ST. GEORGE — From the earthy tan exterior to the olive and blush purple interior, the Red Cliffs Utah Temple not only captures the essence of Southern Utah topography, it provides all people — from the highest ranking Latter-day Saint officials to the curious child — an opportunity to experience something sacred.

Latter-day Saint Communications Specialist Brian Tenney stands across the parking lot from the Red Cliffs Utah Temple after the media tour in St. George, Utah, Jan. 29, 2024 | Photo by Vin Cappiello, St. George News

This and similar spiritual messages dominated the narrative of Monday’s media tour of St. George’s second temple, which sits a mere five miles from the original pioneer-era St. George Utah Temple.

“Everyone is welcome,” said Brian Tenney, a St. George-based communications specialist for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Whether you’re a member or not a member, I think it would be a wonderful experience for people young and old.”

According to the LDS newsroom website, President Henry B. Eyring, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, will dedicate the temple in two sessions on Sunday, March 24.

The dedicatory sessions at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. will be broadcast to all units in the Red Cliffs Utah Temple district.

Elder Jonathan S. Schmitt addresses the media as other church leaders look on at the start of a media tour of the Red Cliffs Utah Temple, St. George, Utah, Jan. 29, 2024 | Photo by Vin Cappiello, St. George News

The public has watched this temple grow, from its groundbreaking on Nov. 7, 2020, to the stunning placement of Angel Moroni on May 24, 2022, and finally to the opening of its doors for public tours Feb. 1-March 2.

Tour leaders Monday included the following: Elder Hugo E. Martinez, General Authority Seventy and First Counselor, Utah Area Presidency; Elder Jonathan S. Schmitt, General Authority Seventy and assistant executive director, Priesthood and Family Department and the Temple Department; and Sister Tamara W. Runia, First Counselor, Young Women General Presidency.

The tour began in a reception area inside the temple entrance and continued in the baptistry, which features 12 ceramic oxen symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel and supporting the actual baptismal font.

Surrounding this important and historic setting are stained glass windows that feature succulents — a native plant that is represented throughout the 96,000-square-foot temple. Indian paintbrushes, bear claw poppies, cottonwood leaves and pomegranates are also prominent.

The Baptistry is where the primarily Latter-day Saint youth conduct proxy baptisms in the Red Cliffs Utah Temple, St. George, Utah, Jan. 29, 2024 |Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, St. George News

It is here that the youth of the church perform proxy baptisms — an ordinance “for the dead who were not baptized and therefore cannot enter heaven,” Schmitt said, quoting the Bible, John 3:5. “It’s a beautiful ordinance and it’s performed primarily by the youth.”

From here, the tour moved to the Bride’s Room, where women waiting to be sealed spend time in prayer and contemplation. Runia said she makes a point to tell brides-to-be that “worth is not tied to obedience” and that the responsibilities of a husband and wife should be shared, valued and based on love.

The tour continued in the changing rooms where members don white clothing as a means to achieve “purity and holiness,” Schmitt said. Next was the chapel — “an area for reflection to prepare for instruction,” and then the instruction rooms themselves.

Schmitt said it is in this space that individuals come to understand the “centrality of God’s plan on our journey of mortality.” The four instruction rooms are equipped with theater-like seats and an audiovisual setup available in multiple languages. It also serves as a means to help members prepare for a task, calling or challenge they might be facing.

And it’s in the Celestial Room, a contemplative, quiet and reverential sanctuary, where each person prayerfully and meditatively connects with God and asks for help. The light here is bright, complemented by an ornate chandelier, large windows and gold leafing that lines the walls.

Couples and families are sealed for eternity in the Sealing Room in the Red Cliffs Utah Temple, St. George, Utah, Jan. 29, 2024 | Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, St. George News

The Sealing Room is where couples are sealed and families are united together for eternity.

“We’re all sealed together in the family of God,” Schmitt said.

It was here that Schmit asked those in attendance to share their experiences while in the Celestial Room. This writer chose to speak briefly, saying it doesn’t matter if you’re in a chapel in an airport, an ancient church in Italy or the Celestial Room of the temple, it’s important to “listen to the quiet.” It’s when the message being communicated to us often is much easier to “hear.”

