Those who serve in temples have a tremendous responsibility that reaches into eternity, President Gordon B. Hinckley told new temple presidents Aug. 15.
"You have your feet in two worlds," he said. "You bridge the veil of death through the ordinances for which you have responsibility in the House of the Lord."President Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, addressed 21 new temple presidents and their wives at a general session of the annual New Temple Presidents Seminar, held in the chapel of the Salt Lake Temple.
President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, also addressed the group. The new leaders were instructed Aug. 14-16 on administrative matters relating to temples.
Evidence of the importance placed on temple work by the Church was the attendance at the seminar of the entire Council of the Twelve including President Howard W. Hunter, all of the Presidency of the Seventy, the Presiding Bishopric, and many of the Seventy, including a number of area presidents.
Leaders noted that the new presidents are highly experienced and include among their ranks former stake and mission presidents, regional representatives and even four who have served as General Authorities. One, Elder Wm. Grant Bangerter, General Authority Emeritus, is former executive administrator of the Temple Department. He is the new president of the Jordan River Temple.
President Hinckley underscored the importance of temple work.
"The cause in which you serve is the cause of the Eternal God and the implementation of His plan for the blessing of His sons and daughters for all eternity," he said. "You will work hard, and the hours will be long but the work will be sweet."
He observed that in the early Church, the cost of erecting temples was "almost appalling," as members in Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Ill., sacrificed "out of poverty so something elegant could be built."
"In 1846, they put the finishing touches on the Nauvoo Temple after [most of the saintsT left. It was 31 years later before we had another House of the Lord. In St. George, builders pounded tons and tons of rock into the ground so it would be solid enough to hold the temple."
That same spirit of consecrated labor surrounded the construction of the temple in Manti, he observed. He cited the example of a stone mason who tapped and smoothed with a hammer and chisel for an entire week on a stone stairway railing. On the last day, he made a mistake that left a slight nick. "He cast it aside and started over – there couldn't be a defect – it had to be perfect."
Although today's temples are built much more quickly, members still sacrifice to contribute to their cost. When a temple is completed, it is dedicated as the House of the Lord. "Each temple is holy unto the Lord," said President Hinckley. "The floor whereon those stand is holy in the House of God. I think sometimes we have too much of frivolity, too much of loud talking. I hope we can keep His house holy."
President Hinckley said those who work in the temple are "a special class of people, not in terms of material wealth, because that makes no difference in the temple. The poorest man stands the same as men of great wealth. These [temple workers] are the best people on the face of the earth. They are clean, and loyal in allegiance to the Church. Make them feel welcome."
President Hinckley spoke of the feelings the temple presidents and their wives would have after their term of service is completed. "Each of you will say as you walk out of the temple for the last time as temple president and matron that, `Of all the things I have ever done, this has been the sweetest, and the most enduring.' "
President Monson commended the new leaders and said that like Samuel of old, they, too, could be called "men of God."
"You are men of faith," he said. "You have had many experiences. Some of you have sat in every chair of leadership."
He noted that in the present and in past assignments, some may have wondered if they were able to fulfill their responsibilities. "When you wondered if you were qualified, remember, whom the Lord calls He qualifies. God does shape the back to bear the burden."
The new presidents, he mentioned, were selected by inspiration after "we looked over the entire Church. . . . We looked for men of God, wherever they might be. We found willingness to serve – not putting yourselves forward to volunteer, but being willing to serve. What a sweet experience this has been."
Matrons, as well as presidents, should cultivate their capacity to work with people and draw close to them, he said.
"This capacity to be close to people as they come to the House of the Lord is vitally important," President Monson instructed, and added, "In the House of the Lord there must be no disharmony."
He encouraged the temple presidents and matrons to have humility and love. "A dependence on a higher presence is in no way demeaning to a man; rather it exalts him."
And, he continued, "You can't serve without a great capacity to love."
He urged more family history work be completed. "As we bond to the past, we link to the present and prepare for the future," he said.
While leaders should rely on counselors, "The president is the president and every man so called must follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
"It has been said that every organization is the lengthened shadow of its leader. We hope the shadow of influence from you will be that of men of humility, men of faith, men of God."