“Journey to the Temple,” Ensign, Jan. 1996, 54
“Come ye, … with all your precious things of the earth; and build a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein” (D&C 124:26–27).
In January 1841 the Prophet Joseph Smith urged faithful Church members gathered in Nauvoo, Illinois, to build a temple. The cornerstones for the Nauvoo Temple were laid that same year, and the painstaking, backbreaking work began. Three years later, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum lay at Carthage Jail, martyred by a mob.
Stunned and shaken, stalwart Saints doggedly finished the temple their beloved Prophet had counseled them to build. The sacred gray-white and tan limestone building became a symbol of their commitment, love, and endurance. Work on the temple was completed in 1846, and the temple was officially dedicated in May by Elder Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. However, by that time most of the Saints had fled the state, seeking refuge from the persecution that had plagued them for years.
Almost a century and a half later, another temple was erected on Illinois soil. Tucked on the edge of an eighty-acre nature sanctuary 250 miles to the northeast of Nauvoo, the Chicago Illinois Temple is today’s symbol of the area Saints’ commitment, love, and endurance.
Since the temple’s dedication in 1985, many members who for various reasons had strayed or fallen away from the gospel path have come back and prepared themselves to enter the sacred structure where eternal peace and hope are found. Local leaders use the proximity of the temple in activation efforts, encouraging members to gain a lasting testimony of the gospel truths taught and sealing ordinances performed within the temple’s stately marble walls.
Seven years ago James McKinzie’s father phoned him and James began his journey back to the temple. “Your mother and I are going to be baptized,” Brother McKinzie told his son. “I was hoping you’d baptize me.”
James’s heart sank. The phone call he’d waited and prayed for since his own conversion in 1973 had finally come, but he wasn’t ready. He hadn’t gone to church regularly for more than four years, and he had a Word of Wisdom problem.
“We’re planning on being baptized in March,” his father continued. “You have three months. Can you be ready by then?”
James, a member of the Logan Square Ward in the Wilmette Illinois Stake, accepted the challenge. “I’d always known the gospel was true,” he explains. “I’d even served in a bishopric prior to becoming less active. But after I was released I started beating myself up because of the things I knew I should have been doing but wasn’t. I started feeling guilty and unworthy. But here were my parents, telling me they wanted me to be part of one of the most important days of their lives.”
James talked to his bishop, overcame his Word of Wisdom problem, and three months later flew to Florida and baptized his father. (His mother was baptized by a brother-in-law.) After his parents’ baptism, James began looking forward to the day they would be in the temple together.
“A year after they were baptized, my parents came to Chicago for a week and we were sealed here as a family,” remembers Brother McKinzie, who now serves as a temple worker. “We spent a lot of time together in the temple, and the day we were sealed was one of the most special days of my life. I’ll always remember it.
“As a member of the Church, it’s important for me to have a legacy of family ties after I leave this earth. Through the temple and the ordinances performed there, I’ll have a tie with my children and their children, my parents and their parents. We’ll be tied together through the sacred sealing power.
“I would not like to go through the eternities without those I love—my wife, my children, my family. It was the temple that drew me back into activity, back to where I could be forever with those I loved.”
“There’s no question in my mind that having the temple nearby has made a difference in the way we help activate our members,” says Joseph Hicken, former regional representative for the Chicago area. “Primarily I think we have simply become more focused on the temple as a people because it is more accessible. We talk about the temple in our auxiliary meetings, in our quorum meetings, and in our sacrament meetings. Our temple preparation classes are more consistent, and there is a return to the fundamentals.
“That affects our activation efforts because those are the things we focus on when we visit the less-active members,” he continued. “We talk to them about the temple, about the plan of salvation, about the basic principles of the gospel. We’re inviting our less-active members, and the other members as well, to put their lives in order so they can attend the temple. Having the temple so close has made it more a reality for all of us.”
When Elder Myron Crawford and Sister Marilyn Crawford arrived in Chicago in late 1994 to begin their mission, they had no idea what to expect. Within days, however, they’d met with the bishop of their assigned ward, who handed them a list of about twenty individuals and families who were less active.
“That’s where we started,” Elder Crawford says. “We’d make an appointment, introduce ourselves, and offer whatever help they needed.”
The Crawfords prepared a sample family home evening, complete with a lesson, refreshments and a flannel board story. The couple also learned the new-member discussions and continued to work on the regular missionary discussions. “We’ve used them both in our work with the less-active members,” says Sister Crawford. “We just evaluate what they need and where their interests are and take it from there.”
Perhaps the greatest activation tool of all has been the ward’s temple preparation class. Although the Crawfords are responsible for the class, they usually invite ward and stake leaders in to actually teach the lesson. “We’ve had the stake president, all three members of the bishopric, the Relief Society president, and the elders quorum president teach different lessons,” says Elder Crawford. “That way members can become personally acquainted with the ward and stake leadership.” Elder Crawford also prepares a handout for each of the twelve lessons. When a member misses a week, the Crawfords often deliver the handout personally.
