Sunday, October 9, 2011

Crazy, happy, freezing-cold Mormons

A normally quiet section of Payson found itself overflowing with crazy Mormons early Saturday morning. All decked out in Sunday best, thousands of Saints thronged the sidewalks of southwest Payson, undeterred by the freezing rain. They were all headed to the same place: a huge, muddy field that was lined with chairs.

October 8, 2011, marks the date that the ground was broken for the Payson Utah Temple. For thousands of members in the surrounding areas, witnessing such a historic and long-awaited event was enough to get them out of their warm beds on a cold, Saturday morning to sit outside in the rain.

I was one of the crazy lucky ones who got to witness the ceremony live rather than in a stake center nearby. (There are unusual benefits to having your dad as the bishop and always being the odd man out; when there's one extra ticket that no one wants, I am the ideal recipient.) I woke up earlier Saturday morning than I had all week, bundled up the best I could, and set out with my parents to watch Elder Oaks dig up some dirt.

Okay, we went for more than just that. We went because we wanted the honor of being able to say that we were there.

It was definitely a unique experience, that's for sure. As we approached the mass of lined-up chairs, we noticed that each chair was housing a mini lake in its seat. (Luckily, we were smart enough to bring towels to sit on and blankets to bundle up in, but we watched a lot of people trying to dry off their soaking chairs with gloves, hats, and dripping-wet towels.) Nearly everyone was holding an umbrella, which created a massive, leaky roof over the entire congregation that managed to keep some of the heat from escaping.

Once situated, we took a look at our program and realized that there were five speakers lined up for the ceremony, and we seriously started to doubt our sanity in braving the elements.

Once the meeting officially began, most of the umbrellas went down, even though it was still drizzling a bit. However, we came to watch this ceremony no matter what the costs, so if it meant we had to get our hair a bit wet so we could actually see the speakers, then so be it. A lot of people, including Elder Oaks, said that they were grateful that the rain stopped falling when the ceremony started, but from where I was sitting, the rain was still falling. Not enough to really cause any discomfort, but enough to add insult to injury.

Fortunately, the talks were short.

The announcement of new temples is a lot of people's favorite part of conference; even if temples are being built in places you've never heard of or will never visit in your lifetime, it's still exciting to know that someone, somewhere will get the wonderful blessings of temples.

I doubt very many people cared that much when they heard that Utah was getting yet another temple, one that was a half hour away from the Provo Temple and about an hour away from the Manti Temple. Many members still have to travel for hours (if not more) to get to a temple, while we here in Utah can go to a different temple every week and feel obligated to get married in a different temple than our siblings got married in.

However, members throughout Utah County rejoiced. We have been dreaming of a temple in this valley for generations, not because we didn't have access to one previously, but because it is getting harder and harder for Provo to keep up with demand. I love the Provo Temple, but sometimes it is hard to feel peace when you're being rushed through the baptistery or when you're stuffed in a hot room that is completely full of people.

Even more, who doesn't want to have a temple in their own home town? As previously mentioned, so many Saints would give anything to have a temple nearby, and here we are, blessed enough to have one being built in our backyard because enough members worked for long enough to make it happen.

One of the things I love most about the church is that we are all part of the same big family, no matter where you come from. I know that members will feel that in the Payson Temple, just like they do wherever the spirit resides, but there's something special about knowing that a temple was built for you personally, that your friends and family helped make the temple a reality. At the groundbreaking, I saw a lot of familiar faces: my high school choir director lead the choir and congregation; my stake president was one of the first to grab a shovel and dig up some dirt; and even Elder Oaks was a true native because he went to the same elementary school (Peteetneet Academy) that my dad went to back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.

My favorite part of the entire ceremony, though, was the dedicatory prayer. As Elder Oaks prayed for the protection of this holy place and officially dedicated the site for the work of the Lord, I felt the power of those words sink deep into my soul. I thought to myself, I am sitting in the exact place that the people I love so much will come to be closer to God, to receive the extraordinary blessings the temple offers, to seal their families together for all of eternity. Not just my spiritual brothers and sisters will be affected by this temple, but the people I know right now, in this life.

I don't know if this is customary or not, but Elder Oaks had the 12-year-old deacons come up as the last "official" group to dig up some earth. I thought this was most appropriate, because for those young boys, this will be their temple. They will probably get their endowments there, get married there if they wish. Those boys represented thousands of young people, including my youngest sister, who will experience life-changing events in the building President Monson decided we were ready to have.

So years from now, long after the temple has been completed, I'll be able to say that I was there the day construction officially begun. True, the people in the warm stake centers still had a better view than I did, but I got to sit on a wet chair under my Utah Jazz umbrella and truly experience it. And it was pretty cool.

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