REXBURG, Idaho Newly named LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson dedicated the church's newest temple in Rexburg Sunday morning in his first official act as leader of the 13 million-member church, thanking God for the restoration of priesthood authority and asking for help in spreading the faith throughout the world.
Church officials said dense fog prevented his plane from arriving in Idaho Falls as scheduled, and the cloud cover hampered travel for thousands of Latter-day Saints who gathered at the site and in LDS stake centers around the area.
The first of four dedicatory services, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., was delayed for about 30 minutes as President Monson's entourage drove through the fog from Pocatello, where the plane was forced to land.
Named last Monday as 16th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints following the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley on Jan. 27, President Monson directed the traditional cornerstone ceremony outside the temple before the dedicatory service, explaining that the ceremonial event reminds church members that Jesus Christ "is the cornerstone of this work."
Placing mortar on a silver trowel, he fitted it into a crevice near the entrance to the temple, then handed the blade to Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, quipping, "He's a surgeon," referring to the steady hand given to the task.
The party included Elder David Bednar, former president of nearby BYU-Idaho, and also a member of the Twelve.
Following that ceremony, the group returned to the temple's celestial room, where the three leaders spoke of the building's significance in the lives of Latter-day Saints.
Having been involved in some of the directives for the new temple, Elder Bednar said Jesus Christ "related his will concerning the location of his holy house," which sits on a hill overlooking the upper Snake River Valley next to BYU-Idaho.
He told of escorting leaders of other faiths through the temple open house and of explaining the purpose of baptism for the dead in the building's baptistry. He said the temple provides a "protecting power" for church members who serve there "in a world that grows ever more wicked and more confused."
Elder Nelson said church members learn about eternity in the temple, including the creation of the world, the fall of Adam and the atonement of Jesus Christ "the three pillars of God's plan of happiness." Latter-day Saints believe that through ordinances performed there, they can be united as families for eternity in heaven.
President Monson told those assembled that Elder Henry B. Eyring his first counselor and former president of Ricks College (before it became BYU-Idaho in 2000) had been looking forward to attending the dedication but fell and broke his ankle, so was unable to attend. He also announced the death early Sunday of Sister Ruth Faust, wife of President James E. Faust, who served as second counselor in the First Presidency until his death in August.
"I think President Faust is very happy," he told reporters outside the building after sharing the news with them, adding that he and President Dieter F. Uchtdort, his new second counselor, had given Sister Faust a priesthood blessing on Friday.
President Monson assured both reporters waiting outside and those gathered within that his predecessor, President Hinckley, was intimately involved in having the temple constructed and intended to dedicate it. "Though he can't be here in person, I believe a loving Heavenly Father has allowed him to be here with us in spirit."
Emphasizing the significance of temples and the covenants Latter-day Saints make there, he told personal stories of families whose life circumstances had prevented them from being able to get to a temple, but who saw "miracles occur" that allowed them to participate in temple ordinances.
During the dedicatory prayer, President Monson asked God to protect the building "against the storms of nature and any destructive hand of man. May thy spirit be manifested by all who serve within" and "may all who enter here be worthy in every way."
When the service concluded, crowds exited the temple to blue sky and bright sunshine. Many were emotional following the service, including Kathy Webb of Rexburg, whose home fronts the south side of the new building.
"We're here because we love the Lord and we love Gordon B. Hinckley, who started this work. We love the feeling we get when we see it out our window. In the middle of the night when it's still and quiet, it stands as a beacon on the hill."
"It's amazing that I'm here, because miracles have brought me here," she said.
Anna and Curtis Nielsen moved to Rexburg two years ago and said the service was "beautiful. It's a nice thing to feel you have been doing the right things to get to this point, and still have some more right to do," Curtis said. Though both have been to previous temple dedications, "this one means more because this is our temple now."
Greg and Carol Lemmon of St. Anthony, Idaho, were standing in a long line outside the building after the first dedicatory session, waiting to get inside. The couple met at Ricks College and said they would like to see their children married in the temple. "They're excited, and they love it. I think it's a miracle to have it in our midst," Greg Lemmon said.
Several inches of snow blanketed the temple grounds. Though residents here are used to long, cold winters, this one has been an exception from the past decade for the amount of snow that has piled up everywhere, including around the temple site. Workers were busy Friday and Saturday, using front-end loaders and dump trucks to clear the massive mounds that had accumulated near the structure as the wind blew it into deep drifts from the surrounding fields.
Thousands of church members who couldn't attend the dedication in person because of limited seating gathered in area stake centers to view the proceedings live via satellite.
At 57,504 square feet, the temple is the same size as the Draper Temple, now under construction in the southeast corner of the Salt Lake Valley, though its exterior is more reminiscent of the Boston Temple, completed in 2000.
Built of precast concrete panels with a white quartz rock finish and Idaho travertine, it features interior murals by Rexburg native Leon Parson and 700 art-glass windowpanes, most with a depiction of wheat stock and created by Utah artist Tom Holdman.
The wheat stock was among the main themes of the cultural celebration for the new temple, held Saturday night on the BYU-Idaho campus.
It traced the history of the LDS Church in the region, beginning with a party of early settlers led by Thomas Ricks that was dispatched here by leaders in Logan in 1883, before Idaho joined the Union in 1890. The town was formally organized in 1903.
When local pioneers became discouraged by the harsh weather, heavy mosquito infestation and difficulty of cultivation, early LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff visited the area, telling the people that one day church meeting houses and temples would be built in the upper Snake River Valley a prophecy many believe has now been fulfilled.