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Peace, quiet return to American Fork temple

Sunday night songfests had gotten out of hand

AMERICAN FORK — Reverence and tranquility have returned to the grounds of the Mount Timpanogos Temple.

The handful of teens who occasionally gather there on Sunday evenings to sing religious hymns are a pleasant sight to officials of the temple owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Last spring temple leaders were dealing with hundreds of north Utah County youths who turned the temple grounds into the local Sunday night gathering spot.

"It became the local social spot on a Sunday night when for (LDS Church) members there shouldn't be a social spot on a Sunday night," Temple President Dee Andersen said.

Originally, a small group of American Fork, Alpine and Highland teens, members of the LDS Church, began meeting at the temple on Sunday nights to sing. They opened and closed the singing session with prayer and also took time to give testimonials, announce mission calls and congratulate each other on personal accomplishments.

"It was a nice way to build up our religious beliefs," said Highland teen John Zabriske, one of the singing group's organizers.

Each week, however, the group grew larger. The original group of a half-dozen singers grew to a dozen. Within a couple months a few dozen teens showed up. Then some started coming to watch their friends sing. Pretty soon others came by to see what their friends were doing. Before long, as word spread at school, most north Utah County teens knew the place to meet so-and-so on Sunday night was the temple on the hill in American Fork.

"It turned into a big group gathering, and when groups get big, things can get out of hand," Zabriske said.

Out of hand it got, Andersen said. At one point last spring almost 300 teens were gathering at the temple. The streets around the temple became a big traffic jam. Paramedics responded once to a minor traffic accident near the temple. Teens were speeding cars through the parking lots, playing car stereos loudly, climbing fences and trees, and playing rowdy games. Some even met their boyfriend or girlfriend there, tossed down a blanket and used the gathering as time for some serious kissing.

"Instead of being a good thing, it was not the proper thing to have on temple grounds," Andersen said.

Organizers admitted that eventually only a small percentage of those gathering at the temple were there for religious enrichment.

"We wanted it to be a reverent kind of thing, but some were coming for the wrong reasons and were not there to sing and get the right things out of it," Zabriske said.

LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills said temple grounds are open for visitors to enjoy the walkways, gardens, lawns and trees. When a concern arises over conduct on temple property, it is up to the local temple presidency how to handle it.

"Anyone who visits temple grounds is expected to behave respectfully, in keeping with the dignity of these sacred buildings," Bills said.

For months Mount Timpanogos Temple security personnel just watched the teens and made sure no temple property was damaged. They did not summon police or seek to disperse the crowd.

In a regular meeting last spring with local stake presidents and bishops, however, temple officials and the local church leaders discussed how President Gordon B. Hinckley had counseled members to spend Sunday nights with families. Shortly after the meeting the bishops passed the message on to their congregations, reminding young people that the Sunday night temple gathering was not in keeping with President Hinckley's admonishment.

Those in the original singing group heeded the words of their local church leaders and met one last time at the temple in May. After prayer, one final testimony session and the song "Till We Meet Again," the group disbanded.

"We just decided it would be best if we stopped and stayed home with our families," Zabriske said.

With the singing group gone, the crowd gathering at the temple gradually became smaller.

"They dispersed and haven't been back," Andersen said.

Occasionally a few come to the temple to sing. On Sunday night two weeks ago fewer than six met at the temple to sing, and most of them were from Provo. Some who used to sing at the Mount Timpanogos Temple now meet in the tunnels near the Marriott Center in Provo, where they participate in Sunday night tunnel singing with a group of Brigham Young University students.

"That's just a better place," Zabriske said.