Amid COVID-19 restrictions, ground is broken for the 8th temple in California

In many ways, the groundbreaking for the Feather River California Temple — held on a nine-acre lot in the heart of the Central Valley in Yuba City, California — resembled other such events held throughout the Church. A Church leader and his wife offered brief remarks before a dedicatory prayer was given and participants grasped shovels to turn over the fertile California soil.

A rendering of the Feather River California Temple is displayed at its groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday, July 18, 2020.
A rendering of the Feather River California Temple is displayed at its groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday, July 18, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

And yet this groundbreaking was also conspicuously different. For one thing, the faces of participants were obscured by medical masks, and they all sat a full six-feet apart. And while previous groundbreaking ceremonies have drawn thousands of spectators, Saturday’s event only boasted eight in total — Elder Paul H. Watkins, an Area Seventy, and his wife, Sister Dena Watkins; Brother Peter Hall, the local temple committee chairman, and his wife, Sister Melody Hall; and four support staff, including a videographer and photographer. Members throughout the area will be able to view a recording of the event next week when it is made available on the Church’s Newsroom’s website

The Feather River temple groundbreaking is the Church’s first groundbreaking to be planned from the beginning with COVID-19 in mind. Although precautions necessitated a simplified ceremony — with no choir or audience — the significance and purpose remained the same.

Members throughout Northern California can soon look forward to another holy house of the Lord.

Deep Church roots

Yuba City and the surrounding area sits in a valley that is about an equal distance from the Sierra Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Two major rivers converge there — the Yuba River and the Feather River, tributaries of the Sacramento River. The rich soil is some of the most productive in the world and farms sometimes make it look like “the entire landscape is carpeted in green,” said Brother Hall, a lifelong resident.

When early Church leader Sam Brannan saw it after leading a group of Saints from New York around Cape Horn on a ship called the Brooklyn, he stayed rather than joining Brigham Young and the other Saints in the Salt Lake Valley. Yuba City claims him as its founder.

Since then, the Church has had a strong presence in the area. One of the first stakes created in California was created in Gridley, just a half hour north of Yuba City. The Church also built the first meetinghouse in California there in 1911. 

Brother Hall said the area has “just a great, faithful Church community.”

A special site

The site which will hold the future temple has already seen noble service. Since 1979, it has been the location of the Yuba City Stake Center, which was razed to accommodate the planned 38,000 square-foot temple in addition to an adjacent meetinghouse and distribution center.

The property was previously owned by a faithful Sikh family, the Tumbers, where it was cultivated as a peach orchard. Eventually, the Tumber patriarch, Mehar Tumber, sold it to the Church, and a meetinghouse was built that blessed the lives of Latter-day Saints for close to 50 years. 

“Dad was so thankful that it went to a church and it was about God,” his son, Ravi Tumber, told Newsroom.

The site where The Feather River California Temple is to be built. The temple will be 38,000 square feet and built at 1470 Butte House Road in Yuba City, California.
The site where The Feather River California Temple is to be built. The temple will be 38,000 square feet and built at 1470 Butte House Road in Yuba City, California. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The fact that the stake center was demolished to make room for a building of even more spiritual significance would make her father happy, added Raji Tumber, Mehar’s daughter. “The roots are established here for this place, this location and what’s surrounding it. With the new temple, it’s just deeper roots,” she said.

Brother Hall explained that when Church leaders were originally searching for a property to build a stake center, they looked at a plot west of town but faced some opposition. They then were able to purchase the current plot from Mehar Tumber. As the city has expanded, what was once on the outskirts of town is now in the middle. “So the temple will be a centerpiece for the community, for a lot of reasons,” Brother Hall said.

Strong community support

In the dedicatory prayer, Elder Watkins prayed, “for the surrounding community that they will see and know that this temple is a blessing to them.” 

The foundation for that blessing is already being laid. 

Before the Yuba City Stake Center was torn down, more than a dozen faith and charitable organizations within the twin cities were invited to tour the building and claim needed items.

For example, solid-wood doors and cabinets were donated to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. The Bethel A.M.E. Church, one of the oldest African American churches in California, received folding chairs, chalkboards and display stands and cases. The stake center’s baby grand piano is now utilized by the Faith Lutheran Church for concerts and services. And the newly organized Five30 Church and Events Center acquired rolling racks of folding chairs, but also several much-needed smaller items like a set of 50 salt and pepper shakers.

A shovel is lined up in preparation for the Feather River California Temple groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday, July 18, 2020.
A shovel is lined up in preparation for the Feather River California Temple groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday, July 18, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

After President Russell M. Nelson announced Yuba City as a new temple location during the October 2018 general conference (with the temple later given its Feather River California name) Yuba City Mayor Preet Didbal issued a statement pledging support for the future temple.

“I’m excited The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chose Yuba City to locate their next temple. I know the members of the Church in our city, region and Northern California will benefit from this important religious facility,” he wrote.

“Yuba City is the ideal location for (the Church) to build a temple. Known for our diversity, our city embraces all cultures and religious beliefs. I look forward to working with the Church to ensure a smooth and efficient processing of this project.”

In preparing the history of the groundbreaking, Brother Hall reached out to religious leaders and others in the community trying to find any sort of negative reaction. “We haven’t found any,” he said. In fact, after the temple was announced, they had people of other religions come forward and want to donate land. “We just work hand in hand on things.”

Elder Elder Paul H. Watkins, an Area Seventy, presides at the groundbreaking of the Feather River California Temple on Saturday, July 18, 2020.
Elder Elder Paul H. Watkins, an Area Seventy, presides at the groundbreaking of the Feather River California Temple on Saturday, July 18, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

In the dedicatory prayer, Elder Watkins also prayed, “As the temple foundation is poured, and the walls are placed, and the roof is formed, let us all revitalize our foundational faith in apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ being our chief cornerstone.”

With construction about to begin, Brother Hall said members are “very happy and incredibly grateful.”

The Feather River temple will be California’s eighth temple. Other temples are located in San Diego, Sacramento, Redlands, Oakland, Newport Beach, Los Angeles and Fresno.