For those who may not know this about me, one of my hobbies is learning about different religions, and I have a special fascination with Mormons. I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop for a few minutes now trying to put words to the reason for my interest in Mormons, and I have to admit I’m not quite sure. I guess it’s because they are Christians in that they believe that Jesus Christ is the son of god who died for our sins, but they also believe a lot of things that no other Christian denomination believes, like baptism for the dead.
When my friend Amy posted on Facebook that there is a new Mormon temple in Kansas City and that they were offering tours to the public, I got excited! See, Mormons believe their temples are very sacred places, and only allow members of the church to enter a temple once it’s been dedicated. Not even all Mormons are allowed! They have to get a recommendation from church leaders to be allowed in, and have to renew that recommendation every 2 years. People like me are not normally invited, and that always made me a little sad since I wanted to know as much as possible about the Mormon faith, but this integral part of their faith was closed off to me.
No question I was going to this open house! Nobody else in my life seemed to think it was as exciting I did though, and I got a lot of rejections from potential road trip partners. Their loss! Ben (somewhat reluctantly) agreed to join me, and we had an awesome trip!
We embarked on the 6 hour drive Friday after I got off work, and got to Amy’s place about 11 pm. At left, the obligatory road trip photo, taken about an hour into the trip, before we were exhausted and tired of show tunes. (Although, I do have to say that the Book of Mormon Broadway soundtrack was the perfect set of show tunes for this particular trip.)
It was great to see Amy again, and on Saturday the three of us set off on a grand Kansas City adventure. I wasn’t expecting to be particularly interested in the city itself, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it’s a beautiful city with lots of things to do. I am, however, completely incapable of parallel parking. Seriously, how do people do it?
We went to the World War I museum, which was quite interesting, although it did reinforce my opinion that war is a massive waste of life and resources. Then we got lunch in this adorable part of the city with kids playing in a fountain, and Amy I had a go at it too.
I’m 25, I swear!
And, now the part I’m sure you’ve all be anxiously awaiting: the temple! It was smaller in person that I expected, but it is a beautiful building indeed.
Amy was a gracious hostess and tour guide who very patiently answered the myriad of questions I had about Mormonism during the trip. The official tour was interesting and took us through all the main rooms of the temple, but the information provided by our guide was mostly superficial “this is what this room is for.” I think I probably said the phrase “that leads to a follow up question” to Amy at least a thousand times over the course of the day.
Interesting temple fact #1: The temple is closed on Sundays. They don’t hold regular worship services in the temple; it is used for special occasions and rituals called ordinances. And so, it is closed on Sundays so that all the members can attend services at their local church, which if I have the terminology straight is called a ‘ward’.
Interesting temple fact #2: Mormons consider the temple to be the most sacred place on earth, and claim that it is a representation of what heaven will be like. They take great pride in the building of their temples to ensure that everything is perfect and beautiful. And indeed, Ben pointed out to me that even the little gold lines in the wallpaper were aligned perfectly.
We were asked not to take any pictures inside the temple, but we were given a pamphlet that included pictures of all the main rooms as a keepsake. Those pictures are available online as well, for which I am grateful, as my words alone wouldn’t do justice to how pretty it is inside.
They asked us to put little white booties over our shoes to protect the carpets from the thousands of visitors, and then we were led inside. The first room is a reception area. Once the temple is dedicated, that desk will be where a member will present their temple recommend that shows they have been approved to enter the temple.
Interesting temple fact #3: The stained glass behind the desk is an image of an olive tree, which is a motif that carries throughout the whole temple. There are olive branches carved on the outside of the building, etched in the stained glass widows, and the carpets have olive branch motifs in them, as do the handrails on the staircases.
Next we were led to the room where they perform baptisms for their ancestors, a practice that has stirred a lot of controversy lately when it came to light that some Mormons were being baptized by proxy for holocaust victims.
I already knew about the practice of baptism for the dead before my trip. They base the practice on the bible verse 1 Corinthians 15:29, “Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” But, I was interested to learn that a member can only be baptized for a relative, so Mormons spend a lot of time researching genealogy to establish their relation to the person for whom they would like to be baptized. Also, that person, from wherever they find themselves in the afterlife, has the option to accept or reject that baptism.
The baptismal font in all Mormon temples rests on the back of 12 carved oxen, based on the description from 1st Kings 7:23-25 of Solomon’s temple. It’s hard to see in the picture above, but in this particular temple, the ground is recessed beneath the baptismal font, and then underneath are the oxen statues.
Interesting temple fact #4: Members of the LDS church are commonly baptized at the age of 8 in their local churches. The baptismal font in the temple is only for the practice of baptism for the dead, which a member becomes eligible to perform at the age of 12. I’m quite intrigued that one can’t be baptized for oneself in the temple.
Next we were lead upstairs where we got to see the changing rooms (no picture available, sorry). Mormons wear white temple garments when they visit the temple, and these rooms are used to change from their street clothes to the temples clothes. It was basically the prettiest darn locker room you ever did see.
Then were led to a small chapel, with a few rows of pews and a small organ. Notice the olive branch motif in the windows there? We walked through this room rather quickly without much being said about it. Since the temple is open all days except Sundays, I would hazard a guess that it’s used for individual worship and reflection during the week. If I’m wrong, please correct me!
