NEW YORK — For Latter-day Saints, this city of ultimate contrasts added another Sunday when their prophet dedicated the Manhattan Temple as a "place of great refuge" just off Broadway, some 23 blocks north of Times Square, with its 24/7 multistory neon considered by many here the "crossroads of the world."
"We've brought Zion to Babylon," President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told several hundred church members. "Zion" is a biblical term often used by LDS leaders to refer to "the pure in heart."
Church members packed the temple and its interior meetinghouse opposite Lincoln Center for the first dedicatory session. Additional thousands gathered for each of the four members-only dedicatory services, broadcast live to 16 meetinghouses in 10 languages.
Following a monthlong public open house, only faithful Latter-day Saints will now be admitted to the temple, which President Hinckley said stands in sharp contrast to much of what surrounds it.
In the dedicatory prayer, he asked God to "protect it from any act of evil hands" and from the forces of nature, so it can welcome those who seek "the spirit of the Lord."
A 9 a.m. cornerstone ceremony was held in a small entryway near the elevator on the main floor of the six-story building, just off the Columbus Street entrance. A small choir filled the room with a rendition of the hymn, "Sweet Is the Work," as President Hinckley, several of his children, Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve and other LDS dignitaries stepped off the elevator. "Only in Manhattan could eight voices produce that kind of music," he said, smiling.
As he has done scores of times during his service to the church as a general authority and now as its top leader, President Hinckley took a trowel and placed a bit of mortar in the cornerstone of the new temple. After inviting several church leaders to place some mortar, he asked 6-year-old Sarah Hodson and 7-year-old Christopher Belnap to do so as well.
The cornerstone contains a time capsule filled with memorabilia significant to New York church members, including a commemorative white satin handkerchief with gold detailing patterned after one LDS Church founder Joseph Smith commissioned for the dedication of the faith's first temple in Kirtland, Ohio. Also included was a copy of the New York Times and a commemorative piece of crystal, along with a set of LDS scriptures, sheet music and other memorabilia.
The 20,630-square-foot temple now fills the first, second, fifth and six floors of the building, with the third and fourth floors holding a meetinghouse and LDS administrative offices.
After the cornerstone ceremony, President Hinckley presided at the dedicatory services on the top floor of the building.
During the service, Elder Hales recalled his childhood in Manhattan, praising the "Eastern pioneers" who had laid the physical and spiritual foundation for the temple. He referred to them during Saturday night's jubilee celebration at Radio City Music Hall, lauding early Latter-day Saints who had sailed from New York City to California on the ship "Brooklyn" a year before Brigham Young led the main body of Latter-day Saints to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
Like those early pioneers, many who have lived in New York for decades have prepared the way for those who will follow, he said.
Longtime resident Brent Belnap, president of the Manhattan LDS Stake who chaired the temple committee for two years, brushed aside tears of joy following the service. In a voice choked with emotion, he said Sunday was "the greatest day ever for the city of New York . . . I can't think of anywhere that needs a place of peace and of refuge and of repentance more than New York City. This temple is a blessing."
Emotions ran high among New York church members, some of whom returned to the city for the dedication. Norman Rothman, a former New York resident who now lives in Salt Lake City, came back to the city of his birth, where he was among the first Jewish converts to the LDS Church 40 years ago.
He has since written a book to the Jewish people about his faith. "It's just wonderful," he said, standing outside the temple. "Who would ever have thought?"
Josh Leukhardt of Queens spent all day Saturday helping orchestrate the jubilee celebration, and was outside the temple early Sunday ushering visitors through. He said the dedication is a fitting cap to months of work by many people to see a sacred space devoted to God. "It's the best."
Before Sunday, "we had to travel five hours to the temple, so I haven't been in almost two years," said Rebecca Gilmore, a longtime member and actress who met her husband on Broadway before he joined the LDS Church. "No one has a car here, and it's $100 to get a sitter for the kids for a day at the temple" in Boston. Now it's within a subway ride for nearly everyone in the temple district, she said.
Understatement is one of the best parts about having the temple in Manhattan, she said, noting it's difficult to impress New Yorkers who are used to "seeing spectacular things every day." Yet in her faith, the most important things in life are found inside what Latter-day Saints consider to be "God's house."
Kevin Shelley, a 10-year resident who first came to New York as an intern from Brigham Young University, has spent the last 16 months juggling space for eight wards inside the building. Part of that time members were literally meeting amid the rubble of reconstruction as remodeling was under way. "It was so worth it. I never heard any complaints because everyone just sacrificed to get things done."
Francis Adams and her husband, Garry, brought their two children, Garry Jr. and Marchandt, from their home in Queens to see the dedication. They wanted to underscore the importance of LDS belief in eternal life and families "sealed" together forever by temple ordinances. Adams, who called the faith's missionaries after seeing a TV commercial about such beliefs and eventually joined the church, said she "can't wait to come back to do the ordinances."
The unity of purpose among Latter-day Saints also impressed Garry Adams, who spoke of of the memory the dedication will create for his family and their hopes for the future. "It's awesome. There are no other words to really express it. This is just a wonderful time for all of us."