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Before there were temples in California

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 07, 2008

It may not have the pathos of a third world once-in-a-lifetime temple excursion, but the first California-to-Arizona stake temple trip exhibits the same determination, the same longing for temple blessings felt by any group of Latter-day Saints who live at a distance from a temple.

The 1930 trip by the Saints of Long Beach, California, was several months in the planning. Bishop Thor Neilson worked with several members to prepare for receiving their own ordinances, and Merlin Steed, leader of the Genealogical Society of Long Beach, helped other members gather information for doing proxy work for their ancestors. The Saints gathered at the Long Beach chapel early on the morning of February 18, 1930, where Bishop Neilson prayed for safety as they traveled. At 5:10 a.m., a caravan of five automobiles was underway.

“The beautiful dawn found us traveling at good speed through orange groves, and farms, soon to leave these for the vast stretches of desert which lay between us and our journey’s end,” Brother Steed later wrote. The drivers had been advised to travel as close together as possible, so the entire caravan stopped multiple times as one automobile after another suffered flat tires. Nothing more serious occurred, however, and the caravan pulled into Mesa at 11 p.m., after 17 hours on the road.

The group presented themselves at the temple entrance at 8:30 the next morning, joining other Long Beach Saints who had left two days earlier in order to travel at a more leisurely pace. The Californians were greeted by local Saints who had come to assist them – those Arizona Saints would perform 244 endowments for California families in the next two days. Temple President David King Udall said these ordinances were tendered in “appreciation of the faith which made possible the long trip to and from the Temple.”

Five of the California Saints received their own endowments, and three couples were sealed. At a special baptismal session, two of the California Saints – former workers in the Cardston temple – were invited to officiate. Other sessions focused on proxy endowments and sealings. Altogether, the Californians performed 407 ordinances, not including those done for them by the Arizona Saints.

On both days of their stay in Mesa, the Californians were dinner guests of the Mesa temple workers. The temple workers had raised funds for those dinners by taking “pay” names – in that era, patrons could leave their ancestral names at the temple for other patrons to take through for them, paying a small fee for each ordinance done, allowing the generally elderly temple workers an opportunity to help support themselves while rendering this service. Rather than accepting direct payment for these “pay” names, the workers had donated the proceeds to a fund to provide dinner for the Californians. Mesa Saints also hosted the Californians to short sightseeing excursions to local points of interest.

The California Saints left Mesa on Friday, arriving back in Long Beach at 2 a.m. on Saturday morning. Brother Steed concluded his report to the Genealogical Society of Long Beach with these words: “And so with the joy and satisfaction of it all, was deep gratitude for this help and all courtesies received, and an earnest prayer that many more would travel the road which leads to the House of the Lord and there receive of its rich blessings.”

California Saints received their first temple at Los Angeles in 1956, followed by Oakland in 1964; San Diego in 1993; Fresno in 2000; Redlands in 2003; Newport Beach in 2005; and Sacramento in 2006.



3 Comments »

  1. There are quite a few members of my current stake in Ohio who joined the Church when “their temple” was the Salt Lake temple – over a thousand miles away. They believed at the time that they would have the opportunity to go to the temple once in their lifetimes.

    This post resonates with what they have told me about their own experiences.

    Comment by Ray — July 7, 2008 @ 6:57 am

  2. Before the Chicago temple was built, Illinoisans made long temple trips to Washington, D.C. My fourth grade SS teacher (now long deceased) published a book of local history and used the proceeds to finance a big temple trip for the whole ward. I’ve got pictures somewhere of me with my baby daughter in one of those front slings on my chest, and me with a pretty long Brigham beard on the bus heading to the temple. It’s a wonderful memory.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — July 7, 2008 @ 8:55 pm

  3. My first temple trip (for baptisms — and I still remember the name of one of the women I was baptized for, Leuke Wehlborg) was from Susanville in northern California to Oakland. A long bus ride, but nothing like Ray or Kevin describe, or like this trip to Mesa. Now, I’m within a couple hundred yards of the Salt Lake temple virtually every day.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 7, 2008 @ 9:50 pm

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