The Temple in European Mormon Sociality

The temple plays a role in the social life of European Mormons that is significantly different in a couple of ways from the usual American experience.

The church is smaller and at a different stage of its development in Europe, and trips to the temple tend to last longer. Consequently, the temple is something like the Trafalgar Square for church members: if you wait long enough, everyone you know will show up there at some point. My experience with large temples like Los Angeles, or smaller temples like Detroit, is that the other people attending are either from my own ward, or they are strangers to me. In the Frankfurt temple, by comparison, reunions are unpredictable but practically guaranteed on any given visit, whether it’s with a member of a ward where I once served as a missionary, or the former bishop of another ward where I once lived. The relatively higher mobility and density of church membership in the U.S. means that relocating usually takes you to a new temple district, but Germans who move to a new town are likely to remain close enough for periodic if unplanned reunions at the temple, particularly if the old or new ward is spending an entire week there.

The stake youth temple trip is also liable to replace the American stake youth conference. Some years our stake will book the temple hostel, while other years they’ll get rooms in a youth hostel. The teenagers in our stake spent five days at the temple this year, with classes and activities during the day, a dance or testimony meeting at night, and a baptismal session in the temple each morning. Since all participants had to be living according to the requirements for temple attendance, the stake president told the youth six months ahead of time that anyone who wasn’t worthy to attend the temple could most likely become worthy if they started working on it right away. The worthiness requirement is a disadvantage for those who don’t get to go, but it probably leads to a better experience for those who do.

In every state I’ve lived except for my time at BYU, attending the temple has meant leaving kids at home with a babysitter, driving to the temple after work on Friday, attending one session, and driving home. As far as I can tell, this model of temple attendance is rare in Europe.

30 comments for “The Temple in European Mormon Sociality

  1. I agree with what you’re saying, but the model likely changes depending on your proximity to the temple. Whenever we have a temple week for our stake (Frankfurt), the hostel is not involved and it is most common for working members to use the babysitting model you mentioned at the end.

  2. Jonathan, how does it work when “the old or new ward is spending a week there”? Do parents take their children for that week, and if so how does childcare work while the parents are in the temple? Are there ward activities for adults during that week that add to the sociality, or do individuals and couples go their own ways other than during sessions?

    Repeated temple attendance during a youth conference sounds wonderful.

  3. My experience with large temples like Los Angeles, or smaller temples like Detroit, is that the other people attending are either from my own ward, or they are strangers to me.

    The Albuquerque Temple District is a little like that. We’re at the sweet spot where, when people move, they usually move out of the ward but not out of the temple district. So we have lots of impromptu reunions.

  4. One of the nice things about living in Lethbridge is that we have ag geographically small temple district with 10 stakes (not including Calgary or Cranbrook). Generally, when someone moves out of our ward, s/he moves within those 10 stakes. We often see people at the temple from an old ward or used to live in our current ward.

  5. Germans who move to a new town are likely to remain close enough for periodic if unplanned reunions at the temple

    Considering the Frankfurt temple serves members from Hamburg to Montenegro and Paris to Vienna, they are likely to remain in the same temple district.

  6. I agree that the temple plays a much different role in almost any foreign country than it does in the states, particularly in Utah. Trips to the temple are more of a pilgrimage than an afternoon errand.

    Speaking of babysitting while going to the temple, why doesn’t the temple have a nursery? It would make temple trips for couples that much easier.

  7. Having the youth spend a week at the temple, going every day sounds a lot more appropriate and uplifting than your usual youth conference, Girls’ Camp, or EFY. What a great idea.

  8. “Speaking of babysitting while going to the temple, why doesn’t the temple have a nursery?”

    Because between our love for the temple and our desire for time away from our children, some of us might never leave. :)

  9. Speaking of babysitting while going to the temple, why doesn’t the temple have a nursery? It would make temple trips for couples that much easier.

