Editor’s Note: This article begins the Idaho State Journal’s series previewing the Pocatello Idaho Temple open house, which will be held from Sept. 18 until Oct. 23. The series will continue in the Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday print editions of the Idaho State Journal and online at idahostatejournal.com.
POCATELLO — When The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints broke ground on its Pocatello Idaho Temple in March of 2019, local officials invited eight individuals — members of the Portneuf Valley Interfaith Fellowship from other faiths — to help turn the soil.
It’s believed to be the first time church officials made such an invitation.
“As we met prior to the groundbreaking, we felt it was very important to have our interfaith friends participate with us in turning the soil,” said Sherri Matson, an assistant director for the Church’s Pocatello Communications. “We have been members of the Portneuf Valley Interfaith Fellowship for many years. We have developed friendships and love for each other. As an interfaith group, we come together in times of sadness, in times of need and in times of celebration to support one another. We look forward to opportunities to learn about each other’s faith and understand what our neighbors and friends believe.”
Kristen Johnson, who represents Trinity Episcopal Church on the fellowship, was one of those given the chance to participate in the temple’s groundbreaking ceremony. And she was honored to be there.
“As a Christian, I found it to be one of the most moving things in my life — just to be invited to participate in something so historic,” Johnson said, adding that it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for her. “I didn’t expect it and I know that it’s something that’s not a precedent in the LDS church. I felt like it was groundbreaking literally and figuratively.”
Johnson was one of the first people in line that day and has kept the ceremonial shovel she used.
Now two and a half years later, she and many others of different faiths are continuing to show their support for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they prepare for the temple’s public open house set to take place Sept. 18 through Oct. 23.
Johnson calls the now completed temple beautiful, something that would enhance any community spiritually as well as visually.
“I just only feel positive about it,” Johnson said.
Dale Spencer with Temple Emanuel of Pocatello agrees.
“It’s part of the community and it’s also another draw that helps bring people to our city,” Spencer said. “I also believe it will help keep people in the city. (Those who’ve had to) perform temple work elsewhere can now stay here.”
Both Johnson and Spencer are planning to participate in the upcoming open house.
Spencer knows temples are important to members of the Church, and he says he wants to share in their joy and learn a little more about their faith during the event.
Church officials say temples are different from the meetinghouses or chapels where members meet each week for Sunday worship services.
“Each temple is considered a ‘house of the Lord,’ where Jesus Christ’s teachings are reaffirmed through baptism and other ordinances that unite families for eternity,” church officials have said.
The temple is considered sacred to church members and will eventually be closed to the general public. But the open house gives community members an opportunity to tour the building and learn more about the work that takes place there.
“As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we consider the temple to be the house of the Lord, the holiest place on earth, and the open house gives us the opportunity to share something so sacred and important to us with our interfaith friends,” Matson said.
She says groups and individuals from many different faiths are planning to participate in the event along with interfaith groups from around the region.
“People are genuinely interested in the temple and are excited to be able to go inside prior to the dedication,” Matson said. “We have many people tell us how excited they are for it and to come and see the interior.”
Mohammad Safdar, a member of the Islamic Society of Southeastern Idaho, says he plans to attend the open house with his family. He believes it’s an opportunity to interact with and learn from members of the Church of Jesus Christ and people of other faiths, as well as focus on commonalities, develop harmony and promote fraternity.
Safdar noted that members of the Church of Jesus Christ and other faiths in the community showed their support for the Islamic Society of Southeastern Idaho when it sought to build its mosque.
And he says he has had many close interactions with members of the Church of Jesus Christ over the years.
“They usually call us to deliver lectures and presentations on different subjects of Islamic faith. They visit the mosque with young folks to give them better understanding about Islamic faith,” he said.
Bill McKee, an assistant director for the Church’s Pocatello Communications, believes it’s important for faith groups to be inclusive and supportive of each other.
“We know that the Lord loves all of His children and He would want us to be loving and kind to all people. Even though there are some doctrinal beliefs that we may differ on with our neighboring faiths, there is much more that we can agree on,” McKee said. “As we attend events with our neighboring faiths and they participate with us, we will build a community of love and togetherness. Working together for good blesses everyone’s lives.”
Church officials hope people will take the time to visit the temple during the open house.
“We would be honored if people of other other faiths would come and see the temple. Many times members of the community hear untruths or misconceptions regarding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Matson said. “All in the community are invited to hear directly what a temple is, how important it is to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the reason we have them. We want to learn about each other so that we can have meaningful conversations regarding our faiths and expand our opportunities to understand and love each other.”
Free tickets to the open house can be reserved at https://pocatellotemple.org/open-house-tickets.