the cornerstone himself, President Hinckley then assisted Easton Wengert, 5, of the Bluewater Ward, Grants New Mexico Stake. Easton's great-grandfather, Golden P. Roundy, served as an early Western States missionary in New Mexico before settling permanently in the area.

Lyle K. Porter, who with his wife, Wilma, wrote a history of the Church in New Mexico, said many members in the state, such as Easton's parents, are continuing work started by "determined families" generations earlier.

New Mexico, an area with natural beauty and a mild climate known as the "Land of Enchantment," has been attracting LDS settlers since late 1876, when the first ecclesiastical units were created as part of stakes in Arizona and Utah. The first New Mexico stake was not created until 1912, 36 years after the arrival of the first permanent LDS settlers, explained Brother Porter.

A stake was not created in the heart of New Mexico until 1957. A second Albuquerque stake was created just nine years later.

Brother Payne, who served in the 1980s as chief justice of New Mexico's Supreme Court, grew up in New Mexico. "I attended a branch in Santa Fe where they now have a stake," he said. "I attended a branch here in Albuquerque as a visitor when they had 50 members. . . . In my lifetime I have seen the Church in New Mexico grow from pretty humble beginnings to the point that we now have [about] 60,000 people in the state that are members of the Church."

Brother Payne said the state's LDS population received blessings from the temple long before it was dedicated. He has watched members give countless hours of service at the sacred site: cleaning the grounds prior to the June 1998 groundbreaking and again before the open house and dedication. Some crews worked past midnight. Members from outlying areas drove 4 1/2 to 5 hours to work a few hours at the temple before driving the same distance home.

A day before the dedication, Brother Payne stopped by a chapel where the sacred event would be transmitted by satellite. He found 100 people there cleaning. "I have been around that chapel and I have not seen it glean and glisten like that since it was new," he said.

Alice and Julian Benally of the Crownpoint Branch, Grants, New Mexico Stake, attend temple dedication.
Alice and Julian Benally of the Crownpoint Branch, Grants, New Mexico Stake, attend temple dedication. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

Youth in the temple district also had the opportunity to give service at the temple, working as ushers and by placing shoe covers on visitors during the open house and the dedication.

Heather Remund, 14, of the Tijeras Ward, Albuquerque New Mexico East Stake, said she received more from the shoe-covering experience than she gave. "You would be surprised how many people say 'Thank you,' " she said.

Other youth had the same experience during the open house.

The temple, which is quickly becoming a landmark in this community, touched the lives of all who participated in the open house with the right intent, said Brother Payne.

During the open house some visitors, who were members of other churches, commented on the spiritual nature of the building. Others noticed its fine craftsmanship. A visitor described the new building with just one word: powerful.

Julian Benally and his wife, Alice, members of the Crownpoint Branch, Grants New Mexico Stake, understand the power that so many who attended the open house could not explain — a power that will bless lives of Church members in this southwestern state. "We feel good about being here in a sacred place," Brother Benally said before entering the temple's fourth and final dedicatory session.

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