A temple session

Provo temple. The room is full, waiting for the session to start. Soothing silence in this sea of white.

To the front, on the second row, left and right, a young woman and a young man. A dazzling couple on their way to be married. Scores of family members fill the pews around them, perhaps four rows thick. None could have missed the packed group in the hallway as people were waiting for the previous session to end. Two beaming clans, several generations, pioneer stock. An assembly of dynasty Mormons, from great-grandparents to ranges of descendants. The bride, beautiful in her exquisite satin dress.

Temple workers softly take care of a few arrangements.

On one of the last rows, on a seat next to the center isle, sits a young man, around twenty-five. Small, Latin type. A temple worker offers him earphones.
– Spanish?
– No, no, I understand, he whispers with a strong accent.

Left from him, a few feet away, across the isle, is his bride-to-be, a Chinese girl, petite. Own endowment. The dress, rented at the counter downstairs, fits her well.
– She needs Mandarin, whispers a matron to the temple worker.
The little box is regulated, earphones adjusted.

The groom glances at her, reassuring. She glances back, a valiant smile calming his concerns. They are on their own, separated by the isle and intensely together. They watch over each other, the whole session long. Converts. Pioneers.

The Celestial room is crowded. Reverently, joyfully, proudly crowded around a couple in the center.

The little Latin-Chinese pair stands in a corner, holding hands, all to themselves in their own serene radiance.

A temple worker leads them away to a sealing room.

Memories. My bride and I, twenty-seven years ago, in the Logan temple. No parents, no kin. Still, wholly fulfilled. Some pain, yes, but no regrets.

33 comments for “A temple session

  1. You made me cry again Wilfried. Brought me back to my own sealing in the London Temple – 38 years ago. No kin there for us either, but the happiest of days – surrounded by my Ward family.

  2. Wonderful memories of steps well taken. It brought back my own remembrances with my wife, no family in the Salt Lake temple. So many years ago. Steps taken, which we never regretted.

  3. Wilfried – thanks for your thoughts. Yesterday a friend spoke in church. She was baptised nine years ago. She had investigated the church for 25 years prior to that. Two weeks later her husband followed her in baptism. Then their children – one by one – over the course of several months. Finally the time limitation passed and they could be sealed in the temple. It was her second marriage, his first. Three children from her previous marriage and one daughter from their marriage. They were alone in the temple in that they did not have any blood relatives there – some of their family were even hostile because of their decision to join our church – but they were surrounded by the love of “their ward family.”

    And so an American family became an eternal family that day. I can’t remember ever feeling so much love in a room as I did that day. And then there was my friend standing before the congregation yesterday, bearing a testimony that has grown for nine years and just keeps getting stronger and more refined.

  4. Wow, until this thread I had never considered the dichotomy between my wife’s family and mine at our wedding. The only blood relative of mine who attended was my mother, while my wife had parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, uncles, etc., there in the temple.

  5. Wilfried, I really enjoyed this post, a reminder of the diversity and joy of the temple. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. For my wife and I it was 25 years ago. There was no family and only my wife’s best friend and her parents. They had to find another male witness. But we’re glad we did it right and we have no regrets. Our children will have it better.

  7. Wilfried, wonderful as always.

    I saw in the Fresno temple this Saturday a young man who was a near-ringer for my six-year-old son, fifteen years in the future — tall, thin, looking studious in his glasses, yet bursting with energy.This was remarkable because my son is African-American, and we don’t see enough color in the temples — not yet. But it was a wonderful thing to think and hope about seeing my son there in the future.

    The young man was there with his parents and sister — a beautiful, beautiful family.

  8. Count your blessings. This post made me want to cry, but for a different reason.

    Salt Lake Temple over twenty years ago. Some variation of the two pioneer family version above. Twenty seven brides to be married that day; our ceremony was at about 7:00 am if I recall correctly. Temple matrons are overwhelmed, stressed out and are downright rude to my wife. I can’t go into details without breaking covenants of secrecy; but use your imagination, multiple by 2. Coupled with the barbaric segments that were taken out in 1991, my wife was (and still is) creaped out by the whole process, major league. Never does get over it. My wife is beautiful and it was hard not to sleep with her for most of our two year long courtship. But we saved ourselves for each other in order to be worthy to go the temple. And we were treated farm animals and got what felt like a slap in the face.

