President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the two newly renovated visitors centers on Temple Square Oct. 31, asking that each "may be an island of peace in this great bustling city, that there may be a place where Thy Spirit is felt and experienced and where hearts are touched and lives are changed."
The North Visitors Center, which houses the replica of Thorvaldsen's statue, "Christus," and the South Visitors Center have been redesigned to better convey the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His restored Church.
Arriving at the North Visitors Center, President Hinckley and his counselors, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust, paused at a table-top map made of 4,000 miniature pieces depicting Jerusalem as it might have been at the time of Jesus. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve and executive director of the Missionary Department and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve accompanied them.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve conducted in one of the center's theaters the dedicatory program, which was attended also by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve and several other General Authorities, as well as missionaries serving on Temple Square. A chorus of sister missionaries sang "Our Savior's Love."
Before offering the dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley recounted some of the history of visitors centers on Temple Square. He mentioned Charles J. Thomas, who was the leader of the Tabernacle Choir and was appointed by Brigham Young in 1875 to act as custodian of the Tabernacle, meet tourists on Temple Square, show them the grounds and Tabernacle and answer their questions.
President Hinckley said, "In the old days — a hundred years ago — they had Sunday services in the Tabernacle. Not only members of the Church but some who were not members of the Church came and sat through those services and participated in them. The First Quorum of the Seventy, seven men as they were then . . . proposed that the Church acquire a piece of property on the east side of Main Street and build a hall there where the visitor might be invited to come and learn of the Church."
The idea prevailed, he said, noting that in 1902, a little structure, "a gazebo-like thing, was built near the south gate, not so much as to accommodate the visitors as to keep the guides warm." That became the first visitors center on Temple Square.
In 1904 construction began on the Visitors Information Bureau on Temple Square; a second story was added in 1910. The building, located on the southeast corner of Temple Square, served also as a museum. It was replaced with the present-day South Visitors Center, which was completed in 1978. The North Visitors Center, which was completed in 1963, was used for a while as a temporary annex to the Salt Lake Temple.
President Hinckley said that the two structures "have served very well to the present time when we have these beautifully renovated buildings to serve as the visitors centers on Temple Square."
He emphasized, however, that the buildings or the exhibits are not what comprise the importance of Temple Square. After commenting on the singing by the sister missionaries, he said, "The thing that is most significant in terms of touching the hearts of people who come here is the testimony and discussion of these sisters who constitute this force on Temple Square, who speak the native tongues of those who visit." Over the years, since missionaries been serving on Temple Square, he said, visitors have commented upon what an impression missionaries on Temple Square have made as they have taught them, answered their questions and "testified of the truth of this great work."
"We're now recipients of a very extensive remodeling, renovation of these two buildings. It's beautifully done. We compliment all who have had to do with it. They have done tremendous work. It will serve the purposes for which they are designed for a good long time to come. It's fortunate that it's all in place before the Winter Olympics come when we'll have many, many visitors from many lands who will come and visit among us."
In the prayer of dedication, President Hinckley asked that the visitors centers might be a place "open to the entire world. . . where they may come and learn and appreciate and understand Thy great cause and kingdom." He prayed that hearts would be touched and spirits pricked that people may be given understanding and added faith, and have a desire "to learn more and to seek that trail which will lead to their conversion as members of this Church." He asked that "there may be a place where Thy spirit is felt and experienced and where hearts are touched and lives are changed."
The invocation and benediction were offered by President M. Garfield Cook and Sister Margo T. Cook, respectively, of the Temple Square Mission.
After the dedicatory program, President Hinckley, President Monson and President Faust toured the North Visitors Center, pausing at exhibits and displays that had particular appeal to them, such as tableaus depicting Isaiah and the role of prophets, ancient and modern. They watched and listened to video clips of the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve bearing witness of the Savior.
They walked past and commented on a large exhibit that gives visitors a glimpse of the Church's welfare and humanitarian aid efforts. They viewed an exhibit that presents President Monson narrating the account of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:30-35) and explaining how the Savior's biblical teachings on compassion, caring and love are implemented by the Church today.
The North and South visitors centers were closed approximately a year ago for the renovation work. They were reopened to the public Oct. 5.