The people beneath the steeple

TONY DODERO

Eastbound on Bonita Canyon Road from MacArthur Boulevard, the

landmark is already a sight to behold. A 90-foot-tall, white steeple

pointing toward the heavens, capped off by a golden statue of the

Angel Moroni.

It's not officially open for business yet -- sometime this summer

is the grand-opening date -- but the new Temple for the Church of

Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was to be the topic at

Newport-Mesa-Irvine Interfaith Council lunch on Wednesday.

The meeting took place at the Mormon church's Newport Beach Stake

on Bonita Canyon Road right next door to the aforementioned temple.

So why do you need a temple and a church so close to each other?

Well that's what I was about to find out.

Sitting at the table with me were a few notable Mormon leaders.

One was Joe Bentley, who was a key leader in some of the

discussions, or more like arguments, that took place three years ago

over the temple.

Mainly, the residents near the temple wanted to keep the steeple

to a certain height and Mormon leaders wanted to keep it to a certain

height, the Mormon leaders opting to go higher.

In the end, the council intervened, the steeple was shortened by

about 10 feet and everything was settled.

Now, Newport Beach is on its way to be home to one of only four

temples in the Southern California area, the other three being in San

Diego, Redlands and Los Angeles.

Others at my table to hear of the significance of temples were

Mormon and Interfaith Council leader Jamie Day and Mormon church

media liaison Kathleen Lubeck Peterson.

Also sitting next to me was Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian

chaplain the Rev. Don Oliver, whom I met a couple years ago when he

graced our 103 Most Influential list.

And sitting right across from me was a former No. 1 member of the

103 list, retired state Sen. Marian Bergeson.

We all were ready to learn just what Bentley and other church

leaders were fighting so hard for.

First up to speak was Brett L. Holbrook.

Holbrook has a bachelor's degree in near-eastern studies and a

master's degree in international and area studies from Brigham Young

University, where he taught on the history of Jerusalem. He also

teaches with the Church Educational System at UC Irvine.

Holbrook gave us an interesting history on temples and the reason

for their creation in all the different religions.

He said temples are created for "cosmic orientation," to celebrate

and cherish that which is sacred and as part of religious rituals to

share with divine powers.

At least that's how I understood what he said.

Next up was Peter Vidmar, the former USA men's gymnastics team

captain who took home two gold and one silver medal in the 1984

Olympics.

Vidmar is a South County resident now and author and speaker and

more importantly, a member of the Newport Beach Temple committee.

Vidmar told how the temple is so important to Mormon families.

"To worship in a temple is a personal and spiritual experience,"

he said. "The temple is tying a holy place between heaven and earth."

Vidmar noted that when Mormons get married, their belief calls for

them to do so in the temple to ensure that their bond will be held

together for all eternity, not just here on earth.

That's why my table mate, Lubeck Peterson, was happy about the

temple's creation also.

"I have such sweet joy, knowing that my husband and I will be

together, even after we slip through to the other side," she told me.

"We had both been single until we got married in our 40s. True love

pulled us together, and nothing can pull us apart, as long as we keep

the covenants we've made with God.

"My sister and I went to Denmark to find out more about our

great-great-great grandfather Anton Iver Christensen Lubeck," she

said. "We found his farm, out in a remote area. We wanted to know all

about him. We're tied together through bloodline, and 'sealed'

together in the temple. Families are so important."

The Rev. Oliver was telling me that just before lunch on Wednesday

-- that Mormons really believe in family.

And if family is the reason behind the creation of the temple,

it's easy to see why that was something worth fighting for.

* TONY DODERO is the editor. He may be reached at (714) 966-4608

or by e-mail at tony.dodero @latimes.com.

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