During this great millennial year, President Gordon B. Hinckley opened an important chapter in the history of the Church Sunday morning with the dedication of the 21,000-seat Conference Center one of the largest buildings of its kind in the world.
"I am so grateful that the building is now completed," he said.
Occupied for the first time during the April 2000 General Conference, the Conference Center was not entirely finished then. "It is now declared complete with a permanent occupancy permit," said President Hinckley.
The new building is about 40-times the size of the Tabernacle, which served the Church well for more than a century but had become inadequate to meet the needs of the 11-million Latter-day Saints worldwide, said President Hinckley.
"It is a unique and wonderful building," he said. "When it was first envisioned and planned we were not concerned with building the largest house of worship to be found anywhere. We were concerned with a plan to accommodate the needs of our people."
He called building the structure a great and serious undertaking. "We were, of course, aware of all the electronic means for carrying far and wide the message spoken from the pulpit," he said. "However, we were also aware of the desire of so very many to sit in the same hall with the speaker, as evidenced this morning."
A record-setting 30,700 people gathered in the Conference Center and in overflow facilities on and near Temple Square to attend the dedication.
The event proved to be an unforgettable experience for members of the congregation, who participated in the sacred Hosanna Shout by rising to their feet and offering praise to the Lord while waving white handkerchiefs. The salutation is given at temple dedications and a few other occasions of historic importance such as the laying of the capstone on the Salt Lake Temple and the celebration of the centennial of the Church in the 1930 general conference.
"We feel it is appropriate to give the shout here as we dedicate this great building, the likes of which we may never see again," said President Hinckley.
At the conclusion of the shout, the Tabernacle Choir sang "The Hosanna Anthem," which was written by Evan Stephens for the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893. The congregation joined the choir, singing two verses of "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning," which was written by W. W. Phelps and first sung at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in 1836.
Thousands of Latter-day Saints also participated in the cornerstone ceremony, held before the Sunday morning session began.
During the early-morning ceremony, President Hinckley explained that cornerstones are no longer constructed in buildings. "In the early days the cornerstone was a very real and meaningful thing," he said. "When a large building was to be built, a great stone was placed in a trench in the earth. It was usually placed at the southeast corner. Then foundation stones were run in either direction."
Today, he continued, buildings are constructed on concrete; all the footings and the foundation of the new Conference Center carry the weight of everything built above them.
"But we preserve the symbolism of the cornerstone in remembrance of the Son of God upon Whose life and mission this Church is established," said President Hinckley. "He, and He alone, is the Chief Cornerstone. . . . Let this symbol be recognized as representing the Redeemer of the world, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name this Church carries."
During his conference remarks, President Hinckley recalled feeling the confirming voice of the Lord telling him to move forward with construction of the new building. He also recalled the benediction offered by President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, at the groundbreaking services for the mammoth building.
"In that prayer, he asked the Lord that He might preserve my life to be present for the dedication of the new building. I am grateful for the evident answer to that request."
President Hinckley said the building would be dedicated as a house in which to worship God the Eternal Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. "We hope and we pray that there will continue to go forth to the world from this pulpit declarations of testimony and doctrine, of faith in the Living God, and of gratitude for the great atoning sacrifice of the Redeemer."
President Hinckley said the Conference Center will also be a house in which artistic performances of a dignified nature will be presented.
"Here this glorious Tabernacle Choir will sing anthems of praise. Here other musical groups will perform for the entertaining of large numbers of people. Here will be presented pageants depicting in a beautiful and artistic way the history of this movement as well as many other things."
He said the building is constructed of the finest material by the ablest of craftsmen. "We are indebted to all who have contributed to make of this a magnificent center for conferences of the Church and other purposes.
"We anticipate that there will be requests from other groups to use this hall. We will make it available under regulations that will ensure that its use will be in harmony with the purposes for which it will be dedicated today."
The Conference Center, he said, is a place to be used in honor to the Almighty and for the accomplishment of His eternal purposes. "We are so grateful to have it," he said. "I am so grateful that it is completed."