Better Mormon Temple Preparation

Gilbert Arizona LDS Temple

Gilbert Arizona LDS Temple

Every so often the public gets a chance to enter a Mormon Temple to get a peek at what goes on inside. These rare opportunities present themselves before the religious dedication of newly built buildings or on occasion renovations. In some ways these are equal parts public relations and celebrations. Local Arizona news for channel ABC 15 had a report that claims a look inside the pre-dedication constructed Gilbert Arizona Latter-day Saint Temple, although it is more a report about the background and people involved. Non-Mormons are not the only ones that have very little information about what takes place once declared a Holy Sanctuary.

The hesitancy to discuss the specific aspects of activities and rituals keeps the members of the LDS Church who haven’t gone from knowing what to expect. First time attendees often describe their initial experience as shocking or disorienting. This despite the fact that there really isn’t anything untoward that is said or happens. In fact, many who have repeatedly attended say it becomes rather boring. A few claim to have fallen asleep, with some evidence to back that up. The newness of it all strikes almost everyone as disjointed from typical chapel worship. Some don’t recover and never return.

Blame for this is often placed on a lack of preparation. There is some truth to this. Because of the sacred nature of the Temple activities, only vague references can be divulged. There is a certain feeling among Mormons that the whole topic is off limits. Such a position goes too far, considering how much information exists in a study of General Conference talks on the subject of the Temple. How much can those who would be going for the first time be prepared? That is not an easy question to answer.

The first thing to get out of the way is the idea that the LDS Church doesn’t have the proper material for use in preparation. As mentioned already, even if there isn’t enough officially collected manuals, there is over 100 years of General Conference and LDS Church publications to create a personalized set of instructions. Taking the lead of the celebrated Hugh Nibley who wrote extensively on the subject; if the leadership talked about something then so can the general membership. Be careful with this, because how they talk about the Temple topics is as important as what they say. Naturally, they set the example.

Students, if they attend any kind of Temple “prep” class, are given the aptly titled manual Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple as a study guide. It is a general overview consisting of platitudes, quotes, and simple introduction. Alone it does very little as guidance. The teacher’s guide Endowed from on High is more substantial. A suggestion could be to give the students a copy of this instead of the other, or perhaps both since this one references the shorter text. It breaks down into seven topics that are fundamental to any knowledge base. The lessons contain more specific LDS leadership quotes and a wide variety of scriptural references that make great starting points for contemplation. These manuals should be great beginning, and not ending, points to discussion.

Perhaps the lack of proper preparation doesn’t exist because of what the LDS Church provides, but those who teach. They themselves are not always sure how far to go in the presentations. Again, this has to do with a certain amount of cultural assumptions about the degree of “secrecy” involved with the Temple. An attitude of sacred respect is laudable, but sometimes turns into over protection. Following the promptings of the Holy Ghost to open the curtains just a tiny bit might be necessary. That means if you are going to teach a class or seminar to prospective Temple first timers, become spiritually and educationally prepared yourself.

Of course, Temple preparation can only go so far. No amount of lessons and instruction can replace the actual experience. That is as it should be. To a degree the Temple is supposed to shake us loose from our comfort zones. It is a Holy House of the Lord set apart from the world and therefore everyday lives. What makes it harder than needful at times is the modern culture. Religion that used to be filled with meaningful ritual and milestones has abandoned the forms. The Catholic Church still retains aspects of active ceremony, Jews haven’t had a Temple for millennia, and Protestants despise all but baptism, communion, and marriage that aren’t considered necessary. Even the semi-secular Masons that used to be respected enough to include U.S. Presidents starting with George Washington became during Joseph Smith’s day despised. Today they are ignored save for evangelical Christians who continue to fear the organizations.