    The Albuquerque Temple has a nursery area in an annex, but no nursery leaders are provided. You have to supply your own. :)

  10. Yea, I think most temples have an “infants” room, and even a “children” room, I know the Mt. Timpanogos does, but there are no temple workers called to watch them like in the last two hours of Sunday’s block. They are just there for your use.

  11. RickFFM, you’re right, Frankfurt is a different case. Have you hosted friends from far corners of the country and/or continent who are in town for a temple trip yet? Friends who moved from our current ward to the Frankfurt area seem to have regular house guests like that.

    PeterLLC, that’s a good point. The only way to easily move out of this temple district would be to move to the former East Germany or Switzerland. Neither would be easy, although for totally different reasons.

  12. The hostel on the temple grounds has rooms that can be rented by families. If you go for a few days during your stake’s “week,” then often the parents will either take turns doing sessions, while the other parent watches the kids, or parents spell each other off, watching someone else’s kids and then going together to a session. The thing to realize about Europe is that the baptism rate is not high, so a lot of the growth of the church is familial growth. You may have teenagers watching their cousins while the parents are in, for example. There isn’t a children’s room per se, but there is an nearby playground, outdoor entertainment opportunities, etc. if you don’t stay in your hostel room with the kids.

    As to what else happens during the week, there aren’t really activities a la youth conference for the adults. People usually go to the distribution center, since you still can’t order stuff on line like you can in the States. And of course you may be entertaining your kids with whatever you can find fun to do in Friedrichsdorf. Most people do more than one session a day, but break it up a bit–maybe they do a baptism, some initiatories, sealings, etc.–not just endowments. Also, an extremely high percentage of the regular temple-going stake members are also temple workers, so some of that time they are serving on the other side. Also, just because it’s a temple week doesn’t mean that everyone has the luxury of spending all week there. Some people might just go overnight. Not everyone is retired/independently wealthy. I think there are weekly firesides put on by the temple presidency for anyone who’s interested and there.

  13. Thanks, Rose. My questions were framed in utter ignorance since European mission experience doesn’t usually include temple trips or the practicalities of family life. Thanks for the fuller picture.

  14. “whatever you can find fun to do in Friedrichsdorf”


    [Like what? I don’t remember the town having many amenities.]

  15. When I read of the sacrifices other people make to go to the temple it makes me more appreciative of having a temple so close.

  16. John (15): The temples with which I am familiar have two rooms for children, one in the temple proper that is “behind the desk” and used to prepare for sealings, and another in the annex, which is open to the public.

  17. Jonathan, yes, we’ve had a few people stay with us during a temple visit, but we’re still about 30 minutes away from the temple by car (about 45 with the tram), so it probably actually costs a little less to stay at the hostel. If I remember right, it only costs something like 6 euros/night.

    Friedrichsdorf is kind of small, so there’s not a ton to do there. (they do have a skate park ;)) At the only conference I attended in Frankfurt, we had activities almost exclusively either in the chapel building adjacent to the temple or in the hostel itself.

  18. Until the Columbus temple opened, this was exactly the experience for Ohio saints — we traveled between four and eight hours (depending on the driver’s willingness to speed through “we love pulling Ohio drivers over” Pennsylvania) and did several sessions, and usually ran into people from elsewhere in the temple district (this is the DC temple — I have no idea which temple people went to before that was built, bearing in mind that Ohio got its first present-era stake in something like 1953.) In IIRC 1996 we held Stake Conference, a Primary Activity, Youth Conference, and probably other stuff I didn’t hear about, in Washington, DC. I did baptisms for the dead, my parents did endowment/sealing sessions, my little sisters had activities — and in the evenings the youth had dances and speakers and so forth (I think the adults and children went sightseeing.) Not only did this take three or four days of “there” time, but we spent the better part of the previous six months preparing for it with extended operating hours in the family history center, genealogy and temple-focused Primary activities, etc., in the wards and branches. I honestly think our stake probably spent more time in the temple that year than that same stake did in the (now a 90 minute drive from even the most distant members) Columbus temple this last year. I know we had more full-time temple workers, which defies my understanding.

