Temple prep

Two years ago I went through the temple with certain expectations about what to find in that space.  The temple, I had learned, was a perfect space: there, I could expect an unadulterated, divine ritual far more perfect than anything else within our church.  What we performed in the temple was the most important work we could do.  What we learned there would give us “truth,” power, and knowledge.  Being a generally skeptical person, I was not surprised when what I experienced there did not, in my mind, meet these standards or personally transform me.  I was surprised with how disappointed – perhaps even betrayed – I felt when they did not.  I did not realize how invested I was in the expectations that so many youth leaders had created for me about the space that I had no means of experiencing except through their lessons.

This Sunday, the Young Women’s president announced that her organization would focus on encouraging young women to attend the temple.  (I forget her exact words.)  While I appreciate this goal, and do believe in the importance of the temple, I want to suggest that it is vital that when we encourage our youth to look forward to the temple that we provide realistic frameworks in which they can understand how they might integrate what happens in the temple into their larger lives.

Too often, I believe, we focus exclusively on temple attendance as an end-goal and value what we do in the temple as being in and of itself our most important work.  Similarly, we paint the temple ritual in idealized terms: we tend to see in it perfection and completeness, despite the fact that it is clearly transmited through often dated media forms and has been revised before and doubtlessly will be again.  As a consequence of this approach to the temple, I firmly believe that we both leave members vastly unprepared for what they encounter in temple and with little support as they might question or struggle with what they encounter.  Because we fetishize the temple as a perfect space, its failure to seem that can lead members to deeply question their testimony.

Rather than viewing the temple as an end, I now believe that we would better prepare people to enter and thrive within the temple if we viewed it as a launching pad from which to embark on the rest of our lives.  Although I was initially disappointed in the temple, I now look upon the temple as a beginning and not an end.  The experiences in the temple are neither directed towards perfect people or are in themselves complete and perfect rituals.  Rather, they are signposts that help us progress.  When I go to the temple, I no longer expect to find perfection.  Instead, I ask myself how the messages in the temple might aid me in living the rest of my life here and now.

But coming to peace with my initial experience of the temple has been a long spiritual struggle – one that needlessly marred precious experiences like my wedding ceremony that I wish I could have back now that I feel more at peace about what happened.  Perhaps not everyone struggles with the temple.  But I think simple changes in the expectations we set for our youth about the temple could help many people see it as a blessing in their lives far sooner. 

Comments

  1. In my temple prep class, the teacher specifically said (and he may have been quoting someone with authority, I simply don’t recall) that a lot of young people go to the temple expecting something mysterious to be revealed to him and are often disappointed when the experience is neither mystical nor mysterious or earth-shattering. In other words, he totally ratcheted down the expectations. I’m very grateful to him.

    I have to say, my initial reaction to the endowment was, “Huh. Well, there it is.” It took on greater meaning to me the more I attended (and I did attend quite frequently during my first couple years of being endowed, pre-marriage/pre-kids). But I think going in without any expectations was helpful.

    What I remember about YW was this emphasis on temple marriage as an end goal. It’s more appropriate to characterize it as a beginning, as you said. I’m sure most youth leaders don’t mean to paint it as The Big Prize at the Finish Line, after which we all live happily ever after, but it did come off that way to me then. Not that it made any sense to view it that way. I mean, I was supposed to be married a lot longer than I was supposed to be preparing to go to the temple. Actually, by the time I went to the temple in my mid-20′s, I was not expecting to get married, so I saw the endowment as something quite separate from being married, which I think was also a blessing. I wouldn’t want to de-emphasize marriage in YW, but we could certainly stand to be more explicit about the difference between being endowed and being sealed, not to mention the difference between being sealed and being exalted.

  2. Julie M. Smith says:

    Are YW leaders really teaching “perfect space”? That seems pretty extreme, and not something that I’ve ever heard on the general level. And I haven’t read the talk, but I think Sr. Dalton was focused on temple covenants, which I don’t think is problematic.

  3. You’re in good company. Both President McKay and Hinckley had disappointing first experiences with the temple ordinances, and both chalked it up to the poor preparation they received. (Pres. McKay’s comments here.)

    Sometimes (often?) well-meaning family or friends don’t know how to talk appropriately about the Temple, and thus end up “over-selling” the spiritual aspects of the temple. While the Temple is indeed a spiritual place, comments like these create unrealistic expectations, often resulting in a less-than-ideal experience. Someone who expects the Temple to be the spiritual peak of their life and also has not been prepared for the ritual or symbolic aspects, will probably not have a positive experience due to the disconnect between their expectations and the reality.

    Making this a spiritual point of departure and growth is a great way to deal with it.

  4. molly bennion says:

    Bishops could help a great deal here. I’ve taught the Temple prep class and even that is too big and public for the honest, private conversation which should precede a first Temple visit. I was fortunate to have a wonderful frank meeting with then my Bishop, Jamie Lyon, before going to the Temple. I had already read the ceremony, studied Mormon and anti-Mormon commentary and Jamie invited me to ask him any questions I wished. No exclusions. Respectful of the sacred, he answered everything as fully as he thought he could and salvaged what would likely have been a disappointing experience. Then all I had to deal with was a mother-in-law who wouldn’t stop whispering no matter how many times the matrons asked her to stop. She was trying to help and did anything but. Those accompanying someone taking out an endowment should trust them to process the information quietly and to discuss questions in the Temple after the ceremony. I’ve found Temple presidents and matrons are often available for discussion.

