Traditional temple

What to expect when the Mormon Temple in Washington DC opens to the public

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The white and gold spiers of the Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kensington, Maryland are a recognizable sight for many Capital Beltway drivers. Right between Silver Spring and Chevy Chase, they have long been used as a useful geographic marker.

But the Washington DC Temple, as it is officially called, has remained a mystery to many for most of its 48-year existence. Only church members, long known to outsiders as Mormons, can enter, leaving passersby wondering what it’s like inside.

Now, for a limited time, they will have the chance to find out.

From April 28 to June 11, the temple, closed since 2018 for renovations, will be open to the public. The visits, which will last just under an hour, are free. Tickets must be reserve for visitors who park or take a special shuttle from Forest Glen metro station.

It is a Mormon custom that before a temple is dedicated – or in this case rededicated after renovations – the space is opened to the public. The last time this happened for the Washington DC Temple, which covers more than 150,000 square feet, was in 1974 when it was built. At the time, nearly 750,000 people visited the temple, and church leaders expect the turnout this year to be the same, if not higher.

Once the temple is rededicated on August 14, only members of the Mormon Church will be allowed inside.

In the days before the doors open to the public, the Mormon Church holds private tours. On Monday, members of the media and guests, including Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (right), peeked inside the marble structure.

“We want you to know that what happens in the temple is not secret, but sacred,” said Reyna Aburto, second counselor for the general presidency of the Relief Society, the women’s organization of the Mormon Church. . Aburto is one of the Mormon Church leaders who accompanied reporters to the building on Monday.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, temples are generally not used for regular Sunday services. In fact, they are closed on Sundays when members go to the meeting houses, which are open to any guest who wishes to attend a Sunday service. Instead, Mormon temples host the most sacred ceremonies of the faith, including baptisms for the dead and weddings.

The Washington DC Temple was the first built on the East Coast and remains one of the largest and most prestigious temples in the world. At the time of its opening, the temple district — a term the faith uses to organize congregations — included approximately 20,000 Mormon Church members living in the Washington area, as well as another 280,000 members across the east. from the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and South America. that the temple served. Its openness and growing congregation reflected the 20th-century expansion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Utah.

Today, the temple serves approximately 150,000 Mormons in the Washington area. There are over 170 temples around the world that serve 16.8 million Church members.

Before entering the temple, guests don shoe covers to help preserve space. The interior is decorated with golden fittings, shiny chandeliers and marble structures.

The tour begins by crossing a bridge from the entrance hall into the temple – a symbol, church leaders said, of leaving the world behind to enter the holy site. The structure is built with such symbolism in mind, intended to reflect the path of drawing closer to God and uniting the family unit.

“It symbolizes a journey,” said David Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the most senior elders in the Mormon Church. “Eventually, we will end up in a room called the Celestial Room. It is representative of our heavenly home, returning to the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Once inside, guests will be led to the baptistery, where young church members perform baptisms for the dead. The intention is to give ancestors who may not have been baptized during their lifetime the opportunity to be reunited with family in the afterlife by being baptized in their name. Children in the Mormon Church are traditionally baptized in their church’s meeting house at age 8, then begin the baptisms of their ancestors in the temple at age 11. Until then, they are not allowed to enter the temple.

Inside the baptismal room, a large jacuzzi-like tub rests on a marble statue of 12 oxen, which represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Behind the tub, a mural of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus spans the wall. From this room, guests will ascend a staircase lined with rich stained glass mosaics – each piece of which has been painstakingly removed and polished as part of the renovation.

Upstairs, guides will take guests to the changing rooms, where members change into the all-white garments they wear in the temple – a symbol of purity and equality, church leaders said.

“We all dress in white because it represents equality and a desire to be clean before God,” said Kevin Duncan, another church leader who took part in the visitations on Monday. “So in the temple you wouldn’t be able to tell the older member from the younger member.”

The Instruction Room is where members watch a recorded presentation on how to draw closer to God. After completing instruction, members enter the celestial hall by passing through a veil—a sacred ceremony known as endowment that members of the Mormon Church first perform when they are at least 18 years. The Celestial Hall is the most sacred space in the temple. One leader said it reflected the “beauty of heaven”; another called it “God’s parlor.” Church members ask guests not to speak in the hall and to enjoy its serenity. The great room is filled with dozens of chairs and sofas to think about. Four large gilt mirrors line the walls and 12 crystal chandeliers descend from the vaulted ceiling.

“I have made some of the most important decisions of my life in this room,” said Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency. “I’m just trying to think quietly about what I should do next.”

The temple closed in March 2018 to begin renovations, including the installation of new plumbing and energy-efficient mechanical, electrical, and lighting systems. The temple’s reopening was delayed due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic just as renovations were completed in 2020.

Dan Holt, project manager for the renovation project, said in a press release that the restoration was aimed at “bringing the building back to its original glory” as a mid-century modern structure.

Mormon Church members and leaders who had visited the temple before the renovation said the changes were tweaks to the original structure and design rather than an entirely new interior.

A Gothic arch motif designed to direct the eyes upward is prevalent in altars, carpets, gold leaf and stained glass. The colors in the glass are lighter the higher they are, to signify “a brighter light we have and the knowledge we receive of the gospel as we learn, grow, and ascend to be more like our Heavenly Father” , Holt said in the press release. .

Hogan, who first visited the temple in January, said it was special to be welcomed into the building.

“I have passed it almost every day since 1974, and [I had] the chance to get inside and see what it’s all about. I mean, it’s not just about the building, it’s about what’s going on there,” Hogan said.

Church leaders said they hoped anyone with questions about the faith would come to the temple. For them, it is an opportunity to open doors and share their traditions.

And for the public, it’s the opportunity to finally see the interior of one of the region’s monuments.

“It’s an iconic part of the Maryland skyline,” Hogan said. “Everybody, whether they’ve been church members or they’ve never been inside a church, they certainly know that. It’s something that stands out in the Washington skyline.