    Salt Lake Temple about 55 years ago- another version of the two Pioneer family. This time my parents. My mother, a 19 year old bride, is so frightened by the ceremony she has to resist the strong urge to run away from her own wedding. She never went back until I was 19 and going on a mission.

    Her first son going to a foreign country over seas with Jimmy Carter about to take over the white house (laughable now but it caused enormous fear in Utah at the time) was not as concerning as going to the temple for the first time in 24 years. But she wanted to be there no matter the anxiety. Similar response a few years prior from an aunt who sent her son off to Vietnam and he wanted to go through the temple just in case he got killed. Son going overseas to Japan or to Vietnam – small or moderate problem. Going back to the temple- big problem.

    Mother went again with less anxiety when my brother left on his mission and finally in 1991 with the elimination of most of the obnoxious segments, she became a more regular attender and it gave her much comfort and satisfaction. Then her health failed. She had about 5 good years of temple attendance instead of the 55 years she could have had. And please resist blaming her. She was raised on a chicken farm and did not like it when they cut the chicken’s heads off and some would run around the yard headless, squirting blood.

    Another scenario is when the non-LDS parents of a new convert spend a year’s worth of their salary to fly across the globe to be at their daughter’s temple wedding and they get to sit outside on the lawn while the 4th cousin who happens to stumble in late from across the street goes in. Where do we get off telling parents (who have done a good enough job raising their kids that we want to marry them) that they are not “worthy” to be at their weddings? We piss away 99% of our opportunity to convert these good people on that crucial day. And they would not defile the temple any more than the current parade of the liars and cheats and the self delusional who escape screening and go on a regular basis. If you have close non-LDS relatives who were excluded from your temple wedding, might I suggest as a first step that you appologize for the rudeness of the church on that day and watch the flood gates of resentment open. It might strengthen the relationship in the end. That is if you are humble enough to tell the diference between gospel truth and insensitive church policy. I am waiting for further light and knowledge on this (for me) volatile topic of temple marriage.

    Can we agree that those ceremonies should have been changed decades before they were? They knew about these kind of problems since the turn of the last century. Entire lifetimes of temple attendance were lost while they dithered. And the dithering continues. When people treat you rudely at walmart, you can just simply leave and not go back. You won’t remember it for the rest of your life. With the temple being central to our religion and our colossal emphasis on a temple marriage, it is not so simple.

    I was young and obedient and tolerant at the time, but if I had known then what this was going to cost me over the years, I would not have put up with it. I have a rather loud voice and a very provocative imagination. I should have resorted to shouting at the very least and possibly some physcial action, like face slapping or ass kicking. It was my big chance to show my new wife that I loved her more than anything else and she could count on me to stick up for her when the chips were down. But I quivered obediently in the shadows and showed her that I feared the church more than I loved her on her wedding day.

    I think I will just delete the rest of this before I get into any more trouble.

  9. Merci, Frère Decoo

    Like others, your post reminded me of when I got sealed to my husband two and a half years ago. My family waited in the temple waiting room while my husband and I got sealed with an audience consisting of only his immediate family.

    It was hard knowing that no one to whom I was related could be in the sealing room to participate in the happiest moment of my life. However, like you, I have no regrets to have been the solitary representative.

    I will always remember sitting with my husband-to-be in the Celestial Room right before the ceremony, and having a sister come in, sit next to me, and begin to relate her story so similar to my own. She went down to the waiting room and stayed with my family the whole time during the ceremony, giving my parents the physical and emotional comfort that I was unable to give them at that moment. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that she happened to be working in the temple that Saturday. I can’t remember her name anymore, but I will forever be grateful for her kindness and tenderness.

  10. I really appreciated this tableau, Wilfried, since as it so happens I was married in the Provo temple 25 years ago myself. A lot of people had dreamed all their lives of which temple they would be married in–often Salt Lake or Manti. But I really didn’t care one way or the other, I just wanted to get married to my bride, and Provo was convenient, since we were both BYU students at the time. Anyway, I had some relatives and friends in attendance, but not my parents, so I can relate on some small scale to the couple you highlighted.

