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Construction doesn't deter Boston temple open house

BELMONT, Mass. — With the dedication of the Church's 100th temple now less than a month away, the Boston Massachusetts Temple remains a work in progress. Construction continues with scaffolding still strung around the elegant front entrance and dozens of construction workers scurrying about the site.

Yet the inconvenience of on-going construction has not dampened enthusiasm of members and their friends for attending the monthlong open house.

"That's the sound of grass growing very fast," mused Grant Bennett, a counselor in the Cambridge Massachusetts Stake presidency, to a friend late one night prior to the open house as they watched bulldozers hoist sheets of sod into place.

Despite the construction, doors opened Aug. 29 to 2,500 invited guests, including Belmont town officials, residents and clergy. Before the open house closes Sept. 23, an anticipated 70,000 to 100,000 people are expected to attend.

"It's a beautiful building, and clearly an incredible amount of time and thought went into it," said Dan O'Neill, who lives near the temple, as quoted in a Boston Globe article. "Even though it is not my faith, I can see why the Mormons are so proud of it."

In a telephone interview with the Church News, Scott Ferson, who is not a member of the Church but who, in the past four years, has played a significant role in helping the Church gain zoning approval for the temple, said, "The local temple committee did several things that are resonating in the community."

The people of Belmont, he explained, are aware of the controversy about the temple being built in an upscale neighborhood and have heard the concerns of its size. They know of the legal battle to limit the height of the spire.

"These people have watched the temple construction since the beginning and were given the first opportunity to take the tour. The people were appreciative. They seemed impressed with the mammoth operation and the level of activity. After seeing the temple for themselves they better understand the debate. I haven't heard anyone say there shouldn't be a steeple," he said.

Mr. Ferson, a member of the First Unitarian Parish picturesquely located in the Belmont town square, became involved with the public debate over the temple four years ago out of his concern that the Church's position was being misrepresented. "It appeared to be a message problem," he said. The Church later retained Mr. Ferson for his public relations abilities.

Reflecting on the first several days of the open house, Mr. Ferson said, "I'm hearing things I would never have guessed. People want to attend the temple open house out of curiosity. They are intrigued with the building. But after the tour, when they come out, they are reverent. They are able to make the connection between the building and loftier spiritual perspective."

"There is no question this building has generated quite a lot of interest," said Don Mangum, co-chairman of the local temple committee. Brother Mangum noted that after an article about the temple appeared in the Boston Globe, so many ticket requests were received that the temple's Web site was overloaded and shut down.

"There was a sense of celebration among the clergy after their tour," explained Brother Bennett. "They were supportive during the zoning process and were now celebrating with us. Their interest sparked many questions about the proxy work of the temple and being sealed for the eternities.

"But as impressed as the people were with the building, they seem more impressed with the volunteers — up to 600 at times — who help shuttle them from the off-site parking area about 1 1/2 miles away and who help place [shoe coverings] on their feet," said Brother Bennett.

"The sheer number of volunteers and their enthusiasm is an elegant expression of the love the people have for the temple."

Among the early visitors to the open house were many educators. "Teachers, principals, administrators, many educators came," said Brother Bennett. "There are enough LDS youth in the school systems who have caught their attention that they wanted to know what made them so good. Two principals after the tour said they saw how the temple could influence students' behavior, motivating them to avoid drinking alcohol and encouraging honesty so they could return to perform baptisms for the dead."

The 70,000 square-foot Boston temple is distinguished by large, oval-shaped stained glass windows. It is beautifully landscaped on a seven-acre site on Belmont Hill that overlooks the area. The exterior is Olympia white granite from Italy. Once legal issues are resolved, plans call for the temple's spire to be topped with a replica of the Angel Moroni statue by renowned Boston-area sculptor Cyrus Dallin. — Shaun D. Stahle

The Boston temple is still a work in progress, but doors have opened to an anticipated 100,000 visitors during the month long open house. The edifice will become the Church's 100th temple in operation.

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