POCATELLO — A massive crowd gathered on Saturday morning for the long-awaited groundbreaking for what will soon be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Pocatello temple.
While most of the over 3,000 people in attendance of the event were members of the LDS church, representatives of several other religions were present and participated in the groundbreaking at the future site of the temple off Satterfield Drive on the city’s north side.
It was a historic day for Pocatello, a city many LDS church members say has been waiting for a temple for generations.
Also in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony was Gov. Brad Little, who acknowledged Pocatellans’ hunger for an LDS temple.
“I know that Pocatello was a little bit grumpy about Idaho Falls getting (a temple) way back years ago,” said Little in a Saturday interview. “So that’s good that this took place, even though it was a little delayed. Pocatello’s had a chip on their shoulder.”
Little, the first Idaho governor in recent memory to attend an LDS temple groundbreaking, was among the dozens of people who were given gold-colored shovels to participate in the event, held on a sunny March morning with a chill in the air.
Also holding shovels were religious leaders from several other Pocatello faiths, including Mohammad Safdar, president of the Pocatello Mosque; Dale Spencer, president of the Jewish Temple Emanuel; and Jacqualine “Big Momma” Thomas, the pastor of Praise Temple of God church.
Safdar said Saturday’s ceremony reminded him of the community effort to build the Pocatello Mosque a few years ago.
“We got so much support from the community,” Safdar said about the mosque effort. “So likewise, we are here today to support the community. Temples, mosques, synagogues, all of them are places that emit the light of love, the light of care, the light of friendship.”
Thomas said Pocatello is a strong community rooted in faith and tolerance as evidenced by the involvement of so many different faiths in Saturday’s temple groundbreaking — a first in the history of the LDS church.
“We are supposed to be children of the most high God,” Thomas said. “It should never be difficult to come together. It should be something very easy and natural to do.”
Numerous Pocatello police officers provided security for the groundbreaking, most of them wearing plainclothes, according to Deputy Police Chief Roger Schei.
Schei said the LDS church contacted local law enforcement about the need for security at the groundbreaking and several Pocatello police officers volunteered their time to help.
Though Schei said it is standard for local law enforcement to be present at any large event where many dignitaries will be present, he added that there was an elevated sense of tension among police during Saturday’s groundbreaking due to the mass shooting that resulted in 50 deaths at two mosques in New Zealand on Thursday.
Police said Saturday’s groundbreaking occurred without incident with the crowd of over 3,000 people being very well behaved.
During the event several LDS church members addressed the crowd. Among those who took the podium to speak was 8-year-old Braiden Wilde of McCammon.
According to local LDS church spokesman Larry Fisher, the 22 stakes that will be served by the Pocatello temple were each assigned a different part to play in the groundbreaking ceremony, and the McCammon stake was asked to assign one of its youth to speak at the event.
Wilde said it took him three days to write his speech, during which he expressed his love for the LDS church and his excitement for the new temple.
“It just came from my heart,” Wilde said after the groundbreaking. “I was excited and nervous. I was excited at first, but when I got up (to talk) I was scared.”
Taysom Hill, a Pocatello native who now plays football for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, gave the opening prayer at the groundbreaking.
“It was an honor,” Hill said afterward. “I’m certainly aware of what a big deal this is and what it means to the city of Pocatello. To be able to be a part of it was a special experience.”
Wilford Andersen, the LDS church’s Idaho area president, gave the dedicatory prayer at the groundbreaking and thanked the representatives from Pocatello’s other religions for being a part of the ceremony.
“I think that it pleases God when we can support one another,” Andersen said to the religious leaders from the other faiths who attended the groundbreaking. “We’re touched and honored that you would be with us, and we want to reciprocate in the future as we work together, arm in arm, to accomplish our mutual goals of addressing human suffering and helping people turn to God.”
Spencer said the interfaith display at the groundbreaking was reminiscent of the Judaic principle “tikkun olam.”
“It means to heal the world,” Spencer said. “And when you heal the world, you do that by doing things as a community and recognizing that we’re much more the same than we are different.”
S. Gifford Nielsen, a member of the LDS church’s Quorum of the Seventy, said at the groundbreaking, “We’re grateful for the relationship that has been established between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and our friends of other faiths.”
Arlo Luke, a Pocatello community leader and LDS church member who attended the groundbreaking, said the LDS church has been making an increased effort to include other faiths in its ceremonies and practices.
“Our understanding is that we’re all children of our Heavenly Father,” Luke said. “We’re here to bless each other.”
LDS church officials said the temple will take two to three years to build. Construction is expected to start this week.
The temple has a valuation of $62 million and cost the LDS church about $395,000 in fees paid to the city of Pocatello.