  5. Our lack of appreciation of extensive religious ritual is often a problem for those who are raised LDS upon their initial encounters with the temple. Instead of the vague platitudes that we usually give youth about the temple, I would suggest the following youth temple preparation program:

    1) YW/YM outings to attend a very High Mass (preferably Episcopalian or Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics are too casual except on holy days)as temple preparation.

    2) Intensive study of the creation accounts in the Pearl of Great Price.

    3) Study of the “Hero’s Quest” myth structure through viewing and discussing the similarities between the Plan of Salvation and classic “Hero’s Quest” movies like the Wizard of Oz, Sound of Music, Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings.

  6. One advantage to characterizing it as a wonderful place is that it gives us a reason to strive to find it wonderful. My first encounter with the temple was terrible, but because I believed certain people who told me how wonderful it was, I gave it a few more chances and really came to cherish it as a result. I’m fine with discussions like molly mentions, but I also support characterizing it as wonderful and transformative even if it can be surprising on first encounter.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    On a somewhat related note, I’ve long been unhappy with the temple preparation course curriculum. I taught it one year a number of years ago, and it was really just a gospel living course; it could have been presented as a SS class.

    We have become way too restrictive in what can be appropriately said about the temple outside its walls. In my view, there is much more that can and should be done to give people a better sense for what will go on there.

    “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” But we’ve dropped the preparation ball in temple prep curriculum. In my opinion, it should actually be focused on the temple and understanding what goes on there; it shouldn’t be a gospel essentials class.

  8. I went to the temple as a prospective missionary. I had zero temple prep — no class, no talk, no reading — and it didn’t occur to me to ask about it. I may suffer from a lack of imagination, but I had no particular expectations. It’s amazing to me now what a blank I was. The only pre-temple experience I remember was going on the pre-re-dedication tour of the St. George Temple and being irritated by the attitudes of some others in line (“Oh, this is where they — shh, shh, shh — don’t talk about it; somebody might hear you!” while looking around conspiratorially to be *sure* that everybody heard them).

    I had a wonderful first experience. I felt bright and shiny and new.

    Going back weekly at the MTC is when I started asking questions, or at least wanting to ask questions. My comps and I did get to chat with a matron and Pres. Tuttle, but neither answered our questions satisfactorily — they replied to riddles with more riddles, it seemed to me. But the first experience was lovely.

  9. I’ve heard it is embarrassing and it can make one feel silly! I’m somewhat worried about it as I will experience it soon.

  10. JWL #5: BRAVO!!!

  11. Latter-day Guy says:

    On a somewhat related note, I’ve long been unhappy with the temple preparation course curriculum.

    DITTO. That paper could have been better used for starting fires.

    We have become way too restrictive in what can be appropriately said about the temple outside its walls.

    I do love it, though, when the brethren drop little Easter-egg-type references into their remarks at GC or elsewhere. To wit, Elder Christofferson’s last talk.

    A resource I can wholeheartedly recommend is “Endowed From on High: Understanding the Symbols of the Endowment” by John D. Charles (pen name of the now-out-of-the-Church John Charles Duffy — don’t let that scare you, it’s still great). It’s short and very accessible; you could probably read the whole thing by the light of the burning temple prep curriculum.

  12. The temple, I had learned, was a perfect space.

    As a lifelong Mormon, I have never been taught this curious statement and would never subscribe to it. It’s impossible for the temple to be perfect as long as it is constructed, staffed and run by imperfect beings, nor is it necessary for the temple to be perfect to fulfill its function of redeeming the dead and bringing us closer to God.

  13. StillConfused says:

    My temple prep class did absolutely nothing to prepare me. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for. It totally freaked me out. I can appreciate that some people like symbolism but it made me feel like I was part of a creepy cult. It took a number of years before I was able to relax about the situation.

    Not everyone comes from an LDS family and has been exposed to things. I think the prep class needs to take that into consideration.

  14. #9 Nathan, talk to your Bishop about those concerns before you go.
    I like this topic, and agree with most of the sentiments. We oversell, and try to make the temple something it is not. It is amazing, and special, but something most of us need to grow into and within. I appreciate the link to Pres. McKay’s comments The Monk. Thanks.

  15. Besides my struggle with gender issues, I had a *lot* of questions the first time I went to the temple. For example, are we not supposed to believe in the Documentary Hypothesis? Is there an intended dichotomy between scripture and human philosophy, and if so, how do we make sense of this?

    The people in my party had no idea what I was talking about.

  16. Hmm…I’m interested in that so many of you find my use of the word “space” unusual. In my ward growing up, I felt that almost all of our lessons on the temple ended up focusing on its architecture, presumably since we couldn’t discuss the content. So, the idea of the temple as a “space” really stuck with me.

    That said, I’m not really wedded to that term. I just want to make the general point that it was sold as a very idealized experience, in which I could expect something perfectly peaceful, sacred, blissful, true, etc. I didn’t learn ANYTHING about what actually took place there other than celestial marriage.

  17. #12 – I agree completely with you. In this post, I was just trying to describe how it was presented to me throughout childhood, in order to suggest that we should not be taught to think of it in these terms. I don’t know to what extent the temple prep I had was representative, but I do think we oversell the experience – or, because we don’t more openly discuss it, unwittingly allow misconcpetions to perpetuate.

