Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A walk through a Mormon temple.

This past month, I went to the Ogden LDS Temple open house twice. The temple tours were identical minus the lines to get in (it was much more crowded the second time). The first time I attended with my friend, the second time with members of my immediate and extended family. Temples are normally not open to the public. In the weeks prior to them dedicating the temples, they allow the general public to tour them as they're not set aside for temple worship yet.

Because of the nature of this special blog, I will not follow the normal format. Instead, I will talk first about the general purposes and beliefs about the temples in the LDS Church; the video which begins the tour; the exterior of the building; and I will then describe the various rooms as I remember them, their purposes, and my impressions of them.

What Temples Mean to Mormons:

Temples are the most important places on earth to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For them, they are houses of the Lord. Many members of the LDS Church believe that God himself personally visits temples, and that the Holy Ghost's presence dwells within them.

Temples are unlike regular church buildings, which are called meeting houses in the Mormon tradition. Meeting houses are where regular Sunday worship occurs. All people are welcome to attend services at meeting houses. Regular services at meeting houses include: Sunday school for adults and children, various meetings for men and women, and a communion service called Sacrament meeting. I attended one of these services previously. Check out that blog here:


Temples on the other hand are open only to members of the LDS Church who meet strict requirements. These include:

  • A testimony that the teachings of the Church are true concerning God, Jesus, the atonement, that Joseph Smith restored the ancient Church that Christ started, and that the Church is the One True Church on earth with living prophets.
  • Complete sexual purity. This means the person has not had premarital sex, an extramarital affair, viewed pornographic or obscene material, engaged in any homosexual behavior whatsoever, or masturbated. If they have, they must have confessed the matter to a bishop of the church (similar to a pastor in most churches) and gone through a probation period (often a year) before they may enter the temple. In all honesty, I have known a shockingly high percentage of people in the Church who lie about this one during interviews. There is a large stigma surrounding sexual sin in the Church. It is called the sin next to murder and as such, many lie about it. This isn't unique to Mormons, but a common thread among conservative churches which demonize all sex outside of marriage.
  • Ensuring your relationship with your family is in accordance with Church teachings. Essentially that you're not abusing your family, that you are fulfilling your responsibilities, etc.
  • Ensuring that you do not support nor associate with any person or group who's beliefs and practices aren't in harmony with the teachings of the Church.
  • That you attend your regular church meetings and try to keep your covenants to the best of your ability.
  • Being honest in your dealings with people.
  • That you pay a full and honest tithe. This for members of the Church is 10% of all of your gross income. Though some interpret it to mean net income.
If members do not meet 100% of these requirements, they are not permitted to participate in temple ceremonies nor even enter the temple.

Temples ceremonies are quite different than ceremonies in meeting houses. They are composed of rituals for the living and the dead and follow strict formatting, special clothing, and secrets only temple worthy members are told. All things that happen within the temple are not to be discussed with outsiders. Members say that these ceremonies aren't secret, they're sacred and shouldn't be talked about. This statement has never made sense to me as they are secret ceremonies because they are sacred to them. Therefore they are sacred AND secret to members.

The Video Prior to the Tour:

Just before the tour, there is a short video about what temples mean to the Church. They don't really go into much detail as to what truly happens inside a temple nor their true significance. This is a common theme in the temple tour. There are no tour guides, they rush you through the temple, they don't encourage questions while on the tour (nor is it really easy to ask questions of the temple workers), and they tell you there is a tent outside which will give you more information about the various rooms, but it mostly tells you about the building structure and materials than anything else.

The video features several members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This group of twelve men, along with the President of the Church and his two counselors (known as the First Presidency) make up the most senior leadership of the Church. Some spoke about temples being important in ancient times, claims that the temples now have the same function as the ancient temples, and they really drove home their message that families can be together forever through the temple.

The Exterior:

Here are the only pictures you will get of the temple, as photographs were not permitted inside the building. You can view photographs of these rooms that I describe online through various sources, including Church publications.

The original Ogden Temple stood from the 1970's until 2011. The design of the original temple was very much a product of its time, and the beauty of it didn't stand the test of time. The newly designed and renovated temple bares no real resemblance to the original. The new building has a look that is inspired by timeless houses of worship, with stone walls, stained glass windows, and a traditional single spire.

Truth be told, I think the exterior is quite a good face lift to Ogden. It is much better to see than what was there before.

