On an icy day with cold reminiscent of that experienced by early Saints driven from their homes in this state a century and a half ago, ground was broken for what will be the Church's first temple in Missouri.
"This may sound strange, but I am rather glad it is cold," said President Gordon B. Hinckley. "I think it brings us to a greater appreciation for the Saints who left the state of Missouri in 1838 under the orders of the then governor; a tragic episode in the history of our people, and I think that it must be so for Missouri."President Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, and President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, took part Oct. 30 in the ceremonial start of construction for the St. Louis Missouri Temple, which will be the Church's 50th temple.
In contrast with the treatment early Saints received in this state, Church leaders of today were enthusiastically welcomed by the mayor, aldermen and alderwoman of the city of Town and Country, where the temple will be located, and by John Ashcroft, former Missouri governor, and other local officials. Town and Country is a suburb of St. Louis, about 10 miles west of the city center.
The temple will be built near Interstate 64, a major east-west freeway, and close to the interchange of this freeway with I-270, the area's principal belt route. Two previous temples were proposed in Missouri in the 1830s, at Independence and Far West, but plans were abandoned after mobs expelled the Saints.
The enthusiastic acclaim for the groundbreaking of the St. Louis temple was a typical response of an area that in times past offered refuge to Saints persecuted in the western parts of the state and in Illinois. St. Louis was also a major immigration center for European converts from 1840 to 1857. Many pioneers were outfitted in St. Louis for the trek west.
Despite temperatures that hovered near freezing, sharpened by an icy breeze, members began flocking to the site two hours early. After arrival, they clustered together in the fellowship of mutual shelter. A slope overlooking the speaker's platform formed a natural amphitheater - and windbreak - as snowflakes occasionally swirled from threatening skies. Nearly 5,000 people gathered and excitedly welcomed the General Authorities.
After the ceremony was concluded, hundreds of families were undeterred by the chill as they stayed around to turn over the loosened clay soil with gold-painted shovels and to shake hands with the General Authorities.
Church leaders in attendance included President Hinckley and his wife, Marjorie; President Monson and his wife, Frances; and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve and his wife, June. Also in attendance were Elder James M. Paramore of the Seventy and president of the North America Central Area, who is chairman of the St. Louis Missouri Temple committee, and his wife, Helen; and Elder Hartman Rector Jr. of the Seventy, and first counselor in the area presidency, and his wife, Connie.
President Hinckley, President Monson and Elder Oaks spoke at the gathering. Elder Paramore offered the invocation and Elder Rector gave the benediction.
Regional representatives, including Menlo Smith who is vice chairman of the temple committee; and stake presidents of the 28 stakes in the seven-state temple district and their wives and families were also in attendance. Music was provided by a combined regional choir under the direction of Sister Larrie Christensen and accompanied by Heather James.
Members living in Missouri, Indiana, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska and Tennessee are included in the temple district.
In his address, President Hinckley quipped, "We'd better hurry to beat the blizzard" and "We'd better break the ground before it freezes."
He observed that the Saints in 1838 had laid the cornerstone for a temple in Far West, just before the Missouri governor's extermination order that led to their flight as refugees "all the way across the state to the Mississippi River. They came leaving a trail of blood in the snow. They found refuge in Quincy, Ill., and the place where they later would found Nauvoo.
"They built what then became the largest city in the state of Illinois, which they abandoned in 1846 to go west to establish themselves in the valleys of the Rocky Mountains, where they have grown to become a mighty people. How remarkable a thing it is that a comparative handful of stragglers who constituted The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have now grown to a membership of 8.5 million people in 138 countries across the world. Magnificent and tremendous and miraculous has been the growth of the Church wherever it is found."
While these early Saints were persecuted and expelled from other areas in Missouri, particularly western Missouri, they were welcomed in St. Louis, he related.
"Here our people found a welcome and some relief from the difficulties they had known. The St. Louis Post Dispatch carried a story about the Church a few years ago commenting that:
"St. Louis was the only town in the middle west large enough to give the Saints some degree of anonymity, cosmopolitan enough to be tolerant of a new and strange religion, and prosperous enough to provide work for newcomers."
