In glorious sunshine befitting the spectacular red-rock scenery in this southeastern corner of Utah, Elder Ben B. Banks of the Seventy broke ground Nov. 17 for the first of the Church's new smaller temples.
It was only six weeks after President Gordon B. Hinckley announced in general conference that small temples would be constructed in remote areas of the Church where the membership is small and not likely to grow much in the near future. At that time, he said such structures were planned for Anchorage, Alaska; and northern Mexico, as well as Monticello.Elder Banks, president of the Utah South Area, was joined in the ceremony by his two counselors, Elders Dennis B. Neuenschwander and Neil L. Andersen of the Seventy, and by presidencies of stakes in the new temple district: Monticello Utah, Moab Utah, Blanding Utah, Blanding Utah West and Durango Colorado.
An estimated 2,550 people - more than double what was anticipated - flocked to the temple site at 347 N. 200 West for the groundbreaking. Some stood on dirt mounds, construction equipment, truck beds and fixtures of the adjacent Monticello 2nd Ward meetinghouse to get a better look at the proceedings.
A choir of LDS seminary students from Moab, Monticello and Blanding performed "High on the Mountain Top," "We Love Thy House O God," and "Now Let Us Rejoice."
Following a pattern established by the First Presidency at such gatherings, members of the area presidency first turned over shovelfuls of dirt, then invited local Church leaders to do the same. Finally, youngsters from the congregation were invited to come forward and take their turn.
In remarks preceding the groundbreaking, Elder Banks recognized Ernest and Paul Sondregger, the father and son who donated the ground for the temple. A site had earlier been contemplated adjacent to the stake center and near city hall. Some residents expressed pleasure that the site was changed because of the appearance the new temple will present to motorists entering the city from the north via U.S. Highway 191.
"We have the opportunity to live in the greatest day in the history of the Church in building temples to our Father in Heaven," Elder Banks said in his talk. "I pray that all may prepare to qualify to come to the House of the Lord."
In dedicating the site, he prayed that "with the turning of the ground this day, there will be a renewed dedication of faithfulness and excitement and commitment unto Thee."
Elder Neuenschwander, in his remarks, declared, "We are in a very real sense laying a foundation this morning of a great work to take place in this beautiful area of Utah and Colorado."
Though the temple might be of a smaller dimension, "there is no small dimension to what occurs here and what will occur within the walls of the temple," he said. "All the essential ordinances of and for the salvation of God's children that are performed in the largest of the temples will be performed also in the smallest of temples. . . . There is no small and there is no large when it comes to the temple of the Lord."
Quoting President Hinckley's announcement of smaller temples to be built, Elder Andersen commented that the Monticello temple would be "the very first of a flood of small temples that will dot the earth."
"Isn't it wonderful," he added, "to know that the Lord knows and loves you, the people of Monticello, of Moab, of Blanding, of Durango and of many other small communities? He knows you, He knows your heart, He knows of your testimonies and your goodness. And He has directed His prophet to build for you and for your children a house unto Him, here on this spot."
The new temple will have approximately 7,000 square feet of floor space and will include a Celestial Room, one ordinance room seating 50, one sealing room and a baptistry. Its single spire will be topped by a statue of the Angel Moroni.
Construction is expected to be completed by the end of summer 1998.
According to President Hinckley's announcement at conference, the smaller temples will be presided over, wherever possible, by local men, a president and two counselors, one serving as temple recorder and the other as temple engineer. All ordinance workers will be local people who serve in other capacities in their wards and stakes. The smaller temples will be open according to need, perhaps only one or two days a week.