Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
A Latter-day Saint temple is a fascinating place. As an ordinance worker, I’ve discovered that one of the most interesting spots in the temple is just off to the side of the recommend desk and a few feet back. This is where I sit when I’m assigned to guide a wedding, and I’m waiting to welcome the bride and her escort. Though a few brides arrive early, many come a bit late, allowing me to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes: people watching.
I am amazed at the variety of patrons who enter the doors of the temple on any given day–some sauntering, some breezing in at a brisk pace, others hobbling, or aided by wheelchairs, walkers, or canes. There is wonderful physical diversity among temple goers, and the array of different ethnicities, ages, heights, builds, and hair color/lack of hair all contribute to the beauty of the temple.
On a slightly more serious note, serving as both ordinance worker and patron in the second busiest temple in the world has allowed me to make some interesting discoveries. Here are six observations that I hope will–when carefully considered–improve the experience of those who serve in the house of the Lord.
- The temple provides an ideal atmosphere for perfecting each other–as long as we don’t strangle each other first.
As Joseph Smith learned, it’s not easy to build a Zion people no matter how eager or earnest we are. This is true even in God’s holy house. Though everyone who enters the temple has qualified for a temple recommend, it doesn’t mean we’re all alike. We come from different cultures and family situations, with different levels of education. Some have been active church members for decades, while others have only joined the church in recent years or have come back to the temple after years away.
Significantly, the length of our church membership doesn’t necessarily indicate our level of gospel understanding. The wide range of personalities represented among both workers and patrons can cause significant friction in our interactions. We each possess weaknesses–rough edges–which frequently rub each other the wrong way. We may be selfish, impatient, proud, or struggle with our temper. While this is frustrating, it actually presents an opportunity to develop Christlike attributes as we try to respond to difficult situations as Jesus would.
- Temple workers are human. (You’ve probably already figured this out.)
While I have known some truly angelic workers, most of us are flawed and mortal and just trying to do the best we can. The turnover rate for temple ordinance workers is very high due to “aging out,” university students who graduate and move away, those who leave to serve missions, or who must be released due to serious family or health issues. As a result, new workers are constantly being trained. Some patrons become irritated with workers who don’t seem friendly enough, or who make mistakes, not realizing that many of the workers are brand new and quite nervous.
I have met workers who are extremely shy but have committed to work in the temple in spite of that reserve, due to their desire to serve the Lord. Even workers who have many years of experience occasionally forget the words of an ordinance. Just last Saturday as I worked on a different shift than usual, I mixed up my assignments, ending up in the wrong place. When I recognized my mistake, the sympathetic smiles of both a patron and a worker went a long way toward easing my embarrassment.
- Temple patrons are human.
Surprise! While we’d love to think that everyone who attends the temple is just minutes away from being translated, it is rarely the case. But most patrons are doing the best they can. There are countless reasons why people struggle in the temple, such as physical or mental disabilities, language difficulties, or being new to the temple experience. Some patrons have come to the Lord’s house so focused on receiving an answer to a specific prayer that they’re barely aware of the people around them and may appear to be rude or unresponsive when they’re actually just pondering deeply. Some patrons may dress more casually to enter the temple than we think they should. Their hair color or style may be more extreme than we’re used to. I regret that I have sometimes been guilty of judging other patrons. But, as the temple matrons have reminded workers on many occasions, it’s not our place to pronounce judgments. Whenever a person enters the temple, we should rejoice that they have made the effort to be there. Any kindness we can show may help them have a positive experience.
A favorite quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland seems appropriate to accompany these first three observations: “…Be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work.” (1)
- Everyone has a story, even if we don’t know what it is.
Sharing a personal experience will illustrate this point, though it does not reflect well on me. A few years ago, I was seated in the chapel of the temple before an endowment session. I looked up just as an elderly sister scooted down the row and sat near me. Immediately, her unpleasant body odor assaulted my nose, and I nearly shuddered to see her greasy, stringy hair. “Couldn’t you have taken time to bathe before coming to the temple?” I wondered. Her scent was nearly overpowering, so I spent the next few minutes figuring out how I could avoid sitting by her in the session without making it obvious. Finally, as all of the patrons were filing out of the chapel, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and a woman I didn’t know whispered in my ear, “Do you mind if I sit by that sister?” Indicating the elderly lady, she continued, “I’m in her ward. Her husband passed away a few days ago and I know she’s really struggling.”
