In the Tabernacle on Temple Square, Church members have seen prophets sustained in solemn assemblies, attended annual and semiannual general conferences and funerals of Church Leaders, and enjoyed numerous concerts by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It’s a venue of inspiration, information, direction and comfort.
Here’s how I began a report on a memorable, different kind of assembly in the Tabernacle that took place on Friday, Sept. 14, 2001:
“As if answering a summons for comfort, accepting balm for wounded hearts, some 10,000 people streamed onto Temple Square Friday to attend one of two identical memorial services, the first at 10 a.m., the other at noon. The services were held in response to U.S. President George W. Bush’s call for a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance.”
The services were among thousands conducted throughout the United States to mark the tragedy of those who died or were injured on Sept. 11 as terrorists hijacked four planes that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City; the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; and a field in Pennsylvania.
I sat in the Tabernacle’s south balcony with other members of the media and watched as several thousand people filed in, having left work, homes, classrooms, stores and shops. Singly or with families and friends, colleagues and strangers, they filled the Tabernacle to overflowing.
I wrote: “At first glance, the scene looked much like general conferences in years past as men, women, children — the young, the old and those in between — filled the venerated building’s time-worn pews. But there was no air of joyful anticipation. A somber mood hung in the air. Sorrow, it seemed, had burrowed into every soul; indeed, into every living thing on Temple Square.
“Battles for composure were fought and lost. Tears flowed. Heads bowed. …”
General Authorities and auxiliary officers sat on the stand, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir filled the loft, the women dressed in black skirts and blouses, the men in black suits with burgundy bow ties. Two huge American flags on staffs extended from the case of the Tabernacle organ’s pipes. A memorial wreath, accented with ribbons of red, white and blue, hung between the flags.
I remember the moment when President Gordon B. Hinckley, accompanied by his counselors, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust, walked onto the rostrum.
“His presence seemed to bring an instant sense of calm, a visible reminder that the Lord is ever mindful of His children and will not leave them without direction or alone in their hour of sorrow, their time of grief, their moment of distress,” I wrote.
President Monson offered the invocation, beseeching the peace promised by Jesus Christ, "even the peace which passeth understanding," upon those whose loved ones perished and those injured. He acknowledged that Heavenly Father's "mighty hand has ever guided this nation through perilous times," and he pleaded for heavenly help, asking that God would "stand as a protective shield against those who would attempt to destroy this precious land."
After the invocation, President Hinckley stepped to the pulpit, introduced himself and welcomed those who had come to the Tabernacle and the thousands gathered in Church halls and other facilities across the nation to watch the proceedings via satellite.
“Our hearts are broken, our spirits subdued,” he began. "We bow before the Almighty in reverence and reach out to those who have lost their lives, to their families, and to those who were wounded in the attacks made against our beloved nation."
President Hinckley's address — expressing sorrow and consolation— was delivered powerfully, yet tenderly. He spoke of the Son of God who gave His life that all might have eternal life and said that it is “to Him that we look on this dark and somber occasion.”
President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, read the 23rd Psalm, David’s acclamation, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
President Faust offered a prayer, asking that "this be a time of redefining our divine purposes as a people and a nation," and asked for help “in these calamitous times to have hope, stand united, and go forward with faith and confidence to meet every challenge we face.”
The choir and organists brought a degree of peace and comfort through their musical offerings that included Brahms’ “Requiem” and hymns. They sang “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful,” both of which brought members of the congregation spontaneously to their feet to join in singing.
President Hinckley offered the benediction, in which he expressed love for “this our native land,” and asked Heavenly Father to “preserve it, strengthen it that it may be forever ‘the home of the brave and the land of the free.’ ”
At the conclusion of the service, an air of reverence lingered in the Tabernacle. Most seemed reluctant to even move, much less leave. After a few moments’ pause, the Church leaders stood. Only then did members of the congregation rise. They waited quietly as the Brethren left the rostrum.
The time to leave had come. With seeming reluctance, people filed from the Tabernacle that, for about an hour, had sheltered them as in a dome of peace and tranquility. They stepped back onto the streets, returned to their daily activities, entering again a world that seemed to have shifted on its axis and careened out of control. But, certainly, they left with more assurance and hope, peace and comfort.
I returned to the Church News office wondering if it would be possible to write an accurate portrayal of that memorial service.