  11. Mike – I hesitate to respond to your comment because there is obvious pain (and frustration, and anger) in your words and I am sure they are heart-felt feelings that you express. I’m equally as certain that there is nothing any of us could say to soften your feelings. But having said that, I feel the need to relate a story told by some friends. They were a young convert couple living in Chicago, long before the Chicago Temple opened. They saved their money and drove themselves to Salt Lake to be endowed and sealed in the temple. They received no temple prep class and they had no family to support them. They hadn’t really discussed the experience with anyone – even their bishop. They went through the temple and were sealed and as they left the temple that day the wife said to the husband, “What was that?!” and the husband replied, “I don’t know but the church is still true.” This was more than thirty-five years ago and so the endowment ceremony stilled contained all of the elements that upset your wife. But my friends continued to be active in the church and with the help of friends and leaders they got through their initial shock. It sounds as though your wife may not have had that same support.

    I work at the Washington DC temple and I can tell you that we are counseled to be completely sensitive to the needs – and the fears – of the patrons. Sara’s experience is reflective of the counsel that I have received as a temple worker. But despite the best intentions of the Temple Presidency, I am certain that some temple workers might act without sensitivity or at least their actions might be perceived that way. Can I suggest that your wife and you should take the opportunity to talk to your bishop about your feelings. I am also certain that the temple presidency in your temple district would be more than willing to discuss your concerns with you. I wish you the best in your efforts to resolve this unfortunate experience.

  12. Thank you all. Thank you.

    Thank you, Lamonte, for trying to respond to Mike. When my wife and I were married in the circumstances I mentioned, we were happy we could marry in a smaller, more intimate temple. Perhaps the SL-temple, with its own heavy movement, atmosphere and procedures, is not the ideal place for some, at least from a certain point of view. I know of course this doesn’t address all issues. Preparation and expectations are a vital part of the temple experience.

  13. I will take a sealing at a small temple any day over a Salt Lake sealing. No offense to my friends (and my parents) who have been sealed at Salt Lake, but the spirit of the Temple seems to be lost among the hustle and bustle of the masses of people.

    Wilfried, thanks for the story. If anything, it just serves are a reminder to me to visit the Temple more often.

  14. “I will take a sealing at a small temple any day over a Salt Lake sealing.”

    Ah, but the problem is, the small temples all show the movies, while the Salt Lake City temple has the live endowment. I agree, however, that it is often a hurry-up-and-wait sort of place; as Mike’s experience perhaps illuminates, there is reason to believe that an atmosphere like that may often fail to provide the sort of space and support that many temple-attenders, especially those going for the first time, may require.

    The solution, of course, is to go to Manti–a live endowment, at a slow and quiet pace. Is the road from Provo to Manti still only two lanes? If it gets turned into a major state highway, then even that will be lost.

  15. I remember once my wife and I stayed at a bed and breakfast across the street from the Manti temple (we knew the then owners) and attended the temple. It was a wonderful experience. Everyone seemed so thrilled to have a young couple in their midst; they treated us as if we were their own children. And you can’t beat the Minerva Teichert murals. So I have to agree with you, Russell, Manti is the right place.

  16. Allow me to add my voice to Russell’s. Manti is my favorite temple. I didn’t live near there, but my ancestors were called to settle the town and work on the temple back in the day so I’ve always felt a connection to it. I received my endowment there in 1986 and (as it turned out) my mission call was waiting for me once we drove the three hours back home after the session.

    I had a personal tradition where I always drove from Provo to Manti to do an endowment session the morning of the first reading day each semester at BYU. I ended up with a small crew of folks who would join me semesterly. It was interesting to see for how many people it was their first experience with a live endowment session.

    The last thing we’d do before heading back was to get lunch in the temple cafeteria. The sweet senior ladies who worked there always got a thrill when the kids from “the BYU” would come in. They doted on us like we were their own grandchildren. Or great-grandchildren.

    I will add that though the experience of attending a live session is something everyone should try at some point, my experience in Manti going through for my first time left me more than a little bewildered. It wasn’t until a follow-up visit to Jordan River a few days later that I really started to get what was going on.

  17. Amen to the Manti comments. Russell, the last time I was on the road it was still only 2 lanes–and still a pretty well-kept secret!

