Wednesday, January 12, 2000

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Mormon leaders Donald Hallstrom and John Dickson
participate in yesterday's tour of the new Kailua-Kona temple.

Mormon temple
open to public
before dedication

Access to the $6 million
Big Isle center will be limited
after its Jan. 23 dedication

By Mary Adamski


KAILUA-KONA -- With its 66-foot white spire topped by a golden angel statue, the new Mormon temple in Kailua-Kona is already on Big Island maps as a landmark.

But if passersby expect the $6 million edifice of gleaming white marble to translate into a showy cathedral-ceilinged hall resonating with that famous Salt Lake City choir, they are misinformed.

Visitors this week to the new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints center are finding it a cluster of intimate spaces furnished in comfortable luxury, a hushed atmosphere that reflects members' solemn regard for the place.

Graphic by Kip Aoki, Star-Bulletin

"This is a very sacred, very special place to us," Donald Hallstrom told invited visitors yesterday. "It's not secret, but sacred."

Hallstrom, a Honolulu businessman who holds the title of Area Authority, the highest church rank in Hawaii, and other leaders played tour guide for clergy from other denominations, government and business representatives and the media.

The public may tour the building at 75-230 Kalani Road from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. tomorrow, Friday and Saturday. Tourists are required to wear plastic booties to protect the sculpted white carpet and forbidden to take photographs or use tape recorders inside.

It's a rare opportunity because once it's dedicated Jan. 23 by church President Gordon Hinckley, the facility will be closed not only to the public but to the majority of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members. Only members adjudged "worthy," whose moral conduct and commitment have passed the scrutiny of the leaders of their own congregations, qualify. That amounts to about one-third of adult church members in the area, said temple President Larry Oler.

Questions were welcomed by Hallstrom and John B. Dickson, president of the North America West region, who said the tours are a tradition wherever a temple is opened. It's seen as a way to explain their beliefs -- widely misunderstood and considerably divergent from those of other Christian denominations.

Christianity 'restored'

Mindful of the mixed crowd, Dickson was diplomatically circumspect in explaining their teaching that Christianity got off the track in the first century A.D. and was "restored" when Joseph Smith received revelations from an angel named Moroni. "We believe the Savior organized his church ... it fell into the Dark Ages. We are grateful for the reformers who prepared the ground for the restoration," he said.

Outsiders were most fascinated with the marble baptistry, deeper but no wider than a lavish hot tub, born on the backs of carved marble oxen symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel. Members don white robes to be immersed for proxy baptisms intended to qualify their dead ancestors to enter God's kingdom.

Courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
The Baptistry pool inside the temple.

"Do you have preachers?" asked Juanita Reyes of Kona, evoking an answer that the title isn't used, and the priesthood is made up of laymen, some of whom are qualified to preach and teach.

"Do you believe in miracles?" she asked. "We don't usually talk much about them," Dickson replied. "Mostly they are things between the Heavenly Father and myself," he said, indicating there have been miracles in his life.

"You know that we are all one," Reyes told Dickson at one point. After the tour, she described herself as a "born again Christian" who attends different churches. "The Lord teaches me that every religion has some truth. They're doing whatever they feel is truth," she said.

"We're all a little more ecumenical these days," said Dr. Niall Scully, a Catholic, who took the tour at the invitation of another doctor. "We have seen temples from the outside, but what went on inside was a mystery. It's been very instructive."

His wife Peggy said: "We knew very private and wonderful things happen here. I've had friends married in the temple and couldn't come."

'Put on earth to prepare'

Non-Mormon Nellie Medeiros was awed by the Celestial Room, a light-filled meditation chamber, where opposite mirrors reflect the large crystal chandelier. "I love the symbolism, that family life goes on and on into infinity like the reflection," she said.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Visitors to the new Mormon Temple in Kailua-Kona don
booties before entering the facility.

Dickson told the visitors that "we are put on earth to prepare ourselves. The temple is here to help us return to the presence of Heavenly Father." Much of the activity in the temple is centered on keeping the family linked. Spouses who were married outside come to "seal" their wedding vows forever. Children are sealed to their parents forever. It is incumbent on believers to seek out their genealogy and baptize and seal their ancestors.

Hallstrom recalled that for years, Laie was the nearest temple for Mormons in the South Pacific and Japan. "There were epic tales of journeys people made to get to the temple." Building the second Hawaii temple now makes it convenient for Big Island, Maui, Molokai and Lanai members to perform the "ordinances" or rituals.

"A member could come back every week to perform as proxies for people who are dead," Oler said. "You never run out of names and reasons. Temple attendance is the high point of worship."

A growing church


Bullet Worldwide: 10 million
Bullet Hawaii: 55,000


Bullet April 1830: Joseph Smith and his first followers organized the church in Fayette, N.Y., based on revelations he received from an angel, Moroni, 1820-23.
Bullet 1847: Brigham Young assumed leadership after Smith was killed and led members to Utah to escape persecution that hounded them from New York to Missouri to Illinois.
Bullet December 1850: The first 10 missionaries arrive in Hawaii.
Bullet 1919: The temple at Laie is dedicated, the first to be built outside Utah.
Bullet March 1999: Groundbreaking for a second Hawaii temple at Kailua-Kona, part of a building surge with the goal of 100 temples worldwide by the end of this year.
Bullet Jan. 23, 2000: Church President Gordon Hinckley will dedicate the temple, which will serve members from Big Island, Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

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