PALMYRA, N.Y. Calling the events that happened 180 years ago in a grove of trees here unique in the history of the world, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the new Palmyra New York Temple Thursday.
In a voice filled with emotion, President Hinckley told those gathered that "there will never be another day quite like this in the history of this work where we will dedicate a sacred house in this historic and marvelous place." The temple, which represents the ultimate in LDS worship for faithful church members, is yet another advance in the spread of what Latter-day Saints believe is the restoration of Christ's true gospel to the Earth.
"We have scarcely seen the beginning of what shall come to pass. These are the days of God's great work in the Earth," he said during remarks offered before the dedicatory prayer on the newest temple built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A North American audience estimated at 1.5 million participated in the historic event via satellite, but technical difficulties caused some LDS Church stake centers to miss all or part of the dedicatory services.
The broadcast signal apparently weakened in certain geographic areas a problem peculiar to the encrypted nature of this special broadcast vs. regular church broadcasts, such as general conference, on its satellite system.
Church officials were working to strengthen the signal so the problem does not affect the rebroadcast, scheduled for 7 p.m. (MDT) tonight. Many stakes invited members to return for the evening's rebroadcast.
Standing on hilltop property once owned by church founder Joseph Smith's family, the temple is situated just east of the family home and the Sacred Grove, where Smith said he saw God and Jesus Christ in the spring of 1820 when he entered the woods to pray.
Hundreds gathered outside on the temple grounds to witness the traditional cornerstone laying ceremony. Though rain mixed with snow has pelted the area intermittently during the past couple of days, the dark clouds cleared the way for bright sunlight just minutes before the ceremony began. "It's a miracle," President Hinckley said.
He led President Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Craig Zwick of the Quorum of the Seventy in troweling mortar from a silver tray into the cornerstone at the southeast corner of the building.
The 10,700-square-foot temple includes a celestial room, two endowment rooms that seat 40 people each, two sealing rooms where marriages are performed and a baptistry. One of dozens of "small temples" that have been announced and built in the past two years, the white marble structure will serve about 18,000 church members in western New York. It will become the church's 77th operating temple.
President Hinckley's "fingerprints" are all over the building, from the location he chose personally in January 1999, to the clear glass window to the west, just inside the entrance. Local members believe it is the only transparent window ever built into an LDS temple that not only allows visitors to see out but allows those outside to see in.
"He wanted to be able to see the Sacred Grove," said local resident Lynne Green, who noted that 27 other windows inside, made of stained glass, depict the grove and the appearance of God and Jesus Christ to church founder Joseph Smith as he knelt among the trees in prayer. The 17,000 pieces of glass used to create the feeling of being in the grove include more than 6,800 tiny hand-cut and hand-notched tree leaves.
It was 170 years ago today in the farming village of Fayette, some 27 miles to the southeast, that Joseph Smith organized the LDS Church inside Peter Whitmer's farmhouse with some 50 people present.
Years ago, the church rebuilt the cabin alongside a visitor's center and chapel now used by area residents for worship. On Wednesday, an LDS missionary couple from Vancouver, British Columbia, volunteering at the visitors center said that, while they joined the church only four years ago, the significance of today's events wasn't lost on them.
"I think it's similar to the impact that the manger (of Christ's birth in Bethlehem) had on the world, from 50 people at that first meeting to nearly 11 million now," said Elder Bill Proctor.
"People have been so anxious about it," Sister Lana Proctor added.
After the temple was announced, "we were getting calls from (members) all over the U.S." about attending the dedication, she said. "I think President Hinckley just had to open it up (via satellite) because this means so much to people."
In 1980, then-President Spencer W. Kimball used the Peter Whitmer farm site to celebrate the church's 150th anniversary by broadcasting a portion of LDS General Conference from inside the rebuilt cabin.
The proceedings were beamed live, via satellite, to the Tabernacle on Temple Square and to LDS stake centers in the United States and Canada the first such broadcast ever used by the church. Technology has now advanced to the point that church leaders can encrypt their broadcast transmissions, preventing unauthorized users from linking into the programming.
Such encryption allowed transmission of this morning's temple dedication, because only those LDS stake centers authorized to downlink the broadcast were able to receive it. Temple dedication ceremonies are open only to church members age 8 and older who have been interviewed by a local priesthood leader to determine their worthiness.
Attending such a session, known to church members as a "solemn assembly," is a privilege reserved for those who would also qualify for entrance into the temple itself to perform sacred ordinances for themselves or by proxy for the dead.
Latter-day Saints believe their temples are literally God's houses on Earth and that because the ordinances they perform inside are crucial in order to enjoy eternal "exaltation" with their families, divine guidance can be received there. For those who have watched what they consider a miracle constructed on the quiet Palmyra hillside, there is no question about whether heavenly visitors will attend, Elder Proctor said.
"They told us President Hinckley wants to walk the halls of that temple by himself before the dedication services begin. We've all been speculating about who is going to accompany him inside," he said.