The most important preparation is getting ready for making the Covenants. What is promised by and to attendees should already be in the hearts of the members. Those who haven’t gone should become familiar with the 10 commandments, the Law of Consecration at least in theory, and the Mormon religious beliefs about family based morality. Those who cannot agree with abiding or intentions of improving on following the moral teachings of the LDS Church will be more than shocked by mere ritual. If past stories of those offended enough never to attend again are to be believed, the biggest problem is making promises with no intention of fulfilling them. Getting past that makes it easier to try again.

Going for the first time can be scary because of unfamiliarity, but it can also be rewarding. Perhaps only those who have gone will be reading this, but just in case be advised to let yourself be surprised. Take it in like you would the first day of college. Pick out as much and as little as you can understand and leave the rest for later. For those who pay attention, new nuggets of truth and inspiration are found with each Temple visit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions while in the Temple at appropriate times and lean on those outside who you trust. Most importantly, go again.

15 thoughts on “Better Mormon Temple Preparation

  1. Nice post Jettboy. We set a goal of going to the temple once a month and usually are able to do it at least 10 months of the year. I like the comparison of the first day of college.

  2. I’m a convert and I experienced my own endowment as something wonderful. It was not disturbing in any way or even shocking.

    I attended a temple preparation class in my ward and felt very well prepared for what was coming.

    The key – in my opinion – is to know and realize that everything in the temple is symbolical. And as with every symbol it’s not the symbol or ritual itself that has any meaning but it is for what the specific symbol or ritual stands. It a little bit like water baptism: Going into the water and being baptized is required by the gospel in order to begin a new life. Nevertheless this going into the water itself does nothing for you. Physically it’s not any different from taking a short bath. Important is what this ritual stands for: The complete washing away/the complete forgiveness of our sins.

    What we do in the temple is as much a ritual or a symbol as water baptism is. If you see it this way you own endowment becomes much more meaningful and much less disturbing.

  3. Thirty plus years ago I received my endowment the night before I entered the MTC. My “prep” was about 15 minutes of discussion with my escort, a return missionary friend. (I was a convert of a year.). He explained the basics of what would take place, said to look for symbolism, etc. I was thrilled with the experience. I hear about people who feel like they had a bad experience for a variety of reasons. To me, the best prep is to walk some one through the mechanics of the temple, stress the importance of making and keeping covenants, and to look for symbolism.

  4. Ten years ago, I attended a special meeting where the temple president, a member of my ward, taught us about the endowment in an ordinance room. Now days, I’ve been told not to ask any temple ritual related questions to any temple workers. Sad.

  5. It is nice to hear some positive first experience stories. For some reason I have heard mostly negative, even about presidents of the Church like David O. McKay. My own was disorienting because it was like nothing my whole church attendance prepared me for. Perhaps its easier for converts because they don’t have years of learned expectations about what Mormon worship is like.

    My first attendance was like a dream where you were aware of what was going on, but it was not making any sense. Seeing my parents in the Temple clothes really bothered me. It was not enough to be at that age were you are on the edge of adulthood and wanting to be independent, but to see them in a context you had never pictured them even in your imagination was particularly strange.

    To be honest, I didn’t go with the correct frame of mind. Every time the topic came up I was told it was going to be strange to me. So, when I went my curious side spent the time soaking in how different it was rather than spiritually trying to comprehend. I had to make a choice if this was part of the Gospel or not. Since its history came from the same Joseph Smith who wrote the Book of Mormon, I concluded it had to be inspired. Not fearing what I don’t understand, my reaction was to learn all that I could so that it wouldn’t be so strange the next time. In a way that forced me to fall in love with its complexity hidden behind the simplicity as I tried to understand.

  6. My first temple experience was beautiful. I couldn’t get enough of it. I wish that were still the case.

    The temple has a tendency to give you more of what you bring to it. Much, I imagine, as meeting God directly might.

