After renovation, church rededicates St. George Tabernacle, the ‘jewel of the desert’

The recently renovated St. George Tabernacle, St. George, July 28, 2018 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — After a yearslong effort to renovate the St. George Tabernacle, the historic building was rededicated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a ceremony with approximately 1,000 people in attendance Saturday morning.

The newly renovated St. George Tabernacle, St. George, Utah, July 28, 2018 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the church’s Twelve Apostles, performed the dedicatory prayer.

Others in attendance included Wayne Everett — a St. George stake president, church historian Steven E. Snow, Bishop Dean M. Davies and area seventies Elders Kevin Ence and Michael Wilstead.

To begin the service, Gladys Palmer, who grew up attending services at the tabernacle, shared fond memories of her childhood there.

She reminisced about the time when President George Albert Smith, the eighth president of the LDS church, visited the tabernacle. She described Smith wanting to shake the hands of all the primary children who had come to conference that day, which included Palmer’s nephew, who was too shy to go alone. Palmer accompanied him and was able to meet Smith, who called her nephew a “fine little man.”

This certainly was the center of our religion and our community as I was growing up,” Palmer said.

Like Palmer, many in the community grew up attending services at the tabernacle. Ilene Hacker, who attended Saturday’s service, remembers going to services in the tabernacle as a child alongside Holland and Snow.

“It is exciting, especially for us to be able to hear from Jeff Holland, and to be here, because this is a historic day,” Hacker said. “It’s a great day for all of St. George.”

Every Mormon Stake in the area, each of which has thousands of members, received only 20 tickets for the dedication. Those who were unable to attend the service were encouraged to attend a live closed-circuit broadcast of the event shown at two LDS chapels in St. George.

“I am just in awe of the fact that I get to be here,” Hacker said.

Approximately 1,000 guests watch the choir sing before the rededication of the St. George Tabernacle, St. George, Utah, July 28, 2018 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

Following Palmer, Davies spoke about the history of the tabernacle and described the process of renovating the building.

The tabernacle, often referred to as the “jewel of the desert,” was designed by Brigham Young and Erastus Snow. Young asked the Mormon settlers in St. George to build the tabernacle in 1862. Construction was completed, and the tabernacle was dedicated for the first time on May 14, 1876 — just a year before the St. George Temple was finished.

After the building began to wear out, including some stability and electrical issues that were causing safety concerns, the church decided to renovate the tabernacle in 2016.

During the renovation, they attempted to keep the building as historical as they could, keeping what they could. What they restored or replaced they kept as historically accurate as possible.   

Read More: St. George Tabernacle receives fresh coat of historically accurate paint

“We can say that the tabernacle project succeeded in keeping the building looking old, but not worn out,” Davies said.

During the renovation they found a time capsule and replaced it with a new time capsule filled with records and photographs of the area and the project along with some personal mementos from those in attendance.

Elder Steven E. Snow, church historian, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland answer media inquiries after the rededication of the St. George Tabernacle, St. George, Utah, July 28, 2018 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

Snow spoke of some of the stories of the tabernacle, his favorite of which was about when they allowed a Catholic high mass to be held there many years ago and the choir had to learn the songs in Latin for the service. More recently, a pianist in Italy heard the story and decided to pay the favor back by playing the piano for a congregation that had no pianist.

“I’m grateful for how the wonderful history that was built, and the wonderful stories such as I have just given, have changed people’s lives, including my own, for the better,” Snow said.  

Holland was the last to speak and shared his memories of the times and the people from his childhood in the tabernacle.

I am what I am and cherish what I cherish because of the experience I’ve had in this community,” he said.

Holland spoke about the difficult path of the pioneers who settled in St. George.

“There was something about St. George, Brigham’s home, for a great city to the south that would mirror Salt Lake in the north,” Holland said.

In his dedicatory prayer, Holland gave thanks for the communities who built the tabernacle and for those there now. He dedicated the tabernacle not only as a house of worship, but as a historical site and a civic center to benefit the community.

“We bless the building and those who come here with spiritual protection and temporal safety … that the beauty of this edifice will never know defilement at the hand of man, or of the ravages of nature, or of the coarseness of a hostile culture,” Holland said in his prayer.

The dedicatory prayer brought tears to the eyes of many in the congregation.

“A dedication is not an end,” Davies said, “it is the beginning.”

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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