Washington D.C. Temple Cutting Back Again

Starting tomorrow, endowment sessions at the Washington, D.C. temple will begin once an hour during most of the period that the temple is open. From Tuesday to Friday, sessions will commence on the hour from 8 AM to 5 PM, and then on the hour and on the half hour from 5:30 PM until 8:30 PM. On Saturdays, sessions will happen every half hour from 8 AM until 8 PM. This will be a reduction from 167 endowment sessions per week to 117. Several years ago sessions were held every 20 minutes, starting earlier in the day and ending a bit later.

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

21 thoughts on “Washington D.C. Temple Cutting Back Again

  1. I’m sure that’s the case Brian.

    Having moved from there last year, I can’t say for sure but it’s been losing patrons since the explosion of temples on the East Coast.

    Ten years ago, they recruited us singles to be ordinance workers to work Friday nights round the clock from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Saturday mornings in shifts. Now they can’t even get a decent turnout on may evenings.

    On one hand, it’s too bad, but with temples popping up all over the East (such as one soon to be in nearby Philadelphia), it’s a bittersweet consequence of Pres. Hinckley’s vision for more temple.

  2. Perhaps we as LDS people need to step up our commitment level and fill those glorious temples President Hinckley envisioned. I believe that the consequences of empty sessions will be felt by us worldwide.

  3. I do not think that we should read too much into this. Like David Sundwall, the Washington Temple is the temple of my childhood home. My grandparent were long time temple workers there. I think this is the result of many people now being able to attend the temple without heavy amounts of travel. I think President Hinckley would say “Isn’t it great?”

  4. I agree with Chris H. I have to travel nearly an hour and a half to the Denver temple. I’d love it if a temple were built closer, even if it meant the Denver temple was less active (even though my wife and I were married in the Denver temple).

    Having written that, I can understand John M’s nostalgia for the good ol’ days when the DC temple was more active. I remember just nine years ago going to the DC temple on a Saturday, and the entire parking lot was PACKED. You had to park in the street and walk about 10 mins to get to the temple. I went on a recent Saturday last year and there were probably a third as many cars in the parking lot. It’s definitely a different situation.

  5. I served my mission in DC, and almost every session I went to in the DC temple had less than 10 people in it.

    I agree with the rest that it is because of the explosion of new temples. When it was dedicated in the 70’s, its boundaries included everything east of the misssissippi river; now, there are 12 within a half-days drive of DC.

  6. Maybe this means that I should move home and try to boost the temple attendance. Of course, I should probably be trying the same right here in Rexburg.

  7. The same thing is happening on the west coast in Los Angeles. New temples in Orange County, San Diego County, San Bernardino county and the central valley have greatly reduced the activity in LA. Add to that the changing demographics where older families in the LA temples district are dying/leaving while younger families can’t afford the area or decide to settle where the concentration of LDS families is larger, those areas being for the most part in the newly established temple districts.

    The remaining members of the LA temple district get a constant guilt trip about our failure to fill the temple, but the reality is that we are doing more per capita today than we ever did when the temple was more crowded. One member of my ward told me that in the mid 80s when he was HP group leader our ward had 6-8 temple sealing assignments a year. Now we have 15+ per year.

    Fifty years ago it made sense to build large landmark temples as a symbol of the church, I wonder how long that model will remain viable? The LA temple has huge fixed costs for utilities, AC, laundry, cafeteria, etc. The land it sits on is immensely valuable, the church could probably build a dozen smaller temples if they sold or developed it. I see no indication that the demographic changes in the LA district will change anytime soon, it will probably continue to shrink in population. Will the time come that the symbol doesn’t make sense?

  8. Chris, I’m on the fence, I’m sympathetic to arguments on both sides.

    People argue about the money spent for BYU in the same way, wondering if the symbolism is worth the expense. But if BYU were experiencing declining enrollment, eliminating classes and periodically shutting down the campus because of lack of use I think the argument that decries so much expenditure of church funds on it would grow stronger.

