Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Construction crews work to install the 13 foot tall Moroni statue atop the Brigham City Temple Tuesday, July 12, 2011.

Years ago, a group from Matsumoto, Japan — Salt Lake's sister city — came to town on a goodwill tour. The leader of the group made a joke at a banquet. I'm sure most felt the punchline was lost in translation.

"We feel a real kinship with Salt Lake City," he said, "even though we are a castle town and you're a temple town."

In Japan, some ancient villages were built around a castle — like Matsumoto. Others, Nagano for example, were built around a temple. The man from Matsumoto had spent some time at Temple Square and saw there a familiar theme.

I mention this because I, too, now live in a temple town: Brigham City, Utah.

Since the walls and spires of the LDS temple went up on Main, our city has a brand-new identity.

The LDS temple is the first thing you see while traveling I-15, coming down Sardine Canyon or slipping through town on Highway 91.

Brigham City has struggled with an identity crisis for years. Were we the Peach City, famous for peaches and other fruit? Were we the Gateway to the Golden Spike, linked to ATK Thiokol or — as the sign across Main Street blares — home to the world's largest migratory bird refuge?

Now the debate's all done.

We are a temple town.

People who haven't been to Brigham in a spell get set on their heels by the grandeur of the temple. Some, I'm sure, feel like they've stepped into an old science fiction movie where an enormous spacecraft lands in a small town and dominates the landscape.

And my guess is not everyone's happy.

Some probably feel like someone who goes home to find their spouse has installed a life-size version of Rodin's "The Thinker" in the living room. Even the old LDS Tabernacle, once the town's showpiece, seems to hover in the shadow of the town's latest wonder.

But if some feel the building is a bit overwhelming, many more welcome it as a way to pull the town into focus. Things don't feel as scattered now. The temple draws everything into line — like a chain running through a handful of charms.

We now have a center, a core.

I recall a poem by Wallace Stevens that reads in part:

I placed a jar in Tennessee,

And round it was, upon a hill.

It made the slovenly wilderness

Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it …

It took dominion everywhere.

So with Brigham and its new temple. It takes dominion. The Moroni gives us a common vision. It keeps us from staring at the ground. It stamps us with an identity.

But then, truth to tell, isn't that what a temple is supposed to do — whether you're on the inside of it worshipping, or on the outside gazing at it with wide eyes?

Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in Mormon Times. Email: