FRANKLIN, Tenn. Clouds parted within an hour after President James E. Faust had dedicated the new Nashville Tennessee Temple Sunday, May 21, in this picturesque suburb 15 miles south of the state capital, for which the temple is named.
Brilliant sunshine was welcome after two days of overcast skies and showers, and it seemed to symbolize the light with which a temple's presence illuminates an area.
It is in fact a brighter day for Tennessee, which has now seen the dedication of two temples in as many months. (The Memphis Tennessee Temple was dedicated April 23. See Church News, April 29 issue.) Once the location of 19th Century battle and strife, Tennessee today is a place of peace, prosperity and deep religious faith.
The scene of bitter persecution (two LDS missionaries and two members were killed at Cane Creek in Lewis County Aug. 10, 1884), Tennessee has seen a surge of missionary work and the resultant growth and good will in recent years.
A temple for Nashville did not come without a six-year struggle that included zoning denials on two previous tracts of land, with opponents citing increased traffic and neighborhood disruption as the reason for their opposition.
Finally, construction was approved for one of the new generation of smaller temples to be built adjacent to the Franklin Tennessee Stake Center on a site at 1100 Gray Fox Lane near Mack Hatcher Parkway. (The stake center was remodeled concomitantly with the temple construction.)
The new temple is in an immaculate residential and rural area next to a venerable old private high school called the Battle Ground Academy and near two 100-acre horse farms.
Though substantial misunderstanding and opposition is still manifest in the Nashville area, indications are the Church is enjoying an increasingly favorable image.
"We have seen a windfall of publicity in the last few weeks" in connection with the public open house and dedication, said President Alan L. Soderquist of the Franklin stake. "Virtually every day there has been something in the newspaper."
Indeed, a glance at recent articles about the Church and the temple in Nashville's major daily, The Tennessean, reveals a plethora of items, most of them favorably disposed. Writing in the May 16 issue, columnist Tim Chavez observed: "During the past two decades [LDS] membership has grown by 80 percent to 100 percent in some Southern states, according to the Associated Press. Tennessee is one of them with a projected increase from 15,839 members in 1980 to 29,000 last year. But you ain't seen nothing yet. . . .
"Followers are strongly into the preservation of family now and in the afterlife. . . .
"Then there's the denomination's genealogy work. It fits the South's fascination with heritage.
"All these characteristics make the Mormon church a lean, mean outreach machine."
Among the most recent outreach efforts, of course, is the temple open house May 6-13, during which more than 24,300 toured the temple's interior, according to Byron Smith, temple committee coordinator who was recently released as Franklin stake president.
"We had a lot of good VIPs come through the temple. We took almost 50 such groups through in the seven days that we had." These included the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, an ex-governor of Tennessee and the mayor and city council members in Franklin. Some 30 congregations from other religions toured the temple as did 60-70 groups with their respective professors from the divinity school at Nashville's Vanderbilt University.
"At one time, Elder [Loren C.] Dunn [of the Seventy] hosted a group with two Catholic priests, two Catholic nuns, three Church of Christ ministers, two Presbyterian ministers, two city councilmen and a Jewish rabbi, all on the same tour," he noted.
At the beginning of the first of the four dedicatory sessions, President Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, applied mortar to the cornerstone cover in the traditional ceremony, as did Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder Dunn, North America East Area president; their spouses; the temple presidency and matrons and a few children.
Among those gathered to witness the cornerstone ceremony was Delbert Tingey, 83, of the Westwood Ward in Mesa, Ariz., a former Oklahoma Tulsa Mission president who was a missionary in Tennessee 63 years ago. He had come to the dedication with some of his posterity, including grandson Dennis Tingey, who, some 50 years later, was called to serve in the Tennessee Nashville Mission.
"I think Dennis was a bit disappointed that all of his friends had gone to Brazil and all around, and he was sent to Tennessee," Brother Tingey recalled. "So I told him, 'Don't feel bad, Dennis. They're sending you back to finish up the work your grandfather didn't do.' And that's what he did."
In fact, Dennis interviewed a man for baptism whose wife had been baptized by Dennis' grandfather a half-century earlier.
Mentioned by Elder Nelson in the first session as one of the long-time stalwarts of the area was Philander K. Smartt, a former stake president from Chattanooga who presided over the California Oakland Mission in 1994-97. His great-grandfather donated the property on which still stands the Northcutts Cove Chapel, the oldest existing LDS meetinghouse in Tennessee.
"Being a fourth-generation Latter-day Saint from the South, I can say it means a lot to us because of the people who've gone before us who had to go through all the persecution," said Brother Smartt, who was the first Chattanoogan to attend BYU and to serve a mission. "And now, we have a beautiful temple here and stakes all over the state. We've come a long way."
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