Meshweyla Macdonald at the heart of Temple View. If you want to understand the passion that the LDS Church’s decision to close Church College New Zealand gave rise to among both Temple View residents and alumni of the college, the following answers by Meshweyla Macdonald to questions from a City Weekly reporter shed much light.
Macdonald is one of the few remaining local voices still willing to go public about her concerns over the decision and the subsequent evolution of the development, in what has become an increasingly painful and toxic struggle among local Mormons, even as the remnants of the Church College campus shrink.
CW Tell me about yourself, your parents, where you grew up, what Temple View was like as a child, growing up Maori and LDS, and what the Church College New Zealand meant to you?
MM I was born and raised on a farm in the far north of New Zealand. I attended Church College as a boarding student in my final year of high school study. My grandfather was a Labor Missionary. He was not a member of the church but believed in the vision of building something significant that was specifically targeted toward growing and developing Maori youth and he wanted to contribute. He went on to join the church and send all but two of his children to Church College. My father met my mother at Church College and they were high school sweethearts. They went on to marry and raise four children. Because of the heritage I was born into, I wanted to attend Church College too. The vast majority of my aunties and uncles on both my mother’s side and my father’s side were Church College graduates. My older sister was a Church College graduate, but my parents told me they didn’t have the money to send me. I got a job and paid my own fees for Church College so I could have the same experience that most of my family had. I received the David O’McKay Award at graduation, which was the premier award for Church College. for excellence in academic performance, excellence in sporting and cultural pursuits, and outstanding citizenship. The opportunity to attend Church College began with the continuation of family heritage, but was augmented by the cultural, social and holistic enhancement that I experienced while there. Studying at Church College changed my life.
Tell me about what being LDS has meant to you, the joys and the frustrations (if any, before the issue of the future of Temple View emerged), particularly when it comes to the role Salt Lake City/church leadership plays in Temple View life?
I was born into an LDS family. After the conversion of my grandfather, my father was raised in the Church and he married my mother who was also a member of the Church.
I value being LDS for a few different reasons. First, it provides me with perspective—the LDS belief of a deity who created us, who has parental concern for us and whose ultimate purpose is to provide for us to become like him, is fundamental to one’s sense of self worth.
The concept of life after death and the purpose of this life helps me put things in context. When you’re struggling as a teenager, you can feel assured that choices you make, make a difference. When you’re struggling as a parent, you can feel assured that choices you make, make a difference. When you’re staring death in the face, you can be assured that choices you have made, will make a difference.
I have also valued the frameworks offered by the LDS programs—simple things to help make this life happier. For example, the word of wisdom which keeps us free from addiction and allows us to remain in control of our choices. I appreciate the agency given to choose and the opportunity to experience consequences of choices made.
In relation to the joys and frustrations of being associated with the LDS church, I can’t really identify any. The link with SLC church leadership was never an issue because the leadership offered remained in the spiritual domain.
What does the CCNZ mean to the community?
This is a quite difficult question to answer because its meaning to the community is contextual and timing is important.
If I look at what CCNZ meant to the community when the College was open—it was the heart of the community. It was not in competition with the Temple, but the two were in perfect harmony. CCNZ took care of the academic, sporting and cultural needs of the community, while augmenting and reinforcing the spiritual needs of the community. The temple was aspirational—something for CCNZ students to aspire to. It met the needs for saints to have access to required ordinances and served as a dominant visual reminder of the long term goals of CCNZ students and the community.
If I look at what CCNZ meant to the community after the College closed, but during the time the campus was still available for community use—it was a reminder of the good times, and a reminder that we had much to be grateful for in terms of the experiences had, and the facilities we still had to use even though the school was not operating anymore. It was also a way for us to perpetuate in a small way, elements of the Church College experience for our children, who would not have the opportunity to study there.
If I look at what CCNZ meant once the College had been closed for several years, the gates had been locked with ‘No trespassing’ up everywhere, access to former college facilities prohibited, and obvious neglect of the buildings—there was community sadness at the wasted resource and opportunity. For some, the subsequent building neglect generated disbelief of Church leadership’s apparent disrespect for Labour Missionaries and the thousands of people and iwi who sacrificed so much to build the former College.
