BARTLETT, Tenn. — It was an extraordinarily warm and sunny morning on Jan. 16 when more than 2,300 people gathered here to witness the historic groundbreaking for the Memphis Tennessee Temple.
"This is the beginning of a new temple and a time for reflection," said Elder Gordon T. Watts, first counselor in the North America Southeast Area presidency, who presided at the ceremony. "If necessary, it should also be a beginning of our personal preparation to be worthy in every way to enter and perform labors for the living and the dead."
The groundbreaking ceremony was held on a small rise adjacent to the Memphis Tennessee North Stake Center in Bartlett, a city located on the outskirts of Memphis. The temple will serve some 9,000 families — about 20,000 members — in seven stakes in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee who live in the temple district.
The temple was announced by the First Presidency Sept. 17, 1998, and will be one of two temples constructed in Tennessee. The other temple will be in Nashville, where ground is expected to be broken later this year.
The Memphis temple groundbreaking ceremony was conducted by Elder James E. Griffin, an Area Authority Seventy. Many community leaders attended the event, including Bartlett Mayor Kenneth Fulmar. Music for the ceremony was provided by a 125-member multi-stake choir, directed by Marilyn Huntsman.
Elder Watts told the members that with the temple come great responsibilities and many blessings. He listed six blessings:
He also noted, "Hundreds, thousands, even millions will be the benefactors of the work that will be done within these sacred walls of this soon-to-be completed temple. I can imagine that many of your ancestors who may have been waiting for years, are shouting for joy at the possibility that they may now receive the sacred, saving ordinances that you can give them."
During the program, Elder Griffin reminded members of President Gordon B. Hinckley's concern for them. "Knowing of the essential saving ordinances that are to be had only in the temples, he wanted to make them available to all Church members no matter where they lived."
Speaking of the temple in an interview after the groundbreaking, Bertha Spencer, widow of L. B. Spencer, the first president of the Tennessee West District, created in 1947, said: "I have prayed ever since I was a girl to have a temple in Memphis."
Darrell Danielson, president of the Memphis Tennessee Stake, noted: "We are excited to have a temple in our area. Early members traveled to Salt Lake City for their first temple experience. Later the trip was cut in half when the Washington D.C. Temple was built. Then came Atlanta followed by St. Louis. Travel time was reduced from days to hours. Now some members will have less than an hour to go to participate in temple work."
During the groundbreaking program, Elder Watts said that the Memphis Tennessee Temple will be about 11,000 square feet. It will include a baptistry, two endowment rooms, two sealing rooms and the celestial room.