An important part of worship to Latter-day Saints is the temple. You have probably seen one near you, as more and more have been constructed around the world. With the recent dedication of a temple in Cordoba, Argentina, there are now 144 operating temples, with another 30 or so being planned or under construction. These beautiful buildings are not used for normal worship services and entry into them is restricted to faithful members of the Church who have kept their covenants with the Lord by living lives that are clean and unspotted from the things of the world. One doesn’t have to be perfect to enter the temple, but one does have to be striving for perfection in all areas of one’s life.
All temples have one thing in common. Above the entrance, carved in stone, is the pronouncement that this is the “House of the Lord.” It is a sacred place. It is where church members receive instruction on God’s plan for us in mortality, enter into covenants on how they will live their lives, and come to understand the blessings that come from keeping those covenants. It is a place of sublime peace. It is a place where we commune with and are susceptible to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It is a place where we cast off the cares of the world, if only for a few hours, and contemplate eternal truths.
One of the covenants that we make in the temple is the marriage covenant. Unlike marriage in the world, a temple marriage doesn’t have an expiration date (“’til death do us part”), but is for time (during our mortal journey) and all eternity (our eternal destiny). It is correctly called a “sealing,” signifying that this relationship is entered into with the intent that it will be sealed both on earth and in heaven. Being sealed in this relationship is very precious to Latter-day Saints. We were sealed in the Oakland Temple on 30 August 1968 and it is as special to us today as it was when we knelt across the altar in the sealing room and made the promises to God and to each other that form the sealing.
We believe that there are certain ordinances that must be performed for everyone who has ever lived on the earth. Baptism is one of those essential ordinances. But there are many who have lived on the earth and never heard the name of Jesus. There are others who didn’t live at a time when there was proper authority to perform these ordinances. Unlike some faiths, we don’t believe that those who have not received these saving ordinances are doomed to spending all eternity in a state of purgatory or even damnation. We believe that we have a Heavenly Father who is just and loves each and every one of His children. A way has been made for all men who have ever lived to receive these ordinances and that way is through the temple. Paul alluded to this in his letter to the Corinthians where he talked about the resurrection and performing baptisms for the dead: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1st Corinthians 15:29)
So, when Latter-day Saints go to the temple (other than the first time they go, when they perform these ordinances for themselves) they are doing so as a proxy for someone who has already passed through mortality. This allows the living to refresh their recollection of the instruction and covenants made there, as well as performing vital work for those unable to do it for themselves. There is also a responsibility placed upon us to seek out our ancestors through research of our genealogies. This is why Latter-day Saints are so keenly involved in genealogical and family history research.
One might say that this is an impossible task – and they would be right. Through the history of mankind, records, if they were kept at all, have been destroyed through wars, natural decay, and neglect. There are many who will never be identified by man. But we believe is our duty to try. It is part of what the prophet Malachi revealed at the very end of the Old Testament: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6) We believe that Elijah did return and restored the sealing power to prophets in these latter days. The sealing of our ancestors and their children from generation to generation is a fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. As to those that we cannot find because there is no record, we believe that they shall be revealed to us during Christ’s millennial reign on earth.
So, that’s the simplified version of why temples are important to Latter-day Saints. There is no temple within the boundaries of the Virginia Chesapeake Mission. Normally, missionaries are not allowed to leave their mission assignment, even to go to the temple. There are exceptions, however. One is when the trip has been approved by Church headquarters.
We had that happen at the end of February when the missionaries in our zone were allowed to go to the Raleigh, NC Temple (which is actually located in Apex, NC, a suburb of Raleigh). We assembled at the chapel in Williamsburg at 0630 for the three-hour drive to the temple. Missionaries were driven in the mission transfer van, a large van that is used when missionaries are transferred to new areas and private cars, including ours. President Baker and his wife each drove a car, as did President Hanson and his wife (one of President Baker’s counselors) and others. We had to drive north to Richmond before we could get on I-95 to drive south to Raleigh. It was a gloomy day, punctuated by periods of heavy rain, but our spirits were bright as we made the drive through mostly rural areas. We stopped for gas and a quick McDonald’s breakfast at the Virginia-North Carolina border.
We arrived at the temple at 0930. It is one of the small temples that the Church has built to ensure that most Latter-day Saints are within three hours of a temple. It was a beautiful granite building that sits on a wooded piece of land adjacent to a stake center (this is a chapel used for Sunday worship and other activities that is larger than a regular chapel). This allows the two buildings to share the same grounds keeping, maintenance, and parking lot.
Our temple session was comprised solely of missionaries. Mary Lou and I were asked to be the witness couple for the session. Following the session, we waited in the Celestial Room in the temple for all of the missionaries to enter and be embraced by President and Sister Baker. The Celestial Room in the temple is symbolic of being in God’s presence. It is a beautiful place for quiet meditation of the truths taught there. You can find pictures of temples, including some interior pictures at https://www.lds.org/church/temples?lang=eng. It was radiant with all of the young missionaries, who are dedicated servants of the Lord, assembled there.
After leaving the temple, we had a luncheon set up for us at the stake center. We then held a zone meeting in which we were instructed by the temple president and our mission president. At the conclusion of the meeting, we cleaned the place up and went to the temple for pictures during an interlude from the rain. We then loaded up for the trip back to Williamsburg. We made another stop along the border for gas and food (this time we opted for the goodness of Arby’s). We got back to Williamsburg, but had to wait there for other cars to arrive so missionaries could ride back to their apartments with the people that brought them. It was a long day, but definitely a highlight for us.