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‘A beacon of light and a place of hope’: Elder Uchtdorf rededicates Hamilton New Zealand Temple

Dedicated in 1958, the South Pacific temple with a storied history was closed for more than 4 years while undergoing renovations

HAMILTON, New Zealand — After an absence of more than four years, a dedicated temple of the Lord is once again operating in New Zealand, providing attending members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here the blessings of ordinances and covenants for themselves and their kindred dead.

On a bright and sunny Sunday, Oct. 16, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles rededicated the Hamilton New Zealand Temple, following its closure in 2018 for extensive renovations and refurbishing. Built from the exhausting efforts of labor missionaries in the 1950s, the New Zealand Temple — as it was known then — was originally dedicated on April 20, 1958, by President David O. McKay.

People gather outside the Hamilton New Zealand Temple between sessions of the temple’s rededication in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“This is a day of worship, of rejoicing and for the opening of hearts to receive the heavenly ministration of the Holy Spirit of God,” Elder Uchtdorf said. “This is a day to be remembered forever. It is a day of beginning.”

It was also a day of reflection and recommitment for Latter-day Saints to walk before God with all their hearts, he added.

“This temple of God will bless this country and people. It will be a light to the nations. It will lessen the influence of the evil one. It will be a beacon of light and a place of hope.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, talks to Brendan Leota after the final session of the rededication of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Jesus Christ at the center

Sunday’s three rededicatory sessions were broadcast live to chapels throughout the temple district — across New Zealand and on to the Cook Islands, Nuie and New Caledonia. And the broadcast feeds were available for Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, Elder Uchtdorf’s wife, to watch back home in Salt Lake City. She was unable to travel to New Zealand with her husband while convalescing after eye surgery last week.

Accompanying Elder Uchtdorf for the day’s sessions were four General Authority Seventies and their wives — Elder Kevin R. Duncan and Sister Nancy Duncan, Elder K. Brett Nattress and Sister Shawna Nattress, Elder Peter F. Meurs and Sister Maxine Meurs, and Elder Taniela B. Wakolo and Sister Anita Wakolo. Elder Duncan is executive director of the Temple Department, Elder Nattress the president of the Church’s Pacific Area, and Elders Meurs and Wakolo his counselors in the area presidency.

Elder Peter F. Meurs, left, Sister Maxine Meurs, Sister Shawna Nattress, Elder K. Brett Nattress, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder Kevin R. Duncan, Sister Nancy Duncan, Sister Anita Wakolo and Elder Taniela B. Wakolo pose for a photo between sessions of the rededication of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The leaders joined others — the temple presidency, matron and assistant matrons, and several local members and youth — in sharing messages during sessions. And after speaking in each of the three sessions, Elder Uchtdorf offered the prayer of rededication.

As he ministered in and around Hamilton in the days before Sunday’s rededication, Elder Uchtdorf repeatedly reminded Latter-day Saints that Jesus Christ is at the center of the gospel and the center of the temple — and should be in the center of their lives.

Marilee Matenga and her son T.J. Matenga take a selfie in front of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The Hamilton temple is to serve as “a reminder that the Savior is in their midst,” and members should act as if they were in His presence, Elder Uchtdorf said. Latter-day Saints should always have a current temple recommend — practicing and living their lives outside the temple in the ways they strive to learn and become while inside the temple.

And the temple and its ordinances and covenants are for more than just those of today, blessing both past and future generations as well, Elder Uchtdorf said. Temple work blesses ancestors who have passed on, and children and youth should be brought to the temple to sense and understand the importance of ordinances and covenants in their lives.

Te Mata McArthur and Lisa Joyce help attendees put on shoe coverings before the last session of the rededication of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

A look at the temple’s history

The Church’s labor missionary program — constructing meetinghouses, schools and other buildings for decades throughout the South Pacific — began on the Church College of New Zealand south of Hamilton in the early 1950s. Several years into building that secondary school, President McKay announced a temple on a nearby hill, resulting in an additional construction project for the labor missionaries and the Temple View name for the area.

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What the Hamilton New Zealand Temple means to the labor missionaries who helped build it in the 1950s

The Church’s 11th temple built after the Latter-day Saint migration to the Rocky Mountains in 1847, the New Zealand Temple was the first in the Southern Hemisphere and for a quarter-century the only temple in the South Pacific.