The Tour Itself:

The Baptistery

The tour begins with you entering from the back door on the west side. There are people there who put protective coverings (shower caps essentially) on your feet in order to keep the new carpets clean. You walk inside and they take you to the basement to the first room, the dressing rooms near the Baptismal Font. After snaking through several doorways, you enter the Baptistery. This contains a giant stone baptismal font on the top of twelve stone oxen. This is modeled after the basin in Solomon's Temple. The twelve oxen represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Behind the font is a portrait of Christ's baptism which extended from floor to ceiling. Off to the left and right sides of the room were paintings of a river, which I assume were the Jordan River in Israel.

This is the room where Mormons perform baptisms for the dead, a practice known widely outside the Church. Regular baptisms of members do not take place here, but are done in much smaller and very simple fonts in local meeting houses. It is said that the dead require the same ordinances as the living, therefore, those who died without baptism have the chance to accept a baptism done on their behalf by a living member of the Church.

This is a ceremony I participated in when I was a Mormon, and it is the only ceremony a minor can participate in under normal circumstances. Anyone over the age of twelve with a recommend (specifically good only for baptisms for the dead for minors) may participate in this ceremony. It is just like a regular baptism in Mormon circles, following the formula of baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, members dressed in white jumpers, being fully immersed, etc. The only difference is that the name of the deceased person is read instead of the name of the member doing the baptism. Typically, a person is baptized for a dozen or more people in one baptismal session.

The administrative offices

After the Baptistery, they take you through some halls in the basement that pass by a few rooms, the only real one of note was the cafeteria. They then take you to the first floor of the building. This floor contains the temple recommend desk, where members must present their paperwork stating they can enter the temple. It also contains a lobby to wait in. The rest of the floor is filled with the administrative offices of the temple. After that, there is a dressing room for the brides to get ready in on their wedding day. It's a pretty little room with several vanity mirrors for multiple brides to get ready at the same time.

The Sealing Rooms

The next floor is pretty much entirely dedicated to Mormon weddings. There is a lobby there for the families of the bride to wait in while she gets ready. This is like a nice hotel lobby in appearance. Most of the rest of the rooms on this floor are called Sealing Rooms. They are small chapels where weddings are performed. The rooms are laid out with a padded altar in the center where the bride and groom kneel facing each other. There are chairs along the sides of the room for the families of the bride and groom as well as those officiating to sit in. The most striking feature of these rooms are the mirrors. There are mirrors on the walls in front of and behind the altar. These mirrors reflect each other in an eternal image. This symbolizes the bride and groom's marriage lasting for eternity as Mormons believe that marriage and family are eternal when they are sealed together in these ceremonies.

There were a few of these rooms, some were huge and could accommodate a several dozen people, others were very small and could only fit a few people in them.

The Chapel and Ordinance Rooms

The last room on the second floor was a small chapel which is very reminiscent of standard Mormon chapels. I am told the dedication of the temple will happen in this room, and that this is where people who perform the Endowment Ceremony wait before participating in the ceremony. 

You then walk up a flight of stairs and see a painting of Jesus's second coming at the top of the stairs looking down at you. The top floor is filled with Ordinance Rooms. These rooms are the rooms where members conduct the most sacred and secret of ceremonies that most will participate in, the Endowment Ceremony. Essentially, the Ordinance rooms are small, well decorated theaters where members watch a video detailing their version of the creation story in Genesis. Members are given special signs and tokens they believe are necessary to enter into God's presence. They also swear oaths and make covenants with God, don certain ceremonial clothing, and participate in a prayer circle during this ceremony. The ceremony ends with them passing through a veil into the Celestial Room. More on that in a moment.

Mormons believe the Endowment Ceremony bestows upon them special blessings and will allow them to enter into the highest of the Three Kingdoms, the Celestial Kingdom. Mormons teach that there are three kingdoms mankind will be divided into on the Last Day:
  1. The Celestial Kingdom, said to be the glory of the Sun. This is the highest kingdom, where God the Father will live and reign. Those who go into this kingdom were worthy Mormons who went through Endowment Ceremony and lived by the teachings of the Church. Those who were married in the temple are at the top of this kingdom and may become gods of their own worlds. (Though the Church seems to be changing this doctrine as of late. More on that in another blog, perhaps.)
  2. The Terrestrial Kingdom, said to be the glory of the Moon. This is the second highest kingdom and is ruled by Jesus Christ. Those who will go to this kingdom lead righteous lives, but were deceived by the craftiness of man and thus didn't accept the fullness of the Gospel in this life or the next.
  3. The Telestial Kingdom, said to be the glory of the stars. This is the lowest of the kingdoms of glory. Those in this kingdom were sinful in life, and as such not deserving of the first two kingdoms. After this life, they will go to Spirit Prison (a similar concept to Purgatory) where they will atone for their sins. They may accept the Gospel and change their eternal fate while in Spirit Prison. If not, they will remain there until the end of Christ's Millennial reign, and be sent to the Telestial Kingdom on the Last Day. Though it is the lowest of the kingdoms, it is said that if you saw this kingdom right now, you would kill yourself to go there.
Outside of this, there is also Outer Darkness, the Mormon version of Hell. This is where Satan and his Angels will end up. It is nearly impossible for a human to end up here as they must have had full witness to God's existence and still denied him.

