Scott Taylor: What makes “sacred ground” and where are yours?
As I presided over the Arizona Phoenix Mission from 2011 to 2014 and interviewed newly arrived missionaries, I usually asked, “So what did you think when you opened your call letter and you did you see that you were assigned to the Phoenix mission?”
A common response from missionaries – especially those in the western United States – was often something like this: “I was expecting something different, something more distant, maybe international, maybe a foreign language.”
I followed up by telling them that at the end of their missions, I would ask them something similar and a little more direct: “What do you know now about why you were called to the Arizona Phoenix mission?
In their exit interviews at the end of 18 or 24 months of service, this second question elicited tender expressions. With emotion and reverence, departing missionaries said they realized how much they needed to be involved in the lives and learnings of some of the people they met and taught—or how they themselves needed to be taught. and aided by some others during their service. They spoke of how the experiences of times, places, and individuals specific to their mission would influence them for the rest of their lives.
And they often talked about how the Arizona Phoenix Mission had become “sacred ground” for them.
This phrase – “holy ground” – came to me recently as I traveled to New Zealand to report on the rededication of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple last month and to spend an extra day in Auckland visiting the Center New Zealand Missionary Training Center for an upcoming Church News article.
During our last year in Phoenix, our son Braden received his own mission call to serve in the Auckland Mission in New Zealand and train there in MTC. We were delighted with his weekly emails and reports of his experiences and learnings.
In 2016, my wife and I accompanied him to the North Island – to experience the country, people, culture and customs that are unique to him as he revisited individuals and places that had influenced about his young life.
This included a visit and sitting inside the Hamilton Temple, where he and other missionaries were permitted to go from time to time during their missions. And that included a quick glimpse of the MTC high on a hill as we drove down State Highway 1 on this May 2016 visit.
Fast forward to last month in Hamilton and Auckland, as I returned to a series of familiar sights and places. I was touched to be back inside the temple when Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles rededicated the Church’s first house of the Lord in the South Pacific. And I relished the chance to go to New Zealand’s MTC nearly a full decade after Braden passed.
Deseret News photographer Kristin Murphy and I spent much of Monday at MTC New Zealand, visiting leaders, leaders and missionaries. During our entire stay there, I felt like I was on sacred ground for our family. I recognized familiar interior and exterior scenes – the building, the entrance, the classrooms, the rooms of the residence, the courtyard and the gathering places. This was my first visit but felt like I had been there before as our son shared photos from his 3 week training stay in August 2013.
A big difference from 2013 to today – the imposing temple under construction in Auckland, New Zealand, built right next to the MTC, on the previously open lawns where missionaries played rugby during drill times and preparation days.
Walking the halls and rooms with MTC leaders, President Lindsay T. Dil and Sister Christine Dil, I found myself frequently holding back tears and choking a lump in my throat as I thought of the formative experiences there. -down for our son as well as for many others.
Interviewing Timena Gasu, MTC Operations Manager, it reminded me of her long tenure of service dating back even before MTC New Zealand moved from Hamilton to Auckland over a decade ago. I explained my son’s training there and asked if she remembered him and his companion serving as area leaders for MTC districts and missionaries many years ago.
“I think I remember it,” she said, asking what month he was at MTC. She walked over to a cabinet full of loose-leaf binders, pulled out one marked “2013” and quickly flipped through the pages that listed Elder Taylor and Elder Rameka and the other missionaries in this “admission” of incoming missionaries and a photo of each of them. and MTC leaders.
The heightened connection to sacred ground etched into my soul.
I have since reflected on the many sacred grounds throughout our lives – not just missions and temples and TCMs, but homes and residences, places of learning and employment, places of worship and staffing. They are places – some indoors, developed and built; others out, untouched and natural—where our understandings have been enhanced, our testimonies strengthened, our relationships deepened, our commitments solidified, and our covenants made.
They come from moments of communication with the Divine and witnesses of the Spirit.
Where are your sacred grounds, and why are they so to you?