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Key moment in Hurricane Harvey recovery: Houston LDS temple rededicated

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HOUSTON — Shawn Calvert seemed to exhale a bit Sunday after stepping outside the newly rededicated Houston Texas Temple.

The low-key rededication ceremony signaled better days ahead for Calvert. For perhaps the first time in nearly eight months, he and legions of other hurricane-weary Mormons living in southeast Texas were catching their breath and looking forward.

Calvert never wants to repeat the events following the unwanted arrival of Hurricane Harvey last August. Relentless rains flooded his house — one of the more than 200,000 homes damaged or destroyed by the historic disaster.

Emotions assumed myriad forms in the days following Harvey. Calvert remembers the pain of watching water fill his home and those of his friends and neighbors. But the bad memories share space with the good. He can’t forget the many offering helping hands, tired smiles and, perhaps, a warm meal and a few encouraging words.

“People from our ward were so quick to help us — and then we went and helped others,” he said.

During the initial days of the disaster, Calvert's and his wife, Lidia’s, frustrations were compounded by news that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' towering Houston Texas Temple was also flooded and closing for major repairs, refurbishment and improvements.

The LDS Houston Texas Temple is surrounded by water after Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017.

The LDS Houston Texas Temple is surrounded by water after Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Now the Calverts are back in their home — and, as of Sunday, the temple they love has been reopened.

“The rededication of the temple marks an opportunity to begin again,” said Lidia Calvert. “We know that the Lord has a purpose for us. He’s touched our hearts.”

President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, presided over Sunday’s rededication ceremony. He had toured Houston a short time after the hurricane, pulling on a yellow “Mormon Helping Hands” vest and visiting the gutted homes of families who had lost almost all they owned.

Some of the affected he visited were Latter-day Saints. Others were not. No matter. At each home he reassured people that they were not alone.

At one stop, a local minister asked President Ballard to offer a prayer for his parishioners. At another, an elderly man began to cry when the veteran Mormon leader took his hand before saying: “We’ve come here to help you.”

President Ballard won't wish for another Hurricane Harvey. But in an era defined by bickering and division, he appreciates the emergence of unity and fellowship.

“When people are in trouble, it’s amazing to see what others are willing to do to help them,” he said.

President Ballard called his return to Houston to rededicate the temple on Sunday a personal privilege. “It’s an honor to be able to preside at this rededication and get this temple operating again.”

Compared to most temple dedications and rededications, Sunday’s event was quiet and understated. There was only one session and the majority of Houston-area Mormons participated in their traditional Sunday meetings in their local meetinghouses.

Some are still trying to recover from Harvey's wrath. But the reopening of Houston’s only temple — originally dedicated in 2000 — doubles as a symbol of resilience. Much of refurbished edifice “is just like new,” said Elder Larry Y. Wilson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the church’s temple department.

New artwork throughout the temple celebrates the life of Jesus Christ and uplifting moments from the scriptures.

Restoring the temple to working order in about seven months “is nothing short of a miracle,” said Bishop W. Christopher Waddell of the Presiding Bishopric. Temple officials and contractors enlisted equal measures of capacity and dedication to restore the temple quickly — “and well under budget,” he added.

Elder S. Gifford Nielsen seemed to always be smiling Sunday. Participating in the temple rededication was no routine assignment for the General Authority Seventy. Yes, the Utah native grew up in Provo, but he spent over 30 years in Houston playing pro football and developing his career as a television journalist.

“We raised our family here," he said. "This is home to us.”

Elder Nielsen accompanied President Ballard on his post-Harvey visit to Houston. It pained him to find a wounded community and a damaged temple. Rededicating and reopening the Houston Texas Temple now marks a key moment in the region’s ongoing recovery, he said.

“When you walk into this temple, you see the beauty of what can happen if you work hard and stay the course.”