ST. GEORGE — Nearly a century and a half after it was originally planned, constructed and dedicated by 19th century pioneers, a renovated and refreshed St. George Tabernacle was rededicated Saturday morning, with a pair of the city’s “native sons” returning to share memories and provide their presence and prayer.
The two — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Steven E. Snow, church historian and General Authority Seventy — recalled personal experiences in the building as they participated in Saturday’s rededication of the sandstone tabernacle that sits in the center of the city. A religious and community focal point since it was started in 1863 and dedicated in 1876, the tabernacle hosted meetings and activities well before it was completely finished.
Both Elder Holland and Elder Snow used the word “treasure” to describe the tabernacle.
“This is a treasure to us in part because of nearly 150 years of meaning and memory and sacrifice,” said Elder Holland, who offered Saturday’s dedicatory prayer.
And Elder Snow expressed appreciation for the “historical conscience” of the church and its members in preserving buildings like the St. George Tabernacle.
“They can quickly fall into disrepair and disuse, but this has been maintained over the years and has not just become a tabernacle for the Saints but a center for the community,” he said.
The two spoke — as did Bishop Dean M. Davies, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric — at the 90-minute morning service in the air-conditioned building as temperatures outside soared into triple digits. The congregation of 1,000, seated on the main floor, along the balconies and in the basement, watched and listened with the benefit of 20th century enhancements such as electrical lights, air conditioning and sound system.
Both Elder Holland and Elder Snow spoke of their memories in the building. For Elder Holland the tabernacle doubled as his ward meetinghouse and stake center for his first two decades. It started out with his naming and blessing ordinance as a new infant there, followed by his attending Junior Sunday School and Primary meetings, having an Aaronic Priesthood interview on a pew, passing the sacrament as a new deacon, singing a duet with a friend in stake conference from the rostrum and later joining his Dixie High School teammates as the community celebrated the Flyers’ football and basketball championships in the building.
Bishop Davies acknowledged the building’s blessing and benefit to multiple generations.
“These tabernacles are truly spiritual icons in the church — wonderful images of our faith, our worship and our devotion to our God,” he said, also underscoring the buildings' role as community gathering places.
Elder Snow admitted to sliding down outside banisters and carving his initials in one of the tabernacle tables as an early teen — only to rediscover them when the tables were moved to a stake center where he was reporting to stake leaders following his full-time mission service.
Elder Holland said when the church dedicates a facility — or, in this case, rededicates — the purpose is multi-fold, including expressing gratitude to the Lord as well as recognizing the physical structure while asking for protections and proper, purposeful use of the building. But a dedication or rededication is a time for the Saints to do the same with their lives, he added.
“We make it sacred and we give meaning to it by the lives we live, by what it does to us and for us,” he said. “It’s not insignificant to give thanks and to dedicate the windows and the walls, but the real dedication is in how we’re going to live.”
Originally targeted for reroofing, the St. George Tabernacle was closed for two years for seismic reinforcement as well as a renovation, refreshing and refurbishing of the exterior and interior features.
A four-day open house last week resulted in 3,600 visitors, and the tabernacle will return to being a historical site on city tours and offerings from the nearby St. George Temple Visitors Center.