Sarah Jane Weaver: How the temple became a symbol of faith for our family

Our missionary-age daughter had packed her bag and was ready to receive her living ordinances in the temple the following morning when we got the news.

“After careful and prayerful consideration, and with a desire to be responsible global citizens, we have decided to suspend all temple activity Churchwide at the end of the day on March 25, 2020,” wrote the First Presidency in a letter with the same date.

At the time of the announcement, weeks into the intensifying global COVID-19 pandemic, the Church had already closed 111 temples. The remainder of the 168 operating Latter-day Saint temples — located mostly in North America — were open limited hours to provide living sealing, initiatory and endowment ordinances.

Our daughter’s disappointment became our disappointment as we realized she was 12 hours away from making covenants in the house of the Lord and that those blessings would be delayed.

Still, just a little over a week later, President Russell M. Nelson announced the construction of eight new temples during general conference on April 5, 2020.

As I listened to the list of temples — in global locations that included the United Arab Emirates, Democratic Republic of the Congo, China and Nigeria — President Nelson acknowledged what I was thinking. “It may seem odd to announce new temples when all our temples are closed for a while,” he said.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson are interviewed in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 29, 2020.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson are interviewed in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 29, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

He quoted words from his predecessor, President Wilford Woodruff, who “foresaw conditions such as ours” in his dedicatory prayer of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893: “When Thy people shall not have the opportunity of entering this holy house … and they are oppressed and in trouble, surrounded by difficulties … and shall turn their faces towards this Thy holy house and ask Thee for deliverance, for help, for Thy power to be extended in their behalf, we beseech Thee, to look down from Thy holy habitation in mercy … and listen to their cries.”

President Nelson reminded the vast audience that even during times “of our distress when temples are closed,” Latter-day Saints can still draw upon the power of their temple covenants and endowment.

His invitation was simple: Continue to live a temple-worthy life — or become temple worthy. “Temples are a crowning part of the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “In God’s goodness and generosity, He is bringing the blessings of the temple closer to His children everywhere.” 

Six month later, in the October 2020 general conference, President Nelson would again announce the construction of more temples. The six announced temples included two remote island nations — Kiribati and Vanuatu.

And this April — during a time when temples worldwide are open in a limited, phased effort determined by local COVID-19 conditions and restrictions — President Nelson announced the construction of 20 new temples, the most locations ever announced in a single day.

His announcement came during a conference defined by a single, powerful word: faith.

“Faith is the power that enables the unlikely to accomplish the impossible,” he said. It is an action that requires members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be deliberate and intentional.

President Nelson has modeled that for us — challenging us to see beyond present circumstances and inviting us to be part of the miracle of the ongoing restoration.

President Russell M. Nelson greets members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City before the Sunday afternoon session of the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 4, 2021.
President Russell M. Nelson greets members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City before the Sunday afternoon session of the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 4, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Since becoming President of the Church, President Nelson has now announced 69 temples, bringing the total number of temples that are operating, under construction or announced to 251.

And during the year 2020 — defined by limited temple operations because of the global pandemic — faith-filled Church leaders broke ground for 21 new temples.

On Sept. 24, 2020, almost six months from the day of our daughter’s original temple appointment, she entered the Bountiful Utah Temple, available then only for living ordinances.

When ground was broken for the temple 29 years ago on May 2, 1992, the crowd of thousands was so large that some people opted to sit on the steep hillside east of the temple site. Some 870,361 visitors attended the public open house in late 1994; in January 1995, 201,655 members participated in the temple dedication.

In stark contrast, my daughter and a few members of our family worshipped in the 104,000 square-foot temple this year on a quiet fall morning. As a result, she entered the mission field endowed with “power and strength” available to her no other way, according to President Nelson. For our daughter the temple will always be a symbol of faith.

In conference, President Nelson promised her that faith would help her turn challenges into “unparalleled growth and opportunity.”

“Your growing faith in Him will move mountains — not the mountains of rock that beautify the earth — but the mountains of misery in your lives,” he said.