Trent Toone: How reporting on the Richmond Virginia Temple dedication blessed my life

The spirit in the temple was powerful, and the faith of the members was strong, but it was most inspiring to witness the growth of the Church

GLEN ALLEN, Virginia — A fleeting but unforgettable scene unfolded on the morning before the dedication of the Richmond Virginia Temple.

Deseret News photographer Jeffrey D. Allred had just grounded his drone after capturing some stunning images of the sun rising behind the Richmond Virginia Temple when a bald eagle flew over.

We watched in awe as the majestic American bird, a symbol of freedom, slowed above the Angel Moroni statue as if it might land on the trumpet, then continued flying its course. One of its feathers came loose and floated down to the temple grounds.

My first opportunity to cover a temple dedication for the Church News was already off to a noteworthy start.

Renee Hall plays the harp outside the Richmond Virginia Temple prior to the first dedicatory session on Sunday, May 7, 2023.
Renee Hall plays the harp outside the Richmond Virginia Temple prior to the first dedicatory session on Sunday, May 7, 2023. | Trent Toone, Church News

There were many remarkable moments during the weekend, but some of the most memorable involved meeting local Church members and hearing their experiences of faith in Jesus Christ.

Not far from the temple’s front doors, Renee Hall played “Sweet Hour of Prayer” and other hymns on a harp as a long line of Church members snaked around the temple prior to the first dedicatory session. She drew inspiration from verses in the Old Testament (Nehemiah 12:27 and 2 Chronicles 5:12) that mention harps being played at the dedications of the wall of Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple.

Her husband, Travis, said she practiced for months to play at the temple dedication only to wake up that morning to find a broken string. Fortunately, she was able to repair it in time.

“I’m from a poor family, 10 kids, in rural South Carolina. I never thought about playing the harp. Ten years ago I started playing, and I just feel like I have been prepared for this moment,” she said. “It’s a great honor and privilege to share my testimony of Christ through praising God through playing the harp.”

Ryan Michie attended the dedication of the Richmond Virginia Temple in Richmond on Sunday, May 7, 2023.
Ryan Michie attended the dedication of the Richmond Virginia Temple on Sunday, May 7, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A Latter-day Saint friend introduced Ryan Michie, of New Jersey, to the Church while they were taking a graduate course at Harvard University. A profound spiritual experience during his daughter’s birth compelled Michie to want to know and grow closer to Jesus Christ. He learned more about the Church with the full-time missionaries and by studying with his member friend during the pandemic. He was later baptized.

Following the dedication, Michie expressed hope that one day his family will be sealed together in the temple.

“All I want in the world is to be with my wife and daughter forever,” Michie said. “It’s my hope that when [my wife] has the opportunity to join [the Church] she will and we can make our vows to be together forever.”

Bo Meng traveled a different road to the Richmond temple dedication. He was introduced to Christianity when he attended college at North Carolina State University in 2007. Initially, he wasn’t sure what to think. Meng was raised to believe there is no God.

Bo Meng stands outside the Richmond Virginia Temple following its dedication May 7, 2023.
Bo Meng stands outside the Richmond Virginia Temple following the dedication in Richmond on Sunday, May 7, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“There is no Jesus, no spiritual life, only physical life,” he said. “It was very hard for me to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He continued to learn about the Savior’s teachings while attending different churches in North Carolina and as a graduate student in Iowa. Little by little his understanding increased, and, like Joseph Smith, he wondered which of the churches he should join.

Meng learned about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he came to Richmond in 2018 and met the missionaries. He found the Book of Mormon “fascinating” and over time he gained a testimony. Meng was baptized in 2020.

“I found the Church is true,” he said with a smile. “It’s been a long journey.”

John Alfred Toone, 1908.
John Alfred Toone, 1908. | Provided by the Toone family

I only had one personal connection to Virginia.

John Alfred Toone, a great-grandfather, served as a missionary all over the state from 1907 to 1909 as part of the Southern States Mission. I knew about his missionary labors because I spent three years transcribing his journals for a family history project less than a decade ago.

John Alfred passed through Richmond in May 1909. I thought of him often during the weekend’s activities. I knew he and his companions were greatly interested in what was taking place with Virginia’s first temple.

As I reflect on my experience at the Richmond temple dedication, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity I had to be there to feel the Spirit in the temple, to witness the strength of the members and to remember my missionary ancestor. Reporting on the dedication was a tremendous blessing that has strengthened my faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Most notably, it was inspiring to see the growth of the Church. I felt the power and truth of these words in Doctrine and Covenants 82:14: “For Zion must increase in beauty, and holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.”

— Trent Toone is a reporter for the Church News.

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