‘Astonished, impressed, gratified’: President Dallin H. Oaks rededicates Mesa Arizona Temple

MESA, Arizona — After three and a half years of renovation work, the Mesa Arizona Temple is dedicated again as a House of the Lord.

“We were astonished, impressed, gratified with what has been done to hold with the pioneer ancestry of this traditional great temple and House of the Lord,” said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Paul B. Pieper, General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s North America Southwest Area and Sister Melissa Pieper; Sister Susan Gong and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, and Sister Kristen M. Oaks; and Sister Nancy Duncan and Elder Kevin R. Duncan, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Temple Department; pose for a photo outside of the Mesa Arizona Temple after the morning session of the rededication of the Mesa Arizona Temple in Mesa, Ariz., on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021.
Elder Paul B. Pieper, General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s North America Southwest Area and Sister Melissa Pieper; Sister Susan Gong and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, and Sister Kristen M. Oaks; and Sister Nancy Duncan and Elder Kevin R. Duncan, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Temple Department; pose for a photo outside of the Mesa Arizona Temple after the morning session of the rededication of the Mesa Arizona Temple in Mesa, Ariz., on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

President Oaks presided at the three rededication sessions held Sunday, Dec. 12, offered the rededicatory prayer and was among the day’s many speakers.

An unexpected message at the dedication was provided via a prerecorded video from President Russell M. Nelson, President of the Church. Though not attending in person, President Nelson was able to participate in the dedication in this unique way.

President Oaks said the changes made structurally and technologically in the temple are “essential for it to perform its service for decades to come.”

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said temple dedications mark an end and a beginning – the end of important preparation with the dedication itself and the beginning of new opportunities to engage in ordinances and covenants.

“A temple dedication or rededication begins new opportunities to find and serve family members waiting for saving and exalting ordinances,” he said. “And as we do so, we are focusing on our Savior and the blessing of His atonement found in those ordinances and covenants.

Sister Susan Gong and Elder Gerrit W. Gong, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, talk to attendees between sessions of the rededication of the Mesa Arizona Temple in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021.
Sister Susan Gong and Elder Gerrit W. Gong, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, talk to attendees between sessions of the rededication of the Mesa Arizona Temple in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Joining President Oaks and Elder Gong were their wives, Sister Kristen M. Oaks and Sister Susan L. Gong, as well as Elder Paul B. Pieper, General Authority Seventy and president of the North America Southwest Area, and his wife, Sister Melissa Pieper, and Elder Kevin R. Duncan, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, and his wife, Sister Nancy Duncan.

Sister Gong said she hopes those who attend the temple will come with the intent of learning what God wants them to learn, not just seeking for an answer to their own questions.

“It’s important to be open to what God wants us to learn,” she said. “He’s trying to teach us a new way to see the world and our purpose here. It takes humility and focus to begin to understand that vision.”

Focus on the pearl, not the box

President Oaks said he was impressed with the work that went into creating a beautiful surrounding for people who worship at the temple, adding that providing a beautiful context for the work done in a temple plays an important role for those who serve there.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Sister Kristen M. Oaks look at a model of the Mesa Arizona Temple in the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Sister Kristen M. Oaks look at a model of the Mesa Arizona Temple in the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“We want that kind of surrounding to be as beautiful as possible,” he said. “The artwork, the architecture, the furnishings, the murals — it all comes up to a very high standard.”

In keeping with the pioneer era of the temple’s construction, efforts were made to replicate light fixtures, woodwork, door hardware and other parts of the temple.

“The colors were just incredibly magnificent,” Sister Oaks said. “I just cannot wait to come back.”

Though each temple is beautiful and held to a high standard, President Oaks reiterated that attending the temple has a purpose of drawing us closer to the Savior through temple service.

“The temple is not just something to see,” President Oaks said, noting that the temple is something to experience and a place to offer meaningful service.

Strength for what is to come

President Oaks taught that the building of and serving in the Nauvoo Temple by early members of the Church prepared them to go through the challenge of crossing the plains and arriving in the Salt Lake Valley. He then compared that time period of the Church with the present.

Frieze panels, depicting various Latter-day Saints scenes, are on the corners of the Mesa Arizona Temple in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021.
Frieze panels, depicting various Latter-day Saints scenes, are on the corners of the Mesa Arizona Temple in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“The building of multiple temples throughout the world is likely to be serving the same purpose to prepare the covenant children of the Lord with the strength they need to face what is ahead,” he said.

Sister Oaks shared that she frequently felt strength when attending the temple prior to being married. As a former single adult in the Church, Sister Oaks said she attended the temple to feel God’s power there.

“Many times you feel so solitary and disconnected,” she said. “I came to the temple to feel the priesthood of God.”

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, wave to Latter-day Saints outside the Mesa Arizona Temple following its first rededication session on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Mesa, Arizona.
Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, wave to Latter-day Saints outside the Mesa Arizona Temple following its first rededication session on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Mesa, Arizona. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

In addition to feeling God’s power in the temple, she said she also feels peace when she visits the temple.

