More than 50 people representing 15 different faiths associated with the Portneuf Valley Interfaith Fellowship toured the new Pocatello Idaho Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Wednesday.
The opportunity to come together for the temple open house had a family reunion feel to it because members of the group haven’t been able to meet as often in recent months, said Sherri Matson, a Latter-day Saint and past president of the interfaith group.
“They were all so excited to be part of it and to share the temple. ... They claimed it as ‘our temple,’” said Matson, who helped organize the tours this week. “They thought it was a beautiful building and their excitement to share in the experience was incredible.”
The tour was one of many taking place as the Pocatello Idaho Temple opened its doors for the public open house this week. Tens of thousands are expected to visit the temple between now and the end of October. To make a reservation or learn additional information, visit pocatellotemple.org.
The Deseret News spoke with three faith leaders from the Pocatello area and asked them to share their impressions of the new temple in the city’s eastern foothills. Here’s what they had to say.
Pastor Jacqualine Theresa Thomas, Pocatello’s Praise Temple of God
Walking through the Pocatello Idaho Temple was “very moving, very spiritual” for Pastor Jacqualine Theresa Thomas, founder of Pocatello’s nondenominational Praise Temple of God and affectionately known as “Big Momma.” She felt welcome and “right at home” in the temple.
“To use my language, it was just drop-dead me gorgeous,” she said. “It was just beautiful. I cannot find words to express how beautiful the temple is.”
“It was just beautiful. I cannot find words to express how beautiful the temple is.” — Pastor Jacqualine Theresa Thomas
Her favorite part of the tour was entering the celestial room, a “place of quiet peace, prayer and reflection meant to symbolize heaven” and the presence of God, according to ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
“I felt the anointing of the Holy Spirit,” she said. “As I began to close my eyes and just let the spirit have its way, I began to see a vision of God or Christ.”
Pastor Thomas, who is African American, was also pleased to see people of different races and cultures represented in the temple artwork.
“God is a god to all nationalities,” she said. “So it was very touching and moving to see that there.”
Pastor Thomas summarized the experience with these words: “It was a very good experience. This is what heaven is going to be like when we all get there.”
Kristen Johnson, Pocatello’s Trinity Episcopal Church
Kristen Johnson, of Pocatello’s Trinity Episcopal Church, believes that any new house of worship will enrich its community.
But she especially looked forward to the completion of the Pocatello Idaho Temple because she lives only a few blocks away and was one of eight members of the Portneuf Valley Interfaith Fellowship invited to participate in the temple groundbreaking in 2019.
“I’ve been an Episcopalian for 55 years. Today I feel like I’ve experienced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I will cherish it for the rest of my life.” — Kristen Johnson
After two years of waiting, Johnson was deeply honored to tour the new temple with her interfaith family.
“It’s like we’ve come full circle,” she said.
The beauty of the temple left her “speechless” and “astounded,” she said. She was drawn to the windows and artwork that depicted flowers and landscapes unique to the Pocatello area. She also admired the chandeliers.
“I felt the light of the Lord,” Johnson said. “I did not expect the overall reverence that you feel just when you walk in the door. It’s very moving. I don’t know how anyone could take a tour of this temple and not be moved by the presence of God in Christ. I’ve been an Episcopalian for 55 years. Today I feel like I’ve experienced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I will cherish it for the rest of my life.”
Tony Seikel, Portneuf Sangha and Meditation Center
Tony Seikel, of Portneuf Sangha and Meditation Center, a Buddhist group, was grateful for the opportunity to experience the temple.
“I was appreciative of the opportunity to learn more about the church and see these sacred spaces,” Seikel said. “Even thought it’s not (dedicated), you can still feel the sacredness of it as you go through.”
Seikel also felt profound feelings in the celestial room.
“It’s a such a special and perfect place,” he said. “I was very moved by that room and the spirit of that room itself.”
As he climbed the stairs and gripped the handrail, Seikel was affected by the thought that so many thousands of people would likely grip that same railing and find refuge in the temple.
“I felt a connection with the people who will for many years participate in this temple,” he said. “I was moved. It was a beautiful, beautiful tour.”
Seikel had previously toured the Idaho Falls temple and said the Pocatello temple tour would not be his last. He’s already looking forward to seeing the Salt Lake Temple when the renovation is completed in 2024.
“That is definitely one of my bucket list items,” he said. “I can’t wait to go through such a beautiful building. If I live that long, I am going through that building.”
A non-Latter-day Saint reporter’s perspective
Kalama Hines, a reporter for the EastIdahoNews.com, grew up attending an Episcopal congregation in Hawaii.
Hines took part in a tour for reporters on Monday and wrote about his experience. Like the faith leaders, he wrote that the Pocatello Idaho Temple is a “beautiful and awe-inspiring building — one to be enjoyed, no matter your faith.”
“As someone who had never before had the opportunity to go inside an LDS temple, I implore all, regardless of religious beliefs: Do not miss this opportunity to tour this beautiful building,” Hines wrote.