Saturday, November 10th, 2007, was The Big Event. We had been waiting over a year for it, my wife more so than others due to her direct, personal involvement in it. It was a time for us to attend the Los Angeles temple for a meeting in the temple's Assembly Hall -- a room that is only used with the direct permission of the prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the temple, and last year the current temple president, President Richard M. Andrus, received permission to use the room for special commemoration meetings each Saturday this year for each stake within the temple district -- 43 in all!
The day had a full schedule and was intended for members of the church who hold current temple recommends. All year long, people have been preparing for this meeting. Some who didn't have a temple recommend for many years prepared themselves so that they could receive one to be there. Our stake president specifically asked that the young women of the stake make themselves available to babysit all day, for free, while the members with young children were at the temple. My wife was also the choir director for a very small group (less than 35 people) that would sing during the meeting, so was holding practices leading up to the event.
Saturday morning, my wife and I picked up some friends of ours and we carpooled to the temple. It was a quick ride (the freeways were shockingly clear), and when we got there, the parking lot was completely full. We ended up parking way back in the lot -- about a five minute walk from the doors of the temple. It was marvelous to see all those people at the temple.
From then, once we entered, we went and changed into white clothing for the balance of our temple experience. At every turn within the temple, we saw good friends from our ward and stake. The feeling of anticipation was palpable. People were excited and greeted each other with warm smiles, firm handshakes, and happy hugs. While the temple is a place of quiet and peace, there was ever-present a low buzz of whispered talk from the hundreds of people there.
The morning started for us with a meeting in one of the chapels of the temple (the larger of the two). There we had the chance to hear some words of wisdom regarding how we should look forward to the day, and maintain a spirit of reverence while we served in the temple. It was a brief meeting, but it set the tone for the day.
Following, we went and did an endowment session. We had just two of the seven wards in our stake in the endowment session, and we nearly filled the meeting rooms that accommodate over 200 people (some of the largest rooms of any temple). This was quite a wonderful sight and again it was great to be there with all the people we know and love from our ward. The session did take a long time because of all the people that were there. I was able to help people at the veil, as I usually do, and it was my privilege to help a few of my friends, one in particular who really struggled and needed a patient helper.
Following this, I raced down to the cafeteria for a quick bite to eat, while my wife went up to the assembly hall to have a quick choir practice prior to the meeting. I "snarfed" down my food as quickly as I could and then went up to watch her and the choir practice. Upon entering the assembly hall, I was stunned by how big it was. It extends the entire length of the third floor of the temple; if you were to look at the temple from the outside, you could get a feel for it, but inside the room feels even larger. A friend of mine whose wife was in the choir commented that he felt you could put a whole plane in the room -- I think he under-estimated and you could get several.
Strangely enough, I was also surprised by how plain the room really was. Elsewhere in the temple, things are beautifully decorated and ornate, but this was just ... a really big room. As the meeting progressed, though, I gained an appreciation for that -- the purpose of the room is not to be wowed or impressed by the architecture, but rather to focus on the purpose of ones attendance there, the Spirit of the Lord to be felt there, and the instruction that one would receive there.
On each end of the very long room there were stands with rows of chairs. Each level of the stand represented a different priesthood office, from the first presidency of the church, the highest offices of the Melchizedek priesthood; to the office of deacon, the lowest office in the Aaronic priesthood. The meeting was conducted from the third level down on the Melchizedek priesthood side of the room, and I was impressed by the order and significance of the reverence with which the higher rows were treated -- had the prophet of the church been there, he would have sat on the top row.
The meeting finally began and I was honored to watch my wife direct the choir as they sang the opening song. What an awesome experience for her! The use of the assembly room is a unique opportunity that happens so very rarely, and for her to not only be there for the meeting, but also to direct a choir therein may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her. Within the cavernous room, I expected the small choir to not be loud enough, but as they sang at her direction, the room was filled with the beautiful music they had prepared for us. It was magnificent, and I was moved by how much I love that good woman.
The meeting proceeded with various speakers who addressed the 50th anniversary of the temple. Some in the room were there for it's opening all those years ago, and shared stories of that time. The last speaker was the temple president himself, who expressed that while we had looked forward to the day for so long, it was not an ending, but rather a beginning, and he encouraged each of us to make temple attendance a higher priority in our lives and to serve there more often. It was a wonderful meeting.
At the conclusion of the meeting, my wife directed the entire congregation -- thousands of people all dressed in white -- in singing "The Spirit of God", a hymn that was sung during the dedication of the Kirtland temple in 1836 -- the first temple dedicated to the Lord in modern times. She knew that moment would come, and she had tried to prepare herself to remain stoic and professional while conducting, but I could tell she was caught up in the emotions she was feeling and struggled to keep tears from flowing. That hymn is a special one to her and to me, and singing it in such a place with so many people was moving to both of us.
To close the meeting, the wife of the bishop in our ward was asked to say the prayer with only a few moment's notice. She was completely unprepared, and she told me later that prior to that time, she had been looking forward to hearing the words of whoever would say that closing prayer -- not knowing it would be her. So it was with surprise and concern that she went to the podium to offer it, and I can honestly say that the Spirit of God gave her the words to say. Her words were poignant and appropriate and summed up the meeting in perfect form, calling upon God to bless the congregation that we could go forth and continue to do the will of the Lord. It was beautiful.
After the meeting, my wife and I lingered and did the very Earthly act of collecting the music that was distributed to the choir and congregation. We stayed and visited with some good friends for a few minutes, then left the room. We changed our clothes and went outside the temple (it was too crowded to stay inside as everybody was preparing to leave), and we again lingered there. It was as if we didn't really want to leave, which was certainly true.
Finally departing, we went out to eat that night with two other couples -- good friends -- and had a great time visiting with them. (We had a long wait to sit down, though ...) We arrived home late and offered to pay the young woman who babysat for us for the unexpected time she watched our children, but she wouldn't hear of it -- she's a very good young woman.
Come the next day, Sunday, the temple experience was all the talk. At church, we again saw our friends, and it seemed every conversation turned to the events of the previous day. It was a wonderful, uplifting, unifying experience, and I am grateful for it.