PAYSON — On a former wheatfield in southwest Payson, about a mile east of the I-15 exit at 800 South, some 6,000 Mormons braved morning showers and finger-numbing cold to witness the Saturday groundbreaking for the Payson Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I express gratitude to the Lord for answering our prayers to lift the rain; that's a reminder of his goodness," said Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Church's Quorum of the Twelve. "I observe that it's still pretty cold, and I guess that's a reminder that we're still in mortality and having to work through all the problems involved with that!"
Elder Oaks presided over and offered the dedicatory prayer at the service, witnessed via TV transmission by other Latter-day Saints gathered in meetinghouses elsewhere in the temple district, which stretches from Spanish Fork on the north to Nephi on the south.
When completed in two or three years, the 96,630-square-foot edifice will serve approximately 78,000 church members in 22 stakes, including nine in Spanish Fork and six in Payson. Ultimately, it will be one of four temples in Utah County; existing ones are in Provo and American Fork, and the Provo Tabernacle, seriously damaged in a fire last year, will be converted into that city's second temple, as announced at last weekend's LDS general conference. There are 135 temples worldwide, plus 13 under construction and 18 announced.
A native son of Provo and a former Brigham Young University president, Elder Oaks spoke fondly of his Utah County roots before delivering the prayer.
"I've always considered Payson one of the four cities in which I was raised," he said. "After the death of my father in 1940, I lived with my Harris grandparents on their farm adjoining the highway between Payson and Spring Lake."
He pointed out the location of the farm, less than a half-mile from the temple site.
It was at a basketball game at Payson High School in 1951 that he met his first wife, June Dixon of Spanish Fork, who is now deceased.
Saying a temple stands as a lighted beacon, symbolic of Christ's gospel, Elder Oaks remarked, "That symbol will be an especially prominent beacon in this location. Standing just adjacent to I-15, the major north-south artery in Utah, the Payson Temple will be a dominant and visible influence on the millions who pass here, by day and by night."
Conducting the service and addressing the congregation was Elder William R. Walker, a member of the Quorums of the Seventy and executive director of the church's Temple Department.
"There is a rich and wonderful pioneer heritage in this community and the surrounding communities that will make up the temple district," he said. "Many of you here are descendants of the righteous pioneer saints who settled in this area. Those early pioneers are honored today as their early efforts to strengthen and build up the church have borne fruit unto the fourth and fifth generation."
Spanish Fork native Jeanette Hales Beckham, the church's 10th Young Women general president, serving from 1992 to 1997, also spoke.
"My life and the lives of so many people have been blessed by the goodness of the people in this valley," she said. "Because of the importance of the events that precede a person going to the temple, I've often referred to gospel living as 'the sacred nature of our daily tasks.' "
Other speakers on the program were Elder Walker's wife, Vicki V. Walker, and Elder Steven E. Snow of the Presidency of the Seventy.
After the speeches, choir singing and dedicatory prayer, the four general authorities assigned to be present (including Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Presidency of the Seventy) turned shovelfuls of earth, symbolically beginning temple construction.
Thereafter, the 26 stake presidents in attendance took the gold-painted shovels in hand to throw earth. "I'll just observe that this is such an effective workforce that if they weren't dressed in Sunday best, we'd invite them to line up and start the footings," Elder Oaks quipped.
In "Phase 3" of the groundbreaking, government dignitaries took their turn. Standing next to Elder Oaks, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz commented, "That's harder work than we're doing in the Congress, that's for sure!"
Finally, all 12-year-old boys in attendance who hold the Aaronic Priesthood office of deacon in the church were invited to come forward and participate. "A temple concerns the ordinances of the Aaronic as well as the Melchizedek Priesthood," Elder Oaks explained.
So many deacons came forward to wield the 30 or so shovels that two "shifts" were needed to accommodate them all in the breaking of ground.