POCATELLO, Idaho — Charles Dickens wrote of the events surrounding the French Revolution: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Pocatello is a long way from Paris — but Dickens’ words aptly describe a pair of recent events shared by Latter-day Saints and their neighbors in this southeast Idaho community.
One gathering of Church members and others from the city’s religious community was joyful. The second, heartbreaking. But each event was anchored in love, support and unity.
On March 16, thousands of Pocatello Latter-day Saints gathered under crisp, sunny skies for the groundbreaking ceremony commencing construction of the Pocatello Idaho Temple.
Seated on the front row were more than a dozen representatives from the Pocatello religious community. They were Christians, Muslims, Jews and practitioners of the Baha’i Faith.
And they were all friends, sitting alongside Latter-day Saints to celebrate a future temple. Many even stood with a trio of General Authorities and turned a shovel of soil, signaling the beginning of the temple construction.
Many said they were honored being participants in the groundbreaking and not just mere spectators.
“This is a great day,” said Mohammed Safar of the Islamic Society of South East Idaho. “I will cherish this memory.”
Pastor Jacqualine Theresa Thomas from Pocatello’s Praise Temple of God said the future temple will “bless (Latter-day Saints) immensely — and it will probably even bring us closer together.”
Three days later, many who celebrated the temple groundbreaking were somberly reunited for a candlelight vigil outside the Pocatello Mosque. They wept and prayed together, mourning the victims and relatives of the New Zealand mosque shootings.
Read a statement of love and support from the Pacific Area Presidency of the Church following the New Zealand Christchurch shootings.
Dozens of Latter-day Saints stood shoulder to shoulder at the vigil with Muslim friends and others from the community.
Some at the vigil referenced the inclusive message of the temple groundbreaking from days earlier, saying “this is what Pocatello is about; a place to move away from hate,” said Bill McKee, a former stake president in the area.
McKee has witnessed relationships warm between the Church and their neighbors in the religious community in recent years. “We felt so much love there. It is the culmination of years of inclusivity in Pocatello.”
Dr. Fahim Rahim, a physician and a leader in the Pocatello Muslim community, penned a piece about preventing bigotry and hate for the Idaho State Journal:
“Pocatello saw a beautiful example of how communities bring each other closer. As (my wife) Beena and I sat through the heartwarming ceremony of the groundbreaking for Pocatello Temple, several leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke eloquently delivering a message of love for humanity; a call for service and inclusivity. That event was a perfect example of how to unite communities and give each other a chance to learn about each other.”
Elder Wilford W. Andersen, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Idaho Area, echoed Dr. Rahim’s sentiments in remarks that he directed at his fellow representatives of faith at the groundbreaking.
“We thank you for your support and are touched and honored that you would come and be with us, and we want to reciprocate in the future as we work together, arm in arm, to accomplish our mutual goals of addressing human suffering and helping people turn to God and find peace in their hearts,” he said.
Pocatello has not always enjoyed interfaith cooperation. Years ago, there was distrust and tension — much of it directed toward The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When Troy Dye moved to the Pocatello area in 1994 he felt an “us-vs.-them” vibe between the Church members and others in the community.
But in recent decades, local priesthood and Relief Society leaders, along with rank-and-file members and youth in eastern Idaho, have strived to break barriers. Little by little, uncertainties have given way to trust. Friendships are blossoming.
More than 2,500 youth helped prepare the Pocatello temple site before the groundbreaking. Learn more about the event.
Service and cooperation are proven “power tools” in the work of community building. One Latter-day Saint stake, for example, donated their refurbished pipe organ to another local Christian congregation. The Church also helped another congregation build a parking lot outside its chapel.
“We have created a very close relationship with several members of different faiths that continues today,” said Dye.
Meanwhile, Latter-day Saints remain actively involved in Pocatello-area interfaith groups that meet often to explore ways to promote unity and cooperation. It’s not unusual for McKee, Dye and other local Church leaders to be invited to speak at other congregations.
Meanwhile, Pastor Thomas and others have participated in Latter-day Saint youth conferences and other events.
And several Pocatello faith leaders have joined Church-sponsored excursions to Salt Lake City to meet with General Authorities and enjoy a performance from the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
“It’s so exciting to see the things that have happened,” said McKee, who points to the recent meeting at the Vatican between President Russell M. Nelson and Pope Francis as evidence that unity can be found between believing people despite doctrinal differences.
Most Latter-day Saint communities around the world won’t have a temple groundbreaking to bring together friends from other faiths. But opportunities for inclusiveness are found everywhere.
“It starts with individuals,” said McKee. “Sometimes we are afraid of things we don’t understand. But if we reach out and try to get to know others, we can understand them better.”