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Sacred edifice called a 'jewel box'
Nearly 15,000 visit open house of Alaska temple

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- With its flecked gray and white granite exterior sparkling with frost and snow, the new Anchorage Alaska Temple was described as a "jewel box" by some of the nearly 15,000 who toured the sacred edifice during the public open house Dec. 29-31.

Temperatures during those days ranged from minus 8 to 17 degrees above zero Fahrenheit. Visitors waited patiently in long lines in a temporary heated walkway leading from the adjacent Anchorage Alaska Stake center. Before starting the tour, visitors in the stake center viewed a Church video explaining LDS beliefs about temples and eternal families.The open house -- traditional for all new temples -- was held just days prior to the dedication, scheduled for Jan. 9-10, by President Gordon B. Hinckley. (Coverage of the dedication will be in the Jan. 16 Church News.)

Local TV stations featured the open house, and a front-page story in the Anchorage newspaper went by wire throughout the world. In addition, radio stations told of the open house in news stories and public service spots.

In a special VIP tour Dec. 28, local media, government and civic leaders, and representatives of other faiths were led through the newly completed edifice by Elders Rex D. Pinegar and D. Lee Tobler of the Seventy, both of whom serve in the North America Northwest Area presidency. One of the VIP visitors was Catholic Archbishop Francis Hurley of Alaska, who was accompanied by members of his staff.

Another visitor, Anchorage Mayor Rick Mystrom, spent considerable time in the celestial and sealing rooms. "I came to tour an architectural building," he said after the tour, "but I experienced a temple."

The some 600 Latter-day Saints who volunteered for the open house observed some tears from LDS and non-LDS alike as they quietly toured the building. One non-LDS visitor, Marge Fowler of Anchorage said: "Thank you for letting me come. I enjoyed the experience very much. Your temple is beautiful."

Another visitor, 17-year-old Samantha Campbell, who lives near the temple said: "I like the lights on the top of your temple. It's neat to come home in the dark and see it all lit up, and I like to see it out my window."

In addition, Dan Manning, who is familiar with LDS temples because of his traveling, said: "The San Diego [temple] was very impressive. I thought, 'What is this?' and I wanted to learn a little more about it."

He added: "Luckily, since I moved to Alaska, I've met some very nice people who are associated with your church. And that also got me curious." When the announcement was made about the temple being in his neighborhood, he wondered about the size and the impact on the area. Now that the temple is finished, he feels it has added value to the neighborhood. "I think it is good for the community as a whole."

A special open house tour was also held for the immediate neighbors of the temple.

Anchorage 13th Ward Bishop Daniel Osborn, whose ward boundaries include the temple grounds, said construction of the temple has been a spur to many to make changes in their lives. It has made a positive impact. There has been a huge upsurge for people to prepare, to repent. The request for temple recommends has doubled in his ward.

"The ward has been blessed. Watching the temple being built has encouraged members for more personal righteousness," he added.

Especially so for Latter-day Saints whose homes are within sight of the temple, such as Jeff and Karin Carter and their five children. "It is a constant reminder. It's hard to get mad at your kids when the temple spires are shining behind them through the window," Sister Carter said.

Another member affected by the new temple, Shawn Gregson of the Anchorage 12th Ward, recently became active and now serves as a stake missionary. His wife, Cathlene, was baptized in July 1998. The Gregsons and their children had never seen a temple before.

"I knew it would be beautiful, but I didn't expect to feel the way that I did," Brother Gregson related. "Even 11-month-old Cameron was quiet and just looked and looked. The girls whispered questions. Amanda, 7, is heart-broken that she is not old enough to attend the dedication."

Brother and Sister Gregson and 9-year-old Jordanne will attend the Sunday morning dedicatory service, and they are eager for the time they can be sealed as an eternal family.

The new temple is small, approximately 6,700-square feet. All the rooms are on one level and include a baptistry, celestial room, one sealing room and one ordinance room with seating for 50. Temple architect Doug Green of the Eagle River 2nd Ward, Wasilla Alaska Stake, included Alaskan influence in the design. Impressions of the state flower -- the forget-me-not -- is found in some of the interior details. The stained glass beside the entrance gives the subtle feeling of water. Earth stones and fir trees adorn the pilasters on each side of the doorway. The North Star and the Big Dipper mark the west side of the building.

The statue of the Angel Moroni, which was placed on the temple steeple Dec. 17 in 6-degrees below zero F weather, faces east toward the Chugach mountain range. The temple is nestled in tall trees just off a main freeway. The steeple is lit during the dark hours, but is turned off before midnight in consideration of the neighbors.

In Alaska, that means it will be lit most of the day during the winter months.

The sacred edifice will be cleaned and maintained by members. Members of the Anchorage 13th Ward cleaned it before the open house. Bishop Osborn said he asked many sisters who, for various circumstances, could not attend the temple to participate in the cleaning. "Without exception, it was an extremely significant moment in their lives, just to be asked to clean the temple. And they did it with joy," the bishop added.

Members of other wards also volunteered their time to help clean the temple. Martha Swan of the Anchorage 17th Ward, described her experience: "It had already been cleaned, but I wanted it to be really clean, because it is the Lord's House. I didn't want to leave a speck of dirt. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to make every nook and corner clean. It is just beautiful. It is His House."

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