It was Mormon pioneer Joel Hills Johnson who penned the words to "High on the Mountain Top," a hymn that pays homage to temple building in the latter-day dispensation. Perhaps he little realized that Payson, one of the rural Utah settlements where he lived, would one day be home to a temple.
That event came closer to reality Oct. 8 as ground was broken for the Payson Utah Temple. Brother Johnson's hymn and "Sweet Is the Work," written by John H. McClellan, another Payson resident, were both sung by the congregation at the groundbreaking service.
Some 6,000 Church members gathered at the 15-acre temple site, a former wheat field adjacent to a stake center in a newer residential neighborhood in the southwest section of the city about a mile east of Interstate-15. Other Church members viewed the proceedings via TV transmission in meetinghouses elsewhere in the temple district, which comprises 26 stakes from Spanish Fork on the North to Nephi on the south. The district includes nine stakes in Spanish Fork and six in Payson.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve presided over the service and offered a prayer to dedicate the land for the building of the temple, which will take two or three years to complete. Ultimately it will be one of four temples in Utah County along with existing ones in Provo and American Fork and one just announced at the recent general conference to be converted from the historic Provo Tabernacle, seriously damaged in a fire last year.
A native of Provo and a former Brigham Young University president, Elder Oaks spoke fondly of his Utah County roots before delivering the prayer.
"I've always considered Payson one of the four cities in which I was raised," he said. "After the death of my father in 1940, I lived with my Harris grandparents on their farm adjoining the highway between Payson and Spring Lake."
He pointed to the location of the farm, less than a half-mile from the temple site and noted that he was baptized in Payson while living with his grandparents.
"I returned to their Payson farm to help my grandfather each summer during my early teenage years," he said. "During that time I played with the Payson band during their summer concerts in the park and in their parades."
He said he gave his first Church talk in the Park Ward in Payson in a building that still stands. It was at a basketball game in the Payson High School in 1951 that he met his first wife, June Dixon of Spanish Fork, who is now deceased. They were married a year and a half later.
He cited the words of President Thomas S. Monson given at the recent general conference: "No Church-built facility is more important than a temple," and further quoted President Monson as saying, "True joy is found in holy temples of our Heavenly Father. I can think of no greater incentive to inspire compliance with God's commandments and entry into His holy house than the beckoning love of those who have gone ahead and plead for us to follow."
Elder Oaks testified of Jesus Christ and that temples are houses of the Lord. "This temple will be His house," he said. "Here will be exercised the ordinances of His holy priesthood. This is His work, His plan, This is His Church. The ultimate purpose of this temple is the exaltation of the children of God."
Conducting the service and addressing the congregation was Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy who is executive director of the Temple Department.
"There is a rich and wonderful pioneer heritage in this community and the surrounding communities that will make up the temple district," Elder Walker said. "From the very early days of settlement here, faith in the Lord and righteous living have been hallmarks of the Latter-day Saints from this area of southern Utah County. Many of you here are descendants of the righteous pioneer Saints who settled in this area. Those early pioneers are honored today as their early efforts to strengthen and build up the Church have borne fruit unto the fourth and fifth generation."
He said the Church is very strong in the temple district. "The prophet knew this when he decided to build a temple for you here. Eighty-nine thousand members of the Church live in the 26 stakes represented here today....and nearly 29,000 adults in this temple district have current temple recommends."
Plans to build the temple were announced Jan. 25, 2010, he said.At 96,630 square feet, it will be one of the largest temples built in recent years, Elder Walker noted.
Sister Janette Hales Beckham, Young Women president from 1992 to 1997 and a Spanish Fork native, also spoke.
"My life and the lives of so many people have been blessed by the goodness of the people in this valley," she said. "Because of the importance of the events that precede a person going to the temple, I've often referred to gospel living as 'the sacred nature of our daily tasks.'"
Elder Steven E. Snow of the Presidency of the Seventy said, "With soon to be 16th temple in Utah, we have indeed been blessed by an expansion of this great work in our day. It's an exciting time to be a member of the Church."
He said that when he and his wife, Phyllis, were married there were 13 temples in the Church and that their goal was to visit every one. "Well, President [Gordon B.] Hinckley and President Monson have ruined all that; we're not going to make it," he said, referring to the rapid expansion of temple building in recent times. Worldwide, 135 temples are in operation plus 13 under construction and 18 announced, including the Payson temple.
Sister Vicki V. Walker, wife of Elder Walker, observed, "We go to the temple to find refuge and peace. The moment we step into the House of the Lord, the atmosphere changes from the worldly to the heavenly, where peace of mind and spirit are received."
After the speeches, choir singing and dedicatory prayer, the four General Authorities assigned to be present (including Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Presidency of the Seventy, a native of Mapleton in the temple district) turned shovels of earth, symbolically beginning temple construction.
Thereafter, the 26 stake presidents took the gold-painted shovels in hand to throw earth. "I'll just observe that this is such an effective workforce that if they weren't dressed in Sunday best, we'd invite them to line up and start the footings," Elder Oaks quipped.
Government dignitaries in attendance then took their turn, including U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz Finally all 12-year-old deacons in attendance were invited to participate. "A temple concerns the ordinances of the Aaronic as well as the Melchizedek Priesthood," Elder Oaks explained.
So many deacons came forward to wield the 30 or so shovels that two "shifts" were needed to accommodate them.