Saints, Episode 44: Blessed Peace

Ben Godfrey, Shalyn Back, and Jenny Lund

Hosts Ben Godfrey and Shalyn Back discuss the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple with Director of the Historic Sites Division in the Church History Department, Jenny Lund. The Saints viewed the temple dedication as the culmination of decades of persecution and struggle, as the prophet at the time and as one who was with Brigham Young as they chose the site for the temple, President Woodruff plays a pivotal role in the building and dedication of the Salt Lake Temple.

Transcript

Speakers:

Shalyn Back, Ben Godfrey, and Jenny Lund

Jenny Lund:  It seems like those words, “No place on earth had any value for me anymore” really sums up what many of the Saints were feeling about this culminating event of the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple? Their dreams for Zion had been fulfilled in this moment.

Ben Godfrey: Welcome to the Saints Podcast. I'm Ben Godfrey. 

Shalyn Back: And I'm Shalyn Back. Thanks for joining us today. As we discuss Chapter 44, “Blessed Peace”.

Ben Godfrey: And joining us today, we have our good friend, Jenny Lund, who is the director of the Historic Sites Division in the Church History Department. Welcome Jenny.  We are delighted to have you here with us. This has been quite a journey we've been on and we are excited that you are with us to celebrate the last chapter in Saints Volume Two.  It is really the culmination in many ways of all the stories that we've been reading about over this season in our Saints Podcast.  So Jenny let's start with the Salt Lake Temple dedication. Can you set the stage for us and set the scene of what this dedication was like?

Jenny Lund: It was certainly one of the grand, probably the grandest celebrations that the Saints had in the 19th century and maybe celebration might seem like a funny word for us to use because it's a temple dedication.  We often think of those as a very spiritual event,  a very solemn event.  In many ways it was, but the sense of joy and elation at the thought that this temple was finally completed after 40 years was just overwhelming. You look at the number of people who came from distant settlements to attend the celebration, the media attention, newspaper reporters that came to town to record what happened, it was just an event that I'm having a hard time thinking of an equivalent in the Church today.  It was just such a grand, grand event. 

Shalyn Back:  Something that I thought was really neat is that before the dedication they gave tours to journalists and even local critics, and they were all very impressed and wrote very positive things.  That's something that we do today in our temples too. We invite local leaders and leaders of other faiths to come and see the temple before it's dedicated. And I think that's a neat tradition that we have. 

Ben Godfrey:  Did it start here? 

Jenny Lund: it starts here.  So there was a day, the day before the first dedicatory session, they invited journalists and other important local people, mostly non-members, to come and see the temple and Church leaders walk them through the building.  So it's actually quite similar to what we do today with VIP guests and media guests at temple open houses. And then before each dedicatory session those who were attending that session actually walked through the entire temple. So they came in one door and then they took a route that took them through all the rooms of the temple before they reached the assembly room on the top.

Ben Godfrey:  And how many people came?   Remind us how many sessions were there and how many people came to participate in this temple dedication?  

Jenny Lund: There were typically about two sessions a day. Sometimes they'd have three sessions. There were few evening sessions. And if my memory is right, I think the total number was close to 30 sessions. The average is given to us is  usually between 75,000, 80,000 participants in those sessions. 

Ben Godfrey: That's incredible. Let's step back for just a moment to the first dedicatory session. Wilford Woodruff stands, he's of course the President of the Church.   He stands and for 30 minutes gives thanks. And I want to play just a little clip here from the book that talks about this prayer and some of the things he was thankful for. 

Narrator:   “Strengthen us by the memories of the glorious deliverances of the past, by the remembrance of the sacred covenants that Thou hast made with us,” he prayed, “ so that when evil overshadows us, when trouble encompasses us, when we pass through the valley of humiliation, we may not falter, may not doubt, but in the strength of Thy Holy Name may we accomplish all thy righteous purposes.”