  18. One more comment -

    It seems that the kind of temple preparation that we get is to some extent dependent how willing local leadership or family is to talk about it. Local leadership is unfortunately a bit hit or miss, and not everyone has family willing to discuss or question the experience. If there were more opportunities to discuss the temple in public, then I think there would be less risk that many members might remain privately frustrated, misinformed, or unprepared. One of the hardest things about the temple experience for me was not knowing who I could talk to about it once it became clear that the temple president in my area and my parents thought the topic was inappropriate to discuss.

  19. As someone who went through for the first time two weeks ago, this is all fresh still.

    The Temple prep class was an utter, useless waste of time. It’s no more ‘prep’ than any standard SS lesson.

    What did help me was talking to people I trusted. Learning as much as I could about absolutley everything, having trusted friends show me the garments and clothing once I had my recommend-those thing were actually helpful.

    And going back. And going back again.

    I simply cannot imagine a young woman going through the Endowment and getting married the same day… the potential for disaster is almost criminal.

  20. My first experience with the temple left me wondering what was going on. I didn’t have any expectations or preparation. I had been inactive for years prior to being called on a mission. I went with my Bishop. He kept falling asleep, but seemed to revive at just the right moment. This was in the 1960′s in the SL temple.

    Nowadays, I go to the temple frequently and generally enjoy my visits. I don’t like repetition so I usually find myself praying I can keep all my temple covenants. I also like to think about the individual whose name I have.

    When it comes to being aware of the Spirit there is one place in the temple that stands out for me–the baptistery. I’m puzzled by this. Has anyone else had the same experience?

  21. I simply cannot imagine a young woman going through the Endowment and getting married the same day… the potential for disaster is almost criminal.

    My mother told me SPECIFICALLY not to do that, as it made for an exhausting, confusing, and not especially very good day.

    As for the temple prep class, I was in my thirties when I got married and I simply flat refused to take the temple prep class. My mother gave me a pretty good run-down, although I’ll admit the degree of ritual and symbolism surprised me (which was one of the reasons I liked #5).

    I liked it. I liked the initiatory and the ritual and the formality.

    I did not like my dress.

  22. Tracy,
    My parents both went through the temple for the first time the day they were married (my dad didn’t go on a mission). They very strongly encouraged my sister to take out her endowment before the day she got married (and she did–she went at least a week before, but it’s been long enough that I don’t know for sure when she went for the first time).

    I don’t think I ever went to a temple prep class; my mom talked to me about it (frankly and openly, answering whatever I asked) a day or two before I went, which was great.

    I think it’s a shame that I grew up in such a literal and Protestant time and place. I like the temple, but my life and background is so unattached to ritual (I was totally jealous when I went to a friend’s wedding in a cathedral in Austin), but ritual isn’t part of how I grew up, and I suspect that I miss some of the power of the temple for that.

  23. I’m so glad to know I’m not alone in my initial wishy-washy feelings toward the temple! I joined the church at 18 and was endowed two years later, a week before I got married. Our temple-prep class was…interesting. My “teachers” basically tried to tell me what they had gotten out of the temple in the past 20 years they have been going. That was totally useless to me…and I think it still is. And I think the worst part was that my mother-in-law (the catalyst for me joining the Church in the first place) ordered all of my temple clothing and my garments and wouldn’t let me see them or tell me anything about them. I was so nervous the day of that I thought I was going to pass out.

    Long story short: too many people gave me too many unrealistic expectations and scared me to death along the way.

    Lesson learned: the temple is a personal experience all around and the Church needs better temple preparation instruction to help anticipate this. And updated “media forms.” Desperately.

  24. If temple prep consisted of nothing more that doing away, once and for all, with the phrase “taking out” one’s endowment, it will have achieved a singular success. Start with the premise that the endowment is a gift, and at least you’ve begun from a good starting point.

  25. And I think the worst part was that my mother-in-law (the catalyst for me joining the Church in the first place) ordered all of my temple clothing and my garments and wouldn’t let me see them or tell me anything about them.

    This makes no sense to me. I would be surprised (and impressed) if her son grew up in her home having never seen a single one of her or her husbands Garments. I’ll admit that my mom kept the other Temple clothes tidily out of sight, except once when I came home from school and she was ironing. Didn’t one of the prophets talk about seeing his mom ironing Temple clothes, and her taking a moment to teach him about the Temple? Clearly the clothes are special, but they’re not super-top-secret if a prophet can talk about his mother ironing them in front of him as a child.

    If you don’t hide them from your not-yet-endowed children, why hide them from soon-to-be-endowed converts? Really what is the difference.

  26. Random thoughts, quoted late at night . . .

    - From Richard Bushman: “It is both sacred and secret. And Mormons, like many religions worldwide, have a very strong sense of sacred space.” —quoted on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” program of July 5, 2007: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11761615.

    - From 1826: “May we so practice thy precepts, that through the merits of the Redeemer, we may finally obtain thy promises, and find an acceptance through the gates, and into the Temple and City of our God. . . . After the prayer, the following charge ought to be delivered . . . Master to Brethren, ‘. . . Remember that around this altar, you have promised to befriend and relieve every Brother who shall need your assistance . . .” — William Morgan, Illustrations of Masonry . . . [Rochester, New York, 1827 (96 pp.; Walgren entry 2793; Mormon Parallels 254)], p. 31.