    If you can’t tell by my original comment, I’m mostly just tired of getting the constant and I mean constant harping about the temple and how it’s empty and how we aren’t doing enough, etc. etc. etc.

  9. KLC,

    Interesting notion that you are suggesting or implying–should the Church close a temple because of declining membership in the same way it has closed and sold many meetinghouses as demographics change. There is, of course, precedence for such a closing on account of demographic change–the Nauvoo temple was closed when most of the Saints moved from Nauvoo and, from the Utah church perspective, so did the Kirtland temple. On the other hand, temple have a (at least a cultural) sense of permanence, of lasting forever, as a symbol of God, or His Church, or His covenant. Thus, the importance of rebuilding the temple when the Jews returned from exile, or the rebuilding of the Nauvoo temple under President Hinckley.

    It seems to me, though, that the large temple buildings could remain as “permanent” or quasi-permanent symbols by reconfiguration. For example, just as the Manhattan stake center was reconfigured to include a temple as part of the edifice–becoming a multi-use building of which the “temple” was a portion rather than the entire building, I suppose the Church could do a reverse multi-use conversion with the LA temple or Washington temple. The buildings would look just as they do today, but they would become “multi-use”–perhaps parts of them could be administrative offices, or multi-stake meeting facilities, or mission headquarters, and a smaller, reconfigured part would be remain as the “temple” portion.

    That might save the Church some of his maintenance funds and reduce to “guilting” of the smaller number of members who live in the geographically shrinking temple districts. At the time of the millennium, of course, once again, the entire edifice could be rededicated solely for “temple” purposes.

  10. Brian, both patrons and workers are in short supply. Even during those hours that are still running two endowment sessions per hour, companies of a dozen patrons or so are the norm for most of that time. The summer closure is usually a couple week period of overlap of the outgoing and newly called temple missionaries, and they work together cleaning the temple. This last time, the number of incoming missionaries was much reduced, so local stakes had more cleaning assignments than before. Generally, the Washington, D.C. temple has a “short-handed” feel to it these days.

    DavidH, consider the functions that already exist on the Los Angeles temple grounds, or adjacent to it: the offices of the California Los Angeles Mission, a visitors’ center, a large family history library, a ward meetinghouse, a softball field, apartments for travelling temple patrons (proselyting missionaries live there now, I think). There is not an unmet church need that I de-dedicated LA temple would serve.

    KLC, your pondering of the LA temple’s future is provocative. I lived in the Mar Vista Ward (LA’s second oldest) from 1997 to 2000 and saw everything you mention about demographics. The Fresno temple went into operation during that time, and since then the Redlands and Newport Beach temples have been created to replace its function. Decomissioning a temple is outside our thinking, but that may only be a limit of our thinking, and there is the precedent of the Church abandoning the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples when they no longer served the Saints’ needs. In a coming day, the needs of the Church may not allow the luxury of maintaining the Los Angeles temple.

  11. The commenters discussing the symbolism of the temple triggered the memory of President Howard Hunter’s words to the Church the day after he became President of the Church :

    I also invite the members of the Church to establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants.

    Thoughts that followed:
    —Groundbreaking for the Los Angeles temple happenned in 1951, and it was dedicated in 1956.
    —Howard Hunter was called as Pasadena Stake President in 1950, and chairman of the southern California regional council of stake presidents in 1952. His involvement in building the LA temple would have been huge, especially with the more local administration of construction then.
    —In 1959, Howard Hunter was ordained an apostle.
    —The Los Angeles temple was the last constructed for live presentation of the endowment.
    —In 1955, the Swiss temple was dedicated, the first to use film for the presentation of the endowment. Working this out was a task given by President McKay to Gordon Hinckley, a church employee, in 1954.
    —In 1961, Gordon Hinckley was ordained an apostle. No one else had been ordained between Elder Hunter and Elder Hinckley.
    —On March 3, 1995, President Hunter died, and Gordon Hinckley became President of the Church.
    —On October 4, 1997, President Hinckley set forth to the Church our new pattern of temple building.

