Thursday, November 5, 2009

Solemn Assembly Room, Salt Lake Temple

Solemn Assembly Room, Salt Lake Temple

We had another interesting experience last Sunday. Grandma Julie Hewlett invited us to go to the semi-annual devotional for the Salt Lake Temple workers. The meeting was held in the Solemn Assembly Room on the 5th floor of the temple. There are over 4,000 workers assigned to that temple, so they divided the group into an early session held at 8:00 a.m., where Elder Dallin H. Oaks was the main speaker, and then an 11:00 a.m. session where President Dieter F. Uchtdorf was the main speaker.  He and Sister Uchtdorf recounted their first experiences with temple attendance, when as teenagers they traveled from their native Germany to the Swiss Temple in the mid-fifties to be sealed to their parents.

We attended the second session. The room is seldom used these days, but it is still awe-inspiring and humbling because the evidence of the sacrifice of our pioneer ancestors is everywhere to be seen in that room. It takes up the whole 5th (top) floor of the temple, and seats about 2,200 people when filled to capacity. It was an impressive crowd, everyone dressed in their whites, and our session lasted about an hour and a half.

Kirtland Temple Pulpits

The pulpits in the Assembly Room of the Salt Lake Temple are the same in number and purpose as those in the Kirtland Temple. However, the design differs from those in the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples. Those in the Kirtland Temple had initials imprinted on them designating who was to sit there. The First Presidency, the Twelve Apostles, High Priests, Presidency Elders, Presiding Bishopric, Presidency Aaronic Priests, Presidency Aaronic Teachers and Presidency Aaronic Deacons. These designations are the same for those in the Salt Lake Temple. A few of the other temples have assembly rooms in them, including the Washington D.C. Temple.

It is to be remembered that standing above the pulpit in the Kirtland Temple shown in the picture above on April 3, 1836, the Savior appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.  (See D&C 110:1-10).  In ten short verses we have one of the greatest theophanies in all recorded history, the account of two eyewitnesses describing the physical characteristics of the Only Begotten Son of God and our Redeemer Jesus Christ. 

The Solemn Assembly Room in the Salt Lake Temple is used for various meetings. Solemn assemblies have been called from time to time for various purposes. I remember a meeting where bishoprics were called together, another where returned missionaries were invited to gather in this room.

Those who attend meetings there are invited by the First Presidency. Normally these meetings are for Priesthood and Auxiliary Leaders. There are rooms in the Salt Lake Temple where the First Presidency meet, where the Quorum of the Twelve meet, and where the Presidency of the Seventy meet. When determined by the First Presidency, all of the General Authorities will meet in the Solemn Assembly Room to receive instruction.

When the temple was originally dedicated in 1893 by President Wilford W. Woodruff, it was reported that 2,200 people attended and sat in that room.  The dedication took place over several days and several sessions were held so all who wanted to could attend.

President Woodruff dedicated the Salt Lake Temple inside the Solemn Assembly Room. The following is his description of this wonderful event: “The Heavenly Host were in attendance at the [first] dedication [service]. If the eyes of the congregation could be opened they would [have] seen Joseph and Hyrum [Smith], Brigham Young, John Taylor and all the good men who had lived in this dispensation assembled with us, as also Esaias, Jeremiah, and all the Holy Prophets and Apostles who had prophesied of the latter day work. . . They were rejoicing with us in this building which had been accepted of the Lord and [when] the [Hosanna] shout had reached the throne of the Almighty, they too had joined in the joyous shout.”

Before the Missionary Training Center was built in Provo, new missionaries would spend a week in Salt Lake prior to leaving for their missions. There was a "Mission Home" located across the street from Temple Square. I was one of those missionaries in that era. While there, we had the privilege of meeting in the Salt Lake Temple Solemn Assembly Room where a member of the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve or Temple Presidency would speak to us. When I left on my mission, Elder Harold B. Lee under assignment from President David O. McKay answered questions of the new missionaries between two temple endowment sessions.

By way of tradition, BYU-Idaho students hold their scriptures in the air at weekly devotionals to show they are ready to be taught the word of God. Elder David A. Bednar explained the reason behind the outward symbol of inward preparation that he began upon his arrival as the fourteenth president of the university.

In 2004, as he prepared to commence his full-time assignment in Salt Lake as the newest Apostle, he told the students in his final devotional, “I choked with emotion as I watched you hold up your scriptures today. You may wonder, ‘Why does Elder Bednar always have us raise our scriptures?’ The answer is simple. Our study and use of the scriptures is an invitation to receive revelation and be tutored by the Holy Ghost,” said Elder Bednar.

“I served my mission in southern Germany. In those days new missionaries went to Salt Lake City and spent one week in the mission home before going to the language training center. Each day while at the mission home, we received instruction from members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“During the course of my week in the mission home, the other missionaries and I had an opportunity to be instructed on the fifth floor of the temple by President Harold B. Lee, the First Counselor in the First Presidency. During that training session, President Lee invited us to ask questions. For two hours he answered every single question with a reference from the scriptures or simply said, ‘I do not know.’

“That experience had a huge impact on me. I began to catch a glimpse of how we should come to know and understand and use the scriptures.

“So what you have never known is that each time we hold up our scriptures in a devotional, I am reminded again of that experience with President Lee as he used the scriptures to answer the questions of brand-new missionaries.”

Elder Bednar was motivated by President Lee just as I was when I was a missionary. I wrote about that formative experience in an earlier post.

President Gordon B. Hinckley said in General Conference: "While preparing the ordinances for use in more modern temples, I have spent hours and days working in the magnificent fifth-floor Assembly Room of the Salt Lake Temple. I have marveled at the craftsmanship of those who built such strong and graceful structures as the four corner stairways of that room. I have appreciated architectural masterpieces across this world, but I have never seen more beautiful workmanship than is found in the House of the Lord. There are many fluted columns with delicately carved floral pieces at their crown. There are numerous intricate and artistic design works made in stone and wood and plaster. Nothing was spared to make this house of God a place of beauty."

The last time I was in that room, like Elder Bednar, I was a new missionary preparing to leave on my mission to England. Grandfather Lee met the missionaries who were in the old Mission Home for an instructional Q&A session between endowment sessions as part of their week's experience. On that occasion, he excused me from the second endowment session after he had answered all our questions, then conducted me on a private tour of the temple. He took me into every room except the holy of holies. I've never forgotten that experience, and was reminded of it last Sunday as we met again in the devotional held in the magnificent Solemn Assembly Room.

1 comment:

  1. I remember clearly the power and reverence I felt as I attended a temple worker devotional in the Solemn Assembly Room. It was a Celestial experience to be with all those workers who loved the Lord and his house, and desired to be taught and instructed there. I sat in the balcony and marveled at the vast sea of brothers and sisters dressed in white. It was beautiful. Thanks for the memory!