Jenny Lund: That's a little bit, maybe what we would say the temple still does for people today, is it helps give us that inner strength.  

Shalyn Back:  Jenny,  Wilford Woodruff gives the dedicatory prayer. Can you just remind us about the significance that the Salt Lake Temple has for Wilford Woodruff?

Jenny Lund:  Wilford Woodruff is I think the last living Church leader who was there on the day the place was selected in 1847. There were other Church leaders who were alive, but they were children.  They weren't closely involved and they weren't right there with Brigham Young on the day that they walked out and designated a location for the temple site. He was also there when the foundation was dug and when they laid the cornerstone. So he's been there all along the way.  It was Brigham Young's real desire to see the Salt Lake Temple completed, but it did not happen. It was just not something that was feasible during his lifetime. He, of course, lived to see the St. George Temple dedicated, which was a great satisfaction to him. And so for Wilford Woodruff, this is an extremely important moment for him to be that really last connection among Church leaders who had that full experience --40 years in construction.  And so it's a very, very meaningful and moving experience for him. 

Ben Godfrey:  I'm thinking of an historical photograph that shows Wilford Woodruff and his counselors. They have on top hats as they go to the dedicatory session. And I just contrast that with the fact that it hasn't been very many years that Wilford couldn't even come to his own wife's funeral.  He was in hiding underground, and this has to be so meaningful on many different levels, but to be open and public and be out with the Saints and able to speak to them in a public way, it just has to be such a culmination of hopes and dreams and prayers by Wilford and others.  

Jenny Lund:  It is. And part of the reason we're at this point is because of his great concern about the Church and the need to provide temple ordinances and sealing ordinances to the people. But how can we do that if the temples are confiscated, if we're not allowed to enter them. It's that situation that drives him to his knees over and over again, until he feels that he's received revelation with absolute clarity that the time has come to end the practice of plural marriage in order to make the temples and the covenants within those walls available to all the members of the Church who desire them. 

Ben Godfrey:  Your words remind me also, in the chapter, speaking of all members and all people, of Joseph F. Smith, his counselor in the First Presidency who had a very emotional appeal to those who were in attendance.  Let's listen to a little clip here from the book of Joseph Smith's remarks.

Narrator:  Joseph F. Smith spoke later in the service, tears streaming down his face. “All the inhabitants of the earth are the people of God,”  he said, “and it is our duty to carry the words of life and salvation to them, and to redeem those who have died without the knowledge of the truth.  This house has been erected to the name of God for that purpose.”  

Jenny Lund:  Yes. And I think Joseph F. Smith has a unique view on those things because when he was called as a young missionary to the Sandwich Islands, what we would know today as Hawaii, his eyes were opened, and he learned that Hawaiians and any other people were really children of God. And they were just like him.  So I think you see that little bit of sense coming out in his very fervent exhortation to the Saints.  

Shalyn Back: Susie Young Gates is one of the people in attendance, and she's not only just attending, she's acting as the recorder for all of the sessions, which I think is so fascinating.   She has an interesting experience.  Jenny, can you tell us what happens to her and what she observes as Joseph F. Smith is speaking?  

Jenny Lund: While she's recording, the minute she looks up she sees this light on Joseph F. Smith’s face.  And so she looks to the man who's also recording the sessions next to her, and she says, “ Look at how the sunshine is playing on Joseph F. Smith's face,” and he turns to her and says,  “Look out the window. It is a dark and gloomy day. There is no sunshine.”   She then realizes that what she's seeing is really the Holy Spirit just illuminating Joseph F. Smith countenance. 

Ben Godfrey: There are other Saints who  are aware of when the temple will be dedicated. And at the very hour, when the first dedication begins, there are Saints in the Pacific, meeting, and they have a very spiritual meeting, and then what else do they do at this time? 

