The old Roman road running from the south coast of England to the Thames River has, for 50 years, passed by the towering London England Temple and its 32 acres of park-like grounds. Today, the "new" London England Temple Visitors Center also graces the grounds and invites passers-by, Church members, tourists and the community to visit the "distribution center for the word of God."
"A visitors center is a place to teach the message of the Atonement, the message of the plan of salvation, the message of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness," Elder Robert C. Oaks of the Seventy and president of the Europe Area stated as he prepared to dedicate the newly renovated center on Nov. 8, 2008.
Elder John Longden, an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, dedicated an earlier visitors center in 1969 while on a mission tour of the British Isles. For many years, the building has not been used as a visitors center.
In the visitor's center, members and guests "will be introduced to the temple as a sanctuary from the cares of the world," said Elder Oaks. That same feeling, he suggested, would abound in the visitors center because of the new "Christus" statue which stands just inside the entrance and looks out through floor-to-ceiling windows across the temple grounds.
In addition to the "Christus," five interactive media displays highlight the Restoration, including "Temples around the World," "Building of the London Temple," "Messages for the Family," "Teachings of Modern Prophets as Special Witnesses of Jesus Christ" and "The Book of Mormon." A 48-seat theater offers the feature "Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration," as well as other Church films.
Many will visit with questions about the temple and what happens inside. Elder Oaks suggested, "Only through restored, revealed truth do we understand there is a path back into the presence of our Father in Heaven. That path in every case is through the temple. That sounds exclusive. But it is not. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the ultimate, inclusive philosophy, doctrine and truth. It is a marvelous plan. There are provisions in that plan for every son and daughter of God who has ever walked the face of the earth."
The center is just steps from the temple.
Speaking to British members of the Church, Elder Oaks reviewed the key role England played through the Magna Carta in establishing free governments around the world. Wherever freedom is valued and cherished, he said, it can "trace its roots back to Britain's political thinking."
President Jeffrey C. Swinton of the England London South Mission drew from the poem "Jerusalem" by William Blake, which is sung across the United Kingdom as if it were the national anthem. The verses refer to the legend that the Savior's great uncle brought Jesus to England on one of his great ocean voyages.
"The words speak volumes to those of us who know that they were prophetic: 'Did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England's mountains green ? and was Jerusalem builded here In England's green and pleasant land?' People have wondered what Blake meant," President Swinton said. "We know that in 1837 apostles did come and did begin to bless this green and pleasant land and that presence has been here ever since. Symbolic of that is the "Christus" standing here today."
London England Temple President Michael R. Fagg spoke of the temple's Jubilee year and the enhancements to the temple site, the beautiful grounds and the plan for a statue of Angel Moroni to be placed on the steeple in December. He also addressed his own conversion 46 years ago when two young missionaries taught him and his wife and opened their minds and hearts to the gospel.
"I am ever thankful as a father and parent of the great blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ," he explained, "Every night when I leave the temple I stand and look at the 'Christus' through the window on my way home and I know that the Savior is watching over me, my family and all of you."
Preparation of the visitors center was not without incident. A specially painted backdrop for the "Christus" was damaged in installation and Missionary Department representatives had to find someone to paint a mural on a moment's notice. What happened is called "the story of the muralist and the miracle." The muralist, Dean Rush, explained: "They said they found my name in the phone book and I haven't been in the phone book for seven years.'"
Also participating in the service were Sisters Gloria Oaks, Heidi Swinton, and Gwyneth Fagg; and Allan McLuckie and David Irwin, counselors in the England London South Mission.