TEMPLE VIEW, New Zealand
A vital component in the Temple View development project, in the area adjacent to the Hamilton New Zealand Temple, was the completion of the new Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Center and Museum.
The center has the potential to bless the lives of individuals throughout the Pacific, said the center’s director, Elder Lynn L. Summerhays.
President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the new center — which is housed in the renovated Mendenhall library — in addition to other buildings and facilities around the former campus of the Church College of New Zealand on Saturday, June 17 (see accompanying story).
The center is named for Elder Matthew Cowley, who arrived in New Zealand as a young missionary in 1914. He served there again as a mission president and then again after being called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was fluent in the Maori language and was affectionately known as the “Polynesian Apostle.”
The 2,300 square feet of record processing and preservation space within the new center includes offices, a work room, a reading/research room and a storage room that is humidity and temperature controlled to help preserve fragile artifacts, such as tapa cloths, carvings, artwork and aging photographs and journals.
“It’s basically a mini Church History Library,” said Elder Summerhays.
The new Matthew Cowley center represents the evolution of the Church’s process in collecting, preserving and sharing Church history with its global membership. Instead of sending all records to Salt Lake City to be stored at the Church History Library, the Church has begun opening regional preservation centers.
Although the Church already operates three other Church History Centers in Johannesburg, South Africa; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Mexico City, Mexico, the Matthew Cowley center is the largest of the regional centers.
The Matthew Cowley center includes artifacts and records from both the Church College of New Zealand and private donations. More than 70 artifacts were shipped from Salt Lake City to the new facility. They joined over 500 record collections and other artifacts already preserved in the region and now housed in the new center.
A large portion of the Matthew Cowley center’s collection came from Rangi Parker, a Church member in Temple View. Over the last 30 years, Sister Parker has gathered photos, journals, audiotapes, videotapes and other items from missionaries who served in New Zealand. Sister Parker estimates she has traveled to the United States 28 times to interview hundreds of missionaries. (Read more about Rangi’s story in a later edition of the Church News.)
Elder Randy Olsen and his wife, Sister Margaret Olsen, were the center’s directors during the development phase. They spent the last four years — serving two back-to-back missions — setting up and preparing for the completion of the center.
As the Olsens were working to gather and archive the collections, they were also asked to create a museum. “That was a surprise,” Sister Olsen said.
The museum portion of the new center, called “A Pacific Testimony,” includes interactive displays and exhibits featuring the stories of Latter-day Saints in the islands of the South Pacific since the early days of the Church.
One of Elder Olsen’s favorite items in the museum is a painting commissioned by artist Dave Sotogi. The painting is one of the first things visitors see as they enter the museum. In it, the Savior is seated on a beach and children from throughout the Pacific islands are running to Him.
To Elder Olsen, it represents the gift of the Savior’s love through His gospel to the people of the South Pacific. As they go and interact with the museum exhibits, many individuals will read about their own families and how they helped to build the kingdom in the Pacific.
“We hope as people go through [the museum], it will strengthen their testimony and remind them of their roots,” Elder Olsen said.
Elder Summerhays said he and his wife, Sister Ann Summerhays, and others who serve in the center will watch as a record or a story or a photo sparks a spiritual memory in an individual, whether he or she is a member or not.
“Heavenly Father wants each of His children strengthened and renewed and these [historical items] have the ability to do just that,” he said.