Jenny Lund:  Part of the purpose of their meeting is to celebrate the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, which I think is really interesting juxtaposition because where they are very remote from the Salt Lake Temple, they're far in the South Pacific on a small island, and they probably have no possibility in their minds that they would ever be able to travel to a temple to participate in these ordinances, yet they are celebrating with the Saints in Salt Lake. I think that says something about the unity that even far-flung Saints had around the Salt Lake Temple dedication.  But that meeting, which maybe is about something so far away is also a very powerful, spiritual experience for these people. And so immediately following the meeting, they went to the water and baptized the number of people who are now fully converted in that experience.  

Shalyn Back: Speaking of this unity, we've talked in previous chapters about the Hawaiian Saints that had settled in Iosepa and they made arrangements with their crops and everything. They really worked to make sure that they could leave their settlement for several days. I mean, it was a two day journey to Salt Lake City so that they could gather for a session.  And I thought that was such a beautiful story. Did they attend a session just set aside for them or what was that situation for them?  

Jenny Lund:  Yes, they were invited to attend a particular session. That was quite common since sessions would be kind of designated for certain groups. There was one for children, by the way, just Sunday school children, and then this one.  The Hawaiians from Iosepa were invited to attend.  That group had really come to Utah to be able to participate in temple ordinances. So this is a group that had gathered to Laie, in Hawaii, but that gathering spot, although the Saints could come together there and work together there, they didn't have a temple at that time.  And so this was really a fulfillment of part of their gathering dream because they had come to Utah so that they could participate in temple ordinances. 

Ben Godfrey: Let's listen to a little clip here about what happens as the Iosepa Saints visit the temple. And as you mentioned earlier, they're having a walkthrough of all of the rooms in the temple before the session begins.  And I thought this was particularly poignant about what they find as they do the walkthrough.  

Narrator:     The Iosepa Saints entered the building and walked through its many rooms. The Saints in Laie had sent a small table inlaid with Hawaiian hardwood for the temple, and two poles decorated with the feathers of Hawaiian birds were on display in one corner of the Celestial Room.  Women in Hawaiian Relief Societies had crafted the poles called Kahili, which symbolized royalty and spiritual protection.  

Shalyn Back: Does that table still exist?     

Jenny Lund: The table does still exist. It's in the collection of the Church Museum and it's a stunningly beautiful piece of craftsmanship. I think how important it was for these Hawaiian Saints who would have known the traditions of Hawaiian royalty, the traditions of their culture, to walk through the Celestial Room not only to see that table made perhaps by people they knew in Laie, but also to see the symbols of royalty and spiritual protection that are now sitting in the Celestial Room.  

Shalyn Back:  And then George Q. Cannon, who we've all come to love so much throughout this volume, addresses the Hawaiian Saints in their own language, and I just think what a special experience they're having.   They've sacrificed so much, and I hope that they found this to be rewarding for their sacrifices. 

Jenny Lund:  I'm sure they did find it a very rewarding experience, particularly to hear George Q. Cannon,  who was deeply loved by the Saints, as well as Joseph F. Smith.

 

He was another figure deeply loved by the Saints. Both of them had been young missionaries in Hawaii. And so to hear George Q. Cannon speaking to them in their own language was a particular blessing for them. 

Ben Godfrey: I have to tell our listeners one really cool thing about this part of Saints. As the writers were finishing in this final chapter in the book, we felt it was very important that we have their words. What did they really experience? And in the Church History Library, where Jenny and I both work, we have their minute books from Iosepa . Now, unfortunately they're all in Hawaiian, and so we didn't know what they actually said, but we knew that the dates roughly were about when they would have gone to the temple and we took those minute books and we scanned them in electronically.  And we took them to two scholars of the Hawaiian language, and asked them to read them and tell us if there was anything in there about the temple dedication. And there wasn't just one thing. There were pages and pages of minutes describing their experiences. And so when you read in Saints and it says later at a branch meeting in Iosepa, a man named Jay Mahoy, spoke of his experience at the dedication and the important lessons he learned there.  “ I rejoice in having been able to attend the temple and witnessed the happenings found therein.”  He said, “We need to take care of our genealogies.” Those words come from their minute book written in Hawaiian, in Iosepa. And we still have them today. And it's just so cool to me that we were able to get those words and bring them back to life in Saints.

