OREM, Utah — Soon after the dedicatory prayer had been offered and the first shovelfuls of soil turned at Saturday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the Orem Utah Temple, Sister Zulma González steered her husband, Elder Walter F. González — a General Authority Seventy and second counselor in the Utah Area presidency — toward a small group of people. The onlookers were positioned several hundred yards across the bare-dirt property just inside a neighboring fenced-off cornfield.
“She felt the impression that it would be good to visit with them,” said Elder González, who learned the individuals were more than just interested onlookers. They were descendants of the temple property’s original owner from 150 years earlier.
“It was so touching to see them, watching from there as bystanders with their desire to be here in person, but they did the best they could,” Elder Gonzalez continued, acknowledging the COVID-19 pandemic precautions that restricted participation in the small, invitation-only event.
“And it was very meaningful that they were there wearing ties and all dressed up — even when they were not going to be a part — but to show respect, reverence and understanding because of the importance of that which was taking place in this sacred place.”
Added Sister Gonzalez: “The feeling came to go say ‘thank you’ — and now we understand why we should say thank you to them.”
Niels Williamson, a Latter-day Saint emigrant from Norway, first settled across land in present-day southwest Orem in 1870. With the property divided among his three children, the tract that constitutes the actual temple site went to a son, Bertil Martin Williamson, and then later from Bertil Martin to his daughter Margaret Camp, with her descendants selling the majority of the property to the Church in 2004. The Church bought the final plot on the site, which will be used for an accompanying meetinghouse, during the past year.
Watching from afar, unable to hear the actual proceedings, were Neils Williamson’s great-great-grandchildren Martin Clinger, Elaine Schofield, and Adele Leavitt and their spouses.
Elder Gonzalez said, “Consider this event today — it was taking place here. But I like to think that also on the other side of the veil, there were witnesses, cheering what was taking place and soon the building and construction of the temple.”
Other Church leaders and civic representatives ended up making a similar cross-property trek to chat, making the Saturday morning ceremony a true linking of the past, the present and the future — the heritage of the property, the pandemic-limited ceremony signaling the start of another temple, and the anticipation of ordinances and temples blessing for local members.
In the end, the temple groundbreaking served as a confluence of consecration, construction and covenants.
Elder Christensen offers dedicatory prayer
Elder Craig C. Christensen, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Utah Area, presided at the Sept. 5 groundbreaking ceremony, offering both remarks and the dedicatory prayer.
Elder Christensen spoke of the difference between dedicatory prayers offered at groundbreaking and at a temple’s formal dedication upon completion — “site dedication” versus “true dedication.”
“We dedicate the site, and we dedicate the process of getting it built,” he said, following the morning ceremony. “And we recognize all of the blessings that we have from Heaven Father to get started. So, in my mind, it’s more of a prayer of gladness, of thanksgiving.”
Elder Gonzalez conducted the 30-minute service, with speakers including Sister Debbie Christensen, Elder Christensen’s wife, and two General Authority Seventies — Elder William K. Jackson and Elder Evan A. Schmutz.
Elder Christensen led a series of shovel-turnings of dirt that included Church, government and education leaders and their spouses as well as other select individuals and youth.
The event was recorded and will be streamed over the internet at a later date for families and individuals residing in the temple district. Elder Christensen called on those watching the proceedings to commemorate not only the turning of the soil, but also “to turn our hearts to Heavenly Father and to His Son Jesus Christ.”
Groundbreaking less than a year after announcement
The temple for Orem was one of eight announced on Oct. 5, 2019, by President Russell M. Nelson during the Saturday evening women’s session of general conference. It is the first of the eight to have its groundbreaking realized in the 11 months since.
Plans for the temple call for a three-story, 70,000 square feet edifice and a single attached central spire. An exterior rendering, which was released on June 24, was on display at Saturday morning’s gathering.
The First Presidency announced the temple site — a 15.39-acre tract of property at 1471 S Geneva Road — on Dec. 11, 2019. The location is just west of Interstate 15, near Utah Valley University.
The Orem Utah Temple is one of 24 temples in the state of Utah that are either operating, in renovation, under construction or planned. Utah is home to 2.1 million Latter-day Saints comprising 5,229 congregations and 604 stakes.
The Orem groundbreaking is the second in Utah this summer — preceded by the groundbreaking for the Layton Utah Temple — with groundbreakings for the Taylorsville Utah and Red Cliffs Utah temples the next two months.
Also, it will be the sixth temple in the Utah County, less than five miles away from both the Provo Utah and Provo City Center Temples. Also in the county are the Mount Timpanogos and Payson temples, with a temple in Saratoga Springs under construction.
Plenty of Orem connections
Brent Roberts, the Church’s managing director of Special Projects, said construction in Orem will begin Tuesday, the first work day after the Labor Day holiday. It is the latest of the 55 active construction and renovation projects being overseen by his department.
“This is a site that was chosen by the President of the Church through a lot of hard work over the past few years and putting together some options,” said Roberts, noting that he raised his family in Orem.
“We have had the greatest cooperation we’ve ever had with the City of Orem. … The site is beautiful — it overlooks some of the most beautiful mountains in the world and an iconic lake, so we’re thrilled about it.”
Participating dignitaries included Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who grew up in Orem; Orem Mayor Richard Brunst; Vineyard Mayor Julie Fullmer; and Utah Valley University President Astrid S. Tuminez.
Besides the groundbreaking committee members who resided in Orem, many attending the small ceremony had local connections — having grown up or raised a family in the city, or ancestral ties to area around the temple site.
Ralph Zobell, whose committee involvement was to collect histories and narratives about the temple site and the Church in Orem, helped explain the Williamson connection and offered connections of his own. His great-great-grandfather Hans Zobell came from Denmark in 1869 and settled on property a short distance from the temple site. His wife, Janet Zobell, is the great-granddaughter of the late Sen. Arthur V. Watkins, who was the first stake president in Orem, with the succeeding Sharon Stake presidents being Elder Henry D. Taylor, later a Church general authority, and Philo T. Edwards, father of late BYU football coach LaVell Edwards.
President James T. Evans of the Orem Heatheridge Stake and his wife, Tana Evans, served together as groundbreaking committee coordinators. “Even though it’s a groundbreaking, to know that there is going to be a dedicated house of the Lord and that we had the opportunity to be a little piece of that is thrilling.”
Alberto Puertas, bishop of the Aspen 7th (Spanish) Ward of the Orem Aspen Stake, underscored the family aspect of the temple. “We feel connected to the temple and to temple work because culturally, families are so crucial for the Latino community,” he said. “And it takes it to an even higher level when it comes to the gospel and what sacred covenants we make in the temple.”