The Newport Beach Temple - the one hundred twenty second operating temple in the world as of today - was dedicated in four sessions, presided over by President Gordon B. Hinckley. I got to stand no more than ten feet away from him.
Earlier this summer I received a letter from the Temple Committee stating that I had been selected to participate in one of the dedicatory choirs. It would have been a tremendous honor to participate in the dedication as an usher. To sing in one of the sessions was something I never in a million years expected to experience.
Because of the size of the temple (small) and the fact that the sessions are conducted in the Celestial Room (even smaller!), the choir also needed to be (small). There were, in fact, eighteen of us, plus two alternates who would be called upon to sing if one of us was unable for any reason. The conductor I know well. She conducts a local group called the Anaheim Mormon Chorale, one of relatively few standing LDS choirs in Southern California. We would be honored to perform for the fourth and final dedicatory session.
From the beginning of rehearsals, this was obviously a unique experience. It is never far from one's mind that temple dedications have been the scene of some of the most spiritual experiences one may have in this life. Indeed, angels were seen by many at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, and countless anecdotes of equal significance have accompanied every dedication since. And so, even with the friendly and cheerful banter that often accompanies these rehearsals, there was also the pall of tremendous responsibility that we felt from our first session together.
Musically, this performance was not overly taxing. The hardest part was, perhaps, having to memorize the pieces. Unless you count having to end the "Hosanna Anthem" on a note right on my break. Could have done without that.
Although I was thrilled to be able to perform in this dedication, it was even more important for me that I got to share the experience with my wonderful Mrs. Woody. We both were privileged to be in the temple, albeit in different rooms, for the service.
I wish I were somehow capable of describing the emotions I felt during the service. Although I was only in the presence of the prophet while we were singing (we sat in one of the sealing rooms in between), it was wonderful to feel his infectious testimony fill the meeting. Every speaker - brothers and sisters with fervent testimonies and dedication to the Lord - bore solemn witness to the blessing of having a temple in our midst. President Faust, who accompanied the prophet, bore his testimony of the atonement. He made particular emphasis of the idea that the atonement means we receive the blessings after all that we can do. (Emphasis, Pres. Faust)
President Hinckley is, of course, one of the greatest stump speakers I've ever heard. At one point he could not, for the life of him, remember what the name of the temple was. He finally had to turn and ask the Seventy. He then sheepishly reminded us that this is one of the signs of old age. He mentioned that Sis. Hinckley had something on their refrigerator once that said, "I'm the same age as President Reagan. I wonder if he ever goes into the Oval Office and forgets what he went there for?" He then proceeded to bear powerful testimony of the temple and its blessings. He made particular mention of the great work of family history and the opportunities we have to do that work for our ancestors.
Then came the great dedicatory prayer. It is said that the prophet takes special care to prepare the prayer in advance. It must convey not only the priesthood authority under which we dedicate this edifice, but also the hopes and desires of all who will enter the temple to perform this work. Immediately following the prayer is the Hosanna Shout which has been performed since ancient times. Then the choir sings the Hosanna Anthem, accompanied by the congregation singing "The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning." I can only say that after all the spirit felt immediately preceding the song, getting through it without losing control of my tear ducts was a real feat.
Mrs. Woody and I compared notes as we drove home. It was, for both of us, exactly what it needed to be; a chance to renew our commitment to the temple work, and an opportunity to share this experience together. Mrs. Woody could just as easily have attended the ceremony via the satellite broadcasts to our Stake Center, but she was allowed to come to the temple instead. With me. Another memory to seal in our hearts for eternity.
We will return. Often. And it will always be "our" temple.