PALMYRA, N.Y. Many came early, others stayed late. And throughout the day, longtime neighbors became better friends.
"People did not want to leave," said Diane Bottger, temple committee public affairs director, describing the festive feelings of many who attended the special guest open house of the Palmyra New York Temple March 23-24.
These were neighbors living along Stafford Road, she continued. In some cases, they were people living only a few homes from each other, but who had limited social contact with each other. As they stood eating refreshments and enjoying one another's company and not wanting to leave, "it struck me that it was the temple that provided a setting where newfound friends could celebrate together in a spiritual way."
"Why are you doing this?" asked one of the residents along Stafford Road following a guided tour.
"She seemed to be considering the great amount of effort put into the open house, the colorful landscaping, the young people helping with the shoe coverings and the unusually beautiful building," surmised Sister Bottger.
"I explained the eternal significance of temples and families. Then, she said, while hugging her daughter, 'We will never forget this. We will always remember the happy feelings we felt here.' "
More than 900 people, including leaders of business, government and education, attended the two-day special guest open house. Reporters and film crews from 10 newspapers and five television stations attended during media day.
On the first day of the general public open house on March 25, approximately 7,200 people visited some waiting in line under a warm spring sun for nearly an hour to enter. Among the visitors were six bus loads of people from around the state, including an ethnically diverse group of 50 young adults speaking six different languages from Brooklyn, N.Y.
"Their bus broke down, and after 12 hours when it appeared they wouldn't be heading home, Bill Sherwood, head of the local temple committee, and his wife, Kathy, invited them to sleep on the floors of their home," said Sister Bottger. "After a fireside with the Sherwoods that evening, the bus was repaired. We gave them apples and sent them on their way. Even though they were people from a variety of nations, there was harmony among them."
On Saturday, as Sister Bottger greeted people standing in line, she noticed how the love that members have for the temple is now being felt by others in the community. "They are coming to see it as their own," she said. "The enthusiasm the community is showing toward the open house is reflective of the goodwill and excitement they have for the temple."
After touring the temple, an elderly man accompanied by his wife said he thought he knew all there was to know about "Mormons." He said he knew this was an important area to Mormons, and, as a lifelong resident, he had visited the many historic sites and attended the Hill Cumorah pageant. But after visiting the temple, he said he felt a new spirit, and was beginning to understand something of the significance of the Church, Sister Bottger continued.
Two families with several young children came Monday evening to tour the temple. "It was apparent by the fussiness of the children that it was near their bedtime. They watched the 10-minute video in the Welcome Center prior to the tour where the children were restless.
"But after entering the temple and going into the chapel, the demeanor of the children changed and, despite their fatigue, they became attentive. There was a noticeable difference that came about as they felt the influence of the temple," Sister Bottger said.
The spirit of the building was also felt by many construction workers. "One worker remarked that this building was the most remarkable building he had helped construct," said Toi Clawson, who recorded many of the events associated with the construction of the temple.
"It was quite a sight to see between 15 and 20 construction workers who were not necessarily inclined toward spiritual things to be on their knees each morning praying over the needs and work of the temple for that day," said Sister Clawson. "They were led in prayer by Ron and Kathy Wilkins who are members of the Church and are project managers for the Okland Construction Co. which is building the temple. Sister Wilkins treats the workers with a warmth and compassion and respect that is not generally associated with the construction trades."
During the construction process, Sister Clawson said she heard workers speaking among themselves about the purposes of the temple. "They were also amazed at the youth groups who would travel for several hours to be here, and then spend several more hours working on the grounds before attending a Church dance and then traveling home."
"It's a wonderful time for the Church," said Sister Clawson after reflecting on the course of the past few months and witnessing the hand of the Lord bless the lives of many people.
Interest in the dedication of the Palmyra New York Temple is high among Church members. Proceedings of the April 6 dedicatory service will be broadcast via satellite to stake centers throughout North America, making attendance at this dedication the largest of any temple in Church history.