Next was an instruction room. The walls of this room were painted by a local artist, and if I remember correctly, the mural represents what the world looked like shortly after creation. On the wall you can’t see in the first picture (so, to the back of the photo taker) is a projection screen. This room is used for an instructional video that members watch as they move through the temple on their way to what is called the celestial room.
They did not show us the video, sadly, so I guess that’s one bit of the Mormon practices I may never know. Our tour guide did tell us that it is the same video shown every time.
Next is another instruction room, a little bigger than the first one and less vividly decorated. Amy pointed out that the difference in decoration is symbolic; the first room has darker decor and wood, then the second room has lighter wood and brighter decor as a symbol of moving toward God and heaven. I didn’t get a whole lot of information about what happens in here, except that both instruction rooms are visited before entering the celestial room, and in them Mormons have the chance to learn about and contemplate their faith.
From the pamphlet we were given, “The celestial room represents our eternal home in God’s kingdom, reminding us of the rewards of faithful devotion.” From what I understand, it is a room used for quiet devotion and contemplation, to feel close to God and seek answers to questions or important decisions. It’s the biggest room in the temple, and it was stunning. This photo does not do justice to those chandeliers!
Last stop was a “sealing room.” This temple has two such rooms and I got to see the smaller of the two, but posted the picture of the bigger one because I like it better. Here Mormon families have sealing ceremonies to bind husband to wife, and parents to children eternally and ensure that the family unit stays together in the after life.
Opposite the mirror you can see in this picture is another mirror, and so when you stand in the right place you can see an infinite regression of yourself in either direction. I was told this symbolizes both the eternal nature of your marriage, as well as the presence of all your ancestors who proceeded you and the future generations that lie ahead of you.
It’s a nice feel-good idea that the family is an eternal unit and that you’re then guaranteed to be in heaven with your loved ones, but it does leave me with a few follow up questions I didn’t think to ask when we were there yesterday. Like, what happens if you get sealed to a spouse who then turns out to be a bad person not deserving of heaven? I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
And thus ended the tour. We were led to the Mormon church next door to the temple and had the most delicious snicker-doodles I have ever put in my mouth.
Now, for a smattering of interesting Mormon facts that I couldn’t figure out how to work into the body of this post:
- The Book of Mormon has only one version in English (unlike the bible which has the King James, New King James, New Revised Standard Version, etc) and Mormons commonly use only the King James Version of the bible. Of course, the B of M has been translated into multitudes of other languages.
- Those who work in the temple aren’t paid for their service. Even the president of the temple, tasked with overseeing all the work that happens at the temple, is unpaid, and has to pay rent to live in the house next door to the temple allotted to him and his family. (The church does, however, take into consideration the means of those who are called to work in the temple, and won’t let them starve or anything while they serve.)
- Most people know about the Mormon garments- more commonly referred to by non-Mormons as Mormon “underwear”. But did you know that Mormons don’t begin wearing the garments until the first time they visit the temple? For those who do missions, the first temple visit is usually around the age of 18 or 19, but some don’t go for the first time until their late 20s.
- Missionaries have no choice where they are sent on their mission. Their mission destination is chosen for them, then they have a training period to learn the language and how to be a missionary before they go. Amy said she had 11 weeks to learn Ukrainian before her mission, but that the training time has more recently been reduced to 9 weeks. Can you imagine learning an entirely new language in that short amount of time?
- The ordinances in the temple (baptism, marriage, etc) are performed by elders of the church, “elders” here meaning men that have been called to serve in the LDS church. Women do perform functions in the temple as well, but not the ordinances.
- Mormons believe that heaven is divided into 3 separate parts called the Telestial, Terrestrial and Celestial Kingdoms, each being of greater glory than the previous. Almost everyone, including non-Mormons and even atheists, will end up in one of these levels of heaven after death. The Celestial Kingdom is the only one where you will be in the direct presence of Heavenly Father (as Mormons commonly call God) and is the one that Mormons strive for by doing the ordinances of the temple and being good Mormons, but the other two are still quite nice places to spend eternity. Hell, or Outer Darkness, is only for the extra-super-terrible bad people.
- There are currently 137 temples in countries all over the world. There are, however, no temples in Russia due to restrictions on land ownership.
- Sunday church service at the local ward is usually 3 hours long, consisting of the sacrament service- song, prayer, lessons and communion- then Sunday school, then a separate meeting for men and women. A ward may be the meeting place of more than one congregation that will meet at different times in the same building on Sunday. Which congregation and meeting time you join is determined by geography- where you live in relation to the church. What you study in church on any given Sunday is decided by church authorities and then distributed to local churches, so no matter which church you attend, you will get basically the same message.
I asked Amy so many questions this weekend, I can’t even remember them all! I’m sure I’ll remember something else I learned about Mormonism later, and I’ll add it here when I do.
After our temple visit, we went to a Trader Joe’s, were I got the biggest roll of goat cheese I’ve ever seen for super cheap. And then Ben and I drove home. My intentions in not staying an extra night were that I would spend today studying for my finals next week. But…I ended up spending most of my day thus far writing this post. Oops.
When I asked Ben what the most interesting thing he learned this weekend was, he said, “That Japan was involved in World War I…and that part about heaven having 3 levels.” He had a good time on our trip, but still doesn’t have a fascination with Mormons to the same degree I do.
*Interior temple photos are courtesy of the LDS church. All other photos were taken by Ben.