Jenny Lund: I think you'll see the personal dimension to the temple dedication, how impactful it was on individual Saints. When you see in this case, many references to the temple dedication, perhaps over weeks, as people got up to bear testimony and fast and testimony meeting, or as they gave talks on Sunday, that this is a highlight of people's spiritual lives.

Shalyn Back:  Another prominent thing that is featured in this chapter is Zina Young.  She, at this time, is the Relief Society General President. And what I thought was a neat connection is that when she was young, she had been to the Kirtland Temple dedication, and she  actually was one of the people who had heard angels sing at that dedication.  You know, you called it a celebration earlier, just there was so much joy in these events, and over the period of her life she served in the Endowment House and also in the temples in St. George, Logan and Manti. So now that the Salt Lake Temple is built, what is she called to do? What is her role?

Jenny Lund: So, as you mentioned, Zina has had a lot of experience with temple ordinances.  She's worked in many temples. She's very dedicated to the work. So she is called to a role which would be the equivalent today of a Temple Matron.  She supervises all temple work that women participate in or administer in the temple. 

Ben Godfrey: Zina is a busy, busy lady. She's got all these responsibilities as the General Relief Society President.  She's overseeing temple work, and she has another assignment where she is going out to the Colombian Exposition, the World's Fair in Chicago, where she's going to help represent the Church. Let's listen to a little quote here from this woman who as Shalyn mentioned. She's had these experiences in Kirtland.  She's come across the plains on foot and in a wagon. And now she's riding on a train. 

Narrator: The two friends left for Chicago on May 10th. In a matter of days, their train covered distances it would have taken weeks to travel nearly 50 years earlier when the Saints first came to the Salt Lake Valley, crossing the Mississippi River.   Emmeline [Wells] was overwhelmed with emotion as she thought of the past.  Although the saints had endured many trials over the last half century. They had experienced many triumphs as well. 

Jenny Lund: That Colombian Exposition is really a triumphal moment for the Saints. Each state is invited to have a building to show off the best that their community can produce. And so the Latter-day Saints embrace this opportunity as a way to say, “the world's been looking at us for years and all they see are things that they don't like.  Let us show you who we really are as a people.” And so the best things that we produce in Utah are on exhibit; the best ideas that come out of the state; the Tabernacle Choir performs, there are  speakers.  There's a whole panorama of things that we celebrate about Utah and about the Church at the Colombian Exposition.  Not only is it the Salt Lake Temple dedication year, but it's this Colombian Exposition or World's Fair. And that particular fair was really an important moment to set a new public image for the Church.  

Shalyn Back:  This is a very retrospective chapter. The culmination of the temple dedication. I think a lot of Saints are really thinking back on their experiences of how they got here.  And I love that in this thought process Zina says that after her sacrifices indescribable, she just hopes that people in the future will have reason to praise God for the noble women of this generation. And I truly feel that as we've discussed all these chapters with so many experts like yourself, I just am so inspired by all the Saints, but especially the women.  I really appreciate how their experiences have been brought to light and that we can learn so much from everything that they were able to accomplish. It's incredible. 

Jenny Lund:  I think it's easy as we study history, if you focus on things like administrative history or political history or military history.  Women tend to get left out of the picture.  And so we haven't had a full view of their story. And so that's one of the things I love about Saints is that it's worked very hard to make sure that we tell the whole story of the Church and to include women. Some of these women I've known really well. I feel like I know them personally, although of course they've long been dead, but I've read their writings.   I've read their diaries and some of their letters.  These are just women I've come to know really well over the years.  And so I think it's just an incredible opportunity for more people to get to know them. 

