Mormon Temples: How They Work. Part 3.

[See part 1 and part 2.]

An important principle of temple organization is gender. The endowment/initiatory ordinances are partly gender specific. Others, like baptism, are not. Marriage language has some gender difference that appeal to historic patriarchal concepts.

Human Resource Structure and the Operation of a Temple.

The regulation of temples and training of temple personnel is supervised by the Church’s Temple Department (TD). Visitors from the TD travel to all the temples at various times to disseminate instruction on practice in the temple and generally help temple presidencies and matrons conduct operations in accordance with established practice. Temple presidencies have a certain leeway in how they regulate certain aspects of the administration of the temple liturgy, but the temple department reviews such practice. They review various areas of operation such as budgetary matters, human resource (paid employee) issues, physical plant and so on. The TD is also involved when new temples are designated, assisting with architectural matters for example. As with any bureaucratic structure, Temple presidents may find themselves dealing with several levels of Church leadership simultaneously.[1]

The organization of each temple is headed by a Temple Presidency and Matrons. The presidency consists of three men (with possible adjustments noted later) and they form both the overall directors of the temple and specifically for the male sacramental functions. One of them is usually present in the temple during operating hours, or at least while the temple doors are open to entering patrons. The wife of the temple president is designated as the Temple Matron, the wives of the counselors are designated as assistant matrons and they head the female leadership structure in the temple as outlined elsewhere.[2]

Assisting the presidency and matrons are the Temple Ordinance Workers. These are Latter-day Saints who have received a specific assignment by the presidency to serve in the temple. These men and women reside in the Temple District: the region of service for a particular temple. While Latter-day Saints may use any Mormon Temple in the world, each temple has a specified geographic domain of service. The details here will remain sketchy because their explanation draws us into other matters not directly related to the temple. A Church member could be recommended for temple service by another ordinance worker, or a local Church leader or may even request to serve. The presidency will choose, or not choose to invite an individual to serve. Praxis may differ somewhat by temple district. There are variant types of service here, which I won’t get into. The unusual aspect of temple ordinances lies in the fact that the initiatory and endowment require women to perform sacraments. For the most part, outside the temple, ordinances are the province of male Church members.[3]

The term of service for the presidency/matrons is generally three years in larger temples. Temple ordinance workers may serve for extended periods but often the minimum commitment is set at two years, should the individual decide to accept this calling.

Each temple also has one or more men known as “Recorders.” This is a paid full-time position in larger temples (there may also be more than one employee/recorder or there may be a volunteer assistant recorder(s)). The Temple Recorder has a number of specific responsibilities. The recorder functions by assisting the president of the temple in carefully overseeing the recording of all ordinances performed in the temple and assuring that those records are communicated to Church headquarters where they are archived. Most of this work is now digitized. The recorder also performs certain functions with the president related to the general preparation for the administration of the endowment. Additionally, the recorder may have specific assignments in directing other paid personnel that may or may not exist in a given temple: laundry service employees, grounds keepers or contractors, cafeteria employees, general food service matters, building maintenance, some secretarial staff, security. The presidency, matrons and ordinance workers are not paid staff and perform their duties gratis. However, in smaller temples, the recorder and building engineer are also counselors in the temple presidency and the temple itself is maintained on a volunteer basis (no paid employees – these smaller temples have no food service and do not provide rental ceremonial clothing).

Ordinance Workers

Some ordinance workers serve at the invitation of the temple presidency. Others are invited to serve by the Church Presidency itself. All ordinance workers in a particular temple serve as directed by the temple presidency of that temple. The division of ordinance workers falls out along the lines of their invitation to serve. “Sealers,” those men designated to perform marriages in the temple, are those assigned by general church leadership (the First Presidency). All others function in the remaining assignments of temple service. Once a man is set apart as a sealer, he may be released from active service, but generally retains the authority to serve at the discretion of the First Presidency without being set apart again.[4] Other ordinance workers, once released from service for whatever reason, must be set apart again if they are invited to serve again in another or the same temple. Sealers may serve also as general ordinance workers, and if released from the assignment, would require being set apart again should they be invited to serve once again in that capacity.