  27. My first time through the temple, I did baptisms, I loved it and had a nie perfect experience.

    A year later I went and had a hard time. The only temple prep I had was a brief explanation about what a “shield” was and it’s use, with the statement “it’s all very tastefully done” thrown in. That was a great help. I wish I had had the talk Elder Nelson put in his footnotes about temple clothing before I went. (regarding Temple Clothing like Mitre’s etc. He gave this talk in Indiana and focused for a good ten minutes on the robes, mitre, aprons, etc of the old testament temple workers. It really helped me to understand better)

    I think you basically need to be prepared for the clothing of the temple, the washing and anointing, know what covenants you are going to make, be prepared for the tactile aspect of the temple, know about the Garment, and have an egalitarian explanation of the covenants of obedience to make it through the endowment without a little discomfort. Oh, and an understanding of why you are watching a movie. (that was hard on a former catholic, but I am glad I knew up front)

  28. Has anyone, anywhere, heard any buzz about a new movie?

  29. Tracy M, I’d check Kulturblog for Buzz on new movies. ;)

  30. My first experience at the temple was overwrought with anxiety because my family, my friends, and nearly my whole ward came to ‘participate’ in the day with me. Everyone watched as I was right on the front row. What I believed should be a private experience was publicly flaunted and after the ceremony, I had no time for reflection because so many people kept coming up to me in the Celestial Room to ‘congratulate’ me.
    I was disappointed that I couldn’t just do it on my own, though I am exceptionally glad I was not receiving my Endowments on the same day as my wedding. I now know that I will invite VERY few people to my Sealing Ceremony…

    PS, #5 = I agree. Study of all manner of ‘lore’ helped me understand the Temple Ceremonies better LOL

  31. We’ve tried to help our young children see evidence of temple ritual in other church settings. We’ve incorporated some of the following ideas into discussions with our kids:
    - Do you notice that they say the same sacrament prayers each week – and that they have to be said verbatim?
    - Do you notice that the baptism prayer is exactly the same every time someone is baptized?
    - Have you noticed that whey they bless a baby they hold their arm up to the square?
    - Did you notice that a Mel. Priesthood holder holds his arm up to the square when he baptizes someone?

    We’ve also pointed out that when a gospel ordinance takes place, there is often a dress code (eg priesthood holders are encouraged to wear a white shirt and tie) and there are often specific patterns which are followed (eg the white table cloth draped on the sac. table each week, or even following the priesthood manual words for setting aparts, baby blessings, healing of the sick and afflicted, etc.)

    We also discussed how at conference one of the Q12 discussed the appropriate dress and conduct for those “officiating” in the ordinance of the sacrament. Get the kids used to that term and have them observe it in action. Officiating at the sacrament ordinance is DIFFERENT than a bishop presiding at a sacrament meeting

    Another poignant tool that has been useful with our young children is talking about the Passover. We listened to a fantastic broadcast called “Why This Night” Link is available here:
    http://www.whatisjudaism.com/learn/passover.shtml
    On this broadcast they mentioned that one of the symbolic purposes of celebrating passover is to help participants FEEL AS IF THEY WERE ACTUALLY THERE, GOING THROUGH THE EXPERIENCE with the Children of Israel. We’ve discussed that it is similar to what one can experience in the endowment session.

    Wow… quite verbose…

  32. Julie M. Smith, Sister Dalton focused on temple covenants and temple worthiness, yes.

    In this month’s Ensign there’s an article about conversion; a man was trying to decide whether to be baptized; he was holding out because he wasn’t sure he knew everything yet. He dreamed someone was holding out a piece of paper to him, which at first he thought was a college diploma, but then he realized it was a college admissions letter. Then he understood how baptism is a beginning, not an end. Similarly, “getting to the temple” once is not a diploma, it’s an admissions letter & part of a lifelong process. Maybe that will help in framing the experience for YW, I liked the analogy.

  33. Peter LLC says:

    Jamie Lyon

    As in professor of German at the BYU Jamie Lyon? He was my bishop too.

  34. Miss M-

    FEEL AS IF THEY WERE ACTUALLY THERE, GOING THROUGH THE EXPERIENCE with the Children of Israel.

    See esp. paragraph 3 here for some exposition on that idea in an LDS context.

    I don’t want to distract from the post or flog my website excessively, but for those who have recently been or will be attending the temple soon, I would love some feedback about whether and how the Temple preparation essays there are useful, and how they could be improved or clarified.

  35. Bro. Jones says:

    If ever called to teach the temple prep class, I’d want to give the following introduction:

    “Let me tell you exactly what happens in the temple endowment: after being blessed, washed and annointed, you will dress yourself in sacred clothing, and hear a retelling of the creation story and of Adam and Eve. This story will have some familiar elements, and some new ones. You should understand that this story is meant to have symbolic meaning about your own journey through this life and your relationship with God. You will also make several serious covenants with your Heavenly Father; although very important, sacred, and serious, if you have ever been interviewed by a Bishop, you should not expect anything shocking in the content of these covenants.

    In this class, then, we will research the scriptural and historical significance of: the temple, the priesthood, washings/annointings, sacred clothing, the creation story, symbolism as a teaching principle, your relationship with God, the nature of covenants, and the application of scriptural teachings to yourself as an individual. This will prepare you for the teachings, setting, and ritual of of the temple endowment.”