If I look at what CCNZ means now, after the majority of buildings have been removed, after great efforts by the church expended to squash opposition to demolition—there are multiple meanings. For some, who have bought into the church ecclesiastical backing of the development, there is outrage at those who oppose ‘Gods’ will’ and who cause the Church to waste their resources going through legal processes required by the law. For others who have been ecclesiastically reprimanded, there is a sense that the Church will do what the Church will do and there is nothing they can do about it. There are others who are distracted by the new developments and excited about all the new construction and who have long forgotten the importance and significance the former college played not only in the community, but the impact it had, through its operation and heritage, on the lives of people. And for others who oppose, the ruins of CCNZ are a symbol of the colonial attitude, arrogance and lack of genuine concern for the community by Church leadership due to the lack of proper consultation over what could have been used to benefit the community. There is acknowledgement that the Church is the landowner and not a democracy, but genuine concern would suggest that the Church genuinely and transparently consulted with the community over how the assets could be used to enhance the community, rather than making a unilateral decision, selectively picking a handful in the community who would support Church proposals, presenting Church intent to the wider community in firesides and then beginning procedures for demolition citing that consultation had occurred.
How and when did you first learn of the church’s plans for Temple View and how did it impact you, your family and the local community?
Me: I was sad that Church College was being closed, as it meant that my kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to study there, but recognized that the Church was in the business of spiritual development, not typically in educational development, so I recognized the opportunity the Church afforded me to do both was a privilege. When it came to the disposal of the buildings, I was shocked because I viewed this matter to be non-spiritual, and as such, proper legal processes should be followed. Part of proper legal process included community consultation. The Church doesn’t have a unilateral ability to deal and dispose of buildings as freely as they deal with spiritual things. I was also shocked at the attitude in which the plans were expressed. They were veiled with caring words, but the underlying message seemed to be, this is what will happen, we’re not interested in what you think.
My family interpreted the message in a similar way to me, accepting the Church’s ability to make decisions, but shocked at the lack of interest in what the community thought or how the former college facilities might be used to benefit the community and the lack of recognition and desire on the part of the Church to preserve the heritage of the place.
The local community: I think there was widespread acceptance of the Church’s decision to close the college, but there was some disbelief in the arrogance in the way in which disposal plans were expressed. Especially since the original application by the Church to local government was to demolish everything outright.
Did you know any of the families who were evicted and how was that news received in the community?
I believe there was some initial disbelief, because originally the Church noted to the families living in the teaching houses that they could buy them. Many of the families began to make plans to do so. Then when notice was given that the homes would be demolished, some were glad that new homes would be available for purchase, not too concerned that Temple View would lose its character because the application to demolish everything else had been withdrawn by the Church. So there was an expectation that while some of the teaching houses might go, the majority of the former campus facilities would stay.
What are your thoughts about some of the issues Ra Puriri has brought up?
A) Whether church officials “misled” members at the church fireside in September 2013 over tithing funding
the development, and if so what was their intention of “misleading” people:
I was unable to attend this fireside personally so cannot make comment. But if I speak generally, to discuss real estate development in a fireside setting, and with the endorsement of high ranking Church leaders is inappropriate because it gives a spiritual influence to something that is secular. It is likely to unfairly influence people to make secular decisions based on the ecclesiastical endorsement that accompanied decision making information. I believe this was the intent of the Church as Church leaders practiced this type of behavior routinely in relation to the Temple View development, and a strategic decision made by the Church to use its ecclesiastical influence to gather support for its legal activities. In my view this is wrong because people trust their leaders and their devout conviction to the religion and their God means they will do as their leaders have instructed. Many will not recognize the inappropriate boundary crossing or speak up concerning this.
B) The OsborneHay report (commissioned by the LDS Church, it looked at the significance of the David O’Mckay building and its construction) and its assertions that the CCNZ had no local value or meaning, and was poorly constructed:
The OsborneHay report was used to justify a number of Church decisions, but was not made available to members of the community who requested access to it. I have since requested it from local government and read its contents. It is a disgrace and I cannot express the level of disrespect that report had for the quality of the construction workmanship of the former college. I believe that report was in part used to further justify the closing of the school which is tragic, as many of the assertions made in that report have been proven to be wrong. The result was a decision was made to close the school on a recommendation that was based on bad information which I believe the Church administration has spent the past ten years trying to cover up with more bad decisions. Even when the report was proven to have material inaccuracies, rather than admit a mistake had been made and attempts made to make the best out of a bad situation, the pride of the Church employees who supplied the Church leaders with the bad information was such that they persevered with justifying the original bad recommendation.