You can imagine the shame I felt to have been so critical of someone who was mourning a deep, recent loss. I learned a vital lesson that day: everyone has a story. When we know what that story is–the difficult circumstances they may have come from or may be dealing with currently–our hearts are softened toward them. The problem is, there is no way for us to know everyone’s story. Therefore, as we serve in the temple, we must assume that everyone is doing the best they can according to their story, and treat them in a Christlike manner. It is remarkably liberating to give another person the benefit of the doubt.
- We may need to wait longer than we want to in the temple.
All my life I have heard inspiring stories of individuals and families who have made significant sacrifices of time and money, so they could travel great distances to receive temple ordinances. While this still occurs in certain parts of the world, it is not as common now that temples have spread over much of the earth. But a very different sacrifice might be required of us, particularly where there are large populations of church members: we may need to wait longer than we want to in the temple.Certain times of the day can be extremely busy. Recently, on my temple shift, there was an hour and forty-minute wait for patrons to start the initiatory ordinance. Sometimes–usually when a new temple film has been released–patrons have had to wait in the hallways for an hour or more just to get into the chapel, where they wait for another hour to be taken to an endowment session. This can be seriously frustrating. Yet, as my temple President has reminded his ordinance workers, perhaps since we have such easy access to the temple in our area, this is the sacrifice the Lord requires of us.
Nobody likes to wait in a long line. I confess that I used to feel quite impatient when my wait in the temple was longer than I had anticipated, but I have been inspired as I’ve witnessed the different responses of patrons. While some become huffy and upset when they’re asked to wait for long periods of time, it is a beautiful thing to observe the many patrons who gracefully accept the extended wait time, using that hour (or more) to study scriptures, pray, and ponder. When it is finally their turn to begin an ordinance, they are in a spiritually receptive frame of mind.
- We don’t always treat the Celestial room as the sacred place it is.
I was saddened by a conversation I had last year with a dear friend. Her heart was weighed down with sorrow over one of her adult children. On a Saturday evening she attended the temple, aching to feel the peace of the Holy Spirit. As she entered the Celestial room, she saw that it was packed with other patrons, many of whom were conversing rather loudly. My friend attempted to focus, to block out the buzz of conversations, but could hardly concentrate enough to pray. Her words have stayed in my mind all year: It felt more like being in Walmart than in the temple. How regrettable that anyone should be deprived of the peace that should prevail in the House of the Lord. My friend’s sad experience has caused me to examine my own behavior in the Celestial room. When a friend or family member receives their temple endowment it is truly cause for rejoicing, however, while there may be hugs and whispered words in the Celestial room afterward, most of the celebration should occur outside of the temple. We must never forget that many patrons sitting in the sacred Celestial room have come with heavy burdens, are seeking personal revelation, or are craving the peace and quiet they cannot find outside of the temple. Additionally, there may be someone in the Celestial room who has returned after years away from church activity, or who has come back for the first time after being re-baptized. We would not wish to deprive anyone–through our casualness or irreverence–of the spiritual experience they deserve.
My only qualification for addressing these subjects is that I have personally made mistakes in every area that I have discussed. I am a work in progress, hoping that the hours I spend in the temple will draw me nearer to Jesus Christ, and praying that my imperfect service in His holy house will be an acceptable offering to Him. I marvel at the fortitude and faith of women, men, and youth–many with serious burdens and disabilities–who make the temple a priority in spite of their challenges. May we come to the temple in the spirit of humility, patience, love, and worship–and help each other to grow in holiness.
- Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Lord, I Believe, April 2013 General Conference.
You may enjoy the following temple articles by the same author:
They Don’t Take Visa at the Temple https://latterdaysaintmag.com/article-1-6462/
Please Don’t Give Up On the Temple https://latterdaysaintmag.com/please-dont-give-up-on-the-temple-five-keys-to-improve-your-temple-experience/