MESA, Arizona — Renew. Refresh. Revitalize.
One could use those terms to describe the benefits of a renovated Mesa Arizona Temple — not only in terms of restored and renewed physical elements within the sacred building itself but also the spiritual opportunities returning to temple patrons as they return to temple worship and service after the temple’s 3.5-year closure for renovations.
But it goes well beyond that.
“Renew, refresh, revitalize” could also describe the transformation of the area around the Mesa temple — the grounds, the nearby temple visitors’ center and even the neighborhood. Those three words also could describe the impacts from the presence, teachings and examples of senior leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Mesa and Phoenix area leading up to its Sunday, Dec. 12, temple rededication.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, will preside at the weekend events. He’ll rededicate the Mesa Arizona Temple in three sessions — 9 a.m., 12 noon and 3 p.m. — that will be broadcast to 29 stake centers in the temple district.
Originally dedicated on Oct. 23, 1927, by President Heber J. Grant, the then-named Arizona Temple was the Church’s seventh operating temple at the time and its first in the continental United States built outside of the state of Utah since the faith’s move west.
The Mesa temple was renovated previously in the mid-1970s, and President Spencer W. Kimball rededicated it on April 15, 1975.
President Oaks will be joined Saturday and Sunday by Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with the pair being the latest of senior leaders of the Church to have visits to Mesa and Phoenix tied to key public events.
President Nelson’s invitation: an ‘Arizona battalion’
On Feb. 11, 2019 — just nine months after May 19, 2018, closure of the Mesa temple to begin the latest renovations — Church President Russell M. Nelson and President Oaks spoke to about 65,000 gathered in Phoenix’s State Farm Stadium, including the nearly 9,000 youth and young adults seated on the stadium floor for the Sunday, Feb. 10, ministry devotional.
“I have an invitation for you as the Arizona battalion of the Lord’s army to help gather Israel on both sides of the veil,” said President Nelson, asking individuals and families to pray daily for opportunities to be involved in the gathering effort as he tied together the Abrahamic covenant, the Book of Mormon and the gathering of Israel.
That gathering includes a temple connection, as President Nelson cited an example. “As you do family history, serve and worship in the temple, use your discretionary time to draw closer to Heavenly Father and to His Son and to help someone else do the same — that is gathering Israel.”
President Oaks also spoke at the devotional, which featured the Church’s two most senior leaders in one of the largest of the Church’s gatherings since the area and regional conferences held in the 1970s and 1980s. That includes a May 1980 Southern California area conference in the Rose Bowl that drew an estimated 75,000.
President Oaks’ open-house invitation
The Mesa Arizona Temple has been an anchor in the Arizona community for decades, and the Church wanted people to see it and experience it, wrote President Oaks in an op-ed article published Oct. 17 in the Arizona Republic.
“Temples are dedicated as ‘Houses of the Lord’ to allow members of the Church to receive sacred religious instruction, to seek answers for their lives and to enter into eternal family relationships,” wrote President Oaks. “For the communities where temples are built, they are a place of peace and a beacon of unity.”
He extended “a personal and sincere invitation” to all Arizonans to come and see the temple.
Sacred structures increase connectedness to one another, to spiritual matters and to God, President Oaks added. “They provide visual reminders that there is more than the here and now. They are a reminder of those who have come before and pioneered the communities we live in today.”
Apostle-led tours initiate open house
“Once you have the assignment to come on the errand of the Prophet and then to be inside the Lord’s house and to be on His errand, it’s just a great privilege and a great honor — it’s the best,” said Elder Rasband.
He added: “And then you strive to communicate that Spirit to those you’re with, especially in a way that they can understand … and gain some appreciation for the temple.”
Elder Gong cited three overarching themes to the temple: first, to realize divine identity and purpose and recognize God’s love for all; second, to have opportunities to make covenants that link us to God and those we love and to be endowed with the ability to be better; and third, to learn how to meet God and prepare for that.
Later on Oct. 11, Elder Gong led a group of Spanish-speaking media representatives through the Mesa temple; the next day, Elder Rasband hosted Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey at the temple.
Relocated, rededicated temple visitors’ center
In rededicating the new Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center on Aug. 12, Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles underscored the facility’s purpose — to provide guests with an experience that both immerses them in Mesa’s rich spiritual heritage and focuses on learning more about Jesus Christ.
“The idea,” he said, “is to integrate the messages of Jesus Christ, the temple, eternal families and history in a way that helps guests understand how they are part of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and provide them an inspired opportunity to take a new step in their spiritual journey.”
The center’s new location — 455 E. Main St. in Mesa — is across the street and a couple of short blocks away from the previous visitors’ center, which was razed from alongside the Mesa Arizona Temple as the surrounding temple grounds and gardens were relandscaped and revitalized.
The center’s exhibits, kiosks and features explain key doctrines of Latter-day Saint beliefs, including the sacredness and importance of temples. The entire interactive experience relates to faith, with the new visitors’ center being a gathering space to enjoy with friends and family and a place to learn about religious beliefs that might seem new or different, Elder Soares noted.
Read more: Young adults play a key role in design, emphasis of new Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center
“The displays in this visitors’ center teach us that there is hope and an individual plan for everybody. We hope that every person who comes and sees will understand that our life has a purpose and come away hoping to fulfill his or her purpose.”
Renovated temple grounds
Recent renovation efforts didn’t just focus inside the temple and the relocated visitors’ center but extended to relandscaped and refreshed temple grounds.
The 20-acre temple property features more than 300 olive, palm and other ornamental trees, with some preserved at existing locations and others moved to help accommodate plans for two beloved annual events, the Mesa Easter Pageant and Christmas lights. Both events are planned to return in 2022.
The area north of the temple remains open to accommodate the pageant’s large crowds, with the stage planned for the east side facing west, meaning pageant-goers will have the sun at their backs.
The two pools remain — the large reflecting pool on the temple’s north side and the smaller one on the west outside the main entrance.
The same year that the Mesa temple was renovated, ground was broken for a major downtown revitalization project, as the Church redeveloped 4.5 acres of land along the Main Street light rail corridor just west of the temple.
A new mixed-use community called The Grove on Main replaced vacant lots and dilapidated buildings near the temple.
The primary purpose for the redevelopment was to protect and enhance the environment around the grounds of the Mesa temple, as the Church considers its temples to be the most sacred places on earth. A secondary but essential reason was to attract businesses and home buyers to infuse more economic life into the community.
Completed earlier this fall, the project includes 240 apartments, 12 townhomes, 70,000 square feet of landscaped open space, ground floor retail space and underground parking.
City Creek Reserve, Inc. (CCRI), the Church’s real estate arm, worked with Scottsdale-based Dale Gordon Design to plan the vibrant, transit-oriented neighborhood, which features diverse residential unit sizes, comfortably scaled buildings, Mesa-authentic architecture, and landscaped streets and gardens.
An additional aspect of the project is the remodeling of several historic homes on First Avenue and aesthetically enhancing the street that leads to the Mesa temple’s front entrance.
The Church also contributed time and money to strengthen the city’s infrastructure, adding drainage systems, fixing electrical and mechanical problems, repairing several miles of streets and planting trees.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the rededication sessions would be broadcast to Latter-day Saints across the state. The sessions will be broadcast only to the temple district.