Recently ten of the twenty-plus class participants went through the Chicago temple to receive their own endowments. “Officials at the temple told us it was the first time they’d had that many people come through for the first time,” observes Christian Johnson, bishop of the Logan Square Ward. “We tried to involve the whole ward in the event, inviting members with current recommends to attend as well. We really want these members to feel that we care for them, that we’re supporting them and excited for them.”
One of the challenges for many members in the Logan Square Ward is transportation. “Many of the members don’t have cars, and it can cost a member several dollars to come to church using public transportation,” Elder Crawford notes. “We have one family in the ward with six children, and they spend seven or eight dollars one way.”
Bishop Johnson is heavily involved in activation efforts. He has what he calls an “Amulek” list of members who are less active but who have great potential as leaders. “As a bishopric, we focus on these members, visiting them and remaining in contact with them,” he says. “And we’ve experienced some success. There’s no greater feeling than seeing someone you’ve grown to care about walking through the meetinghouse doors.”
The proximity of the Chicago temple has been a motivation for other units in their activation efforts as well. Several years ago, Douglas V. Nelson, president of the Rockford Illinois Stake, noticed that of the stake’s six hundred endowed members, only 290 had current recommends.
“Some of those were active members who just hadn’t renewed their recommends, but others were members who had drifted into inactivity,” he says. “The statistic bothered me, and we started working on it as stake and ward leaders by emphasizing the temple with the active members and working closely with less-active members.”
First, the stake presidency and high councilors made a commitment to regularly attend the temple themselves. Members of the stake presidency attend the temple on a monthly basis. Also, a member of the stake presidency began visiting every unit once a month, training leaders on activation efforts and urging members to become current temple recommend holders. Members of the temple presidency spoke at stake conferences, and wards were encouraged to organize ward temple days.
In addition, stake leaders challenged bishoprics and quorum leaders to identify and target specific less-active members they felt inspired to fellowship and friendship. “These individuals and families were discussed during quarterly personal priesthood interviews,” says President Nelson. “We ask about progress made and offer to help in any way that we can. We want leaders to take responsibility and to teach by example. I think every unit in our stake has been able to bring several families or individuals back into activity.”
By 1995 the Rockford stake had 685 endowed members, and almost 450 of those held current temple recommends. “There’s nothing magical about anything we’ve done,” President Nelson insists. “We’ve just stressed the temple. In our personal priesthood interviews with ward leaders we talk about the temple. In our stake meetings we talk about the temple. In our stake conference we talk about the temple. That message filters down and becomes the focus of members’ lives and also the focus of activation efforts. We want those we care about to attend the temple.”
After moving to Chicago in 1974, Jerry Parkin and his wife, Karen, faithfully attended church. Within a year of the move, they’d been sealed in the temple and their lives were full of Church activities and responsibilities.
“I’d been a member all my life, born and reared in Wyoming,” remembers Brother Parkin, a member of the Buffalo Grove First Ward. “But I’d never really been excited about church. However, when we arrived here in Chicago, we really fit in. The ward, the people—we just loved it.”
About ten years later, however, something happened. “I’m not even sure what it was, exactly,” he says. “There was an incident with another member, and I felt I had been shabbily treated. About the same time, I felt like I was losing my testimony, and I couldn’t understand why. I was doing all the right things, but something wasn’t right, something wasn’t clicking. I was frustrated and confused, and I began to drift away.”
He continued to drift for seven years, watching his wife attend church and begin working as a temple worker when the Chicago temple was dedicated in 1985. Finally, a good friend, who happened to be a counselor in the Buffalo Grove Illinois Stake presidency, asked Brother Parkin to help him out with the small branch at the Great Lakes Naval Base. “I told him yes, mainly so he’d stop bothering me,” Brother Parkin admits. “I taught a few lessons and spoke in sacrament meeting a few times.”
Because he was familiar with many stake members, Brother Parkin also agreed to assign other sacrament meeting speakers as well. At one point, he invited a member of the temple presidency to talk to the group of Navy recruits. “That had to be the single most important event on my journey back home,” Brother Parkin says. “As he talked the Spirit bore witness that I needed to be active again. I talked to my bishop and started attending meetings.”
Within a few months, Brother Parkin received a temple recommend, and as part of his personal commitment, he began attending the temple with his wife once a week. “We’d leave at 3:00 A.M. Saturday,” he remembers. While Sister Parkin fulfilled her duties as a temple worker, Brother Parkin did sealings or endowments or whatever else needed to be done. After a few months, he became a temple worker as well.
“I felt like I was home that first time I came back,” he says. “There is a spirit at the temple that you don’t find anywhere else, a feeling of peace that you feel after fighting the wars of the world. I’ve been here almost every week since I got my recommend. I never want to be in a position where I’m not able to attend the temple again.”
More than a century ago, an Illinois temple symbolized a humble people’s dedication to the gospel, a dedication forged through trial and sacrifice. Today the Chicago Illinois Temple continues to symbolize the dedication of Church members who learn to sacrifice and obey on their journey home.