  18. Janice and I were married in the Manti temple. We loved it and love it. Our marriage party wasn’t as small as Wilfried’s or as that he describes in this post. Janice had a brother there; I was with my mother, father, and a good friend. Others that day needed much larger sealing rooms than we, but it was a glorious day anyway, sufficiently glorious that what happened went far beyond what any room could hold.

    Completely irrelevant but (I think) interesting: we were married about one hour before the parents of our second son’s wife were married in the same temple. We should have introduced ourselves. Perhaps Matthew and Angela would have had a head start on their relation.

  19. Well, if Kevin, Chad, Costanza, and Jim all agree then it must be settled–Manti is the Only True Temple Left on Earth. Someone delete this thread before the word gets out!

    Seriously, every Mormon should be grateful that highway developments and population patterns and wise local leaders combined to keep the Manti Temple out-of-sight-and-out-of-mind of those in various church departments who, from the 1960s through 1980s, cost Utah a not insignificant amount of its pioneer heritage. As it is, Manti calls to mind today practically every good thing about the effort to build Zion in the desert: its position on a hill, overlooking small communities spread throughout an arid farming valley; brilliantly white, and utterly unmodern in its design. And of course, still giving the live endowment, with all its clunky thoughtfulness. One night, years ago, I went down there to attend the Manti Pageant, and as the cars heading north back to Provo formed a chain of red lights all the way to the horizon, I spent a couple of hours wandering around the grounds, waiting for the traffic to ease up. I watched the bats which make a home in the temple’s tower, and I bumped into a night watchman, who told me some cool stories. I’ve had some fine experiences there.

    I’m not particularly into folk doctrine, but those who have deep roots in the area have occasionally pointed out to me various statements by visiting prophets over the years, who have suggested that Manti has a special role to play in the last days. I’m not sure how much I believe all that, but then again, perhaps it wasn’t just luck that the Manti Temple ended up remaining a singular connection to our past.

  20. “clunky thoughtfulness”

    haha, nearly my exact thought the first time I went through Salt Lake, but I do treasure that afternoon I spent with my aunt and uncle in the temple that has stood as a beacon to my ancestors since its inception. Everyone should attend a live-session at least once (whether it be at SLC or this newly anointed only true temple you all speak of). To me at least, it offered further insight into the endowment. I do however prefer the movie for the sake of time and consistency.

    For those of you interested in visiting the Manti temple, I am going to start a website for the purpose of organizing trips and in conjuction with that effort will introduce a new highway improvement bill in which not only a six lane highway (all of which will be high-occupancy lanes for those BMW’s) would be constructed between Provo and Manti, but a light rail system would also be proposed pending federal grant money. Maybe we could propose the summer Olympic be held down there which would assist in obtaining those funds. Sound good? You can sign my petition at CommercializeManti.com.

    Ok, it’s late…

    For those of you who have read this far, and care, BMW is a Big Mormon Wagon.

  21. I was also sealed in the Manti temple and it was wonderful. We were the only ones there, and there had been a blizzard the night before so the entire hill was blanketed with snow and absolutely silent. We were both fussed over like mad and given a full tour of the building as there were absolutely no other patrons there besides my (very) small group. The next weekend we went through the Salt Lake temple and I was put off by the crowds of brides all waiting for rooms, or lining up for a photo outside and I was glad I had gotten sealed in my temple dress with just my parents and my husband.

    I was sealed on the 20th anniversary of my first sealing, to my parents, in the temple my great grandparents had been sealed at and my father was able to do the work for my brother who had passed away two weeks before my wedding in England. I don’t think anything else could have been quite as meaningful and wonderful for me.

  22. Can I add my late support for the Manti Temple. The ONLY time I’ve been there was when my oldest son was married there. We climbed the circular stairway to the tower sealing room and enjoyed the ceremony with many family members. I felt so “patriarchal” as I shared the witness chairs with my son’s new father-in-law. The beautiful carved wood decor and the live session the night before the wedding (for my daughter-in-law’s own endowment) made the event all the more memorable. The temple sits prominently on the hill overlooking the small town of Manti in an appropriate setting for such a sacred place.