President Hinckley said that, in the years after the exodus from Nauvoo, illness ravaged many of the immigrating European converts who debarked at St. Louis. "It was a scene of terrible tragedy. Hundreds and hundreds of them died weekly. A man could come down with cholera in the morning and be dead by nightfall, which was not unusual nor uncommon. And from here up the Missouri River to Winter Quarters near the present site of Omaha, Neb., there were frequent stops of the riverboats to bury the dead along the banks of the river."
The site chosen for the St. Louis temple was approved individually by each member of the First Presidency, said President Hinckley. "We were taken around [individuallyT and shown six possible sites, and each one of us in turn said this is the place to build the temple."
He said that after the groundbreaking, site work would proceed immediately, but foundation work would probably be postponed until better weather in the spring. Construction of the temple would likely take about two years from then.
"At that time we shall have a magnificent building here that will be seen by millions who travel up and down this freeway. And it will be looked upon as a place of holiness to the Lord."
In conclusion, he remarked: "I am satisfied that the Prophet Joseph smiles on us today. And I am satisfied that those who were with him on that long trek across Missouri in the winter of 1838 smile upon us as they see what we begin here today."
President Monson, in his address, noted that the day of groundbreaking was a historic day in an area rich in Church history. He said that in his reading of the history of St. Louis and nearby environs, "I touched a familiar and a heartfelt note when I recognized that 1849 was a very difficult year for the Latter-day Saints who came to St. Louis." Among those who came that year were "my mother's forebears in a company from Scotland.
"But they ran into a very difficult problem here. One word - cholera. Ever so many of the Saints suffered from that dread disease. They arrived in St. Louis in 1849 en route to Salt Lake City. From the journals of my forebears I read:
" `Son William, age 18, died here June 22, 1849. Mother, Mary [McGowan MillerT died here June 27, five days later. Son Archibald, age 15, died two days later, and husband, Charles [Stewart MillerT, died July 4, a week later.' Four in one family! My great-grandmother was left an orphan with her brothers and sisters to make their way westward.
"I think of the words of the great pioneer hymn: `And should we die before our journey's through . . . all is well! We then are free from toil and sorrow, too; . . . All is well! All is well!' ("Come, Come, Ye Saints," Hymns, No. 30.)
"I feel I am standing on sacred ground in an area where these dear forebears of mine completed their trek to find God and to establish His kingdom here upon the earth."
President Monson recalled experiences from the pages of his own journal on a happier note in more recent times, and paid tribute to the modern pioneers in the area, including the family of Roy W. Oscarson, president of the St. Louis Stake when it was organized in 1958.
President Monson quoted Brother Oscarson's comment made in 1990: " `I would say that the awareness of the Latter-day Saints and respect of people for the Church has changed from night to day since we've been here. The ongoing, continuing growth here has been very satisfying. Now we have a beautiful LDS community, and other than a temple, we have every program of the Church.' "
Responding to that comment, President Monson said, "Today, Roy, you have a temple, as will all of the Saints in this temple district."
Temples are built, he said, "so that we might redeem our dead, and so we'll have an opportunity to perform those ordinances which we'll take with us through eternity. When we build a temple, we literally build ourselves. . . . I believe we become spiritually closer to God whenever we build such an edifice."
He noted that Charles A. Lindbergh flew the aircraft, "The Spirit of St. Louis," in 1927, the year of President Monson's birth.
"I love the name - `The Spirit of St. Louis.' It reflects a pioneer spirit. Those who helped establish the Church in this area and continue to help it grow are real pioneers.
"I simply say, `Thanks be to God for a temple, a temple of the Lord, to be erected here. That will be the true spirit of St. Louis."
In his address, Elder Oaks said, "We gather here because of the vision of the prophets of God that a house of the Lord should be built in this place.
"And because the generosity and faithfulness of the tithe payers of the Church in all parts of the world makes possible the building of what the scriptures refer to as the Mountain of the Lord's house.
"This is a familiar scriptural reference to a temple of the Lord," he asserted. "The mount of the Lord's house suggests that we come to high ground when we come to a house built to the Lord. We come to high ground literally in this wonderful place.
"The Lord's house provides us an opportunity to learn of our responsibility to God and our responsibility to one another. That is the reason why so many of us gather here on this beautiful place to commemorate the groundbreaking for a house of the Lord."
He expressed appreciation for "the warm Missouri welcome" from local leaders. "The weather is threatening, but the occasion is an occasion for celebration; our hearts are warm and our feelings of love for one another and gratitude for our Heavenly Father are supreme on this occasion."