The Celestial Room

At the end of the tour, we came across the most sacred room in most temples, the Celestial Room. This is a room that members enter after passing through the veil in the Ordinance Rooms. This room represents the glory of the Celestial Kingdom and being in God's presence. It is always the most well decorated and beautiful of rooms in the temple. This one was no exception.

There were crystal chandeliers, white walls, extremely thick, padded carpets, golden lamps fixed into the ground in an Art Deco style, gorgeous couches, a white dome that looked like glass or alabaster over the center of the room, several end tables with fresh flower arrangements, etc. 

The room is not unlike a fancy hotel lobby in a luxury hotel. Members don't perform any ceremonies in this room. Instead, they simply sit in quiet prayer and meditation, thinking about the ceremonies they just performed and believe that in this room they are closer to God's presence than anywhere else on earth.

There is one temple with a room considered more sacred than this one. That is the Salt Lake Temple, which contains a small room called the Holy of Holies. This room looks much like a Sealing Room and is not used by the general population of the Church. Therefore most people will never see it, nor have need to. Only the top officials of the Church, and those personally invited by them for a special ceremony called the Second Anointing will ever enter that room. As such, there is currently only one and in all other temples, the Celestial Room is the most sacred room in the temple.

This was the last stop on the tour. After this, we were taken to a stairwell down to the main floor of the building and led out the front door, where crowds of people were taking pictures.

Overall Experience:

Overall, it was a very pretty building and a pleasant experience both times. It was nice to experience in a small way what my Mormon relatives experience with the temple. The artwork and craftsmanship of the building is phenomenal. The stained glass windows were simple, yet gorgeous; the dark, African wood was a great contrast to the white walls; everything was just really pretty.

That being said, it just doesn't feel like a house of worship to me. It feels very much like a luxury hotel without bedrooms. Since leaving the LDS Church, temples have been an issue for me. They claim to follow the models of the ancient temples of Israel, but they don't bear any real resemblance to them other than the baptismal font and that there is a veil and one temple with a Holy of Holies.

I understand this building and the ceremonies inside mean the world to much of my family and friends. I understand they fill a huge need and give many of them comfort and spiritual grounding. But my biggest issue with them is their exclusivity. I know many people who have issues when the time comes to get married and their family must wait outside the temple while they get married because their family aren't members or are members but don't hold temple recommends. This saddens me. They are a church heavily focused on family, but this policy often creates conflict within families.

This happened to me when my brother was married. I had to wait outside the temple with the rest of my family. I was a minor at the time, which is why I was unable to attend. Other family members were unable to enter as well for one reason or another. We waited outside as well for them to exit the building so we could all take pictures and congratulate them. This was the first time I ever really questioned this policy.

I was seventeen at the time and severely questioning my faith in the Church. I had all but left in my mind at the time, but was afraid to tell anybody. I knew in my head that I wouldn't see the ceremony, but I was quite another thing waiting endlessly outside the temple for them and feeling left out of a huge moment in his life simply because of my age. 

There is a small lobby inside the doors of the temple where you can sit if you're not attending. I sat in there with my grandma and she was talking about temple worthiness and things of that nature. I saw all these people walking in and out of the temple with their valises full of their temple clothes. I just remember thinking to myself, "Who could ever consider themselves worthy enough to enter God's house? Isn't that an arrogant statement to make?" In that moment, the whole temple thing felt like a country club for the righteous. It also felt contrary to the life and ministry of Jesus, a man who surrounded himself with tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, and other outcasts of society and often scorned those in religious authority for being self righteous and caught up in the pomp and ceremony of their faith. I couldn't see him endorsing the idea of a members only temple for the righteous.

I felt like a monster thinking these things in the lobby of this building. I felt like I had betrayed God. Even though I was pretty much already emotionally and mentally out, there was still a small part of me clinging desperately to the faith of my childhood. I still wanted it to all be true even though it was getting harder and harder to believe. I was still convinced that the problem was entirely with me and that I was alone with these thoughts.

And I still felt that way going through these open houses, especially with my family who are LDS and temple goers. It felt like there was a large gap between us. There is a whole world they have that I will never experience and am not invited to. This is not their doing, but a consequence of their deeply held beliefs that are extremely dear to them. But, for a brief moment in time, these tours allowed us to bridge that gap in a small way. For that, I am grateful for this tour.

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