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Orem Utah Temple to become a defining beacon of peace, leaders say at Saturday groundbreaking

Hope and optimism for future permeate ceremony held under pandemic restrictions; temple expected to open in 2022

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Ryder and Maverick Crespo participate in the Orem Utah Temple groundbreaking in Orem on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

OREM — Anticipation steamrolled anxiety on Saturday morning during the pandemic-era groundbreaking ceremony for the Orem Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who grew up and maintains a residence in Orem, joined other dignitaries in turning over the first ceremonial shovelfuls of dirt before construction begins in earnest Tuesday at the 15-acre temple site sandwiched between Geneva Road and I-15 just south of the University Parkway exit.

“In recent months we’ve experienced what the scriptures refer to as ‘an overflowing scourge for a desolating sickness that shall cover the land,’” said the church’s Utah Area president, Elder Craig C. Christensen. “Today is a perfect time for all of us to look to the future with hope and gladness as we prepare to worship, to serve and to receive ordinances in the new Orem Utah Temple.”

Temple groundbreakings typically draw hundreds or thousands of people, but only a few dozen were invited to Saturday’s event because of the pandemic. About 20 more people watched from a balcony and over white fences in the apartment complex north of the temple site. Others peered over wire fences bordering the corn and pumpkin fields to the south.

Others caught a glimpse from FrontRunner, Utah’s commuter rail train, as it sped by along the future temple’s eastern border, a few feet from I-15. The temple will have acoustical treatments on the interior and exterior to drown out outside noise.

“People worry about the freeway,” Elder Christensen said afterward. “I see 700,000 cars that are going to see the temple every day, and the train going by every 30 minutes, and to me the temple will be a reminder. This structure will be defining, and I think it’s amazing to have it in this location.”

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Workers have leveled and cleared the ground for the temple site, leaving it a rectangle of nearly 16 acres of soil ready for construction, which is scheduled to be complete in 22 to 24 months, Elder Christensen said.

Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez, Orem Mayor Richard Brunst and Vineyard Mayor Julie Fullmer also participated in the groundbreaking, using gold-colored shovels with wooden handles embossed with the church’s logo and the date.

Herbert, who is 73 and a member of the church, recalled moving to Orem as a 6-year-old, when the city “was a big orchard.” Today, the city has a population of about 98,000.

“There’s never been a time when we need more spiritual insight than today,” the governor said. “The world has got a lot of challenges, over and above just a pandemic. We have a civil discourse that’s not becoming, and I think that’s probably not what Heavenly Father would like us to be in how we treat each other.”

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Elder Craig C. Christensen, president of the Utah Area of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talks with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert during the Orem Utah Temple groundbreaking in Orem on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

He said the Orem Temple will be a place of refuge and a beacon of peace.

Latter-day Saints consider a temple to be the holiest and most peaceful building, literally the house of the Lord.

The church operates 168 temples around the world. Orem became the 21st additional temple now under construction. The church broke ground on the 20th earlier Saturday, the San Pedro Sula Honduras Temple.

Five more groundbreakings are scheduled this year.

In temples, Latter-day Saints learn sacred truths and make solemn covenants with God, first for themselves and from then on as proxies on behalf of others who have died and can accept or reject the temple ordinances in the spirit world.

“In this temple, we will walk upon that covenant path and undertake many of the steps to becoming as our Savior commanded: complete, finished, fully developed,” Elder William K. Jackson of the Quorum of the Seventy said during the ceremony. “It will be in this temple where we will have the opportunity to serve, to be responsible for others, and selflessness will be the result. We will gain a greater love for our ancestors and heighten our sense of belonging.”

All 168 temples shut down during the pandemic. Church leaders have reopened 137 so far on a limited basis for ordinances for living persons only. No proxy temple work is being done for those who have died.

The Orem Temple will sit on the east end of the site next to FrontRunner and I-15. It will be three stories with about 70,000 square feet. A 20,000-square-foot meetinghouse will be built on the west end near Geneva Road, a two-lane state highway with no street lights, no curb and gutter and no turn lane in front of the temple site at about 1471 S. Geneva Road.

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Brunst, the Orem mayor, said the church will pay to create a turn lane on Geneva Road, but the city is asking the Utah Legislature for funding to expand the road to five lanes by the time the temple opens. Timing is everything, he said.

“Studies show this road failing. It needs to be changed now. It’s dangerous. The money needs to be devoted to the project in the next 24 months so it’s ready when the temple is completed and the Lakeview Parkway comes in from Provo so we don’t build out Geneva Road in front of the temple twice and spend twice the money.”

The church purchased the property in 2004 from a descendant of Niels Williamson, a Latter-day Saint who emigrated from Norway in 1870. Three of Williamson’s great-great-grandchildren watched the groundbreaking from over the fence near the fields and homes they still own south of the temple plot.

Elder Christensen offered a dedicatory prayer on the temple site at the end of Saturday’s ceremony, blessing the land and those who will work on the construction.

Video of the event will be available online next week.

“We invite all of you ...,” Elder Christensen said before the prayer, “to commit with us to unitedly turn our hearts to Heavenly Father, and to his Son Jesus Christ, in gratitude and in preparing to be worthy to enter into this wonderful temple.”