Editor’s Note: Watch for “A Tour of the Draper Utah Temple ” this Wednesday on Meridian. We’ll give you many pictures of the interior of the temple, insights on its building and construction, and report on the feeling in the temple.

With 900,000 tickets already reserved, more than a million people are expected to tour the Draper Temple , when it opens its doors to the public 15 January through 14 March. That’s the largest number of people to tour a temple before its dedication in the history of the Church.

Elder M. Russell Ballard told the press at a special tour last week that when he and other Church officials visited the editorial boards of several prominent newspapers, hoping to clarify the misconceptions about the Church that were so rampant in the press during the Romney campaign for President, many asked why the Mormons are so secretive, an idea that comes largely because LDS temples are closed to the public.

Elder Ballard said that much to his surprise, many of these sophisticated journalists did not realize that in addition to temples, the Church has 18,000 church buildings where people are invited to attend and 53,000 missionaries doing everything they can to teach people about the Church.

That’s why a temple open house becomes an important opportunity for people to see more closely what Latter-day Saints believe and for the Draper Temple, which is the third to be dedicated in the Salt Lake Valley and the twelfth in Utah (with the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple to follow later this year), the First Presidency has issued special invitations to community and religious leaders across the United States to come and see for themselves what a Latter-day Saint temple looks like on the inside and learn something about the work for the dead and the sealing of families that is accomplished within its walls.

“We hope those who visit will leave with a greater sense of understanding of who we are,” said Elder Ballard. “Is everyone who visits the temple before it is dedicated going to agree with us? Are they all going to come away loving us? No, but we hope that if they say something about us, it is true. We hope they will be able to feel for themselves the sacred nature of the work that’s done here,” he said.

This last week leaders of national Jewish, Catholic and Baptist groups came for VIP tours, as well as other members of the national press. (See accompanying story “ABC Features Draper Temple on Nightline”.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of the First Quorum of Seventy, “It has been since 1981 when the Jordan River Utah Temple was opened that we have had a new temple in the Salt Lake Valley . Since then many people have been born and many have moved to this area who are not LDS and have not been inside a temple. This is a great opportunity to help them have new understanding of who we are.”

He said that temple open houses always have great spill over with increased missionary activity and good will toward the Church.

Moving a Million through the Temple

The logistics alone of moving a million people through the temple while its doors are open to the public in the next two months are staggering. Four different church buildings in the southeast Draper area will be starting points for the tours where 18 sister missionaries from the Utah Salt Lake mission will be on hand to answer questions and a film will be shown about the importance of temples to the Latter-day Saints.

The film features interviews with President Thomas S. Monson, Elder Boyd K. Packer, and many others explaining why temples are so sacred and that their history goes back to the earliest ages of time. ” Temples have been a part of God’s plan for his children from the time of the Old Testament,” the film explains.

The children of Israel built a portable tabernacle in the wilderness. Jesus Christ protected the sanctity of the temple in Jerusalem and called it his Father’s house. Professor C. Wilfrid Griggs notes that scholars are just now beginning to understand how important the temple was in early Christianity.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland sums up why eternal families matter so much to Latter-day Saints, when he says in the film, “This is his Church and those are his temples, and He is all we declare him to be, the light and the life of the world.

“I don’t know how to speak about heaven in the traditional, lovely, paradisiacal beauty that we speak of heaven–I wouldn’t know how to speak of heaven without my wife and my children. It would not be heaven for me. Now you can say that’s wishful thinking, or you can say that’s just because you love each other and you’ve gotten cozy here on earth, and you like each other’s company. It’s a lot more than that. There is something eternal in the statement that neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord. That is not just good sociology. That is theology, It is eternal.”

See this piece of the film here.

After the film, the public will be transported to the temple via shuttle buses, which involves nine to twelve buses running from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m No cars will be allowed up the road to the temple except those who live in the area.

This involves thousands of people trained as ushers, and working in logistics, crowd movement and parking. One ward leader mentioned that in his ward alone they had to assign 150 four-hour shifts. It also means that the wards in those buildings will be unable to use them for two months except for their Sunday services.

