by Terri Winder
“Three forces made this building possible,” said Blanding historian and lifelong resident, Mabel June Palmer, at the rededication of the Blanding South Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “The first was Walter C. Lyman’s vision.”
She was referring to the father of Blanding’s 1897 vision of a city built on the mesa whose purpose was to bring education and culture to the area.
The second factor was a 1906 prophecy by Stake Patriarch Luther C. Burnham, recorded by Albert R. Lyman, wherein he promised that “people would come from unexpected sources” and the town would prosper.
The third necessary element was the faith of the “people who had nothing” in the destiny of their town. Confidence in the purpose of their community justified the building of what at that time was considered by some to be a disproportionate and ostentatious structure.
On Sunday, May 31, 2015 — four days shy of the 110th anniversary of the first church services ever held in Blanding, and three days shy of the building’s first June 3, 1928 dedication — the faith and sacrifice of those pioneers was remembered and honored.
Palmer noted that the building was originally referred to as the Blanding Tabernacle, and that it was a place of gathering, not only for worship but as a community center where school classes were held, basketball games played, a movie was shown each Wednesday night for 16 years, and there was “dancing and romancing.”
In addition to Mabel June Palmer, speakers included Carol Richmond, Blanding Facilities Manager for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Bishop Alan Ward of the Blanding Fifth Ward; and Joe Hurst, counselor in the Blanding Stake presidency.
The dedicatory prayer was offered by Blanding Stake President Michael W. Redd. The invocation was offered by Blanding First Ward Bishop Brent Johansen, and the benediction was given by Bishop Steven Black, of the Eighth Ward. The first, fifth, and eighth wards currently use the building for church services.
Richmond spoke of the upgrades to the building — including structural, electrical, heating and cooling, as well as esthetic touches — lightheartedly noting that the narrow hallways and low stairway ceilings could not be changed.
Also, because the building was added to the LDS Church Historical Register in 2014, any future changes will have to conform to period criteria. Richmond remembered making paper fans to use when she attended church services on hot summer days as a girl.
President Hurst remarked that” a lot of blood, sweat and tears” had gone into the original structure, along with native materials, and how it had been built through donated labor and money.
He recalled hearing Clarence Rogers say, “This building was plastered by sheepherders and cowboys.” However, “when special skills were needed, someone who had them came along at just the right time.”
Hurst observed that despite the upgrades, “the floors still squeak and the stairs creak”, which adds character to the building. He also reminisced about stifling summer heat and fluttering curtains framing the open windows in the chapel, though he admitted, “I don’t know if it was the Spirit or the breeze that moved them.”
A local builder and subcontractor on the recent renovation, Hurst’s progenitors have been prominently involved in the original construction as well as other extensive remodeling projects. He said he believed that this event was the fourth time the building had been rededicated.
An admitted “transplant” (the only person on the program without Blanding roots), Bishop Alan Ward retold a parable given by Elder Jeffery R. Holland about a man who found a pearl of great worth.
Elated with his discovery, he wanted to share the pearl’s beauty with the world. He had skilled craftsmen construct a beautiful and elaborate box in which to showcase the pearl and then he opened the display to the public.
Thousands of people filed by; however, what they paid attention to and commented on was not the pearl but the box. The moral was that we should be careful not to confuse the value of the pearl with the beauty of the box.
Ward remarked that while he is honored to serve as a bishop “here in this setting” he believes that what has made the building truly beautiful is the faith that has been nurtured within its walls, the testimonies borne, hearts touched and lives changed.
He said it was a place where families come to know the Savior better, and where people become better disciples and servants of Christ. He spoke of the “inconveniences” of the remodeling process and suggested that it symbolizes how each of us needs to undergo a periodic remodeling, allowing God, the master builder, to make us into what we should become.
The highlight of the service was the dedicatory prayer offered by Blanding Stake President Michael W. Redd, recognizing that the building was an effort of the saints in “this part of thy vineyard” portraying a ”desire to come closer to thee.”
Redd asked that the rising generation could “learn of the Savior here.” He referred to services performed in the church, from baby blessings to funerals, as well as gospel principals taught in Primary, Relief Society and Priesthood lessons. He asked that the building and grounds might continue to be a sacred place.
It is remarkable how many thousands of people have a connection to the Blanding South Chapel. Six generations have worshipped in the building, giving it a unique spirit easily discerned by sensitive souls.
Or, as Mabel June Palmer suggested, “If you listen carefully, you may hear the whispers of the walls.”