    Is that too much? I guess if this gets deleted by a moderator, then I’ll know. :) But if not, do you folks think this is something that would be helpful?

  36. #31 Don’t mean to be nitpicky but I don’t think the “square” is part of this ritual just out of convenience. “- Have you noticed that whey they bless a baby they hold their arm up to the square?”

    When you have dad, gpa, grgpa, a dozen uncles a home teacher etc all hands can’t reach in far enough to support the baby.

  37. I too will join you all in saying I was confused and in some ways underwhelmed in my first experience.

    Because Cardston was closed when I was going to get my Endowments I went the first time to Provo. Not something I would recommend to be honest as Provo seems so rudimentary as temples go, very similar to the smaller ones in that regard.

    The other mistake, for me anyways, was that I went alone first and so had no one to talk to. My bishop tried his best to prepare me but in the end his discussion probably just built up more questions. Although he did pound away on the idea of the temple as symbolism.

    The two first experiences were walking into the mens change room and seeing people coming back and wondering if they worked in the kitchen or something. Then I stepped into the washing and anointing area and all I could hear was someone speaking in a foreign tongue. I thought suddenly this would be like Latin mass or something.

    Needless to say after the initial confusion I was underwhelmed by the rest of it.

    Now I would say that the Endowment is filled with symbolism but it is not in itself a teacher initially. In fact most of my most spiritual experiences in the temple usually happened after entering into the Celestial room and doing other ordinances.

    The other major thing that helped is that I attended Salt Lake and Cardston which were older and in some respects more ornate compared to Provo. It allowed me to appreciate what the endowment was saying to me.

  38. Not something I would recommend to be honest as Provo seems so rudimentary as temples go, very similar to the smaller ones in that regard.

    What’s up with the temple snobbery?

    I for one would tell people straight up what the covenants are. Number them one to four and go through them. They aren’t secret — they are fairly basic gospel principles. I was in a stake conference where the visiting GA listed them on the board. People were a little surprised, and he read a Benson talk where he did exactly the same thing.

  39. First, I think that, “Let me tell you exactly what happens in the temple endowment: after being blessed, washed and annointed, you will dress yourself in sacred clothing, and hear a retelling of the creation story and of Adam and Eve. This story will have some familiar elements, and some new ones. You should understand that this story is meant to have symbolic meaning about your own journey through this life and your relationship with God. You will also make several serious covenants with your Heavenly Father; although very important, sacred, and serious, if you have ever been interviewed by a Bishop, you should not expect anything shocking in the content of these covenants,” is all that needs said. That alone makes temple preperation classes irrelevant, as if they had any relevance to start with.

    Personally, I think that those who go to the temple should not be prepared beyond a quick and simple explanation. No classes and no long winded discussions of what it means, why we go, and etc. That is because, as others have said, it is a personal experience that no amount of explaining is going to help a person with the actual first attendance. To take as an example someone said:

    “I went to the temple as a prospective missionary. I had zero temple prep — no class, no talk, no reading — and it didn’t occur to me to ask about it. I may suffer from a lack of imagination, but I had no particular expectations. It’s amazing to me now what a blank I was. The only pre-temple experience I remember was going on the pre-re-dedication tour of the St. George Temple . . .

    I had a wonderful first experience. I felt bright and shiny and new.”

    Another person said:

    “Bishops could help a great deal here. I’ve taught the Temple prep class and even that is too big and public for the honest, private conversation which should precede a first Temple visit. I was fortunate to have a wonderful frank meeting with then my Bishop, Jamie Lyon, before going to the Temple. I had already read the ceremony, studied Mormon and anti-Mormon commentary and Jamie invited me to ask him any questions I wished. No exclusions. Respectful of the sacred, he answered everything as fully as he thought he could and salvaged what would likely have been a disappointing experience.”

    Although the second quote indicates they didn’t have a bad experience, I know a few who had all that knd of instruction and still had a bad experience, at least the first time. The problem for me personally was not intellectual perperation. In fact, going at it intellectually was my biggest mistake. I didn’t end up participating, but watching and taking mental notes. Frankly, I agree with the person who said that it felf like I was participating in a cult activity. Believing in Mormonism helped me look past my unfamiliarity with ritual and keep trying to understand its place in the faith. I think if someone lets the unfamiliar get to them or if someone wants to understand the experience determines if a person continues going.

    No matter how many baptisms or sacrements are witnessed, the idea of a total ritual was beyond my comprehension. I don’t blame anyone or any teaching method. I blame Protestantism and Western literalist thought. It wasn’t until I went to a mass during my mission that I realized the interaction between ritual and devotionals in the form of liturgy.

  40. I agree we do a generally bad job of preparing people for the temple. My first experience was wonderful, but my dad was incredibly open about everything, so there weren’t any surprises at all.

    Fwiw, there is very little in the temple about which I won’t talk openly with anyone – member or non-member. Obviously, there are some things we are commanded explicitly to not mention, and I don’t quote directly from anything, but as a general discussion – I’m having a hard time thinking of anything I wouldn’t discuss if asked. I’m fairly certain there is nothing I feel would be taboo for a temple prep class.

