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More than 400,000 attend Mormon temple open house in Arizona

By Jill Adair

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 25 2014 2:36 p.m. MST

People wait in line to tour the Gilbert Arizona Temple.

Photo by Scott Adair

GILBERT, Ariz. — Citing what he believes will be a “lasting effect for good,” Elder Todd B. Hansen, an Area Seventy and a resident of Gilbert, reflected upon the experiences he had personally and the many others he heard about during the 25 days of the Gilbert Arizona Temple public open house and a week of VIP and media tours prior to that.

“We know that the good done from this inspired effort is monumental,” he said. “And as poignant as the experiences were in the moment, the conversations that will follow will continue to invite reverence and richness in the months and years to come. I think much good will come from this.”

He recalled during the week prior to the public tours, he accompanied on a tour a Baptist leader of a large congregation in Texas. All people touring the temple wore shoe coverings to protect the new carpet from dirt. They were told there was no religious significance to the shoe coverings.

“As we walked through the temple, there was a real feeling of reverence,” Elder Hansen said.

At the end of the tour, when the shoe coverings were removed, Elder Hansen’s guest said that he understood the real significance of the coverings, thinking of Moses on Mount Sinai. “Because the ground upon which I was standing is sacred ground,” Elder Hansen’s guest said, adding that he had felt something “truly extraordinary.”

Elder Hansen said there were countless spiritual experiences people of all faiths had as they toured the temple.

“I think what we’ve learned is that there is so much more that unites us than divides us,” he said.

The total open house attendance was 407,020, according to local leaders. Public tours were conducted during an open house Jan. 18-Feb. 15, except Sundays.

Julie Benson, director of the temple historical committee, gathered comments from guests for historical purposes and said these types of comments were repeated often: “Even though we are not of the same faith, we could feel peace, sacredness, serenity, love and hope.” “One of the most beautiful buildings we have had the privilege of visiting.” “Everyone was so welcoming and friendly during our tour.” “We have a better understanding of our Mormon friends.”

Elder Hansen said he heard a lot of praise for the hundreds of volunteers.

“The kindness in which they received guests was a real enhancement to the experience,” he said.

There was tremendous interest in the open house and people came from throughout Arizona as well as out of state. Members attended with extended family or brought friends from other faiths with pre-arranged reservations. Others stood in long lines without reservations for a chance to see the temple.

Local media covered the event and one news station ran a 30-minute special in prime time.

Rabbi Jeremy Schneider, vice president of the Greater Phoenix Board of Rabbis, toured the temple. Afterward he posted an article on the Jewish News website. “We were treated with the utmost respect, and they were proud to show us what they believe to be their holiest place on Earth,” he wrote.

Local columnist John Goodie, who is Catholic, said he toured the temple “as one seeking understanding as to what and why this temple means so much to its members.”

He wrote in the East Valley Tribune: “Suddenly, a spiritual feeling took hold of me and brought the moment into perspective as I again looked up at the ‘Holiness To The Lord.’”

He noted the various rooms in the temple and the understanding he gained about the work done there.

“The baptistry, where sacred ceremonies are performed by proxy to baptize those who’ve died and never received that sacrament,” he wrote. “To that I say, ‘How indeed honorable and noble.’” And about the celestial room: “If you could vision a place in Heaven, this is it.”

The temple will be dedicated Sunday, March 2.

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