Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, presided remotely at the groundbreaking ceremony to dedicate the site and begin construction of the Bentonville Arkansas Temple. He was accompanied by his wife, Sister Susan Bednar. Elder James B. Martino, a General Authority Seventy and president of the North America Southeast Area, and Elder David Harris, an Area Seventy, also participated in Saturday’s event.
President Russell M. Nelson announced a temple in Bentonville a little over a year ago, in the October 2019 general conference. The roughly 9-acre site — located at 1101 McCollum Road — will hold a 25,000-square-foot edifice with a center spire as well as an adjacent meetinghouse. The location — less than 15 miles south of the Missouri border — has great visibility right off of Interstate 49.
The temple in Bentonville will be the first in the state of Arkansas, where Church membership is nearly 32,000, with seven stakes, 69 congregations and one mission and will serve members in eastern Oklahoma, southwestern Missouri and northwest Arkansas.
In his remarks during the service, Elder Bednar shared his feelings on being able to participate in the sacred event. “It is one of the great blessings and experiences of my life to have lived for about a third of my married life in northwest Arkansas. As I stand here now and think of the faces and the people that I love and the influence that they have had in my life, in Susan’s life and in the life of our family, I am filled with deep gratitude. I cannot say the smallest part of what I feel,” Elder Bednar said.
Sister Bednar expressed similar gratitude and her wish that she and her husband could have attended in person. “I can’t even tell you how grateful I am,” she said. “I wish that we could all jump for joy, and that we could be together to give each other hugs in celebration of this wonderful, wonderful moment.”
A limited number of local Church leaders and invited guests attended the ceremony due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. A video of the groundbreaking will be available on Newsroom at a later date.
More than 40 years ago, Elder and Sister Bednar packed their belongings and two young sons into a Ryder truck to begin their trek from Purdue University in Indiana to the northwest corner of Arkansas. They shared the moving truck with some friends who were also poor graduate students and set out for “Ozark country,” where Elder Bednar was to take a position as an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas.
While in “the Bear State,” the couple worked and served and added another son to their family. Elder Bednar served as a bishop, twice as a stake president and as a regional representative.
During his remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony, Elder Bednar spoke of how just a few months after moving to northwest Arkansas, he was called by his stake president, Arthur Browne, to be the stake clerk. At that time, the Rogers Branch met in a middle school cafeteria. The Huntsville Branch met in a real estate office. Today, Elder Bednar noted, there are 19 units in two stakes where 40 years ago there might have been 30 people.
The local temple committee chairman, Shawn Sederholm, and his wife, Heidi Sederholm, both Utah natives, moved to Arkansas in 1991. “We fell in love with it,” Heidi Sederholm said. They were charmed by the locals’ Southern hospitality, the area’s physical beauty and that people aren’t afraid to talk about God. “Christian values are evident here. It’s been a great place to raise kids,” Shawn Sederholm said.
As long-time residents, the couple have witnessed firsthand the growth of the Church there. Bentonville — headquarters to the largest retailer in the world as well as other businesses — brought many Latter-day Saints from other parts of the country, which bolstered the local’s missionary efforts.
“It’s been a wonderful experience to see the growth,” Shawn Sederholm said. The area is now full of Latter-day Saints who are “very faithful” and united and who have sacrificed to build the Church and attend the temple.
Breaking ground to start the construction of a temple is a symbolic act, Elder Martino noted in his remarks. “We too must prepare ourselves for a temple with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Symbolically, we may have to turn the soil of our lives over. In other words, we always need to learn to put the Lord first, to let God prevail.”
Prior to the groundbreaking, Shawn and Heidi Sederholm said they were concerned about people not being able to attend the groundbreaking due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, peace has come as the two have worked to organize the sacred event. “This has not stopped the work of the Lord,” Shawn Sederholm said. As they have prepared, “there has been a calm assurance that the work is moving forward. We will have a temple.”
Elder Bednar said, “Surely the Lord can hasten His own work. He is doing it all over the earth and in a very particular and even special way that has been occurring in eastern Oklahoma, southwestern Missouri and in northwest Arkansas.”
Elder Bednar told listeners that he had only one request in anticipation of the construction of a temple in Bentonville, Arkansas. “In all of our excitement about the construction of the temple, can we focus on what matters most? And it is not the building.”
Certainly, the covenants and the ordinances that are available in the house of the Lord are what matter most. “In a world that grows ever more chaotic and confused and dark, there is clear direction and light because of the power of godliness available to us through the ordinances,” he declared.