  7. If temple preparation included some specifics of Early Christian temple practices, I think the “shock” of the temple would be minimized. It is important for members preparing for a mission or marriage to realize that Jesus Christ taught the temple ritual to the Apostles and the Seventy during the 40 days between His Resurrection and His Ascension. And that the specifics remain essentially the same as regards: the temple robes, headwear, initiatory ordinances, ascending in various stages, the veil, the Celestial Room, and the mirrored Sealing Room. Present-day temple ceremony is a restoration of Early Christian temple worship. You can read all the specifics (and footnoted references) here:

    Those going for their endowment also should understand that the Apocrypha which describe the Early Christian temple practices were expunged from the Catholic Church by the Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. The books of Thomas and Phillip were re-discovered in Qumran and Nag Hamadi Egypt in the mid 1900’s one hundred years after Joseph Smith restored temple worship.

    Dennis Brown, previous Denver Temple president, included this information in his preparation. All temple presidents would be wise to do so.

  8. The endowment was originally instituted primarily among Mormon masons, and they related to and understood the endowment as masons. Joseph Smith and early Mormon masons believed the Endowment was a restoration of true masonry, which was seen to be an apostate form of the priesthood.

    Today, we’ve lost the knowledge of the Masonic connection, so alot of the Endowment just seems bizarre and unconnected, supposedly a restoration of something ancient long since lost. But since I became a Mason myself, the endowment makes a lot more sense. It is constructed in the language and forms of masonry, and it’s beauty also lies in the editorial work Joseph Smith did on the original masonic ceremonies themselves: what was kept, what was added, what was eliminated, how women were included, how the doctrine of the three degrees of glory and the journey of Adam and Eve were woven into the fabric of the ceremony. It’s actually quite a brilliant and beautiful sythysis.

    I think preparing newcommers with an idea that the Endowment comes from the culture of Masonry will help them try to enter into a new mindset, rather than expecting it to relate to their normal church experience, which is totally different. It’s almost like a different religion, as different as going to an orthodox service, or Bhuddist ceremony, and it should be appreciated as something different, with it’s own tradition, it’s own culture, it’s own beauty.

  9. My own experience was someone who sought out a lot about what had been written on the subject, by Church Leaders, by Hugh Nibley, by well-meaning Deseret book authors, etc. So much to the point that when it was all-over, I thought, “what, no song and dance?” like Nibley had described. I loved a lot of it. Yet I was still totally weird-ed out by the ceremonial clothing by a bit. So I had some of both.

    While I do think it’s interesting to read some of the information posted by commenters on this blog, I don’t think it’s all necessary. What is necessary is a Major “mindset shift” when it comes to members of the Church “dissing” other religions for their ceremonial forms of worship. Just yesterday we had a soon to be missionary talk about a church attendance swap with a catholic friend, and said, “We both decided that the difference between our faiths is that theirs focused on ceremony and doing everything right according to the ceremony, whereas ours focused on the spirit and how we felt.”

    Mormons also have a ceremonial aspect, where things must be done correctly. It’s just we reserve or “high-church” ceremonies for the most faithful of the faith, and don’t share it with outsiders. Instead, we have a “low-church” ceremonies for our weekly service. Until LDS learn to stop making fun of faith traditions not like our Sacrament meetings we will continue to have people weird-ed out by the Temple experience.

    If I were in charge, I would institute a yearly Greek Orthodox church visit for our youth, preferably on a day where they are performing a baptism, where they both wash and anoint the acolyte. You don’t have to even talk afterwards about all the similarities and differences. You can simply counter negative reactions towards a ceremonial form of worship. If they ask questions or express reservations about what they see (ceremonial clothing, ceremonial washing, ceremonial anointing), you can express that we use these in the Temple as well, but then its a far more “natural” conversation.

  10. Even Boy Scouts who have been through the Order of the Arrow ceremonies, will have an appreciation for some symbolism in the Temple.

  11. @Bot,
    Which certainly helps the 50% of members who happen to be women (and therefore are not in boy scouts).
    I’m sure it also helps those boy scouts who weren’t “elected” into that certain secret society…

  12. I remember my first trip to the temple very well. When we were ritually washed in the large basin, and then offered up the sheep for sacrifices was quite the experience.

  13. Pingback: Temple Prep | Out of the Best Blogs

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