  41. I agree that temple prep class is a misnomer. I had no temple prep class as I was living in a foreign country at the time and was one of only a couple of English speakers in my ward. One of the other foreigners and his wife gave me a video tape about temples and a pamphlet about temples they got in SLC. That was it.

    My biggest concern was about wearing garments, since I was already older when I went, and had grown quite accustomed to my CK’s and Haines Her Ways. I was too shy to ask what I really wanted to know (and am too shy to mention it here, but it has to do with garments and certain recreational activities), and was stunned to find that you actually had to wear garments when you SLEPT. Blew my mind.

    Meanwhile, the closer to the date my of endowment, the more paranoid I became because the only thing people would tell me ran along the lines of “it’s nothing like the Mormon church you know,” and “think ritual.” So of course my mind runs rampant. Yuck. I was scared that the veil worker was going to do something disrespectful to me. Of course nothing could be farther from the truth, but a little more information would have been appreciated.

  42. StillConfused says:

    My temple prep was something like: “We can’t tell you about what happens inside but there is one part where you aren’t fully clothed and a woman will touch certain places on your body… but don’t worry, it is very spiritual.” Umm yeah. Way to set the stage. And there was no mention at all of the outfits. I had no idea that that stuff existed. All I knew about were the undergarments. I was completely freaked out. But people in my ward were there and they seemed to act like this was normal… which freaked me out even more!

  43. Brother Jones, I think that would be a great Temple Prep class, and far more usefull than the current one.

  44. I was too shy to ask what I really wanted to know (and am too shy to mention it here, but it has to do with garments and certain recreational activities), and was stunned to find that you actually had to wear garments when you SLEPT. Blew my mind.

    Umm, meems, it’s OK to take them off for “recreational activities”. In fact, I understand that the Church has had to crack down on some Temple workers who were erroneously telling people that you had to wear them during “recreational activities”…

    And FWIW, I don’t wear a garment top while I sleep, just the bottoms. I get too hot to wear all that stuff to bed and that’s the same reason I never wore PJs or anything like that before I went through the endowment.

  45. Bro. Jones says:

    #44 Your faith is weak and you are destined for condemnation.

    (I don’t wear my top to bed either–I have a tough enough time staying cool enough to fall asleep as it is.)

  46. #20 — About the baptistry: yes. The day after I received my own endowment, I was baptized for my grandmother (NOT for 25 people!). After an overwhelming endowment experience, the familiar baptism ordinance seemed like an old friend, more beautiful than ever. More than other rituals, baptism is a majestic one-on-one performance; it’s just you and the baptizer in the font up the steps on the oxen. Cardston’s spacious baptistry has high ceilings, murals, nice pillars, lots of hard surfaces from which the baptizer’s soft voice can echo. :)

  47. molly bennion says:

    #33 Yes, though when I knew him he was finishing his graduate work at Harvard and Bishop of one of the Cambridge wards.

  48. Thank you for sharing on this topic. I am preparing to go to the temple within a few months. Luckily, I have had many people approach the temple in the way you have… as a beginning, not an end. I really like how you described it as such. It is inspiring and helps me to view the temple in light of how it can help me improve my life here and now.

  49. The night before I went through the temple for the first time, my parents sat down with me and went over pretty much everything that would happen. They were both converts and neither one had a stellar experience their first time through (in fact for my dad it shook his faith somewhat) because they weren’t prepared for what it would be like. They were very specific with me and I am so glad they were. It eliminated a lot of fear and nervousness for me. Because I knew what to expect, I had a great experience. I wish temple prep classes were more specific; not everyone has parents who have been to the temple.

  50. Left Field says:

    To me, the most important concept in understanding the endowment is that the ritual is a dramatic enactment of the creation, fall, and the process by which Adam and Eve and their posterity (that’s us) return to the presence of the Father.

    The filmed version of the endowment makes it more difficult to grasp, but both the temple patrons and temple workers are actors together playing various roles on the same ritual stage. The patrons and other actors address and interact with each other during the course of the sacred drama (notwithstanding the fact that in most temples, some of the characters exist at times only in the form of a projected image). Temple workers represent Divine personages and others who are commissioned to assist in bringing each of us to the veil where we interact personally and individually with the Father, and where He personally invites us back into his presence. In the process of this, we make covenants that parallel those made at baptism.

    As patrons, we each play the ritual role of a specific named real-life member of Adam and Eve’s posterity. We each play ourselves when receiving our own endowment, and then play the role of another real person each time we act in the endowment.

    The ritual is not intended to represent historical events. It anachronistically places people (including each one of us) in the Garden of Eden who were not there. We cannot attempt to understand the ceremony as history. It is a ritual that places each of us in the place of Adam and Eve as we become estranged from God, and finally enter again into His presence.

    That’s what I think people should understand before they go to the temple.

  51. Regarding temple robes and clothing, I always used to wonder, “What would my friends think if they walked in here right now?” I accepted it, but always thought, “we do look a little strange.” My brother’s quote, after his endowment was, “Now I know why they call Mormons a cult.”

    A few years after I was married (and after many, many trips to the temple–enjoyed despite thinking the clothing was strange) my wife was reading “The Chosen”, by Chaim Potok. A Jewish graduation ceremony was being described in the novel, with the robes, hats, tassles, cords, etc. She was blessed with what has been for me one of the most wonderful temple insights. The temple clothing is ceremonial clothing, just like graduation robes, hats, tassles, cords, etc.

