Todays Guest Post is from Dave – OZ.
The Temple represents the pinnacle of our worship in the LDS Church. Amazing spiritual manifestations are recorded at the dedication of the Temple in Kirtland, and at others. The Temple is the place where covenants are made and families are sealed. Many people report peace and heightened spirituality when attending. However some have very different feelings. Indeed, many have written about their experiences at Feminist Mormon Housewives’ series, “When the Temple Hurts”. Guy Templeton also posted back in 2014 about some aspects of Temple preparation.
I was recently released as the Temple Preparation teacher. I taught the course every six months for about 4 years. The current approved curriculum is Endowed from on High: Temple Preparation Seminar Teacher’s Manual. It is comprised of 7 lessons that cover important topics such as the Plan of Salvation, symbols, covenants & ordinances, ongoing blessings of temple attendance, etc.
Generally they are good topics for lessons preparing a person to go to the temple. In fact they are lessons that, in my opinion, provide a sustainable temple experience. I believe most members would benefit from attending this course.
However, over my time teaching this course I have been troubled by the fact that three couples in our ward stopped attending church and removed themselves from activity soon after attending the temple the first time. Having known these couples, I believe the temple experience itself was not the reason/s they removed themselves from church activity, however it was a significant contributing factor in all these cases.
I have summarised the general feedback from these couples and others who attended the course below.
- Everyone who talks about attending the temple speaks about it as if you will have a transcendent spiritual experience. Watching a video and then playing dress ups for an hour and a half was not what I had in mind.
- The temple experience was completely foreign to anything that I had expected or was lead to believe. It was just weird, I won’t be going back.
- I have so many questions but no one will talk about it or no one will give me a direct answer. I don’t understand what just happened. I prefer to just go to church.
- The temple experience is mainly instructional and ritual. You are always busy doing something. There is no time for personal reflection. Even in the celestial room there is an expectation of not staying for too long.
Reflecting on this feedback there are a number challenges that face temple attendance and worship.
- Setting the right expectations on the ritualistic nature of the temple – The temple preparation course provides an internal spiritual preparation for the temple. What it does not do is prepare the attendee for the actual physical experience. There is no material that helps attendees know the machinations of the temple. Even a general guide on what to expect in the initiatory, endowment, and sealing would be helpful – what the person is expected to do, say and wear.
- Setting expectations on the spiritual experience – spirituality is largely subjective. Everyone experiences it differently. The temple is no different. Attending the first time can be an emotional experience. Most people report to me that the fear of the unknown and fear of expectations override any transcendent or peaceful feelings that are spoken about by others. This can be confusing to first timers.
- Speaking about the temple in direct ways – There is a strong esoteric element to the temple – it is often spoken about using platitudes and in vague terms. An example of this is the article on LDS.org called Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple which is an excerpt from a small book called The Holy Temple written by Boyd K. Packer. I would suggest that only people who have actually gone to the temple will have any idea of what the article is saying. In the temple we are placed under covenant not to divulge signs, tokens and names. There is no reason we cannot talk maturely about everything else. Furthermore the temple rituals are easily available online in print also on video. If we do not control our own narrative regarding the temple then others will. A more open discourse on the temple ritual would be beneficial to new attendees as well as long term attendees.
How can we help first timers prepare for the temple?
Do we need to view the Temple as less secret/sacred and have open and free discussions about what is in there?
How might we address peoples genuine concerns about the Temple?