NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The light of the Lord's temple has attracted tens of thousands as the Newport Beach California Temple opened its doors to the public.
The Newport Beach Temple will be the 122nd operating temple in the Church when it is dedicated in four sessions on August 28. It will serve approximately 50,000 Latter-day Saints in 16 stakes in Orange County.
When the temple opened July 19, first to neighbors, construction workers and local merchants, some 1,168 visitors entered in the first wave. The next visitors included the media and special guests, who came July 20-22. Numbers attending far exceeded projections. Of approximately 4,500 invitations that were sent out, 2,959 people, not counting their LDS hosts, toured the temple.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy led many of the VIP and media tours. He told the press to notice "that each room is brighter and there's a slight incline from one room to the next, symbolic to us of man's journey through life."
On July 23, the first public day of the open house, some 5,254 people attended between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. The open house continues through August 20. More than 180,000 people are expected to attend.
"The preparations and organization were superb," said Elder Stephen B. Oveson of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, newly called as the Newport Beach Temple president.
"The LDS hosts all came with the greatest desire to share this beautiful temple with their friends and neighbors. You could see the desire in their countenances."
He also appreciated a visitors center set up in a nearby stake center.
"The center allows people time to sit and reflect upon the purpose of the temple and to ask questions in an unhurried atmosphere."
The high number of VIPs to attend is the result of an innovative Orange County call center, the services of which were donated.
"The call center was phenomenally successful in scheduling many visitors," said David Parker of Ladera Ranch Ward, Mission Viejo Stake, and overall coordinator for the VIP open house. "We had 3,041 confirmed reservations from approximately 4,500 invited guests. Of those confirmed, we had nearly 98 percent attend the open house. Innumerable lives have been touched and the impact of the Spirit in those lives will be profound."
Michael McBride of the Harbor Hills Ward, Newport Beach California Stake, supervised the call center that was housed at a local business operated by Church members in Irvine. He said a total of 45 people served as operators at six stations that included a phone and a computer for three shifts each day, June 20 through July 22.
"We answered a lot of phones. It's hard to say how many, but we received multiple thousands of calls," Brother McBride said.
"One of the sweetest blessings for the saints in Orange County was having the opportunity to pay for the temple," said President Weatherford Clayton of the Newport Beach California Stake. "We gained tremendous strength and it made the temple become real and our own. Even the Primary children of the county participated by putting their favorite scriptures on small rocks that were placed in the foundation. Everyone knows they had a part in seeing this beautiful building built."
When the temple was announced, some opposition was voiced by neighbors, said President Clayton. "The temple is a testament of people working together. There were people with differences of opinion, but as we worked together, the city gave its approval with glowing reports." The steeple was lowered from 136 feet to 90 feet, the granite color was changed from white to Salisbury pink, and lighting was dimmed and turns off at 10 p.m.
One of the neighbors who had been among the protestors said after the temple's completion, "Seeing the beauty of the temple and what it adds to the neighborhood, I'm sorry I ever opposed it."
Another neighbor said, "It is totally awesome and the hosts treated us like visiting royalty. We saw nothing short of a first-class effort and we're proud to have the temple as our new neighbor."
With nearly 800,000 Church members living in California, the state has the largest population of Latter-day Saints outside of Utah. When the Sacramento California Temple is completed next year, there will be seven temples in the state, the largest number of temples in one state outside Utah.