  23. Another wonderful evocation, Brother Wilfried. Thank you. For unrushed sealings, my three suggestions are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

  24. When I attended the MHA conference in Provo a couple of years ago we went on a tour of various historic sights and homes in Sanpete County. Paul Anderson gave a wonderful lecture all about the Manti temple, its history, its architecture, the efforts to save it from various well-intentioned committees up north, etc. His presentation just solidified my appreciation for that particular temple all the more.

  25. Response to #12

    “Can I suggest that your wife and you should take the opportunity to talk to your bishop about your feelings. I am also certain that the temple presidency in your temple district would be more than willing to discuss your concerns with you. I wish you the best in your efforts to resolve this unfortunate experience.”

    My initial flippant response is “been there done, that 15 years ago.” In fact we have talked about this with church leaders, not temple officials, and we have gone further and we have been there when other couples went through it and have helped them get over the shock and given them some support. We have given others that which we did not have. For a season I imagined myself as the ideal escort for first time temple attenders because I would understand both the joy and the agony that can come and that I would be courageous in preventing any ugly incidents from happening or redirecting them quickly right back upon the perpetrators. Temple workers who are prone to this iniquity might consider the possibility of someone like me actually doing their job as an escort.

    One church leader told me to just ignore or forget about temple work for a few years (seasons of life principle) and that when I got older I would mellow out and it would become meaningful to me and he gave a couple examples of others who had walked down this path. And this is not the major issue. Just another item that surfaces with other more severe problems. Bottom line is that no one can give us back our wedding day.The temple was somewhat of a disaster, the rest of the day was wonderful.

    One of the disadvantages of the Internet and written communication is that you only get 10% of the message. I believe that 90% of the message is nonverbal when we talk to people. So reading my comments back, they do sound more cutting and agonizing than I actually intended. When you paint a wall, the color is always more vivid the next day when the paint dries. The tone that I did not communicate is sort of like old soldiers talk where we share terrible experiences and subconsciously just brush them off as the good old days, if that makes any sense. I started off with count your blessings that you are having such a great time in the temple, because some of us like me got kicked in the teeth. From there I got carried away painting a vivid picture of a painful memory.

    One point that I will take issue with is that “there is nothing any of us could say to soften your feelings.” That is literally correct, but not entirely correct. By just knowing that some one listens and acknowledges my wounds as real, that helps more than you think. No excuse or denial or rationalization or pointing out a few months discrepancy makes a hill of hen poop to me. People who have been hurt don’t know what they really want, except for impossible things, like turning the clock back. Would it help me to receive a signed leter of apology from President Hinckley himself with pictures of the guilty parties being flogged in a prison in Siberia? Not really. (P.S. If there is anyone out there who thinks they need a letter of apology from President Hinckley complete with pictures of floggings, I would be happy to write one for you. I could be a talented forgerer, and I don’t think he would mind too much.)

    Just listening and saying I am sorry is helpful. Especially from someone who works in the temple. Maybe that will prevent it from happening again, even once. You have actually demonstrated the best way to soften angry feelings. A soft answer turns away wrath and in this case, supportative listening is what gives me the most effect. So there is really nothing you can say to soften my feelings, but there is something you can do, which is listen.This is in stark contrast to the silence of ignoring and pretending and sugar coating. So I thank you for your consideration.

    We had a counselor in the Elder’s Q. P. who was out visiting deep inactives. This one lady just layed into him about all of these unbelieveably terrible things that she had experienced at church that could not possibly be accurate. He listened without rebuttal. At the end (he looked quite knightly, tall and dark and handsome) he got down on one knee and said something like this: as an official representative of the C of JC of LDS I offer you my most sincere apology. I am sorry that you were treated like that. I would not blame you if you never came back to church again. But if you ever do we will try to do better. And he was sincere, not just some missionary trick. No excuses. Then he just left. The lady was back in church the next week. I can’t remember if she stayed or moved away. But it taught me a valuable lesson.

    Another thing I like about the Internet is that I can say these honest but caustic things to strangers and they don’t hurt actual people in my ward. They don’t have the legs that actual conversations might have. As much as I would like to grab some people by the throat and punch them around, I don’t think I would actually do it. Haven’t yet since high school and that has been more years than I wish to admit. And I hope that those who read this can use the social distance of the Internet to shield themselves to a degree from the sharpness of verbal blows that they could not escape if I was interrogating them in the foyer after church and just dismiss me as a crank if necessary. I really will never know.