    Today the closest thing we have is when people go to Palmyra, Kirtland, or another historical site/event. I think on our last trip our stake YSA coordinator spent more time chatting up random people he knew from other stakes he’d lived in, than actually sightseeing in Palmyra; Nauvoo wasn’t quite so bad mostly because there was no “come and sit in easily observable seats with hundreds of other Mormons for several hours in broad daylight” style waiting for a show to begin. Oh, and when we went to Palmyra, we inadvertently crossed paths with our bishop and his entire extended family, which was pretty amusing — especially the part where we had two vans parked next to one another, blocking traffic in the Smith farm parking lot, so people could chat.

    Oh, and the DC temple had stuff like the cafeteria, and a nearby bookstore, and so forth, which facilitated run-ins. The only thing near the Columbus temple is a stake center and some picnic benches — I think the nearest churchy bookstore might actually be in Nauvoo; even people from Dayton and Akron there on the same day might have trouble running into one another.

  19. Do any US temples have accommodation? The London “hostel” is a bit grim, but the rooms at Preston are like an upmarket motel.

  20. Ronan, there are some kind of apartments behind the Los Angeles Temple. My wife’s family stayed there almost 20 years ago when they travelled from New Mexico for her brother’s wedding. I suspect they are mostly used by missionaries and temple workers now.

  21. I would be curious about the culture associated with other temples in continental Europe: Spain, Freiburg, The Hague, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Swiss, etc. I am guessing that the large American expatriate presence in the Frankfurt district probably means that it has a stronger numeric representation in the anglo blogosphere than any of the other temples I have listed (or perhaps than all of them combined). Nonetheless, I am curious. Any representation out there?

  22. Most of the continental European references have been to those residing in the Frankfurt temple district. What of the culture of members attending temples in other districts (i.e. Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, etc.)?

  23. reminds me a bit of growing up in Florida. We were so grateful when Atlanta was built, and even then you went once a year and it was a big production. Now my nearest is the Orlando temple, and it still takes a lot of planning for us, especially since we have kids. It takes two hours one way, plus add on time for a session plus anything else you’d like to get done, and maybe a half-hour at the bookstore, and we are paying out big money for babysitters after being gone 6 to 8 hours. Sometimes we sisters can plan it perfectly where we drop the kids off at school, RACE to the temple, quickly do a session and then race back shoving drive-thru McDonalds down on the way back before the kids get out. But I am thrilled for this, as for most of my life we got to go once a year. I have enjoyed reading about the different temple experiences, especially in Europe. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of temple hostels!!! Thanks for sharing!

  24. Some of the Australian saints that I spoke to during visits there when the small temples in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth were being built and dedicated were sad that the old days of meeting all your Aussie Mormon friends at the single temple in Sydney were soon to be a thing of the past.

    Of course, that sadness was far outweighed by delight at having a temple much nearer home, at not having to fly everybody across an entire continent for a family wedding, etc. I’ve seen at first hand the pride and joy that at least a fair number of Australian saints now feel at having their “own” temples. But the nostalgia and sense of loss were and are still there for some.

  25. My wife and I were sealed in the Freiberg temple 9 years ago next week. Her first few times through the endowment session, she wore headphones to hear the German translation of the video. Each week there is assigned a different language, since each week a new group of people attends from another Eastern Europe country. Of course this is all planned out months in advance. Everyone is welcome, of course, but if you don’t go on the right week, you’ll be wearing headphones. It took a few trips back before she heard German coming from the video without the assistance of headphones.

    When we visited the Frankfurt temple once, it was in French. Again, the headphones. And when we went to the Chicago temple, they were totally baffled — didn’t even know where to find a pair of headphones. :)


  26. Ronan, there are some kind of apartments behind the Los Angeles Temple. My wife’s family stayed there almost 20 years ago when they travelled from New Mexico for her brother’s wedding. I suspect they are mostly used by missionaries and temple workers now.

    You can still rent them (I’ve had two siblings marry in the last four years) and they are available the next before the wedding for a steal.

    Although, I suspect that they haven’t been updated in 20 years…

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