By Cecily Markland
The dedication of the Phoenix Arizona Temple on November 16, 2014, also marked the beginning of Russell Stewart Gilliland’s formal service as president of Arizona’s fifth temple, with his wife, Karen Jones Gilliland, as temple matron.
Serving with the Gillilands are M. Dalton Cannon of the Phoenix North Stake (first counselor), Cannon’s wife Betsy (assistant to the matron), Steven Driscoll of the Surprise Stake (second counselor), and Driscoll’s wife Nadine (assistant to the matron).
President Gilliland believes having a temple in Phoenix represents an almost indescribable blessing.
“There is an almost universal feeling among the members in this area that this temple is home.” He explains, “as much as we love the Mesa Temple, people in this area feel, ‘This is where I belong. It’s where I really belong.’”
He finds that “strong feeling that we have more than we had before” is an interesting emotion, particularly for long-time Phoenix residents.
Born in Morenci, Ariz., President Gilliland and his family lived for a short time in New Mexico, and one year in Colorado, before moving to Phoenix. He left as a young man to serve a mission in Austria and completed a degree in business administration at Brigham Young University. Nevertheless, he“lived in the same ward—what used to be called the Glendale 2nd Ward, and now the Independence Ward of the Phoenix West Maricopa Stake—since [he] was 10 years old.”
While at BYU, he met Karen.
“We worked together in the Mutual program. We got along great and became good friends.” He graduated in 1972, and “we got married two weeks later,” he says.
The couple returned to Phoenix, where he was first called as Executive Secretary to the bishop, then Elders Quorum president, and four years later, as a counselor in the bishopric. He served on the stake high council, as bishop for five years, as a counselor in the stake presidency, then as the Phoenix West Maricopa Stake President for nine years.
Sister Gilliland served as ward Relief Society, Young Women and Primary president, as a stake seminary supervisor and seminary teacher.
The Gillilands also raised 10 children during that time. They now have 42 grandchildren, with two more on the way.
Together, the couple has served two missions: one beginning in 2005 when President Gilliland was the Ohio, Columbus Mission President and one beginning in 2012, when he presided over the Nauvoo, Illinois Mission.
They also served in the temple for a number of years, him as an ordinance worker, sealer and second counselor in Mesa Arizona Temple presidency, and her an ordinance worker and assistant to the matron.
The Gilliland’s love for the temple increased as their attendance became more frequent.
“We started going to the temple every week years ago. It has been a great blessing in our lives, for our relationship and our children,” President Gilliland explains. “Being in the temple is the best feeling in the world.”
Sister Gilliland agrees, saying she appreciates most “the love that permeates the temple.”
“Anyone could blossom in that environment. It makes you be the best your can be,” she says. “Of course, we want to do things perfectly, but most of all, we want people to feel His love, then they will become perfect.” While the world conveys the idea, “Change and we will love you, Heavenly Father says, ‘I love you,’ and then we change. He knows it’s love that does it.”
Brother Gilliland agrees this process of change is an important aspect of temple service.
“We learn who we are, where we sit in God’s plan,” he says. “We learn it is not sufficient to just live a good life. As Isaiah says, ‘He will teach of us of His ways and we will walk in His path.’ The power of the covenants and ordinances of the temple is that we become like Him.’”