REDLANDS, Calif. — President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Redlands California Temple on Sept. 14, 2003, in what is known as the "Inland Empire," an area of the state at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains that has deep roots in the history of the Church.
San Bernardino was given permanent roots when President Brigham Young sent colonists there in 1851. They followed a trail marked out earlier by remnants of the Mormon Battalion journeying to the Salt Lake Valley after their discharge from the army in California. Those colonists built homes and farms. They established a way station where converts arriving from many parts of the world at Pacific ports could prepare for the desert trek to the Salt Lake Valley. That created an ethnically and culturally diverse community.
The Church presence almost completely disappeared when President Young called colonists home during the Utah War in 1857, but it is flourishing again thanks in great part to modern pioneers.
Now they have a temple built on the western edge of the Rancho San Bernardino, land which the original pioneers purchased for their new colony.
Before the temple was built, members in San Bernardino County already had reasonable access to temples in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas, Nev.
The distances can be deceiving, though. Alben Chamberlain of the San Bernardino 2nd Ward, San Bernardino California Stake, pointed out that because of traffic congestion in the Los Angeles area, travel is measured in time — it's a three-hour drive to the Los Angeles temple — rather than distance because it's a 75-mile drive to the Los Angeles temple.
The Redlands temple, of the current smaller design, will serve some 70,000 Church members from Riverside and San Bernardino counties, most of whom have convenient access. It is located a short distance off Interstate 10, the main east-west artery through the "Inland Empire." Approximately 23,000 of those members ages 8 and older attended one of the four dedicatory sessions either in the temple or in one of the eight stake centers where the proceedings were broadcast via satellite.
Built on what was an orange grove adjacent to the Redlands California Stake Center, the imposing and beautifully landscaped temple is surrounded by new development as well as orange groves.
Glenn Franks of the Upland 5th Ward, Upland California Stake, said he noticed that just before the temple was announced in 2001 there was a migration of members — "new pioneers" — to the Redlands area who added even more strength to the membership. Speaking of the temple location and the movement of members, Brother Franks said, "Between the population expansion toward Palm Springs and the existing saints toward the Los Angeles County line, this is a natural center."
John Finau of the Rancho Cucamonga California Stake, who grew up in Utah, said many Utahns who have California roots have moved back to the San Bernardino area to be part of a "colony" of the Church there. A number of them trace their roots back to early Mormon pioneers.
He and his wife, A. Maopa, are relatively modern pioneers in the area who met and married in Tonga. Brother Finau left Utah as a young man to follow his roots back to Tonga. While there, he was called on a mission to the island nation. His wife, who grew up in Tonga, also served a mission there. After their missions, they met in Tonga and were married. They moved back to Utah where he went into the construction business, then, many years ago, to Southern California where Brother Finau's construction work wasn't so subject to severe weather.
They attended the final dedicatory session in the temple where Sister Finau was a member of the choir. A talented singer, she said she wanted to sing in a choir at the temple in Tonga, but was serving as a missionary on another island at the time.
"I've been waiting 25 years to sing at a temple dedication, and now I have," she said gratefully. "It has blessed our family to be a part of this dedication."
Adding to the spirit and reverent continuity of the dedication day was an army of young single adults from the Riverside 1st Ward, Riverside California Stake, and Crafton Hills Ward, Redlands California Stake. Serving as ushers, they checked tickets, gave directions and encouraged reverence on the temple grounds. Jay Sanders, recently returned from the India Bangalore Mission, was one of those who signed up as a volunteer the week before in the Crafton Hills Ward. He echoed the sentiment of many of the ushers saying, "It's a special day and I just wanted to be around and do whatever I could to help. We'll always remember this day."
The impression from those attending the dedication was that having a temple in an area of such concentrated membership is a privilege requiring increased service, service they are willing to give.
Brother Chamberlain and his wife, Georgia, believe the response to the temple was tremendous, beginning at the time of the announcement. During a visit to the temple the night before the dedication, they recalled the way members, with positive support from the community in general, did what they were asked to do from the beginning of construction through the open house and dedication.
For example, they said members eagerly accepted assignments to provide meals for construction workers and volunteered to staff the many positions required for a successful open house attended by 140,000. Sister Chamberlain said the Primary had a project to collect rocks to be placed under the foundation of the temple and fountains on the grounds. The Primary children, and many others, painted pictures and wrote messages on the rocks, she said. Brother Chamberlain said that looking at the rocks, the broad base of the Church in the area was evident as messages were written in a multitude of languages.
They said the Primary children also donated pennies to help pay for the arcs of towering palm trees which enfold the temple in dramatic beauty on the front and back.
Ultimately, the temple service of the members in the "Inland Empire" today seems a fitting tribute to the valiant pioneers who originally colonized the area through sacrifices of their own.
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