Many Latter-day Saints likely assume the Church’s general authorities and general officers can have — because of their callings and their positions — front-row seats at any Church event of their choosing.
Not so, as evidenced by the two General Authority Seventies participating in the June 12 groundbreaking ceremony for the Syracuse Utah Temple. In reality, general authorities and general officers wait to be assigned by senior leaders and invited to participate at most major Church events.
Elder Kevin R. Duncan, the executive director of the Temple Department for the past two years, has been assigned to join the four temple dedications held during his tenure. However, his presiding at the Syracuse groundbreaking marked the only time he has attended any of the 28 such ceremonies during that two-year time.
In fact, the Syracuse groundbreaking was his first since 1980, he said, recalling standing in the pouring rain as a full-time missionary at the groundbreaking of the Santiago Chile Temple. “That was the only one I had ever been to,” he told me, adding with a smile, “I just go where I’m assigned.”
And Elder Dean M. Davies, who spoke at the Syracuse event, admitted it was a rare opportunity for him to attend a temple groundbreaking as a Church leader, including his eight years as a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric. Prior to that, he was managing director of the Church’s Special Projects Departments, with responsibility for special purpose real estate, temple design and temple construction.
Sister Darla Davies, his wife, put attending the groundbreaking in perspective.
“It’s a privilege and a blessing, as involved as my husband has been in helping to locate so many temple sites throughout the world,” she said. “And so, these are opportunities that bless our lives and confirm the work. It’s a payoff in some ways for the hours and hours and travel that he’s done to help our prophets to locate temple sites.”
When our paths have crossed, Elder Davies has shared a few backstories and less-public details about identifying and recommending temple sites over the years, including a couple of sites meaningful to me.
In a memorable message given during October 2018 general conference, he spoke at length of witnessing President Gordon B. Hinckley’s prophetic involvement in the selection of the site for the Vancouver British Columbia Temple.
You’ll find a common theme of temples in his general conference addresses over years. He similarly bore a tender testimony of temples while in Syracuse, including when I asked him about how he felt about the start of yet another House of the Lord.
“It is the fulfillment of prophecy,” he said, his voice choked with emotion. “It is the virtual evidence of the Lord’s tangible love for His people. He reaches out and provides these ‘houses’ where we can learn of Him and be united as families. You really can’t describe it — it just fills your heart with gratitude.”
In his brief remarks during the Syracuse ceremony, Elder Davies spoke of how temples reflect love — the love of the Father and His Son, the love of living prophets and the love of Latter-day Saints throughout the world.
Temples represent the love of the Father, he said, “because in them, we learn and receive the principles, doctrines, covenants and ordinances that will enable us to return to His holy presence.”
Temples represent the love of living prophets because of their love of God and their love for His children. “Modern-day prophets are intimately connected to temples, not only in their selection and announcing,” he said, “but they also possess and direct the priesthood keys associated with the saving and exalting temple ordinances.”
And temples represent the love of the people — “the love we hold in our hearts for God, the love for our immediate family members, and the love we possess for our departed ancestors and others who cannot do the work for themselves,” he said.
“Our need to be in the temple on a regular basis has never been greater,” President Nelson said. “I plead with you to take a prayerful look at how you spend your time. Invest time in your future and in that of your family. If you have reasonable access to a temple, I urge you to find a way to make an appointment regularly with the Lord — to be in His holy house — then keep that appointment with exactness and joy.
“I promise you that the Lord will bring the miracles He knows you need as you make sacrifices to serve and worship in His temples.”