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Rachel Sterzer
A sign welcomes visitors to the community located below the Hamilton New Zealand Temple. President Henry B. Eyring dedicated several new and renovated facilities there on Saturday, June 17, 2017.

TEMPLE VIEW, New Zealand

Latter-day Saints throughout New Zealand and beyond will tell you that Temple View is “a special place.” Nestled amongst the vibrant green hills below Tukiharamea — the Maori name for the hill that holds the Hamilton temple — the small LDS community welcomes visitors from throughout the Pacific as they come to participate in sacred temple ordinances.

President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, returned to Temple View on June 16-17 to dedicate both new and renovated, refurbished facilities on the campus of the Church College of New Zealand, which closed in 2009.

In his remarks during the dedicatory services held in the new David O. McKay Stake and Cultural Events Center, President Eyring recalled his first visit to New Zealand when he was assigned to be the Church’s deputy commissioner of education. When he first arrived, before he had met anyone or learned much about the area, he took some time to be alone and climbed a hill until he was almost level with the temple spire. Sitting on his luggage, he painted a watercolor of his beautiful surroundings.

“I don’t know if it captured what I felt that day,” he said. “I had a feeling I was looking at sacred ground.”

President Eyring said that while he does not know the exact future for Temple View, as he was touring the changes that were part of the recent development project, he was struck with another feeling: “This is a grand beginning.”

A noble heritage

President David O. McKay, whom the new stake center is named after, was an advocate for the Church’s educational system in the Pacific and was instrumental in the building of the Church College in addition and adjacent to the Hamilton New Zealand Temple. He dedicated both structures in 1958.

Both the college and the temple were built primarily by labor missionaries, who were called for approximately two years to donate their labor to the construction process.

Serving as a labor missionary not only expanded his skills, but solidified his testimony, said Owen Purcell, who served as a labor missionary and is the chairman of the New Zealand Labour Missionary Association Trust. “It was an honor to be involved,” he said.

Many of the labor missionaries sent their children to study in the buildings they helped to build, brick by brick. The Church College provided education to thousands of secondary-age students from throughout New Zealand and the South Pacific.

A time to mourn

Noting the noble heritage associated with the Church College, Bishop Dean M. Davies of the Presiding Bishopric explained that the decision to close the school was extremely difficult. The original mission of the college was to provide educational opportunities for Latter-day Saint youth who did not have access to adequate schools. Fifty years later, however, the public school system had advanced.

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who accompanied President Eyring to Temple View and also spoke at the dedicatory services, related how he attended a meeting in May 2006 with the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Presidency of the Seventy (which he was a member of at the time) and the Presiding Bishopric. The only item on the agenda: the Church College of New Zealand. Elder Andersen reassured the listeners that the decision was one of much thought, careful deliberation and divine revelation given to a prophet of God.

John A. Kendall, president of the Temple View New Zealand Stake, was one of many who grieved the announcement. His father, grandparents and younger brother all served as labor missionaries. He lived in one of the labor missionary batches (the New Zealand term for a small cabin) situated between the original Kai Hall and G.R. Beisinger Building. Both he and his wife attended the Church College as high school students.

However, a conversation he had with some labor missionaries soon after the announcement helped him move past any feelings of sadness. When he asked them their feelings about the closure, they responded that a prophet of the Lord had called them and great blessings had come to their families. “They said, ‘If the prophet calls us again to pull it all down, we will be the first ones there with our wheelbarrows to get the work done. It’s not about the buildings. It’s about obedience and sacrifice.’ ”

Elder Paul R. Coward, an Area Seventy who also served as the manager of the development project, said although people needed some time to mourn, they have been telling him that they are now ready to move forward.

Preserving the past

In the Temple View project, the Church has tried to preserve and recognize the past “in very real ways,” Bishop Davies said.

For example, several historical buildings were retained and refurbished in memory of the college and the activities that took place there, including the G.R. Biesinger Building (named after a construction supervisor), Kai Hall and the First House (the first residence built by the labor missionaries).

The old Mendenhall Library — a vital component of the old college campus — will now house the Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Center and Museum, which includes a large section dedicated to memorabilia and artifacts from the Church College.

The museum portion of the building includes interactive exhibits and displays featuring stories of Latter-day Saints in the islands of the South Pacific since the early days of the Church. Adjacent to the stake center and not far from the temple, the Church also developed Legacy Park, which features a lake, a series of pathways and a children’s playground. Amidst the pathways are pavilions with historic descriptions of what took place at the Church College of New Zealand.

“What we have done and are doing is building upon the sacrifices of those who went before so that we can convey those attributes and blessings to everyone in the future,” Bishop Davies said.

Looking to the future

In his remarks on the day of dedication, Bishop Davies said there may be some that look back. “But this day springs bright with the hope of the future.”

Elder Andersen added, “The Lord has opened a totally new chapter, a great chapter for greater things to occur: For our children to be stronger in their faith, for our friends and relatives to come into the Church, and for us to prepare our hearts and minds for that building directly south of us.”

And while President Eyring may not know the future, he said he knows that “the Lord cares about this place and the disciples who sacrificed and served each other and served Him over generations.”

Following the dedication, President Kendall said that these “wonderful and beautiful” facilities will be a blessing to the members of Temple View but now, moving forward, they have the responsibility to live in a way that brings others to the light of the temple that they now enjoy.

General Authorities participating in Saturday’s dedication:

President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency; Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Bishop Dean M. Davies, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric; the Pacific Area presidency — Elders O. Vincent Haleck, S. Gifford Nielsen and Craig A. Cardon, General Authority Seventies — and their wives, Sister Peggy Ann Haleck, Sister Wendy Nielsen and Sister Deborah Cardon; and Elder Paul R. Coward, Area Seventy and project manager, and his wife, Sister Julie Coward.

rsterzer@deseretnews.com

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