“The solace and the comfort and the love that’s there, it’s something you don’t just get outside the temple,” she said. “It’s unique to the temple.”

Youth who attend for the first time can also find strength through temple service. But their understanding of how to serve the Lord in the temple must be preceded by teaching at home and Church, President Oaks said.

“I hope that before our young people come to the temple they are helped by their parents and their leaders to see the temple in context of Heavenly Father’s plan — to see the end from the beginning.”

Read more: What President Oaks and Elder Gong taught youth on the eve of the Mesa Arizona Temple’s rededication

Helping someone understand the temple prior to attending prepares them to better serve once they do attend, he said.

With that background, they will see temple attendance, temple ordinances and temple service in the context of “our Heavenly Father’s plan to extend His choicest blessings to all of His children,” President Oaks said. “We are privileged through the doctrine of proxy ordinances to be a part of that great work.”

Eternal friendships

Serving in the temple with others opens up doors to creating friendships that will last beyond this life.

Born in Jamaica, Ruth Shepard wasn’t introduced to the Church and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ until she was a teenager living in Arizona. A stake missionary friend baptized her in 1979.

Twelve years later, Nathan Shepard moved to Arizona but lived further north in Prescott.

The two were sealed in the Mesa Arizona Temple in 2006.

Nathan Shepard and Ruth Shepard laugh during an interview outside the Mesa Arizona Temple after the rededication morning session in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021.
Nathan Shepard and Ruth Shepard laugh during an interview outside the Mesa Arizona Temple after the rededication morning session in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

And the stake missionary who baptized Ruth? He sealed the two of them. One eternal friendship helping another relationship become eternal.

Both Nathan and Ruth Shepard are pioneers of the Church in their families.

“For us it has an impact in both ways,” said Nathan Shepard, standing outside the temple after a rededication session Sunday. As the firsts in their families, they are establishing “a legacy for our progenitors. … We’re trying to leave it as solid as possible.”

Ruth Shepard picked up right where Nathan left off. “And then our children — the hope is that we continue to set an example that will just put a fire in their soul.”

Sister Nancy Duncan and Elder Kevin R. Duncan, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church's Temple Department, walk outside of the Mesa Arizona Temple after the rededication of the temple in Mesa, Ariz., on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021.
Sister Nancy Duncan and Elder Kevin R. Duncan, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Temple Department, walk outside of the Mesa Arizona Temple after the rededication of the temple in Mesa, Ariz., on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

As a couple, the Shepards feel the Savior has helped them overcome many personal and family challenges.

“Knowing that the Savior is right there with us, holding us up, and many times carrying us, that just makes me stronger,” Ruth Shepard said.

Their relationship with the Savior is stronger because of the time spent in the temple. Their relationship with each other is better because of the time spent in the temple. Their friendships with others are stronger because of the time spent in the temple. And they encourage everyone to spend as much time as they can in the temple, as well.

“Keep coming to the temple,” Nathan Shepard said. “Before COVID hit, we were in the temple every week.”

Ruth Shepard understands that can be hard to do.

“You just need to make it a priority. Make it a commitment. You’re never too busy for the temple ever,” she said.

“And that’s a fact,” Nathan Shepard immediately echoed.

Crowds leave the rededication of the Mesa Arizona Temple in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021.
Crowds leave the rededication of the Mesa Arizona Temple in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Rededicating more than a temple

The temple in Mesa is one of only a handful to be rededicated twice.

The Laie Hawaii, Cardston Alberta, Mexico City Mexico, Boise Idaho and Freiberg Germany temples are among those rededicated two times. The St. George Utah and Manti Utah temples will also soon have their second rededications as well.

Jen Smith, 7, waves a white handkerchief as she plays outside of the Mesa Arizona Temple while her older siblings are inside for the rededication of the temple in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021.
Jen Smith, 7, waves a white handkerchief as she plays outside of the Mesa Arizona Temple while her older siblings are inside for the rededication of the temple in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The rededication of a temple provides a special experience for those who have previously attended that temple. Sister Oaks said the difference among those who have been to a temple like Mesa before a rededication is especially touching.

“We love rededications because people have already come here, and they’ve experienced miracles,” she said. “This has a history for them, and so they’re very emotionally wedded to this place before they come in.”

President Oaks said the temple and its purpose help Latter-day Saints be dedicated to each other as part of an eternal family.

“The temple speaks to us in contrast to the individualism of the age,” he said. “It speaks to us by its ceremonies and its covenants in terms of the responsibilities that we owe to one another and how we fit into Heavenly Father’s plan as part of His family and His culture.”

The two great commandments to love God and to love one’s neighbors help His followers to understand and feel comfortable being a part of “His family and His culture.”

“He has created us to associate with one another, to serve one another, and to be brought up in families, not on an individual basis,” President Oaks said.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, waves as he leaves after the rededication of the Mesa Arizona Temple in Mesa, Ariz., on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, waves as he leaves after the rededication of the Mesa Arizona Temple in Mesa, Ariz., on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News