The event was historic on many levels, two being that it was the first temple dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley, then second counselor in the First Presidency, and it was the first temple built in the southeastern United States.
Then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Monson gave clear and wise counsel at the original dedication, saying: “A generation ago the Southern states were known politically as the Solid South. Today, may this area spiritually be known as the Solid South. May the members be the Solid South in keeping the commandments of God; the Solid South in the payment of tithing; the Solid South in attendance at sacrament meetings; the Solid South in temple activity; the Solid South in adherence to all teachings contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Church News, June 5, 1983).
Now the president of the Church, President Monson returned to the Atlanta temple on Sunday, May 1, to rededicate it after it underwent extensive refurbishing. The temple, which originally served members in all the southern states, now serves Latter-day Saints in Georgia and parts of Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina, an apparent indication that his counsel has been followed. Members in the South have been so faithful in temple attendance that all states contiguous to Georgia have temples: Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina have one temple each, Tennessee has two and Florida will have two after one is built in Fort Lauderdale.
Participating in the rededication with President Monson were Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Walter F. González of the Presidency of the Seventy who has supervisory responsibilities for the North America Southeast Area and Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department.
President Monson commented that it had rained on the first day of the original dedicatory events. The weather was a significant factor on the day of the rededication: it was a warm and pleasant day. The skies were clear and, perhaps most significant, hardly a breeze stirred — a welcome respite in a region of the country beset by more than 100 tornadoes during the past week, with a record number occurring Wednesday, April 27.
Some attending the rededication were still waiting for word on the status of homes of relatives, friends and acquaintances. Among them was Richard Youngblood, president of the Chattanooga Tennessee Stake, who said Church leaders and members were waiting for clearance from emergency officials and law enforcement to enter areas hit by the tornadoes. He said high winds and tornadoes rated as F-3 and F-4 hit several areas within his stake, which takes in parts of Georgia and Alabama.
To the storm weary and others, the prophet’s presence at the rededication of the temple was comforting. The ravages of weather, the worries of everyday life, the challenges of coping with economic struggles, the concerns over health and family issues – all these many members brought with them to the temple. Over and over, many commented about how reassuring it was to be in President Monson’s presence.
Vivian Frost of the Atlanta Stake was among those President Monson buoyed in spirit. She said she has been undergoing a lot of hardship and trials recently. She was standing among members lining the walkway from the temple to President Monson’s car when he reached out to shake her hand. “Then he looked into my eyes,” she said. “He tilted his head and smiled. He didn’t say the words, but I felt he was telling me that everything was going to be all right.”
He then enveloped her in the comforting arms of a prophet of the Lord. “I will never be hugged like that again,” Sister Frost said. She choked out the words and wiped tears from her eyes.
Patty Everette of the Roswell Georgia Stake had a similar experience at the youth cultural celebration held on the evening before the rededication. She was seated in a wheelchair just inside the door through which President Monson entered. He stopped and shook her hand and, most likely, touched her life forever.
“My family has had eight years of incredible medical tribulations,” she said afterward. “The past three months have seemed almost unbearable. When President Monson shook my hand and looked into my eyes, it felt like a burden was lifted, that everything is going to be OK.”
Amanda Miller, 17, and her sister, Rachel, 13, were assigned to help place coverings on shoes as members entered the temple. When they saw President Monson approaching the door by which they stood, tears welled up in their eyes. President Monson saw those tears, and brought on more as he leaned down and kissed each young woman on the forehead.
“I never thought I would get to meet the prophet when I was so young,” Amanda said. Rachel added, “I will remember this for the rest of my life.”
So it went throughout the day as President Monson reached out to as many as he could. As he walked through the temple on his way to and from the celestial room, where the rededication ceremony was held, he paused along the way to shake hands, especially with children ages 8-12 and teenagers. He took special notice of the elderly and those in wheelchairs.
President Monson’s shoulders bore compassion and tenderness. To those with perceptive eyes, it was evident that the prophet of the Lord was walking the corridors of His house, the Atlanta Georgia Temple.