    But please don’t forget that if you think that control and rules and policies are more important than people (the first law of heaven is obedience, not love) and are treating people like they are unruly children or sheep and not like how you would treat your own children on their wedding day in the temple, that is going to come back and bite hard. Maybe not your nether regions, but someone else’s.

    And be thankful for the joy and satisfaction you experience in sacred places, it is a rare gift not given to all.

  26. Neither my wife, the great LF, nor I wanted to be married in SLC, but seeing as that her parents lived there and my family is (largely) there, it was the logical choice. LF comes from a small Mormon family — her parents and immediate sibs. Only her brother and his wife had received their endowments. My family (and extended) is loud, boisterous, and thoroughly Utah Mormon.

    We ended up ticking off most of my family by deliberately having a small, intimate ceremony. We arranged to be married in an upper room off the Celestial Kingdom, with everyone in white. My grandmothers came. My parents and her parents came. My brother just off his mission came. Her brother and his wife attended. The mother of a friend. That was it.

    I had an aunt who was so offended that she wasn’t invited that she didn’t show up for the reception (400+ guests, I’m not sure we noticed). I opted to exclude *all* aunts and uncles, since I didn’t want a big crowd.

    LF is NOT disappointed that her non-member grandmother and her faux-active sister (unendowed) didn’t come. We would probably have been happier with *just* our parents there, but we bowed to family pressure to invite the temple-worthy siblings and my grandmothers.

    It was small, intimate, and *ours*. In fact, we probably would have been happier to have *NO* guests (including parents).

  27. When I went to the temple for my own endowment they advised me to put on headphones. I am Flemish like Wilfried and went to the London Temple. The problem was that I got everything in Dutch through the headphones but when I had to go through they did it in English. I was totally confused and the Temple worker was shouting angrily at me.
    Fortunately I had planned to stay in the temple for a couple of days so I went through in English the following sessions and was able to have a better experience.
    When I was going to be married and my future wife had not received her endowment yet I advised her to go to the temple for her own endowment before we got married. So she did and two weeks later we got sealed. It helped her to be able to digest everything better.
    The only member of the church in our families is my mother (I baptized her) so we decided to bring our families together in the church where we had a sort of meeting with music and talks. We explained to them what we were going to do in the temple and since most of them could not be there we told them we did this meeting especially for them and we had some food prepared for them afterwards. They were all very positive about it and wished us well in the temple.
    Untill this day, 15 years after my marriage my non-member family is still very positive about the church.

  28. Mike’s story of the Elders Quorum president reminds me of the experience Elder Wirthlin related last year:

    “Many years ago, when I was called as a bishop, I had a desire for the bishopric to visit those who were less active in the Church and see if there was anything we could do to bring the blessings of the gospel into their lives.

    “One day we visited a man in his 50s who was a respected mechanic. He told me the last time he had been to church was when he was a young boy. Something had happened that day. He had been acting up in class and was being noisier than he should when his teacher became angry, pulled him out of class, and told him not to come back.

    “He never did.

    “It was remarkable to me that an unkind word spoken more than four decades earlier could have had such a profound effect. But it had. And, as a consequence, this man had never returned to church. Neither had his wife or children.

    “I apologized to him and expressed my sorrow that he had been treated that way. I told him how unfortunate it was that one word spoken in haste, and so long ago, could have the effect of excluding his family from the blessings that come from Church activity.

    “After 40 years,” I told him, “It’s time the Church made things right.”?

    “I did my best to do so. I reassured him that he was welcome and needed. I rejoiced when this man and his family eventually returned to church and became strong and faithful members. In particular, this good brother became an effective home teacher because he understood how something as small as an unkind word could have consequences that extend throughout a lifetime and perhaps beyond.”

    Joseph B. Wirthlin, “The Virtue of Kindness,” Ensign, May 2005, 26

  29. I’m really touched by the two examples of non-guilty-parties offering apologies to those who were offended. What a lovely, Christlike idea.

  30. Just a word of heartfelt thanks to all who have continued to give this thread their thoughts and the memory of their experiences. It’s been an interesting thread with some unexpected items for consideration. But love and true concern have been exemplary in all this.

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