C) Any other issues he has raised that have struck you as important:
I have been amazed at the hostility that has been displayed by those who have been involved, in Church administration positions, toward those who have opposed development plans. Rather than having an attitude of ‘lets talk about it, maybe we can find some options that meet both of our needs’ there has been an attitude from Church administration that opposers should be silenced and defamed in the community. Further, when opposers brought information which addressed some of the key concerns raised by the Church—e.g. the willingness and ability of private citizens to fund the costs of refurbishing the David O’McKay building, which the Church had said was too expensive, Church leadership were not interested in receiving such a proposal. I had this conversation with a New Zealand Headquarters based Area Seventy who promised to take the option to discuss with the Brethren at conference. After he returned from conference he sent an email which said:
I returned from General Conference in Salt Lake City earlier this week and wanted to provide you with some feedback from my meeting with the Presiding Bishopric.
During the meeting with the Bishopric I represented the issues and concerns raised from our meeting together. Specifically, I indicated that your group has strong interest in preserving the David O. McKay building as a community recreational center for the general public and that you felt there was interest from private investors for such a project. Furthermore, that you desire an opportunity to present a proposal to do so.
We had a discussion of your concerns and ideas. I think it would be fair to say that while all present could understand and appreciate the benefit of having a community recreation center in Templeview, the costs of renovation and operation of such a facility is not feasible for the Church to undertake or consider. Furthermore, when the City of Hamilton was offered the building initially, they also declined based on a lack of interest to financially undertaking such a project. We have a hard time believing that any qualified investors would view the situation differently. We understand your interest in being allowed to pursue the project privately, but having a desire to undertake such a project and having the ability to do so, are two different things.
While I do not speak for the Presiding Bishopric and First Presidency on this matter, I think it fair to say that the intention is to continue to move forward with approval on the existing master plan proposal in the coming weeks and months.
Subsequent attempts to continue the conversation were ignored. I can somewhat understand arrogance from Church employees, because they are trying to do a job, but from such a high ranking ecclesiastical leader? I was speechless.
Tell me about what you have done and said to church officials/members of the community about this development.
I have, for the most part, limited my participation in this issue to the legal proceedings forums. I met with an Area Seventy on two occasions, one at my request, one at his request and we had a brief email exchange. My purpose in meeting with him was to give the Temple View New Zealand Heritage Society a human face, so they could be seen as reasonable and intelligent people who wanted to engage with the Church to see if any third ways could be explored that would meet the needs of the Church to dispose of a vacant school it no longer had a use for and the needs of the community to preserve their heritage and maintain the facilities that had enhanced the community in the past. Outside of these two meetings, I have participated when invited by local government in making submissions in response to developer proposals.
Why do you oppose the development, if indeed you do?
I don’t oppose all aspects of the Church proposed development. The plan to develop more land for residential purposes is excellent. Land availability in Temple View is extremely scarce and Temple View has not been able to grow because the land surrounding Temple View is owned by the Church and is not for sale. Freeing up land for more houses is a really good idea. But given the land the Church holds that would meet this need, the land under the David O’McKay building does not have to be used and thus I oppose the demolition of the David O’McKay building because it is wasteful of resources, disrespectful of the sacrifices made by the community in the construction of the college—it being one of the last surviving buildings, and it is ignorant of community needs which will grow if the hundreds of proposed new homes are built. An increase in homes in the area will need more facilities, not less.
What repercussions, if any, have you experienced for speaking up about your concerns regarding the development?
I have not experienced any repercussions personally. I can only attribute this to being fairly well educated and confident and thus perceive those attributes may deter some from engaging in such discussions with me. However, I am intimately aware of repercussions close others have experienced. Some have been called in to their bishops to account for their peaceful resistance. Others have had their worthiness for callings questioned. Others have received written cease and desist threats from Church leadership. My first hand knowledge of the conduct of these individuals could not in any way be described as being anti-Mormon. They were and are professional and reasonable. However some members of Church leadership felt the need to intimidate and bully in an attempt to silence.
What would you like to see done over the future of Temple View?
I wish the Church would offer the community the opportunity to come together and contribute to rebuild the David O’McKay building as it did when the college was originally built. People would come, people would contribute, people would sacrifice as their ancestors did before them when the Church asked. I would like to see more land developed for residential purposes so my kids can have the opportunity to live here too if they wish. I wish the Church would make good on their words of care and concern and respect the Temple View community by having a genuine conversation and actually listen to what is said, not just give appearances that legal requirements for predetermined decisions have been met. I acknowledge that the Church has put a lot of resources into Temple View. The new roads are nice. The new Stake Centre looks beautiful. But they did those because they independently wanted to not because the community wanted them. Instead of building the new Stake Centre, they could have refurbished the David O’McKay building, built new homes where the Stake Centre stands and the community would have been happier. The Stake Centre is built and can’t be undone, but going forward, if the Church would authentically engage with the community to collectively rebuild the David O’McKay building, they would enjoy an increase in respect and support and be looked on as heroes.
