Houston Temple Construction
10 March 2009
Individuals have been passing
the following item around, regarding what may be regarded as remarkable events surrounding the contruction of the Houston Temple. As with all faith promoting stories, we encourage you to NOT pass them around. We strongly refer you to the letter from the First Presidency regarding stories such as this.
In doing some checking (not having contacted the supposed author), we are told that these sorts of occurrences are not unusual during the construction of a Temple. However, we have not verified that the story is true.
The story follows:
A few months after my accident, I got a call from a headhunter telling me that he had a position for which he wanted me to interview. I was a little surprised by the call since I wasn't actively looking for a job at the time. As a matter of fact, I was still learning to walk again and use my reconstructed hands. I politely declined and thought that was it.
The man kept calling me and every time I told him why I was unable to accept a job at the moment, he kept telling me that it wasn't important. After a while I decided to go on the interview. If nothing else, it would stop the annoying phone calls every couple of days.
The interview was with one of the largest HVAC contractors in Houston . I've never worked for a contractor before and, quite frankly, contractors and engineers often find themselves at complete odds with each other. I knew for a fact that, in my years of experience, I had been in more than one shouting match with a few project managers at this firm.
The interviewer brought me into a conference room and expressed his thanks for me coming in. He told me that I had come recommended to him as someone uniquely qualified for the job he had. He described the job and, I had to admit, it sounded like a pretty good gig. As a matter of fact, if I had to describe my dream job, this would be it.
I started asking questions about the firm...what kind of projects they were working on and so forth. They were one of the biggest contractors in Houston and so he ran down a pretty impressive resume of projects. Then he said, "Oh...and we're doing this church. It's the strangest church you've ever seen" I'd designed some pretty strange churches in my time. One of them was made entirely of pink glass. When you're especially bored some time, you should try and run down the thermal transfer properties of pink glass. If you find out, get back to me on it because I never was able to figure it out.
The interviewer continued with his description of the strange church."Another weird thing is that they're spending WAYYYY too much money on this thing. You know how, whenever we do a church, we're asked to figure out ways to cut costs? Well, not on this job. In fact, they keep asking us for ways we can make it even better"
(It's called 'value engineering'. It happens on almost every job when the owner gets hit with the sticker price of the project and we have to go back and try and work with contractors to hold down prices and yet still keep in a modicum of quality..that's where the shouting matches usually occur. Churches are especially notorious at this game and the end result is usually a facade of flash over substance. You build this really impressive looking church and pray that the next big wind won't come along and blow it all down)
Then the interviewer said something that sealed the deal. "...and the strangest thing of all is that we're not going to even be allowed back in this church to fix any problems. Only members with a special piece of paper will be allowed in"
I fished into my wallet and pulled out my temple recommend, "Is this the piece of paper you're talking about?", I asked.
And so I went to work on helping to build the Houston Temple .
The first job meeting was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. We all met in a little shack on the temple building site. It was an odd sensation to look out at earth moving equipment shoving mounds of dirt around and get tears in your eyes.
I didn't tell anyone at the meeting that I was LDS. For one reason, I didn't want them to think I was going to come off as a know-it-all. Another reason is that there were some pretty strong protests against building this temple and I wanted to see where everyone stood on the issue. You kind of want to know where all the land mines are before you go traipsing off into the clover.
You may or may not know this but the church sends its own project manager to the site when a temple is built. It's his job to make sure that the specifications are followed in every way. As it happened, the church's representative, a man named Leon , was called away to Salt Lake and so the project manager for the general contractor got up and started the meeting.
" Leon 's been called away to Salt Lake and so I'll be running the meeting." He looked around and his eye settled on the Plumbing Contractor, "Gill, why don't you offer us an opening prayer?"
My jaw dropped. First of all, prayers just aren't the standard way that construction meetings are called to order. And another thing is that, I'd know Gill for fifteen years and anyone even mildly acquainted with the man was aware that he was incapable of stringing four words together without cussing twice.
"This is going to be some prayer", I thought...it was. Gill bowed his head and folded his hands and gave a prayer like he'd been giving them in sacrament meeting his entire life. We were grateful for the opportunity to work on the temple. We were mindful of the sacrifices of The Saints. We prayed for safety and harmony among the builders and we consecrated and dedicated our actions to The Lord.
