Elder and Sister Holland at ‘home’ with Red Cliffs Utah Temple groundbreaking

ST. GEORGE, Utah — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland “came home” to the land of his childhood and to his red-soil roots on Saturday, Nov. 7, to dedicate the site of a new temple of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints in Utah’s Dixie.

There, with his wife, Sister Patricia T. Holland, and their family, Elder Holland’s thoughts turned to the future temple — the Church’s second in St. George — and of “coming home” to the House of the Lord.

“As we talk about home, safety, peace and people who love you, that is a description of the temple — it is the safest, the most welcoming and reassuring place in the world,” said Elder Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Temples, he said, are filled with love and people who will “help and encourage you.”

“The symbolism of our coming home is for me a nice metaphor of coming home to the house of the Lord and being surrounded by people on both sides of the veil — angels, living and deceased — who love you and watch out for you. That is really home. That is the safest, happiest, most family-oriented place in the world.”

It was hard to know who was more excited for the groundbreaking of the Red Cliffs Utah Temple — Elder and Sister Holland or the Hollands’ many long-time friends, neighbors and associates in the city’s southeastern quadrant.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks to the media following the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple in St. George, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks to the media following the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple in St. George, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Credit: Nick Adams, for the Deseret News

Elder Holland acknowledged that while he and Sister Holland welcomed the “home” assignment, presiding, speaking and offering the dedicatory prayer at the groundbreaking ceremony came by assignment from President Russell M. Nelson and the First Presidency.

The Red Cliffs property in Washington County, Utah, is one of the Church’s two latest sites awaiting construction; Church leaders participated in a similar temple groundbreaking the same day for the Bentonville Arkansas Temple. The St. George event was held in blustery, chilly conditions —a rare drop of some 25 degrees in temperature from the warm, sunny, cloudless days leading up to the groundbreaking.

President Nelson announced the Red Cliffs Utah Temple during the October 2018 general conference. Plans for the temple call for a three-level edifice of approximately 90,000 square feet.

Where there was once fields of hay and grain and there are now rapidly rising residential developments, the 14-acre temple site northeast of 3000 East and 1580 South in St. George was identified publicly a year ago, with the First Presidency announcing the temple’s official name of Red Cliffs this past June.

Elder Holland recounted how he and Sister Holland were driving in the proposed area of the new temple, knowing the need for a name since St. George has had its namesake temple for nearly a century and a half. He recalled his wife looking north toward Pine Valley and mentioned Red Cliffs as possibility because of the dominating geological feature in the expansive view.

They later suggested Red Cliffs as a name option to the First Presidency, the Apostle said, adding that the name represents not only the immediate area but also honors much of the entire temple district that encompasses the Virgin River region.

That expansive temple district received both mentions and representations at the groundbreaking, which was conducted by Elder Craig C. Christensen, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Utah Area. With his wife, Sister Debbie Christensen, whose ancestors settled nearby Ivins, Utah, he joined the Hollands in speaking.

Socially-distanced guests listen as Elder Craig C. Christensen, Utah Area President for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, begins the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple in St. George, Utah, Saturday, November 7, 2020.
Socially-distanced guests listen as Elder Craig C. Christensen, Utah Area President for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, begins the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple in St. George, Utah, Saturday, November 7, 2020. Credit: Nick Adams, for the Deseret News

Two others who shared brief remarks helped represent the breadth of the temple district and the diversity of members — Jacquelin Espinoza Ramos of Kanab, a native of Mexico and convert of four years with her family; and David T. Hinton of Hurricane, whose great-great-grandfather helped settle nearby Virgin, Utah, and was a finish carpenter at the St. George temple.

The ceremony was attended by several dozen local Latter-day Saint leaders and members, as well as mayors of six cities from Page, Arizona, to St. George and other government, educational and religious representatives.

As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing, attendance limitations, facemasks and other precautionary measures defined the small gathering.

In his brief remarks prior to offering the dedicatory prayer, Elder Holland explained that the First Presidency and other Church leaders have directed that groundbreaking events are to be brief in length and focus. The groundbreaking is to dedicate the property and the construction process and serve as a precursory for when the temple is completed and ready for its true dedicatory prayer and messages.

