This afternoon my sweetie and I attended the dedication of the new Provo City Center Temple. It was done in three sessions and we attended the third, broadcast into a meetinghouse in the town where we live that isn't Provo: I don't think there were regular church meetings anywhere in Utah today, at least not along the Wasatch Front.
They made such an effort to let as many take part in the dedication because this temple has a unique history. It was built in the shell of an old building that used to be a tabernacle.
The old Mormon pioneer tabernacles are some of my favorite things. I don't know how many survive now, but for years I've thought I'd like to take a tour of them. They're essentially large meeting halls, with two levels of seats, and are often used for cultural events as well as church meetings. The big dome-topped Tabernacle on Temple Square is probably the most famous, and the biggest (at least before the humongous conference center was built). But the buildings I'm talking about are more like the smaller Assembly Hall on Temple Square. Several of them were built with Gothic Revival architectural style or influence.
I loved the Provo Tabernacle, ever since moving back to Provo in 1994 and attending various concerts there. When I heard the news of the fire that gutted it in 2010 I was devastated, as were countless others. And I thought: the Church should restore it, but it probably won't. So I was also glad with countless others when the plans were announced the following year to not only restore it, but to turn it into a Temple.
We went through it during the open house, and I have never been in another Temple that I have found as beautiful or moving. The stained glass windows, the decorative motif of four-petaled flowers, quartered circles . . . dare we even say, crosses? And all the wood! There's wood everywhere, stained a rich warm homey brown. We call Temples the House of the Lord, and this one really does feel like God's living room. The pictures linked above don't really do it justice.
I can't deny feeling a certain sense of loss at this beauty - flawless and immaculate, but cozy - being reserved for a Temple instead of in a building kept open to public access. I comfort myself with the thought of the other tabernacles still standing. And it's also comforting to see a Temple displaying more hobbit-like charm than the cold white-on-white austerity that has been the norm for so long. I like to think that it's a sign that the culture of the Church is changing for the better.
It's slow though. There are complex meanings and signals I see in a place like this. Mormons love luxury, even when they're indulging in pioneer fantasies, and I see a perfect example of that in the interior of this building. I believe in comfort, in abundance, in wealth, even - but I believe in it as an ideal to be socially made and shared. And as I see it, that was the ideology that drove those pioneers to make such improbable structures in their frontier settlements. For a group of people in a place with no infrastructure to speak of to pool their resources and coordinate their labor to raise the most beautiful buildings they could, in brick or even granite, instead of slapping up cheap board facades . . . I understand and share the indignation that Mormons felt when the railroads brought the Gentile rabble from the east with their piddly, trashy saloons.
The tabernacles stand to me as a signal of hope in the promise of collective and cooperative enterprise, an ideal that our culture has for the most part turned away from with a multitude of blindly individualistic sneers, simultaneously gentrifying and uglifying what was supposed to be a Zion society. To see those empty brick walls held up and filled with something that is so obviously a tribute to the spirit of those early days (even if the work of building was done by hirelings instead of by community effort), and offered up to God, is another sign of hope in my eyes.