On a clear, crisp morning near the base of snow-covered Mt. Graham in eastern Arizona, ground was broken for a much-anticipated temple in the farming community of the Gila Valley.
Thousands gathered to witness the event on Saturday, Feb. 14 — at the site and by live broadcast in seven stakes centers that will comprise the new temple district — to be a part of this “day of joy and gladness.”
“Let us rejoice as we bless this land and break this ground,” said President Mark S. Bryce of the Pima Arizona Stake, which includes the temple location of Central.
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Presidency of the Seventy presided at the event, spoke to the audience and offered the dedicatory prayer on a day that coincided with Arizona’s 97th anniversary of statehood.
He referred to President Spencer W. Kimball, the 12th president of the Church who was raised in nearby Thatcher and, after marrying, lived in Safford, and what rejoicing must be occurring on both sides of the veil as a long-hoped-for temple becomes a reality.
“Your prayers, your pleadings, your great lives of righteousness have been lifted to the Lord,” he said.
“Can we overstate in significance of the work that will be done here?” he asked, then answering: “We cannot.”
Accompanying Elder Andersen were Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Temple Department, and Elder Wilford W. Andersen, an Area Seventy. On April 26, 2008, President Thomas S. Monson announced plans to build two new temples in Arizona, one in the Gila Valley and the other one in Gilbert. These temples were the first to be announced by President Monson since he became president of the Church on Feb. 3, 2008. Several weeks later he announced another Arizona temple to be built in northwest Phoenix.
“It is my personal priority to make sure members of the Church have access to the blessings of the temple,” said President Monson in a press release at the time. “It is here where members learn of their divine origin and destiny; where they are strengthened spiritually as individuals and as families. Temples are sanctuaries from the storms of life.”
Lorina Merrill of the St. David Arizona Stake is one of so many who felt her prayers had been answered with such an announcement, and she offered humble prayers of thanksgiving when it came.
“We have been praying and fasting for a temple for years,” she said. “We were told by our leaders that when we were ready the Lord would provide. We needed to prove ourselves worthy and ready and make a dedicated effort to get to the Mesa temple.”
Elder Walker said the building of this temple represents years, decades and generations of faith and devotion to the Church by the good people of the area.
“This valley is a sacred and special place,” he said.
The 15,000-square-foot temple, which will be the third in Arizona, will serve approximately 32,000 Church members in seven stakes from Pima, Safford, Thatcher, Duncan, St. David and Sierra Vista in Arizona, and Silver City in New Mexico.
President Danny L. Merrill of the Duncan Arizona Stake said members of his stake — living in areas of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico — are four to six hours from the Mesa Arizona Temple. After the new temple opens next year, the drive will be less than 90 minutes.
“Saints here have demonstrated to the Lord that they’re willing to go to the temple no matter where it is,” he said. “It is a great blessing that it is coming here; this is a place where we will spend a great amount of time.”
President Mark Herrington of the Safford Arizona Stake said his stake has focused on the importance of temples through increased attendance by youth and adults as well as family history and missionary work.
“This means everything to us,” he said. “We all feel gratitude and the privilege of a temple. We have already seen the influences of the temple in the valley just with the announcement of it. We are being blessed beyond anything we have seen here.”
With the dedication of the Draper Utah Temple next month, there will be 129 operating Latter-day Saint temples throughout the world. In addition to the Arizona temples, there are another 14 temples announced or in some phase of construction.