“That will be the greater dedication moment, with the extended sermons,” he said.

In his prayer, Elder Holland acknowledged the pioneering sacrifices for the St. George temple and its symbolic presence representing the area’s faith and commitment for the past century and a half. He referred to the Red Cliffs temple as “a sister site” — and while local Latter-day Saints don’t face the same sacrifices and struggles, they have their own modern-day challenges, with “temple attendance and worship the answer to our problems.”

Family members of Sister Patricia Holland and Elder Jeffrey R, Holland, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including children Mary, David, Elder Matthew S. Holland and his wife Sister Paige Holland, turn the earth at the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in St. George, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.
Family members of Sister Patricia Holland and Elder Jeffrey R, Holland, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including children Mary, David, Elder Matthew S. Holland and his wife Sister Paige Holland, turn the earth at the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in St. George, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Credit: Nick Adams, for the Deseret News

Sister Holland, who grew up in nearby Enterprise, Utah, before her family moved to St. George when she was a teen, spoke of being at “our home” for the event with her husband and their three children — David Holland, Mary Holland McCann and Elder Matthew S. Holland, a General Authority Seventy. She underscored the joy and assurances of their family being sealed together for the eternities.

She recalled hearing stories of her grandparents traveling by horse-drawn carriage to the temple in St. George, and she recounted watching her parents drive by car to serve weekly as ordinance workers at the same temple.

Sister Holland then spoke of traveling with the President Nelson and other Church leaders, circling the globe by jet to take the message of the gospel and temple worship and blessings worldwide.

“And now today, we have come full circle to be back home in Southern Utah — and with a wagon,” she said, nodding to the replica covered wagon positioned at the front of the gathering, near a large, framed rendering of the Red Cliffs Utah Temple.

Elder Christensen spoke of holy places on earth and how temples as such are being joined by homes that are becoming centers of gospel learning and chapels that are being utilized again for worship services and the sacrament ordinance.

While temple attendance currently is being limited because of pandemic precautions, Elder Christensen invited listeners to think of their previous temple experiences and “to relieve and recount them as we watch this temple come out of the ground.”

The Hollands and the Christensens led the first wave of the ceremonial turning of the dirt for the groundbreaking, with the Hollands then joined by their three adult children; Sister Paige Holland, wife of Elder Matthew Holland, and several grandchildren.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland invited all present who wanted to take a turn with the shovel and be a part of the groundbreaking experience.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks at the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple in St. George, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Seated behind Holland are, from left, Sister Debbie Christensen, Elder Craig C. Christensen, Utah Area President, and Sister Patricia Holland.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks at the groundbreaking service for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple in St. George, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Seated behind Holland are, from left, Sister Debbie Christensen, Elder Craig C. Christensen, Utah Area President, and Sister Patricia Holland. Credit: Nick Adams, for the Deseret News

While on-site attendance was restricted, many onlookers stopped their cars along adjacent streets and other open areas to watch the proceedings from afar. Some even went up to the elevated site long after the groundbreaking event for a quick visit before the property becomes a secure, working construction area.

Following the event, the Hollands and Christensens joined the two-dozen local Church leaders — Area Seventies and stake presidents and their respective wives — who had watched a livestream of the ceremony in a nearby stake center because of the on-site attendance limitations.

James A. McArthur — who with his wife, Denise, chaired the groundbreaking committee — noted that the Red Cliffs groundbreaking came just two days shy of the 149th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the St. George Utah Temple. Ground was broken for the Church’s longest operating temple on Nov. 9, 1871.

“I just thought that those on the other side of the veil have to be shouting for joy — because the rest of us are right here shouting for joy,” he said.

McArthur spoke of Elder Holland stopping by the temple site the day before the groundbreaking, to take an advance look and to check in with committee members and others who were there.

“When he came, he could see many of his hometown friends that he went to school with — he started calling them by their first names, their nicknames,” McArthur said. “He was just thrilled with it, because this is his homeland.”