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Elder Oaks dedicates Provo City Center Temple as 150th temple of the LDS Church

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PROVO — Dylan Edwards was just 7, but he remembers how sad he felt when he stood on University Avenue and watched flames gut the cherished Provo Tabernacle in December 2010.

Now a 12-year-old LDS deacon, Dylan placed mortar along the cornerstone of the Provo City Center Temple on Sunday morning, helping to symbolically complete the tabernacle's transformation into the 150th temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I felt really warm," Dylan said, "and like this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated the temple Sunday at three sessions. Tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints throughout Utah participated. Normal LDS Sunday services were cancelled in the state, and the dedicatory sessions — at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. — were broadcast to 600 chapels.

At the beginning of the morning session, Elder Oaks led a procession of leaders outside to the building's southeast corner and conducted the cornerstone ceremony.

Several hundred people had begun to gather for the event long before the sun rose over the Wasatch mountains and warmed the chilly air. Some lined up to attend the dedication. Others remained outside in the sunshine and enjoyed clean and clear blue skies.

"Thanks for the many gathered on University Avenue to witness the symbolic completion of the Provo City Center Temple," Elder Oaks said.

Meaningful day

The dedication took place on Palm Sunday, the observance of Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, when the people waved palm branches and shouted hosanna to greet him. A hosanna shout of joy and praise is part of every LDS temple dedication.

Mormons first gave the hosanna shout at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Next Sunday is the 180th anniversary of that temple, the very first in LDS history.

Generations of Mormons have gathered to worship and make covenants here on the corner of University Avenue and Center Street since the 1850s, when Brigham Young selected the site for a meetinghouse. A baptistry was added in the 1870s and construction of the Utah Stake Tabernacle began in 1883.

Completed in 1898, the tabernacle was the home of worship services, community gatherings and cultural events for 112 years. A fire started by a light fixture left on a wooden speaker box overnight after a Christmas program ravaged all but the building's brick shell, which was shored up and restored and converted into the shell for the temple.

Borrowing from the Biblical term "beauty for ashes," the rebirth of the tabernacle as a temple has become a popular metaphor for personal transformations among Utah County Mormons.

The ceremony and dedication also had special meaning to Elder Oaks, who grew up in Provo and later served nine years as president of Brigham Young University, one-and-a-half miles to the north of the tabernacle.

Tie to pioneers

The interest in the rebirth of the pioneer tabernacle as a place Mormons consider a House of the Lord was on display during a seven-week open house that ended March 5. More than 800,000 guests toured the new Provo City Center Temple, surpassing expectations and anticipated capacity.

Cynthia Richards is the concert master of the Utah Valley Symphony, which called the tabernacle home for decades, but the building has even deeper meaning for her.

"I feel like there's really an energy coming from this building," Richards said. "I have ancestors who were among the first 30 families who settled Provo. I feel like I'm part of this experience and they're part of this experience, and I feel very close to them."

She played the violin Sunday for an outdoor choir of local singers and musicians who were part of the morning dedicatory session and cornerstone ceremony. While the group performed during the 90 minutes before the 9 am. start, the violinist was grateful to the person who shared handwarmers with her.

The cornerstone itself will be a reminder of the temple's pioneer heritage. It reads:

Tabernacle Completed 1898

Temple Dedicated 2016

Elder Oaks and his wife Kristen also placed mortar along the cornerstone, as did Elders Lynn G. Robbins and Kent F. Richards of the Seventy and their wives, and the new temple presidency and temple matrons.

"Later, learned professionals will finish the job in an appropriate way," Elder Oaks joked.

Rising generation

Elder Richards selected Dylan and his younger sister Malaia Edwards to join the ceremony. Elder Oaks called them "representatives of the rising generation who will be using this temple for decades and centuries to come."

Malaia, who made clear to reporters that she is 7-and-three-quarters years old, said the experience was "wonderful," but placing the mortar was "hard."

Dylan Edwards remembered the announcement LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson made in October 2011 that the tabernacle would be rebuilt as a temple.

"I had to ask my parents if he really said what I thought he said," Dylan recalled.

On Saturday night, he was one of more than 4,500 children who performed during a cultural celebration at the Marriott Center on the BYU campus. The event was titled "Beauty from Ashes."

The temple will open on Tuesday. LDS temples differ from chapels. Church members make formal commitments to God in temples. They are a place where couples are married and families are sealed together for eternity. Temples are also the only place members can perform baptisms and marriages in behalf of those who have died.

Dylan could only remember attending a single stake conference in the tabernacle before it burned.

He has plans to use the Provo City Center Temple more often.

"I'm going to do baptisms and maybe get married here."

Multiple sessions

Elder Oaks also conducted a dedicatory session at noon. Elder Richards, executive director of the church's Temple Department, was present again. Other LDS leaders involved in that session included Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy, Bishop Dean M. Davies of the Presiding Bishopric, Sister Linda S. Reeves of the General Relief Society Presidency and Brother M. Joseph Brough of the General Young Men Presidency.

Both of Elder Ballard's grandfathers, Elders Melvin J. Ballard and Hyrum Mack Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve, as well as his great-grandfather President Joseph F. Smith, had a history of speaking at the tabernacle.

Elder Oaks also led the 3 p.m. session, joined by Elder Richards; President Russell M. Nelson and Elder Gary A. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elders L. Whitney Clayton and Michael T. Ringwood of the Seventy; and Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, the Young Women General President.

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com