How has this struggle impacted your faith and/or your trust in the church’s leaders, if at all?
I have lost much respect for some (not all) who are employed by the Church as I have seen first hand the arrogance, pride and unrighteous dominion some such employees possess. I recognize that Church leaders make decisions on information presented to them. I also recognize that those presenting information have agendas and human failings and on occasion, get it wrong. The points I made earlier about what being LDS means to me remain unchanged. I will still pay tithing, because it is a commandment and I choose to give it. If the church uses such funds to pay experts to justify knocking down heritage buildings, I will oppose the experts in the legal forums that are established. I will not question what the Church does with my tithing, I give it freely. Some of the conduct of Church leaders has demonstrated to me that they are human and fallible, but aren’t we all? It just means that I will continue to use my own moral compass to distinguish where I am being instructed in a spiritual capacity or otherwise and hope others can do the same. If the instruction falls into otherwise, I will evaluate it accordingly.
What has most concerned you about how the LDS Church in Utah and in New Zealand has handled this issue?
Several big concerns have arisen out of the way the Church has handled matters in Temple View. There seem to be different rules for those who have rank and those who don’t and the hypocrisy I have observed throughout the process is alarming. The Church on one hand encourages us to participate in civic matters, to vote, and to have a voice, but where the Church itself is involved in such matters, church members seem to be expected to shut up and comply. The inappropriate application of undue influence being applied to deliberately confuse spiritual and secular issues in order to gain compliance has been disturbing. And the attitude evident that Church can apply unilateral decision making in non-spiritual matters around the world, complying with local laws only when opposed, because of the political power it wields over non-spiritual matters in Utah. Utah is the exception rather than the rule.
How did the presentations go on Thursday about the future of TV? Who was there, how many people, what was your takeaway?
The presentations were as they would be in any formal local government proceedings. There was a qualified and attentive decision maker who listened to all the evidence and who will make a decision in line with the law according to the evidence presented. In attendance were some members of local government who were there to observe but not participate, and members of the interested public. Attendance was not large as this is just one proceeding among many over the past decade. In its entirety it has been a long process and people are tired of it all, and largely resigned to the idea that the Church will get what it wants because it is well funded and able to produce a full set of experts to justify its position in relation to the unfunded, inexpert voice of the community. Many believe further participation will not make a difference to the outcome because past participation did not make a difference to the outcome.
How do you think it has impacted Ra and his family?
I cannot speak for Ra and his family, but I know Ra is passionate about the outcome and has strong feelings about how the Church has handled this matter. It has been taxing for everyone involved.
How has the development impacted life in Temple View, the good and the bad?
I think Q4 answers most of this. Due to the decreasing amount of participation—some due to ecclesiastical pressure, some due to the length of time this has taken to resolve, many who started the process but have not continued have not been exposed to much of the arrogant attitude or inappropriate conduct of Church leaders and continue to operate blissfully ignorant. Generally speaking, people want to move on, whatever that might look like. If moving on meant the Church again invited people to come and rebuild the David O’McKay, I would think Temple View and the wider New Zealand community would be glad. If moving on meant the David O’McKay building was demolished and new homes built in its place, people would be disappointed but accept it knowing that the legal processes had been followed and all possible avenues available to the community had been explored.
What has changed from 10 years ago in TV and what you make of the changes, i.e. the roundabouts, the new homes (six in all?)?
Temple View has lost its historic special character. Much of the architecture which made Temple View unique and which matched the architecture of the Temple has been demolished. Temple View is more closed to passers through due to the high non-permeable walls that now shield all but the rooftops from the road where there used to be low permeable walls will full visibility to the homes behind them. If I may be blunt, Temple View looks more like a modern suburb in Utah now than the historic village it used to look like. As mentioned earlier, appropriate and respectful development is good and can greatly benefit the community, but the development that has happened and is proposed to happen has destroyed much of what was special about Temple View. Its just another place now, that happens to have a temple in its proximity. The artifacts reflect this and this is also reflected in the culture of the community.
What does Temple View and particularly the Maori Mormons whose relatives built the CCNZ, stand to gain and/or lose with this development?
The community (i.e. not just Maori Mormons, distinction made because the value of the development affects everyone and construction wasn’t strictly limited to Maori Mormons, despite being predominantly so) stand to gain access to more land for more housing. They stand to lose artifacts which embody their heritage. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive but in this case, the Church is choosing one at the expense of the .