Vai's View: Vai's View: Philadelphia temple groundbreaking was a day to remember

Published: Friday, Sept. 23 2011 11:09 a.m. MDT

With Pres. Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency after he dedicated the Camden, N.J. groundbreaking.

Bill James

One day in early August, I received a call on my cell phone from Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy as I was headed to work.

I had met Elder Walker 18 years earlier when he was President Walker of the Tokyo South Mission. At the time, I was heading into my final year with the Philadelphia Eagles and we were scheduled to play a preseason game in August of 1993 in the Tokyo Dome against the New Orleans Saints. In May of that year, the Eagles asked me to fly to Tokyo on the NFL's dime with my wife for a week to promote the game in August. Randall Cunningham didn't care to travel and Reggie White was a free agent (who eventually signed with Green Bay), so though I was only the team's punt returner, the organization appreciated I was a good spokesman and representative of the franchise, so we were invited to travel to Japan. My wife was pregnant with our last child and would give birth in August, but her doctor cleared her to travel with me in May. We spoke at a fireside for President Walker's missionaries and their investigators while in Tokyo.

I watched with interest after the Walkers' return, as he was called as a General Authority in 2002 and his more recent assignment as the executive director of the Temple Department.

I hadn't seen or spoken to Elder Walker since our Tokyo visit nearly 20 years ago. I was impressed he remembered our visit and he seemed pleased that I remembered eating dinner in the mission home and that I had stayed in touch with the two assistants he dispatched to pick us up from our hotel, years after they returned home. But I was wondering why he was calling out of the blue, so I asked, "What can I do for you?"

"I'm calling on behalf of President Eyring," he said. I almost drove off the road, but I remained silent, knowing we had just been told that President Eyring was assigned to preside over the upcoming Philadelphia Temple groundbreaking.

"He'd like you to speak with him at the groundbreaking. You'll have five minutes. Can you do it?"

"Yes sir," I stammered. "I'd be delighted and I recognize what a special honor it is, Elder Walker. I'll do my best."

"You'll be great," he replied. "I look forward to seeing you again in September. We love you brother." And with that, Elder Walker was gone.

I've spoken thousands of times in thousands of settings, but never at a temple groundbreaking.

Given how close temples are to most of us no matter where we live, I knew immediately I would share our family experience of going to the New Zealand temple as a child. Mostly, I wanted Philadelphians, especially new members of the Church, to appreciate the sacrifice my parents made to take us to a foreign country to be sealed. I hoped to share my belief that their sacrifice is directly linked to how richly we've been blessed as a family. I felt it was important that we not take for granted the close proximity of temples. I also wanted to give a nod to the Founding Fathers, whom I was certain would be present because of their history with Philadelphia.

Because of limited space and parking, members of the Philadelphia temple district in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware were encouraged to watch the ceremony from local chapels, where it was being broadcast via satellite. Perhaps 500 to 600 people were actually on the site for the groundbreaking, including Mayor Michael Nutter and Councilman Darrell Clarke, as the temple is in his district. Both men, but especially Clarke, championed the building of the temple in Philly.

My dad came alone from Seattle, where they recently moved to live with my sister and her family, without mom because of her ailing health.

At the conclusion of the temple groundbreaking, we had another groundbreaking for a chapel just across the Delaware River in Camden, N.J. — a unit in our stake.

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