People line up for the second session of the rededication of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

As such, members from Australia, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti and across the South Pacific saved and sacrificed for what usually was a one-time trip to Hamilton to attend the temple, with the next closest located in Laie, Hawaii. That continued until temples were dedicated in 1983 in Apia, Samoa; Nuku’alofa, Tonga; and Papeete, Tahiti; and in 1984 in Sydney, Australia.

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How a 1967 photograph links Vai Sikahema, John H. Groberg, Tonga Latter-day Saints and the New Zealand Temple

In a twist of circumstances when the Hamilton temple closed in 2018 for renovations, New Zealanders had to go in reverse directions — to Sydney, to Apia, to Nuku’alofa and elsewhere — to receive the endowment and sealing ordinances and make temple covenants.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, greets a young boy between sessions of the rededication of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 — especially so in the South Pacific, with nations here shutting down borders and imposing restrictions. What would have been inconveniences to go elsewhere to the temple during the Hamilton temple’s closure ended up being impossibilities. As such, there are missionaries serving who are still waiting to be endowed in the now-reopened temple and couples who have been civilly married who are looking forward to being sealed for eternity.

Today, there are 10 operating temples throughout the Church’s Pacific Area, with seven more under construction or announced, for a total of 17. As one leader said in Hamilton, it now means that what before was a rare temple experience for those living far from Hamilton is becoming perhaps weekly participation with more temples located closer.

Elder Uchtdorf repeatedly quipped during his Hamilton interactions that New Zealand went from one temple to none for more than four years and is now back to the one in Hamilton. And it will soon be three, with the Auckland New Zealand Temple under construction and the Wellington New Zealand Temple announced by President Russell M. Nelson in April 2022 general conference.

The spirit of the rededication

Aria Tichborne of Hamilton and Teotiana Gerrard of Taranaki — 16-year-olds who became acquainted four months ago as members of the same company at a local For the Strength of Youth conference — reconnected outside the Hamilton temple following a Sunday session and spoke of their experiences.

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“I had constant feelings of the Spirit, especially during the prayers that were said,” Tichborne said. “I’ve been persuaded to come here, since I live in Hamilton, and always ponder on the gospel and to know that Jesus Christ is the center of the Church and that this is where we should be.”

Added Gerrard: “Today I felt a lot of joy and a lot of peace. And I learned that anyone can make mistakes, but as long as you come back to the Savior at the end of the day, that’s what matters — He just loves you for you.”

Asa Robinson, Megan Robinson and Clarke Robinson take a selfie outside of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple during the rededication in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

A bonus for both: They shook hands with an Apostle, as Elder Uchtdorf and the other leaders left the temple between sessions to greet some of the members.

“For me, just seeing him around reminds me of the Holy Ghost,” Gerrard said. “When he shook my hand, I just felt that warm, nice feeling.”

And for Tichborne, it was the second handshake in as many days, having greeted Elder Uchtdorf the night before at the youth and young single adult devotional. “Being in his presence really gave me a sense of peace and reminded me of what he stands for as an Apostle.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, visits with children between sessions of the rededication of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Devyn and Hillary Reeves stepped out of the temple after Sunday’s second session and waved at their young children — Peyton, 7; Lola, 5; Remi, 3; and Wyatt, 1 — waiting for them at the bottom of temple-front hill. Members must be at least 8 to receive recommends to attend such a session, so Hillary Reeves’ mother watched the children.

While it might have been easier for the children to be tended back in their Temple View home, “I want them to be able to know what I know, that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer, and I want them to be able to feel what I feel and have good memories of what happened today,” Devyn Reeves said.

“And so, when they grow into the temple and look back, they can remember the time that Mom and Dad were in the temple and sat in the celestial room with an Apostle for the rededication and that they were waiting outside.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, greets people after the final session of the rededication of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple in Hamilton, New Zealand, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The Hamilton temple is where the Reeveses were married and sealed, on March 7, 2014.

Even though her children were not inside the temple, there’s a spirit they can still feel, said Hillary Reeves, adding that the parents had been talking to the children about the day of rededication.

“When you’re in the temple, you really understand the importance of temples, and we really missed them while we were sitting in there, so it was nice to come out and to be able to carry the spirit we had sitting in the dedication and to bring it with us to them.”

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How a 1967 photograph links Vai Sikahema, John H. Groberg, Tonga Latter-day Saints and the New Zealand Temple
What the Hamilton New Zealand Temple means to the labor missionaries who helped build it in the 1950s
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