Connecticut is a place significant not only in the history of the United States but also in the history of the Church. The “Constitution State” was one of the original 13 colonies that revolted against British rule in the American Revolution. It was also the birthplace of Wilford Woodruff, one of the great missionaries of this dispensation and fourth president of the Church.
Now the area will be significant for another sacred reason. President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the Hartford Connecticut Temple in three sessions on Sunday, Nov. 20.
The Hartford temple — located in nearby Farmington, a suburb of Hartford — is the Church’s 155th temple and the second in New England following the Boston Massachusetts Temple in 2000. President Eyring extended his love and praise to the close to 26,000 members in the temple district. “The Lord was able to do this because these faithful people were here and He loves them. It’s a great tribute to their faith,” he told the Church News.
Though the full splendor of the New England autumn reached its peak weeks ago, an unusually warm November allowed the trees of the area to hold the last vestiges of their colored foliage.
After the cultural celebration on Saturday evening but before the dedicatory events on Sunday, a cold rain inundated the area. The morning of the dedication, however, sunshine peeked through the clouds to allow attendees to watch the cornerstone ceremony in dry, if not warm, conditions.
Despite a winter chill, families and individuals from throughout Connecticut, western Rhode Island, western Massachusetts and eastern New York gathered outside the temple to watch as President Eyring symbolically finished the construction of the temple by applying mortar to the cornerstone.
Several other visiting Church leaders also wielded the trowel and spatula to apply mortar, including Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Patricia Holland; Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Susan Gong; Elder Larry Y. Wilson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, and his wife, Sister Lynda Wilson; and Elder Randall K. Bennett, a General Authority Seventy, and his wife, Sister Shelley Bennett. A few children from the temple district were then invited to participate.
The completion of this temple was something that was long hoped for by members but many doubted would happen in their lifetime.
Slow and steady growth
As a young, single graduate student, President Eyring was called to serve in the Boston district presidency. “If you had asked when I was sitting in my little Volkswagen Bug driving around the hills of New England, ‘Would there ever be a temple in Boston or New Haven or Hartford?’ I would have said, ‘Oh, no,’ ” President Eyring said.
Elder Holland, who accompanied President Eyring to Connecticut for the dedication, lived in New Haven, Connecticut, as a young graduate student attending Yale University. At that time he was called as a counselor in the relatively new Hartford stake — the boundaries of which come “perilously close” to what is now the entire temple district, he noted.
At the time that President Eyring and Elder Holland were there, Church membership was much more sparse. “One little Latter-day Saint family would be the anchor for one little branch and now they get a temple! It’s just wonderful,” President Eyring said.
“It’s just a great reassurance that things happen, that the Kingdom grows,” Elder Holland added.
Vince Chrzanowski and his wife, Lois, joined the Church about 46 years ago as a young married couple and have witnessed the slow and steady growth of the Church in New England. Living in a small country town in eastern Connecticut, the couple attended a tiny branch where Brother Chrzanowski held five callings simultaneously. A year after the couple was baptized, they traveled to the nearest temple to be sealed as a family — 2,300 miles to Salt Lake City.
“Now look at where we are!” Brother Chrzanowski exclaimed after noting he can pull into the parking lot of the Hartford temple less than an hour from pulling out of his driveway.
Blessing to all
Shalyn Sedgwick, a member from the Bridgeport 1st Ward in the Stratford Connecticut Stake, sang in the choir that performed at the cornerstone ceremony. The day of dedication — which fell just days before the American holiday devoted to giving thanks — is a day of gratitude, she said, a gift from a loving Heavenly Father. “This is a place of peace in a crazy world.”
The beauty of the structure and its landscaped grounds serve as a visual reminder to members and nonmembers alike, Sister Sedgwick said. To members, “it represents our love for God and His love for us.” But even to others, it stands as a symbol of a holy place, an edifice dedicated to God.
The Georgian architecture of the temple and many of its design elements pay homage to the area’s colonial history and connection to Wilford Woodruff. One of the temple’s most striking features — its steeple — was loosely modeled after the steeple of the First Church of Christ, designed and built by Wilford Woodruff’s great-uncle, Judah Woodruff, in 1771.
“My neighbors who went through the open house have commented how wonderful it is to have it here. The Church does a good job of making it fit into the community,” Sister Sedgwick said.
Dave Sutton, who has lived in Connecticut for 45 years, said the temple in Hartford, besides being beautiful, will have a positive impact on the surrounding community. As members strive to sanctify their lives by attending the temple, “they become better [parents], better people and better citizens. The temple can’t have an influence on us without it positively affecting the communities in which we live.”
The sweet spirit of Sunday’s dedication will stir the Saints to come to the temple, Brother Sutton said.