A little over 46 years ago, Vince Chrzanowski and his wife, Lois, were baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Pensacola, Florida, where he was stationed in the Navy.
“A month later we came back home to Connecticut as brand new members of the Church, not having any idea what we had gotten into,” Brother Chrzanowski recalled.
Their tiny new ward in Connecticut — the New London Ward — met some 35 miles away. Because of the split schedule, Brother and Sister Chrzanowski and their two children traveled roughly 140 miles each Sunday. Within a month of becoming a member, Brother Chrzanowski was called as a teacher in elders quorum. Within two months, he was also a seminary teacher, secretary in the Young Men presidency, ward financial clerk and a home teacher.
Brother Chrzanowski described that time as “a wonderful experience.”
“Everybody in this area was in the same boat and everybody worked so hard, but what a joy,” he said.
Today, Brother Chrzanowski serves as patriarch of the New London Connecticut Stake, its borders being slightly larger than the boundaries of their old New London Ward.
“We’ve seen the Church grow here incredibly,” he said. In nowhere is that more apparent than in the construction of temples in the area.
A year after the Chrzanowskis were baptized in 1970, they traveled to the nearest temple to be sealed as a family — 2,300 miles to Salt Lake City.
On the weekend of Nov. 20, 2016, the Chrzanowskis joined with other Latter-day Saints to celebrate as President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the Hartford Connecticut Temple — the first temple in Connecticut and the second in New England following the Boston Massachusetts Temple.
“Now look at where we are,” Brother Chrzanowski exclaimed after noting he can pull into the parking lot of the Hartford temple less than an hour from pulling out of his driveway.
In many ways the Hartford temple stands as an acknowledgment of the sacrifice and dedication of generations of Latter-day Saints — like the Chrzanowskis — who faithfully nurtured fledgling Church units.
Among those who helped grow the Church were lifetime members from the western United States whose employment and educational pursuits brought them to the East. Danny Young, who joined the Church some 40 years ago with his wife, Toni, said the example of these lifetime members “was a major factor in our growth and our understanding of how the Church worked.”
Kevin Starr, who served as the chairman of the local temple committee during the dedication, moved to the area “fresh out of college.” He and his wife loved raising their family there, he said, although it wasn’t always easy sharing the gospel. New England is sometimes referred to as “The Land of Steady Habits.”
“Religion is established and unchangeable for a lot of people that live here,” Brother Starr said. “The growth has been slow and steady.” In addition to the efforts of local members, “we’ve had tremendous missionaries serve here.”
Dave Sutton, who has lived in Connecticut for 45 years, said the completion of the Washington D.C. Temple in November 1974 was also an important milestone that helped spur further growth.
Brother Sutton, who now serves as the patriarch of the Springfield Massachusetts Ward, said having access to a temple on the East Coast encouraged members to improve themselves, to move forward in their lives and to do the things the Lord wanted them to do. As a result, “Missionary work picked up,” he said.
With the dedication of the Washington DC Temple, the stake would organize monthly temple bus trips, recalled Brother Chrzanowski. Members would meet on a Thursday night at 10 p.m., ride 8 hours on the bus in time to see the sunrise illuminate the temple. “I thought we were in a storybook,” he said. They would spend the day doing ordinance work, break at 6 p.m. to eat and get some sleep at their hotel, then be back at the temple by 6 a.m. By 2 p.m. they would be back on the bus to make the 8-hour drive back before the Sabbath.
“And now we’re going to have a 45-minute drive. Can you imagine that?” Sister Chrzanowski said.
The Hartford dedication has caused Brother Chrzanowski to reflect on how temple attendance has blessed his life. “We had four years of married life before we were sealed in the temple, and I can say that knowing that I’m going to be with Lois forever has changed the way that I look at her. It has changed the way that I love her. It has changed our marriage,” he said.
Shalyn Sedgwick, a member from the Bridgeport 1st Ward in the Stratford Connecticut Stake, moved to the area in 1989 and sang in the choir that performed at the cornerstone ceremony. She described the new temple as “a place of peace in a crazy world.”
To members throughout the area, it “represents our love for God and His love for us,” she said.
Its positive influence will only continue to grow, Brother Sutton said. “The temple can’t have an influence on us without it positively affecting the communities in which we live.”
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