Ben Godfrey:  Anna Widtsoe so is another woman that we've gotten to know well through Saints Volume Three and her son, John, who is very bright. She's worked so hard to make sure he got a good education. He's back at Harvard and he's learning lots of things, but he's also experiencing questions and doubt.  Let's listen to just a quote here from John. 

Narrator:    At Harvard, he had learned a great many things from his professors. But their lectures had also led him to question his faith  His doubts cut him to the bone. Some days he denied God's existence. Other days he affirmed it. 

Ben Godfrey: this is pretty hard. And Anna writes him letters, encouraging him.  But I think this is perhaps a story that many people can relate to as we work through our own questions. 

Jenny Lund: And it's certainly not an unusual story with somebody attending university for the first time, because in that situation, we are exposed to ideas we've probably never thought about before. And so it might be hard for someone like John Widtsoe or somebody else to try and make sense of all those in connection with their faith.  And so that's what he's experiencing here.  

Shalyn Back: And we have a lot of Saints who have received answers to their questions, but that's one thing, it's another to receive those answers for yourself because you need to, in order to live it.  As I was reading more about John, I found some quotes that he had written about doubt, and there's a couple of things that I wanted to share that I think will be helpful for our listeners.  One of the things he says is just that “the strong man is not afraid to say, I do not know, but the weak man simpers and answers, I doubt.”   And so he's just saying, if your doubt doesn't turn into inquiry, it's not going to do any good.  “ Doubt of the right kind” he says, “that his honest questioning leads to faith. It is not wrong unless it becomes an end of life.”  He goes on to say,  “It rises to high dignity when it becomes an active search for, and practice of truth. Doubt which immediately leads to honest inquiry and thereby removes itself,  is wholesome, but that doubt, which feeds and grows upon itself and with stubborn indolence breeds more doubt is evil.”  So I just thought that was such a great addition to this little peek that we have into John's experience that he's having at Harvard.

Jenny Lund:  And I think what you see in that is how much that this period of his life has impacted him. So he draws on that time period all the time as he's teaching the Saints, as he's writing, as he's trying to help others navigate those waters like he did.

Ben Godfrey: And our listeners will have the opportunity to learn a lot more about John Widtsoe and other people that you've met in Saints. As we move to Saints Volume Three, of course, that's going to be a little while before the book comes out, but don't give up, you're going to have a great time learning more about John and his faith and his journey to becoming a great leader and educator in the Church.  Perhaps we could finish this episode by listening to just one more quote by Anna Widtsoe as she writes a letter to John to tell him about the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple.   

Narrator: “I tried to stay in the celestial room as long as possible,” She told John in a letter, “I saw it and felt as if a light was shone on me and that no place on earth had any value for me anymore.”

Jenny Lund: Seems like those last few words, “No place on earth had any value for me anymore.,” really sums up what many of the Saints were feeling about this culminating event of the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. Their dreams for Zion had been fulfilled in this moment.   

Shalyn Back:  Thank you so much for joining us today and for giving us more insight into the context of the dedication and really what these saints were thinking  at this time. Thank you. 

Ben Godfrey: And I would invite you our listeners to join us. We have one more episode in this season of Saints. We're going to bring back two of our lead editors and writers who are participating in the writing Volume, Three of Saints. We're going to have some fun talking about some of their favorite parts of Saints Volume Two, and what's coming in Saints Volume Three.  So join us in our next episode of the  Saints Podcast. 

Shalyn Back:  And we would love to know what you've thought about the season and about the things that you're reading in any comments or questions that you have. You can email us@saintspodcastatchurchofjesuschrist.org. And please continue to follow along and you can visit our website, saints.church of Jesus christ.org, where you'll find all the chapters and information that can supplement your study and learning.

I'm Ben Godfrey and I'm Shalyn Back. Thanks for listening.