We begin with those ordinance workers who are not sealers.

In larger, busier temples, ordinance workers are assigned to come to the temple in shifts. A shift cycle might consist of three overlapping six hour shifts. Such a temple might open its doors to patrons at 5:30am and cease admitting new patrons at 8:00pm (time tables for each temple are available from Temples are typically closed on Sundays and Mondays, though some are open for patrons a portion of the day on Monday. Ordinance worker training may take place in the temple on Sundays when no patrons are present.

As a significant segment of temple ordinances are gender specific, ordinance workers are organized along gender lines, with some, all, or even other assignments than those which will be outlined later. First we will give the general pattern of leadership roles filled by men and women as assigned or approved by the temple presidency or matrons as the case may be. Unless otherwise noted, each assignment is duplicated for the men’s organization and the women’s organization.
[Part 4, here.]
[1] The temple is not an ecclesiastical unit but it functions in much the same way. Also, it is at the nexus of multiple feed-back loops. A general authority may visit the temple and report something he sees there to the TD or other authority, or directly to the temple president. Stake presidents within the temple district can give direct feedback about certain issues or may give that feedback up the leadership chain – where it may or may not come back to the temple president. And temples are in constant contact with Church headquarters by virtue of their record keeping and transfer responsibility. The First Presidency may contact the temple leadership directly as well by letter or other means.

[2] Matron is a title, more or less synonymous with “matriarch” in this case, having the connotation of dignity, propriety. In small temples, temple staff is very small. Most of our study here applies to larger temples.

[3] In Mormonism, women are not ordained to the priesthood and the performance of ordinances outside the temple is generally restricted to ordained members. In part this restriction remains inside the temple as well. Proxy baptisms and confirmations are performed by ordained men. This is also true of marriages (sealings) in the temple.

[4] A sealer is confined to serve in his own temple district. If he moves he may be assigned to serve in another temple. However, there is an interesting patriarchal rule which applies. For family members living in another region, the sealer may request permission from the First Presidency to act in their behalf. For example if a grandchild wished to have a grandfather who was a sealer in another temple officiate in her marriage, the sealer could request permission for that. Generally, this applies to descendants only.


  1. Another great installment. As a fun historical sidenote: the temple matron(s) were not the wife or wives of the presidency until the liturgical reforms of the 1920s.

  2. J., while I do not intend to explore the history of temple organization, I’m guessing you can trace the idea of Matron to the 1843 expansion of the Nauvoo anointed quorum (Emma Smith). But what about the council house/endowment house structure in early Utah? In just a cursory look at endowment house minutes, I don’t remember if there was a person one would point to as “matron.” How did it get started?

  3. Their seems to have been a chief female administrator. After the SL Temple was completed, the chief female administrator there, as wife the SL Temple president, was viewed as chief over all temples. I’m not sure when “matron” came into existence, but I suspect it was rather late.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Loving this series.

  5. Cynthia L. says:

    This is a great series, and having this archived on the internet is going to be a fantastic resource.

  6. Blaue Blume says:

    I remember in my reading several years ago a representation of Eliza R. Snow as the primary administrator of the Endowment House. The reference seemed to indicate that this assignment was given by Brigham Young to give Snow a sense of responsibility that would keep her occupied and out of other Church affairs. Be that as it may, perhaps that is the beginning of the Matron concept. In my own family history, my great-grandparents recorded the specific individuals who played the various dramatic roles when they received their ordinances in the Endowment House, possibly a common practice in those early days. Eliza R. Snow is listed on more than one occasion.

  7. ByTheRules says:

    The heirarchy of sealers is a bit difficult for my sense of organization, with the First Presidency issueing the call to serve. I would think that a temple president would have authority for all staffing issues. It would make somewhat greater sense to me to have First Presidency involvement if a requirement to be a Sealer was to have had their Second Annointing. Can anyone confirm or deny?

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