Menu
In the News

Scott Taylor: Why Arizona and New Zealand are among my ‘sacred grounds’ — where are yours?

‘Sacred ground’ can be a place of learning, prayer, testimony, spirituality, covenant, prayer, change, commitment or more

merlin_2945644.jpg

The construction site of the Auckland New Zealand Temple is pictured next to the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News


Scott Taylor: Why Arizona and New Zealand are among my ‘sacred grounds’ — where are yours?

‘Sacred ground’ can be a place of learning, prayer, testimony, spirituality, covenant, prayer, change, commitment or more

merlin_2945644.jpg

The construction site of the Auckland New Zealand Temple is pictured next to the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

While presiding over the Arizona Phoenix Mission from 2011 to 2014 and interviewing newly arrived missionaries, I usually asked, “So, what did you think when you opened up your call letter and saw you were assigned to the Phoenix mission?”

A common response from the missionaries — especially those from the western United States — often went something like this: “I was expecting something different, something farther away, maybe international, maybe a foreign language.”

I followed by telling them that at the end of their missions, I would ask something similar and a little more direct: “What do you know now about why you were called to the Arizona Phoenix Mission?”

In their exit interviews at the conclusion of 18 or 24 months of service, that second question prompted tender expressions. With emotion and reverence, departing missionaries spoke about realizing how they needed to be involved in the lives and learnings of certain people they met and taught — or how they themselves needed to be taught and helped by certain others during their service. They spoke about how the experiences from times, locations and individuals specific to their mission would influence them for the rest of their lives.

And they often spoke about how the Arizona Phoenix Mission had become for them “sacred ground.”

That phrase — “sacred ground” — returned to me recently as I traveled to New Zealand to report on last month’s rededication of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple and to spend an extra day in Auckland visiting the New Zealand Missionary Training Center for an upcoming Church News article.

In our last year in Phoenix, our son Braden received his own mission call to serve in the New Zealand Auckland Mission and to train in the MTC there. We were thrilled with his weekly emails and reports of his experiences and learnings.

In 2016, my wife and I accompanied him back to the North Island — to be introduced to the country, people, culture and customs special to him as he revisited individuals and locations that had been influential in his young life.

That included a visit to and session inside the Hamilton temple, where he and other missionaries were allowed to attend every so often during their missions. And it included catching a quick glimpse of the MTC high on a hill as we drove by on State Highway 1 during that May 2016 visit.

20160517_111300__1_.jpg

Scott, Cheryl and Braden Taylor at the Hamilton New Zealand Temple in May 2016.

Provided by Scott Taylor

Fast forward to last month’s time in Hamilton and Auckland, as I returned to a series of familiar sights and places. I was touched to be back inside the temple as Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles rededicated the Church’s first house of the Lord in the South Pacific. And I relished the chance to go to the New Zealand MTC nearly a full decade from when Braden had been there.

merlin_2945224.jpg

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, makes a heart symbol with his hands while greeting people between sessions of the rededication of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Deseret News photographer Kristin Murphy and I spent a good part of the Monday at the New Zealand MTC, visiting with leaders, managers and missionaries. During our entire time there, I felt like I was on sacred ground for our family. I recognized familiar inside and outside scenes — the building, entrance, classrooms, residence rooms, courtyard and gathering places. It was my first visit, but it was as if I had been there before, due to our son sharing photos during his three-week training stay in August 2013.

One big difference from 2013 to now — the towering, under-construction Auckland New Zealand Temple being built right next to the MTC, on the previously open grasses where missionaries during exercise time and preparation days would play touch rugby.

Walking the halls and into the rooms with MTC leaders, President Lindsay T. Dil and Sister Christine Dil, I found myself frequently blinking back tears and choking back a lump in my throat as I thought of the formative experiences there for our son as well as for many others.

IMG_0017.JPG

Elder Pierce Rameka and Elder Braden Taylor pause for a photo in the courtyard of the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in August 2013 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Provided by Braden Taylor

Interviewing MTC manager of operations Timena Gasu, I was reminded of her long tenure of service dating even before the New Zealand MTC moved from Hamilton to Auckland more than a decade ago. I explained my son’s training there and asked if she might remember him and his companion serving as zone leaders for the MTC districts and missionaries a number of years ago.

“I think I do remember,” she said, asking for the month he was at the MTC. She walked over to a cabinet full of looseleaf binders, pulling out one marked “2013” and quickly flipping to the pages that listed Elder Taylor and Elder Rameka and the other missionaries of that “intake” of incoming missionaries and a photo of all of them and MTC leaders.

20221017_103604__1_.jpg

A close-up shot of Elders Taylor and Rameka from the page listing new full-time missionaries assigned to begin training at the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in August 2013. Photo was taken from MTC record books on Oct. 17, 2022, at the MTC in Auckland, New Zealand.

Scott Taylor

20221017_103631__1_.jpg

New Zealand Missionary Training Center manager of operations Timena Gasu holds a photo of the newly arrived missionaries to the MTC in August 2013. Photo taken Oct. 17, 2022, in Auckland, New Zealand.

Scott Taylor

The increased connection to sacred ground seared into my soul.

I’ve since reflected on the many sacred grounds throughout our lives — not just missions and temples and MTCs, but homes and residences, places of learning and employment, houses of worship and endowment. They are places — some indoors, developed and built up; others outdoors, untouched and natural — where our understandings have been enhanced, testimonies strengthened, relationships deepened, commitments solidified and covenants made.

They are from moments of communication with the Divine and witnesses of the Spirit.

Where are your sacred grounds, and why are they so for you?

Newsletters
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed