Conference Center brims with crowds

30,700 attend its dedication at LDS conference

Dedication of the LDS Church's new Conference Center drew 30,700 people to the new building and adjoining facilities on Temple Square on Sunday morning.

A dedicatory prayer by President Gordon B. Hinckley capped the morning session of the 170th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anxious to participate in the historic event, crowds flocked downtown early to fill the 21,000-seat hall to capacity, along with the newly completed 900-seat Conference Center Theater, the 6,000-seat Tabernacle, the Assembly Hall, theaters and presentation rooms in the Salt Lake Temple's north visitors center, the 500-seat Legacy Theater and meeting rooms in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

Crowds spilled onto the outside grounds of the buildings in what a church press release referred to as "the church headquarters campus."

President Hinckley called the building "a testimony of the strength and vitality of (God's) work" in his prayer, noting the new Main Street Plaza and the other church properties that occupy almost four full city blocks downtown. "May this area be looked upon as a place of peace, an oasis in the midst of this bustling city," he said. "May it be a place where the weary may sit and contemplate the things of God and the beauties of nature."

This weekend marked the opening of the new pedestrian plaza that was once a block of Main Street. The walkway, between South Temple and North Temple streets, was sold by Salt Lake City to the LDS Church for $8.2 million.

Hinckley referred to questions about the plaza's "public" use in his dedicatory prayer, following public criticism by some over the city's sale of the property to the church.

"May the desire of the people of thy church to improve and beautify this area be appreciated by all who pass this way," he said. "We pray that favorable expressions may prevail and grow until there is universal acceptance and appreciation for what has been done."

Following the prayer, President Hinckley led those gathered in the "Hosanna Shout," a spiritual expression rarely used outside of LDS temple dedication services.

Under Hinckley's direction, the congregation rose to its feet and waved white handkerchiefs, saying in unison, "Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna, to God and the Lamb" three times.

The shout is meant to refer to the praise of followers of Jesus Christ as he descended the Mount of Olives and other biblical and Book of Mormon accounts.

Church members learned on Saturday that the Hosanna Shout would be a part of the dedication ceremony when President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, asked those who would attend the session to bring a white handkerchief with them. That set off a run at local stores as people scrambled to secure one.

C. Jerome Crow, a church member and reporter covering the dedication for the Corning Observer in California, said he could not find a white handkerchief for sale in the city.

"We ended up using pieces of a white pillowcase," he said.

Immediately following the "Hosanna Shout," the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang an anthem written for the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893 and then the hymn, "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning."

Partway through the first verse, the crowd spontaneously came to its feet, prompting church officials seated on the stand to rise as well. All continued to stand for the remainder of the hymn.

Earlier in the morning, President Hinckley, members of the Quorum of the Twelve and Presiding Bishopric and the president of each of the church's auxiliaries gathered for a smaller cornerstone ceremony in the southeast area of the Conference Center terrace.

Leaders, in turn, applied mortar to seal the cover stone of the cornerstone of the building.

In an address before the dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley said the symbolism of the cornerstone is "in remembrance of the Son of God upon whose life and mission this church is established."

"He, and he alone, is the chief cornerstone," he said, expressing gratitude that the building is now complete.

"We occupied it for our April conference and on one other occasion last June. It was not entirely finished. It is now declared complete with a permanent permit of occupancy," he said.

The building's total square footage, which includes an underground parking structure, is 1.5 million. That's about 40 times the size of the Tabernacle.

Ground was broken for construction on the Conference Center on July 24, 1997.

President Hinckley said he anticipates organizations outside the church will ask to use the Conference Center in the future.

"We will make it available under regulations that will ensure that its use will be in harmony with the purposes for which it will be dedicated today," he said.

"It is not a museum piece, although the architecture is superb," he continued. "It is a place to be used in honor to the Almighty and for the accomplishment of his eternal purposes."

President Hinckley noted other church milestones in "this great millennial year."

"In the past few months we have announced that Ricks College, a great pioneer education institution, hitherto providing a two-year degree, will be expanded to provide four years of education and will carry the name BYU-Idaho," he said.

Students, faculty and residents of Rexburg, Idaho, were shocked last June by news that the school would be expanded and more closely affiliated with church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo.

"This in no way disparages the name of the great man for whom the school was named," President Hinckley said. "This will enlarge the educational opportunities for many young men and women. It will make of what has been a great school an even greater one."

He said another "item of remarkable consequence" was the construction of the 100th working temple of the church in Boston, Mass., a week ago.

He remarked that when he joined the First Presidency in July of 1981 as a counselor to then-President Spencer W. Kimball, 19 temples were in operation.

"More than half of the 100 now in operation have been dedicated since I was ordained president of the church five years ago," he said, punctuating the rapid spread of the church in many lands.

Dedication of the Conference Center prompted other members of the First Presidency to use building metaphors in their remarks on Sunday.

"As a symbol of our gratitude, as an expression of our love for the Lord, could we not rededicate our lives and our homes in a like manner?" said President Monson. "Today there goes forth from this pulpit an invitation to people throughout the world: Come from your wandering way, weary traveler. Come to the gospel of Jesus Christ."

In an address filled with personal recollections and emotion, President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, called his testimony of Jesus Christ "the cornerstone of my life."

"My greatest desire is to be true and faithful to the end of my days on this Earth," said President Faust.

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