    Ceremonial clothing in our modern society is almost non-existent, but we accept it at graduations with barely a second thought. I’ve never really worried about the clothing again. It’s been a blessing to share that insight with my children.

    And viewing the endowment as a commencement/graduation fits well with the thoughts shared in the post.

  52. Little Sister says:

    I haven’t been through the temple yet, and I must say, I was very surprised by your post!

    The endowment and marriage ceremonies have been built up in my mind and imagination as the end all and be all of celestial spiritual experiences. I think part of the reason for that is because people so often talk about how “different,” “ritualized,” “strange,” and “symbolic” it is. Most of the comments here repeat these characterizations.

    But, how could it be all these things and also “boring” and “disappointing” the first time through?

    I think if endowed members don’t want kids like me to be disappointed by our high expectations, then maybe they shouldn’t always talk about it as being so bizarre and interesting.

  53. Bro. Jones says:

    #52 – It could be seen as boring because, in all honesty, it’s pretty slow moving. Read the creation account in the Book of Abraham, and now imagine it being read out lout and very slowly and dramatically. It’s not empty, but it ain’t gonna make you jump out of your seat.

    It could be seen as disappointing because the temple doesn’t give you answers on how to live your life. It kind of gives you a glimpse of where you’re going, and of why you bother with all the stuff we do as members of the Church, but it doesn’t leave you with a notebook full of all the answers to life’s questions. For some, that’s disappointing.

    There are other details that may or may not disappoint you, but I don’t feel they are appropriate to discuss here. Look around the Internet if you’re so inclined and you’ll find the sorts of things I’m talking about.

    For myself, I thought the endowment was great, but the sealing was kind of–plain. I’d been together with my wife for 6 years and married to her outside the temple for 3 when we got sealed, and it just seemed kind of anti-climactic. Not bad, just–anti-climactic. The sealing ordinance is basically something like, “I hold priesthood power, so I seal the two of you with authority, and you’ll receive a bunch of blessings if you’re worthy.” Didn’t bother me, but I could see how some might take the anti-climax to heart.

    For the record, doing posthumous sealings by proxy held much more meaning for me.

  54. Bro. Jones says:

    #50 You’d be amazed how many people I’ve met who insist the temple “story” is a literal history and should be treated as such. Not only does this fly in the face of scripture, but it makes the temple completely unrelatable, in my opinion. It’s like insisting that all of Jesus’ parables had to involve real people or else they wouldn’t be applicable.

  55. Little Sister says:

    Bro. Jones,

    My sister and I agree. You are exceptionally helpful and insightful. We officially nominate you as Temple Prep Teacher for the entire Church. You may commence work tomorrow.

    Sincerely,

    Little Sister.

  56. KerBearRN says:

    Like #13, I also had a rather “creepy” first temple experience–it really kind of scared me (this was in the days before the 1990 revisions, when a lot of that stuff went away). I think the biggest difference was the involvement of a wonderful bishop. He was like a really cool dad to me (my dad was not a member–I was a child-baptism raised in a non-LDS home, so didn’t have the advantage of teaching in the home on this.) and insisted on having me (and my fiance, who had already attended before his mission) to his office on a weekly basis for a very informal temple prep. I don’t remember a whole lot, except his very inspired comment–”Just remember, the temple ceremony is very old.” Carrying that with me made a huge difference–I was able to see some of the things that were not quite what I expected in a different perspective. It was a much nicer experience with this perspective.

    I also enjoyed Richard Bushman’s analysis in Rough Stone Rolling, about Joseph Smith’s desire to make the teaching in the temple ceremony something that could easily be remembered. Another kind of perspective that makes it easier to understand why it is what it is.

    We have used simpler versions of both these excellent ideas to teach our kids in preparation (our oldest is about a year off from his first attendance).

  57. Bro. Jones says:

    #56 – Thanks. :) I’m happy being a Primary teacher for now, but I’ll make sure to let my bishop know that I’m interested in becoming General Sunday School President for Temple Prep.

    (Though if it were up to me, I’d take over the Primary. Man, you want to talk about inadequate, ill-advised, and intelligence-insulting manuals…)

  58. Re: 42, “My temple prep was something like: “We can’t tell you about what happens inside but there is one part where you aren’t fully clothed and a woman will touch certain places on your body… but don’t worry, it is very spiritual.” Umm yeah. Way to set the stage . . .”

    I just wanted to address this, in case anyone not yet endowed is reading this and left wondering/spooked. I believe the anointing aspect of the temple has evolved somewhat over the years, but just wanted to say that when your body is washed and anointed, this ordinance is done in a spiritual/figurative sense where blessings are pronounced on your body. You’re not literally washed or touched anywhere, at least I wasn’t.

    Before I was endowed two years ago, I had already spent much time reading in the bloggernacle and elsewhere. I kind of think that the information I received in the ‘nacle lent me a negative bias; despite my best efforts to enter with an open faithful mind, I think I entered with others’ doubts and criticisms unfairly printed in my mind. I don’t think this was helpful. I believe we need better temple prep, absolutely. The ‘nacle, in the past, was a poor substitute for informed, historically and spiritually contextual information.

  59. Bro. Jones says:

    #58 – Until the very recent past temple patrons were literally washed and annointed. (I was, when I took my endowments in 2002.) Well, it was still largely ceremonial, but it was not the more figurative implementation of the ritual that you experienced.