Gill ended his prayer and the General Contractor went on with the agenda. I wasn't really paying attention, however, because I was still dumbstruck, staring at Gill, and wondering what had happened to him. I was still staring at Gill when the agenda came to me and I was asked to introduce myself to the group.
There was a bit of a pause when I got caught still staring, openmouthed, at Gill. Then everyone started to laugh.
"It's in the specifications", explained the general contractor, "we have to pray before every meeting"
Knowing the crowd, I asked, "And none of you tried to negotiate out of that?"
"Well, we did grumble for a while and then Leon started making us sing an opening hymn as well"
I wished I had accepted the job sooner, I might have been able to see that.
I soon found out that I didn't need to tell anyone I was LDS, they all knew and many times a contractor would sidle up to me to ask me something about my religion or the significance of something in the temple.
"What's up with the twelve cows and the big jacuzzi?", one would ask.
"Is that Gabriel up there with a trumpet?" (oh...little known fact but if you'll take a pair of binoculars with you and get far enough away so you can see it from the proper angle, you'll notice a lightening rod sticking out of Moroni's head)
I took to bringing my scriptures with me so that I could explain the significance of different things and point to their Biblical foundation.
One question was my personal favorite, "where's the counting room?". Remember the churches I told you about that I'd designed? Well one thing that never got 'value engineered' was the counting room. It was where they kept and counted the donations and it was always built like a bank vault.
"We don't have a counting room in temples", I said.
"We don't take in any donations at the temple"
"You mean to tell me that you put all this money into a building and you don't ever get a nickel out of it?"
"Yeah, that's pretty much the case"
The contractor went away shaking his head. No doubt wondering how anyone as foolish as these mormons had ever amassed enough money to build such wonderful buildings.
Of all my experiences, only one was what I would have categorized as 'odd'. With an opening prayer at each meeting, design conferences went about pretty much like PEC meetings. There was a spirit of brotherhood that just wasn't normally present in construction shacks.
One day, however, the meeting got a little out of hand. Some voices were raised and anger entered the room. When it made it's appearance, I was surprised to notice a letdown that I recognized as The Spirit leaving the room. It made me sad. I looked about the table and I could tell that others were experiencing the same letdown.
It was then that the copier behind me started spitting out blank sheets of paper. Nobody was at the copier and yet it churned out about a dozen sheets of paper and then stopped. It took everyone by surprise and it completely diffused the argument that was going on. Someone made a small joke, everyone laughed and the meeting went on. Little by little I felt the warmth of The Spirit return.
After the meeting, I was going over some items with the General Contractor. I had to make a few copies and so I went to the copier. There was a sign over the copier instructing the sub-contractors to write down the number of copies they make so that their companies can be backcharged. Thinking that I was making a joke, I pointed to the sign and said, "Are you going to give the angels a discount on the copies they made today?" The general contractor looked at me and said, "you know? strange things like that happen around here quite often"
As the temple neared its completion, the general contractor and I had occasion to chat one more time. I knew that he was a staunch baptist, one of the churches, in fact, that was so vocal in its protest over our building a temple in Houston . Over the months, we had become friends, and so I felt no qualms in asking him just what his feelings were, as a baptist, building a mormon temple. I'll never forget what he told me.
"In ancient times", he said, "building work was overseen by guilds. The guild masters were the ones who saw to it that the integrity of the craft over which they labored was the best it could be. If you wanted to enter the guild you had to begin as an apprentice and dedicate long years with little or no pay. The master under whom you labored, gave you room and board and your tools. Eventually, you became a journeyman in the guild and you got paid. However, if you wanted to become a master of the guild, you had to present a sample of your work to be judged by the other masters. It had to be a work of outstanding beauty and flawless quality for it was the work by which your skills would be judged. It had to be a work that would weather the ages and it was called, 'a masterpiece'"
The contractor continued, "Every building I've ever built has been one where money won out over quality. I've never been able to do the best I'm capable of because of budget restraints. If I'm grateful for one thing, it's that you mormons don't skimp when it comes to your temples. For once, I'm able to build to the quality I'm really capable of"
Then he looked out over the temple and his gaze came back to me. His eyes were tearing up a bit and he swept his hand back towards the temple and his voice got a little reverent, "This is my masterpiece", He said.
I've been building buildings for almost thirty years. I've been doing it so long, in fact, that they are beginning to tear down buildings that I was sure would live as a testament to my presence long after I was gone from this earth.
I'm really grateful I had a chance to work on The Houston Temple.