When President Gordon B. Hinckley went through the Salt Lake Temple for his endowment in June 1933 before he left on his LDS mission to England, little did he realize the impact he'd have later in life on furthering temple work the number of temples, the variety of temples and the ceremonies conducted in them.
"I think President Hinckley will be remembered as the builder of temples in the dispensation of the fulness of times," Elder David E. Sorensen, then of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the church Temple Department, said in 1999.
When President Hinckley was born the LDS Church had four operating temples. When he became church president there were 47 temples around the world. Today there are 124.
He dedicated more temples 85 than any other general authority in the history of the church. He also rededicated five others after remodeling projects.
Several were built (or, in the case of Nauvoo, rebuilt) in historic locations, including the Palmyra New York, Winter Quarters Nebraska and Nauvoo Illinois temples.
In an assignment from President David O. McKay, he shaped the ceremony to accommodate the growing number of languages spoken by church members.
As church president, he presented a plan to build smaller temples in remote areasso as many church members as possible could receive their temple blessings closer to their homes; 30 such temples were announced at the April 1998 general conference alone.
President Hinckley believed in the vital importance of temples and the ordinances conducted in them.
"Every temple that this church has built has in effect stood as a monument to our belief in the immortality of the human soul, that this phase of mortal life through which we pass is part of a continuous upward climb, so to speak. And that as certain as there is life here, there will be life there," he said in a 1999 interview.
The temple, he said, "is concerned with things of immortality," in particular the eternity of the family.
"All of the ordinances which take place in the house of the Lord become expressions of our belief in that fundamental and basic doctrine," he said."The temple, therefore, becomes the ultimate in our system of worship. And, therefore, is of great and significant importance to us."
President Hinckley had a significant role in the proliferation of temples around the world.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, when Presidents Spencer W. Kimball and Marion G. Romney and later Ezra Taft Benson were unable to travel, he presided at the dedications of 22 temples and offered dedicatory prayers. This began in 1983 with the Atlanta Temple and continued throughout his tenure as church president, beginning with the May 1996 dedication of the Hong Kong Temple.
One interruption came in November 1999 when the Halifax Nova Scotia and Regina Saskatchewan temples were scheduled to be dedicated on consecutive days. President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, ended up dedicating the Regina Temple after President Hinckley's plane developed trouble before leaving Salt Lake City.
President James E. Faust dedicated two temples in Mexico in March 2000, and President Thomas S. Monson dedicated the Louisville Kentucky Temple two weeks before general conference. These two counselors later dedicated other temples. The accelerated dedication schedule 34 temples were dedicated in 2000 alone made it necessary to dedicate two temples on the same day in April and May 2000. Members of the First Presidency divided the assignments.
A highlight came in June 2000 when President Hinckley dedicated the Fukuoka Japan, Adelaide and Melbourne Australia temples as well as the Suva Fiji Temple on the same trip.
Each dedication reflected the unique customs and circumstances of the land or area, but the spirit was always the same profound and penetrating. And, for various reasons, each dedication was memorable.
Regarding the temple ceremony, President Hinckley, in a 1995 video biography, told of being called into President McKay's office in fall 1953 and learning that the church was going to build a temple in Switzerland, just north of Bern a temple of a different kind.
"It would need to accommodate the languages of Europe and, at the same time, require fewer personnel to operate," President Hinckley said.
"I want you to find a way to present the temple ceremony to accommodate this need," President McKay told President Hinckley.
"Having received that charge, I went to work and gathered a group about me of trusted, able, competent people to see what could be done. ... For the next year and a half, we worked on it. And that was the pioneering effort of what has now become the general method of presenting the temple ceremony," President Hinckley said.
"We produced the first films, and I carried those to Switzerland in September of 1955 to initiate the work in the Swiss Temple."
Derek F. Metcalfe, former managing director of the church's temple department, said: "When he arrived at the Swiss Temple to help prepare for the dedication, he found that the finishing carpenters were behind schedule. So, he borrowed some work clothes, picked up a hammer and saw and went to work.
"It was an exciting time in temple work, with a new and efficient means of presenting the endowment, and Brother Hinckley was at the forefront of all that.Initiating it, producing it, installing it all under the direction of the First Presidency."
At the time, President Hinckley oversaw the production of the temple ceremony in 14 languages and personally supervised its installation in the New Zealand, London and Los Angeles temples.
President Hinckley also took a keen interest in each temple's design and construction, making sure each one had a celestial reach in its design and that the interiors created the desired atmospheres. He also scouted for property personally, climbing to the tops of hills and walking across sites before finalizing a location.Another of President Hinckley's focuses was the urgency he felt to build more and smaller temples in an effort to take them to the people. As a member of the First Presidency, he found himself participating in the fulfillment of the mandate to take the blessings of the temple to every worthy man and woman.
He maintained this responsibility over selection of temple sites and matters related to the temple even after becoming church president. One "first" came in May 1995, when Presidents Hinckley and James E. Faust presided at the "groundbreaking" of the Vernal Temple, the first temple to be constructed from an existing building. And it was not uncommon for President Hinckley to make overnight trips to inspect potential temple sites.
To help temple work move forward, CD-ROM software and Internet links were introduced to assist in family history research. And today it is possible to take a computer disk or disks to the Family History Library to be updated with information on ordinances performed in any temple less than a week before.
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Another development was the issuance of cards for individual names for family file ordinances. The cards contained fields for each ordinance, and a field was stamped with the date and temple where the ordinance was performed, with the information entered in a database. Templegoers visiting a number of temples on vacation trips, for instance, can have family file work available as they visit each temple.
And those processing names through TempleReady could find out quickly if ordinances had been performed in other temples for their name submissions.
Material taken from Deseret Morning News files and "Gordon B. Hinckley Go Forward with Faith," by Sheri L. Dew