Press Tours with Apostles

Last week the national press toured on Thursday with apostles, Elder Ballard and Elder Quentin L. Cook. Dan Harris of ABC described his experience the night before going to the temple. “Upon arrival at Mormon church headquarters in Utah , a small group of TV, print and radio reporters were treated to a teriyaki chicken dinner in an ornate dining room. Dinner was followed by a freewheeling discussion with former businessman Ballard and former attorney Cook, who as apostles, are believed to be “prophets, seers and revelators.”

“Free-wheeling” apparently means that the apostles were open to answer any question, which frankness may have surprised the reporter.

Meridian Magazine toured the Draper Temple on Friday with the local press-again led by Elder Ballard, Elder Cook, Elder William R. Walker, executive director of the temple department; and Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the First Quorum of Seventy. What was clear was the lengths that the Brethren went to to assure that explanations were thorough and every question was answered. Elder Walker even noted that a closed door that we passed on the tour was only a closet for storing audio-visual equipment, lest there be any question.

In our group, Elder Ballard anticipated the questions he knew would be asked because he’s seen them so many times before. The temple is beautiful, made with the finest materials including white granite from China , limestone from France and Makore wood from Central Africa .

He said many people have asked why the temples Latter-day Saints build are so opulent and why so much money is spent on them.

He answered, that is because when it is dedicated it is a House of the Lord, a House for Him.

He went on to explain that the Church never worships in a building that has a mortgage. People ask, he said, how do you do this? “Our people pay tithing. They do it for one reason. They know that what the Church teaches is true. It is as simple as that. It is wonderful that the temple can be this beautiful for the Lord.”

At the baptismal font, Elder Ballard again was clear in his teaching without mincing of words. One reporter wanted to know what happened to people who died without baptism. Elder Ballard explained baptism for the dead and said, “It doesn’t matter who you are, we are all sons and daughters of God, all on the same plane, all here to do the same work.” He explained that through baptism for the dead, the Lord is offering an opportunity that some people who have died may reject. “Some of the work we do here will not be accepted, but it is a gift of love,” he explained.

When asked how many temple ordinances had been performed, Elder Ballard was unsure of the exact number, but a member of the public affairs staff said “into the billions.” Then Elder Ballard boldly added that the work would be accelerated, “The Lord gives all this technology to the Church and then everybody else can use it.”

Boldness and clarity of testimony was the order of the day from Elder Ballard to the reporters. He was unabashedly spiritual with the reporters. He noted that some ask if the apostles and prophets have divine powers. He answered, “No, but the power of heaven is close. We know His voice. We can testify that He lives. He has visited his temple. Our message to all the world is that the fullness of the everlasting gospel is once again upon the earth.

“The operation and power of revelation is a marvellous experience. We could keep you here all afternoon telling you of miracles that have followed promptings.”

Before Elder Ballard led the reporters into the Celestial room, he said that was the one place in the temple he would talk about before we went in. “One of the most significant things we could do is be quiet. The feeling that is represented in that room is what it would be like to be back in the presence of the Lord.”

Then he was personal with these reporters who are used to turning a cool, objective eye on every subject. “This is a wonderful place to be if you are struggling with an issue. To come and sit in the Celestial Room may give a sense of what I ought to be doing whether it is illness or a health issue or where my prayers might be helpful. The time in the room will be a time of contemplation, a time of connection. It’s the only place on earth that says–this is what heaven will be like.”

” Temples have been on the earth since the earliest time,” Elder Ballard said, “but what was taught in the temple was lost. For these truths to be on the earth, temples had to be restored.”

Elder Walker closed the tour with the press again with spiritual boldness, “There are about 12 million members of the Church who would have liked to been with you today, to be with an apostle of the Lord teaching you about the temple. Today, we’ve been taught by the Lord’s anointed.”

Obtaining Tickets

Open house organizers request that advance reservations be made online at www.lds.org/reservations (maximum of 10 reservations) or by calling 1-800-537-6181 or 801-240-7932. Group reservations can also be accommodated by calling these numbers.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 20-22 March 2009, the Draper Utah Temple will be formally dedicated. Latter-day Saints in the area served by the new temple will attend 12 dedicatory sessions.

After its dedication, the temple will serve approximately 60,000 members of the Church in Draper and surrounding communities. It will become the 129th Latter-day Saint temple worldwide.