KENSINGTON, Md. — More than 250 students participated in Southern Virginia University's sixth annual Temple Service Day in October at the Washington D.C. Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Students, along with some faculty and staff members, spent the day performing temple ordinances, planting tulip bulbs and helping to prepare the Mormon temple grounds for the 33rd Annual Festival of Lights. They hung thousands of Christmas lights and helped assemble a stage and set pieces for a live Christmas créche, which opens Dec. 3.
"Service is central to the mission of the university, so we have scheduled this annual trip into our academic calendar — we have no classes on Temple Service Day," said Southern Virginia President Rodney K. Smith. "We believe service enhances learning. Clearly, this is true of temple service. The temple, after all, is a place where service and learning are in perfect harmony."
Members of the Buena Vista Virginia Stake's five university wards boarded five charter buses to make the three-hour trip from Buena Vista, Va., to the temple in Maryland. The first bus left just after 5:15 a.m. to make their 9 a.m. temple baptistry appointment. The other four buses departed around 7 a.m.
Amber Schillemat, a junior from Munsonville, N.H., offered to help on the temple grounds so someone else could serve in the baptistry. She enjoyed the opportunity to help string up lights and felt glad she chose to serve.
"There's no feeling like being on the temple grounds," Schillemat said. "Once you step on the temple grounds, the Spirit is automatically there. We were stringing up lights and singing, and the Spirit was so strong. It was really calming to be doing that."
Another student, Ryan Chapman, a senior from Branson, Mo., helped assemble the set for the créche. He later took some time to walk around the temple grounds to reflect and meditate in the peaceful setting.
While many helped outside on the temple grounds, more than 120 students participated in one of six sessions of proxy baptisms for the dead. Some endowed members also did other ordinance work in the temple.
This was the first temple trip for Jessica Spaulding, a recent convert to the LDS Church and a freshman from Buena Vista, Va.
"It made me really grateful that I was baptized and am worthy to help others hear about the gospel and accept it," she said.
In between service projects and temple sessions, students ate sack lunches around the temple grounds. Many also visited the temple's visitors' center to see exhibits and watch the film "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration."
Students enjoyed being able to spend time with their peers outside of classes and away from school. Spaulding felt a sense of unity and faith being with so many of her peers at the temple.
"It's a huge blessing to attend the temple," Spaulding said. "If we're given the opportunity to take a day off of classes to go with transportation provided for us, there is no reason we shouldn't go. We're doing the work for people who didn't get to hear the gospel here on earth."