Tears of joy streamed down the faces of many Church members on June 18 as the choir sang "Song of Praise" and Elder Walter F. González offered a dedicatory prayer on the ground where the Ft. Lauderdale temple will be erected.
"Florida will be brighter once a second temple is built within its borders," said Elder González, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy who oversees the North America Southeast Area and who was the presiding General Authority at the groundbreaking.
In his remarks, Elder González challenged members during this time of construction to keep their covenants, help the less active return to full fellowship and share the message of the Church.
After the dedicatory prayer, Elder González, Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and director of the Church's Temple Department; Elder M. Anthony Burns, an Area Seventy; and Elder Robert C. Gay, an Area Seventy, turned the first shovels of dirt on the site. They were then joined by Ft. Lauderdale's mission president, Nathan Hale, and the six South Florida stake presidents: Mark Brown, Miami South; Albert Benzion, Miami Lakes; Bruce Bartholomew, Ft. Lauderdale; William Current, Pompano Beach; Wade Litchfield, Stuart; and Robert Pritt, Ft. Myers. With a gold shovel in each of their hands, they took more bites out of the dirt.
Plans to construct the Ft. Lauderdale temple were first announced by President Thomas S. Monson on Oct. 3, 2009. The Church purchased 32 acres of land where 12 acres will be used for the temple. Construction will take about two years, making it the second temple in Florida, after the Orlando Florida Temple, which was dedicated in 1994.
More than 200 invited guests attended the one-hour event, while thousands of others watched a broadcast of the groundbreaking via satellite at 25 chapels throughout South Florida. Included in the audience was Mayor Judy Paul of the Town of Davie.
Mayor Paul expressed her excitement for the new addition to the community. "We embrace diversity, and we embrace all new-comers to the town," she said. "We will make it as easy and comfortable as possible [for you] to be here."
Elder Burns, chair of the local temple committee, promised those living near the site that the Church will be a good neighbor. "You will drive by and peace will be in your hearts as you look at this structure," he said.
Art Waganheim, president of the River Stone Homeowners Association which is located across the street from the temple site, was also present at the event. He believes the project is a "win-win" situation for the neighboring homes to the temple because "it is an upscale facility that will bring attention to the area."
He said the temple will "bring great improvement to the community" and "will spark a lot of interest in the Church."
The Ft. Lauderdale temple will serve nearly 25,000 members in congregations from Stuart to the Florida Keys, as well as those from Fort Myers, Naples and the Bahamas. Many of these members recalled their long travels to reach a temple and rejoiced in having a temple close by.
"The temple is an answer to prayers," said Arlene Lunetta of the Miami Lakes Florida Stake.
"It's a great blessing to have a temple so close," said Miami South Florida Stake member Wayne Tracy, who has lived in South Florida for more than 50 years. "We'll have the opportunity of completing more ordinances for our family and loved ones who have passed away."
Sister Lunetta and Brother Tracy remembered the years before the Orlando Temple was built, traveling first to the Salt Lake City Temple then to the Washington D.C. Temple and later to the Atlanta Temple, all taking several days to travel.
A member of the Ft. Lauderdale Florida Stake presidency, Cesar Rincon, reflected upon what it meant to him and his family to have a temple built across the street from his neighborhood. "Rejoice neighbors! What a marvelous and humbling experience to witness the disciples of the Lord bless a site for the building of a temple."
President Rincon said that as his family walked home together after the groundbreaking he thought it was a symbolic event which represented to him the priority of temple work and that this was the key to becoming eternal families.
"In the midst of a season of much anguish and severe trials, the Lord is resting his eyes upon South Florida and He has chosen the ground here to build his Holy House," President Rincon said.
Elder González attributed the new temple to the spiritual growth and development of individuals and families in South Florida.