This is the “sacred experience” several leaders emphasized. It’s what awaits the public during the tour period.

Paintings leave impressions

In general, the temple is beautifully decorated. There’s a symmetry to it, but it does not limit the artistic design and precise architecture unique to each LDS temple. In fact, the 200-plus paintings that adorn the walls are strategically placed, many of them depicting Southern Utah landscapes and passages from both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

Schmitt referred several times to paintings of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, equating this well-known rocky ascent to the new temple.

The Celestial Room is a reverential space where individuals engage in deep introspection and prayer and is considered the most sacred space in the temple, St. George, Utah, Jan. 29, 2024 | Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, St. George News

“This is the place where heaven and Earth connect, where we truly get to experience Angel’s Landing,” Schmitt said.

One painting I found most profound was of Jesus — alone — in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was here, the Bible tells us in Matthew, chapter 26, verses 26-36, that Jesus prayed with his disciples, who fell asleep even after they promised to protect him — his betrayal and arrest imminent. It is one of two times Jesus calls upon the Father to save him from what he’s about to endure.

He has been abandoned. And what follows is his trial, where he stands alone. His whipping and scourging, which he suffers alone. And his crucifixion and death, which he endures alone.

It’s understandable why this particular painting hangs near the entrance to the Celestial Room, which people enter often feeling alone and abandoned, the church leaders said.

It’s equally as understandable why the painting just outside the exit depicts Christ beckoning to his disciples at the Sea of Galilee where twice in the Scriptures they doubted Jesus, and twice he assured them he would never abandon them, even though they abandoned him. He calmed the seas for them when he was alive, then he reappeared to them in the days following his resurrection, helping them catch fish and telling them to “feed the lambs.”

The parallels here are astounding.

I would liken the reverence expected and required in the Celestial Room to the exposure of the Monstrance during the Catholic practice of Eucharistic Adoration. For it is in this setting that Catholics believe Christ is present in the Eucharist that sits before them. And that the thin veil that separates us from God, or heaven from Earth, is at its thinnest — if it’s even there at all.

This was my first visit to a temple, and while there, I was reminded of the many LDS friends my wife Lisa and I made while living in Southern Idaho for nine years and Cody, Wyoming, for 20 years, as well as the many LDS friends we’ve made here in Southern Utah.

We’ve attended many functions these families hosted, from wedding receptions to graduation parties to mission farewells and returns. Even though we didn’t share the same religion, we have taken care of each other’s children, created wonderful memories and shared quite a bit of incredible food.

A special assignment

Journalists are supposed to distance themselves from events. We are trained to observe and report. My assignment on this day was to report on the opening of the Red Cliffs Utah Temple and provide a personal commentary and narrative for readers. It’s been a unique assignment: part of me had to be unbiased, another part of me had to be biased, and still another part of me had to choose between being a spiritual participant or essentially an atheist.

Church officials and members of the media walk toward the Red Cliffs Utah Temple at the start of a tour, St. George, Utah, Jan. 29, 2024 | Photo by Vin Cappiello, St. George News

Coming out of this experience, I feel I know a lot more about temples and Latter-day Saints than I knew before the day started. I understand more fully that recommends and ordinances are much like sacraments. And I’d like to think realizing some vital aspects of someone else’s faith has made me keener on dusting off my beads and starting to pray the Rosary again.

Religion and faith, while interrelated are not one and the same. Religion begs for labels, while faith requires trust in that which we cannot see. This temple, however, is clearly visible and stands as a testament to the people who worked together to bring a second temple to the area. Several people commented Monday that the faith of the members here is so great and their need to experience the temple regularly so profound that it necessitated the building of a second temple.

It’s something to be proud of.

And I wonder: In a thousand years, will this temple, others like it, and the churches, synagogues and various places of worship still be standing as reminders of the time they were built? Will they provide the same legacy as the Coliseum in Rome, the Acropolis in Greece and the pyramids in Egypt?

While the structures might not look the same or withstand the test of time, most certainly their foundations will remain. The support below the surface makes the beauty above the surface possible. It’s what we trust in, even though we can’t see it.

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