KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii -- In Hawaii, when one speaks of the "Aloha spirit," one is describing love and warmth.
That spirit was more than prevalent Jan. 23-24 as President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the new Kona Hawaii Temple -- the second in the Hawaiian islands and the 70th operating temple in the Church.Gathering under a bright tropical sun, many under umbrellas to shade themselves, more than 600 members attended the traditional cornerstone ceremony Sunday afternoon, Jan. 23, to watch the Church president place the mortar along the top seam of the white marble stone. As he did so, there was a hush from those spread out over a green matting placed on the grounds near the cornerstone. Those attending could look out over Kailua Bay west over the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. A choir of members from the Kona Hawaii Stake, directed by Lono Ikuwa, added to the poignancy of the moment with the anthem, "Let the Mountains Shout for Joy."
At the cornerstone, old and young alike strained to get a clear glimpse of President Hinckley and were thrilled when, at the conclusion of the ceremony, he paused and exclaimed, "Aloha!" A hearty "Aloha" was returned as he and others walked around the temple to the front entrance to begin the first dedicatory session. Accompanying President Hinckley to Hawaii were President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, an Area Authority Seventy. Also present were Marjorie P. Hinckley, Donna Packer and Diane Hallstrom.
Some 3,122 members attended the four dedicatory sessions of this newest temple of the Church, with 912 in the first session, sitting in the temple and overflow facilities in the adjacent stake center. The Kona Hawaii Temple, one of the smaller temples, serves more than 11,000 in the temple district, which includes the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
The dedication of the temple in Kona is considered the first of many events in a yearlong commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Church in Hawaii. For the saints of Polynesia here, many whose LDS lineage stretches back several generations, the new temple is long-awaited. "We have people who have been waiting for this for generations," said Kona stake President Phillip E. Harris in a Church News interview following the first dedicatory session.
"We've got wards now," he continued, "that have over 70 percent temple recommend holders among the endowed members. We're working so that the whole stake is over 70 percent of those endowed who have current temple recommends. There's just a feeling and a spirit that's come over the people because of this temple that's just a tremendous effect, not only with members but also with the others who have sensed the Spirit."
Speaking about the open house, he added: "Families who gathered were so impressed with the spirit of the celestial room. Mothers would stop and just embrace their children."
Concerning those LDS and non-LDS, President Harris said: "I think if we do our job as leaders, baptisms will double, our temple recommend holders and endowed people will increase at least 10, 15 or 20 percent over the next few years. I think our way of expressing thanks to the Lord for providing this temple is for us to wear it out from use. That's what we endeavor to do."
Comments from children and youth concerning the new temple indicate wearing it out with use should not be a challenge. The day before the dedication, 12-year-old Scott Arquero of the Pahoa Ward, Hilo Hawaii Stake, sat in the courtyard of the adjacent Kona Hawaii Stake center. Waiting for family members practicing with temple choirs, Scott sat by himself on a bench, strumming his brown ukulele. He was going to attend the dedication the next day.
"First time I actually get to see a temple dedicated," he said, adding he was excited to see the prophet. He said that some day he wanted to tell his own children that going to the temple "is a wonderful experience."
For 11-year-old Kiam Han Conradt of the Keei Ward, Kona Hawaii Stake, the temple "means that Jesus Christ will come again and I'll meet Him."
Shawn Curtis, 16, of the Keei Ward said he tells his friends, when they ask about the temple, "It's a church building times 10 million," meaning the depth of the sacredness of the temple. "I tell them there's things we do in [the temple] we can't do outside the temple. I tell them we get married in there."
Seventeen-year-old Jolyne Hao of the Kona 1st Ward wanted to represent youth in the cornerstone choir. "You don't get this chance [often]," she said. Her brother, Jarom, 16, added, "I wanted to be able to sing for the prophet."
Whether a youth or an adult, members here are emotional about "their" temple. Wally Bell, public affairs director for the Kona stake, recalled the first night the temple lights, which point downward rather than upward, were turned on. "I was headed out to a birthday party and the traffic was so backed up [on the road leading by the temple]. I didn't know what was happening until I got up closer to the temple, and I noticed the lights were on. For many evenings later, the traffic was just backed up. It was a beautiful sight. Awesome!"