  12. To keep things in perspective, we have to remember that the temple districts for both the Wash DC and LA Temples have 41 stakes each. Those are fairly large temple districts by today’s standards, and contain a wide range of demographics. The new Twin Falls Idaho Temple district has only 15 stakes, and the Boise Temple district has 29.

    The LA Temple district includes four counties: LA, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Kern and San Luis Obispo. The Wash DC Temple district includes stakes in six states: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virgina, Delaware, and New Jersey.

    Even with all the new temples being dedicated, the DC and LA Temples still serve a huge number of Church members.

  13. I would be interested in knowing individual statistics for temple-going when a new temple is built. So, for example, when you build a temple in Philly or Orange County, does total temple attendance per person go UP because the temple is closer for people in PA or Orange County or does it stay the same (or hopefully not go down)?

  14. It occurs to me, after remembering Hunter and Hinckley, that I can’t think of any teachings of President Monson regarding the temple yet. I searched through his remarks from our last two conferences and all I cound find was this:

    We commend our wonderful young people who stand up to the iniquity in the world and who live the commandments to the best of their ability.

    To you who are able to attend the temple, I would counsel you to go often. Doing so will help to strengthen marriages and families.

    Let us be kind to one another, be aware of each other’s needs, and try to help in that regard.

  15. John, great comments in #12. Thank you. Temples were great symbols and were central to the lives of Presidents Hunter and Hinckley. Examples we can certainly apply to our lives as well.

  16. I enjoyed all the comments and feel each of you leave thoughts to ponder. From my perspective, I live 170 miles from Monticello Temple, 200 from Vernal, and 300 + from Denver. We only have 9 stakes at the present time on the West Slope of Colorado, but the cost of going to the temple has become very high even with carpooling. I love the temple and my wife and I go monthly (somewhere) if possible. We pray for a small temple here and have offered the land to build one, but also realize it may not happen during my lifetime as we would probably not have the necessary workers to take care of things. Thanks for the insight and perspective you have given, and I will now just be grateful for the temples that are within 5 to 6 hours of driving time and those who will be there to welcome us into the temple. Thanks again. Lloyd

  17. I remember driving the 6.5 hours from Louisville Kentucky to the Atlanta Temple (actually in Sandy Springs).

    Anyways, remember that temple locations and temple size/layout are approved by the Lord. I can’t imagine a prophet saying “Let’s build a temple _there_” without getting an okay from the Lord on it.

    Granted, I’m sure the 1st presidency, or a committee of the Brethren, make a study about which areas of the world (or the US) are underserved, in terms of temples, and study out how many temple-rec holders are in a proposed temple district, and how it would affect the surrounding temple districts that would “lose” territory to the new temple district.

    But I’m also sure that decisions based on those studies are always taken to the Lord for approval.

    Not only do prophets go to the Lord for approval of decisions, the Lord also is known to initiate communications of his will and instructions to prophets.

  18. Another factor, the leading edge of the baby-boomers are starting to retire.

    I don’t have church demographics in front of me, but I would imagine that there is a 1947 to 1957 “baby boom” in the church just like the population as a whole in the US.

    That means that the first baby-boomers are about 62 years old now. We are going to see a HUGE increase in the number of retirees in 3 years when they hit 65. And actually, many boomers started to retire when they were 60.

    The increase in the retired membership of the church will likely be available to increase the number of temple workers and temple patrons.

    So remember, the Lord and his prophets have seen, and do see the long term trends. The Lord plans things LONG in advance. I see the “under utilized” temples as standing ready to take an “almost” immediate increase in retired baby-boomer patrons/workers.

    Another BTW, it’s not just the big temples that are short of patrons/workers. The Louisville, KY temple, one of the small ones, has had their schedule cut back several times since its opening too.

    Plus, with youth and recent-converts available to do proxy-baptisms, church growth alone will also tend to fill temples very shortly.

    Hang on to your hats, it’s going to be an exciting ride!

  19. Maybe if the periodic reforms/modernization/simplifications (all way too slow IMHO) to the liturgy were announced, our sizable group of first time was the last time members would give it another whirl?

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