    But yes, people who haven’t been to the temple yet should not be concerned about mysterious women in the temple who strip you naked and turn fire hoses on you. (Can someone get me the number of the missionaries for THAT church? Provided, of course, that their temple workers are all under 40. Thanks.)

  60. #59
    LOL, thanks Brother Jones. Your feedback in this thread has been great.
    I just wanted to emphasize that there’s nothing creepy about it. :)

  61. I went to the temple as a prospective missionary. I had zero temple prep — no class, no talk, no reading — and it didn’t occur to me to ask about it. I may suffer from a lack of imagination, but I had no particular expectations. It’s amazing to me now what a blank I was. (I know I’m quoting Ardis, but I was going to say the exact same thing).

    We didn’t live in Utah (and this was back before there were 50 temples let alone 120) so going to the Temple was a bigger deal I guess, but we didn’t talk about it much.

    When I went to get my endowments the only person who went with me was my father. (My mother went with my sisters when their turn came). The only advice he gave me before the endowment was: “Don’t try to remember everything, or think too hard, you’ll being coming back and can focus on those aspects then. Your first time through focus on paying attention to the spirit and your emotions.” Considering the amount of symbolism and how we process symbolic teaching I think this was some very good advice.

    Afterwards we went down to the cafeteria and ate lunch. While we were there my father said: “So, what did you think?” He viewed it as an opportunity to talk about the endowment while still in the temple, and give me a chance to ask any questions I had.

    I think he was surprised at how calmly I took it. He said his own experience left him a little dazed but didn’t bother him that much- I guess my mother was bothered though (no one warned her about the washing and anointing). We talked about how much symbolism is in the endowment and how different it is from the rest of the Church which is rather Puritan (the fact that New England was the birth place of the church still has a lot to do with church culture today). He shared some of the insights he had had into the endowment symbols, and I mentioned how paintings of old testament High Priests now made some more sense to me.

    All in all, I think it was a wonderful experience.

    I agree with many here that it isn’t so much that people need more temple preparation, as much as they need better temple preparation.

  62. I just found this wonderful post today. Sorry for the late participation. You Saints raise so many important issues on preparing to attend the temple for the first time. In my ward, the Bishop (me) and his wife teach the Temple Preparation Seminar and while they use the Church material, they also use the scriptures to explain concepts of covenants, law, signs, tokens, etc. It’s all right there in the scriptures. (Read Isaiah or Moses if you don’t believe me.) After the Seminar and immediately before someone attends the temple for the first time, the Bishop and his wife then meet for 1-2 hours with the person preparing to go (and the Bishop meets with them after attending the temple). The covenant of baptism is then reviewed and extended to include the specific covenants of the temple. We talk about the ritual of baptism and then extend the concept to a discussion of ritual and the use of symbolism in the Lord’s House. The importance of laws like “the law of sacrifice” or the laws of the “gospel” and “consecration” etc. are also discussed, openly. While sacred details are not discussed, it is readily admitted that there will be much that may appear confusing. These and other possible feelings are anticipated and fears allayed.

    We really need only read what the Lord has revealed over time about temples to realize that much more can be taugh and discussed openly today about temple work than many members feel authorized or able to.

    We have a sacred duty to help those who are preparing to enter the temple to understand what they are preparing to do. That must be done honestly, candidly, and with love while still protecting the spiritual and sacred nature of the Lord’s House.

    “I love to see the temple. I’m going there someday.”

    Thank you all for a wonderful discussion.

  63. I’ve been the temple prep teacher in my ward for about three years and I’ve tried to lay out a realistic and balanced presentation of 1) what the temple experience is all about, 2) what to expect and 3) how to respond & assimilate it. My own first experience was way more bizarre than what the newbies have to expect today– a live session in SL with grandmas & grandpas playing the roles, trying to remember their lines, etc. It could have been a humorous reading if the subject matter weren’t so sacred.

    I’m happy to say that, of all my “graduates”, only one surprised me: A sweet, dedicated sister married to a non-member who for years dreamed of getting her recommend. When she came to class, she ate it all up happily with no confusion or misgivings. Heck, she positively glowed. Then she went to go get her endowment. The following Sunday I stopped her in the hall and asked how it went. “It was weird. That’s all I can say– just plain weird. Nothing at all like what I was expecting.” “Well,” I said, trying not to laugh, “go back, again and again. It’ll get better.” “Well,” she replied, “I guess I’ll have to now.”

  64. I’ve long thought that teaching a bit about the culture in the ancient mideast as well as maybe a few readings from some of Eliadi’s classics would really go a long way to resolving the “weird” bit.

    Ignoring the masonry question I think the endowment fits into near eastern culture well – even the parts that have been eliminated the past few decades. Describing how ritual worked in the ancient world really ought be part of temple prep. Unfortunately, unless they’ve changed it recently, everything is written from a largely late western perspective. But frankly the temple is so alien to our much more Protestant like main worship services not to mention American culture that it really floors people.

  65. I looked forward to receiving my endowment for the seven years between my baptism and subsequent engagement. I attended the temple for the first time three days prior to my wedding (which my non-member parents, sister, and extended family could not attend). I had a horrible experience and it shaped my feelings about my wedding (I thought to myself: my parents were left out for that?) For the last four years I haven’t been sure what to do with my temple experience, but this post helps. Thank you.

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