Are We Properly Prepared to Enter the Temple?

By: Guy Templeton
April 3, 2014

I’ve been reading a book, Your Endowment by Mark A. Shields.  The book claims to be from “an experienced gospel teacher, casts new light on the symbolism inherent in the temple ordinances and provides a wealth of insights that well change the way your worship.”  I was intrigued by a story early in the book.

When the Los Angeles Temple building program was commenced, President McKay called a meeting of the stake presidents of the temple district.  During this meeting, President McKay took occasion to express his feelings about the holy endowment.  He indicated how some years before, a niece of his had received her ordinances in the house of the Lord.  He had learned that shortly before that experience she had been initiated into a sorority at the local university.  She had the crassness to say that she found the sorority initiation superior in effect and meaning to her than the endowment.

President McKay was open and frank with his audience about the experience of one of his own family with the endowment.  He wasn’t worried about audible gasps.  With characteristic aplomb, he paused and then said, “Brothers and sisters, she was disappointed in the temple.  Brothers and sisters, I was disappointed in the temple.  And so were you.”  Then he said something incredibly important that should be engraven on all our souls.  “There are few, even temple workers, who comprehend the full meaning and power of the temple endowment.  Seen for what it is, it is the step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence.”  Then he added, “If our young people could but glimpse it, it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation of their lives!”

If the prophet of God is not ashamed to admit that his family was not properly prepared to enter the temple, none of us should be either.

What are your thoughts about temple preparation?  How could we better prepare people to enter the temple and understand the symbolism?


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29 Responses to Are We Properly Prepared to Enter the Temple?

  1. Astolfo on April 3, 2014 at 7:13 AM

    I whole heartily agree, most are very ill-equipped to go through the temple the first time. I had very frank conversations about it with my father before I went thru as a 19 year old missionary to be, and I still thought it was weird at parts. 12 years later and having done it a few hundred times, in the back of my mind there is that voice that still tells me it seems odd at certain junctures. But I was prepared enough to know how to seek out the Spirit, and make sure I was able to feel that while going through it. I’ve had the chance to be the escort for a few friends who have gone through, and I make sure that we have very frank and open talks about what they will be doing and seeing. In the sum of my experiences seeing new people go through, that frankness and openness is the key to allowing them to understand what it is they will be doing, it’s the best way to get them ready as President McKay said in the above quote, “If our young people could but glimpse it, it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation of their lives!”
    I was blessed for many years to be a great YSA ward till I got married two years ago that had a bishop and an institute leader that embraced that notion and prepared their people for it. It’s the frank and open preparation that separates those who have the experience as it should be and those that aren’t.
    Oh, and anyone who does both the endowment and get sealed in the same day is doing it in the worst possible way. Too much too fast. I understand the exception if its a couple traveling xxx thousands of miles for the only visit to a temple for years, but we teach the principle and deal with the exceptions.

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  2. Nate on April 3, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    Great story from President McKay. Thanks for sharing. Personally, at first, I wasn’t disappointed, and was attracted to the strangeness first ritualistic nature of it.

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  3. Jeff Spector on April 3, 2014 at 8:50 AM

    I was totally unprepared to the point that I didn’t even know my garments had marks on them until they said it in the ceremony. My wife and I had no instruction whatsoever beforehand to the point that she was freaked out by it and had no real desire to return.

    I, OTOH, was quite intrigued by the whole experience and tried to return often to understand it better. Later on, we had some good friends who we used to go with that helped my wife (and me, as well) considerably with understanding the ordinances much better.

    There is a level of spiritual maturity that is required to comprehend what the Temple is trying to teach us. That is why I think that it is a lifelong pursuit. Having a strong background in the scriptures helps as well as a good understand of the symbolism of the Gospel. It is also important to separate the teaching methodology from the spiritual significant portions. The scriptures help in that regard.

    But comprehending the symbolism and the way the story is meant to apply to us personally is key. This helps prevent what some outside the Church have misinterpreted about the ceremony and some things that are no longer part of it.

    The current Temple prep class is much better than in the past and each candidate should attend with a very good teacher.

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  4. IDIAT on April 3, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    I was a member just over a year when I went through the temple in preparation for my mission about 35 years ago. I had no temple prep, yet the experience was wonderful. My escort walked me through some of the mechanics of initiatory and the endowment, but that was it. I went every P-day for the next 8 weeks and soaked in as much as I could. I do think we could do a better job in temple preparation. I’m not so much concerned with the covenants made, but do believe the temporal stuff could be disclosed a little better, and a better encouragement to appreciate the symbolism could be made.

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  5. Mormon Heretic on April 3, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    Regarding temple prep, what specific things could we teach people?

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  6. Frank Pellett on April 3, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    That’s the hard part about symbolism; teaching what it means makes it more difficult to glean other meanings from it. people start assuming they know what it all means so don’t need to go back again. Maybe we could go with, “Here’s a start, but don’t expect to ever learn it all. Even if you’re only able to go once a decade, it’s a learning process. Treat it as such.”

    Aside from the doctrinal stuff, I’d be happy if someone taught how to actually wear the robes.

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  7. New Iconoclast on April 3, 2014 at 1:26 PM

    I had very little idea what to expect, except that someone told me to carefully read the Book of Abraham before going. My future FIL was my escort and hadn’t been to the temple himself in probably a dozen years or more (we were in MN and had to go to Chicago back then, which had only been open for a year, and it was a 7-hour drive – prior to that, the options were SLC and Washington), and being a quick-on-the-uptake sort, I actually ended up helping *him* with the robes. :) Fortunately, I was very tired from the all-night bus ride, and so I didn’t have too much time to think about what was happening (this was in 1987, before certain changes).

    My first mission companion, a lifelong Utah member and bishop’s son, said it nearly freaked him out completely. My own kids, children of a convert, don’t seem to have had any issues so far (2 of five have been endowed). I am not sure what we did to prepare them.

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  8. Howard on April 3, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    As a young man I went to be married before the penalties were removed and without a temple prep. class because they didn’t exist then. No one told me what to expect and I was totally unprepared for the cult-like psychodrama that was taking place before my eyes and being passed off by those I knew well for most of my life (but never let on) as if it were totally normal while I was screaming inside my head! This shock was not what I had in mind for our marriage ceremony and I wanted out of there but I was being coerced by the peer pressure of needing to complete the session in order to be married! Total coercion! I had been railroaded! I haven’t been back since.

    However I’m glad those problems have been corrected and given my interest in psychology and spirituality I can easily imagine that kind of vague symbolism being very useful in advancing one’s personal relationship with the Spirit as they grasp for better understanding. So, I’m supportive of the medium in general, but the peer pressure coercion is TOTAL manipulation via. control.

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  9. somebody on April 3, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    I think what is so hard about temple prep is the idea that we aren’t supposed to talk about anything outside the temple. But the temple prep manuals have sucked for years (going back to Pres McKay obviously.) So people don’t know what to say without getting into trouble. Here’s some things that I think would be extremely helpful for people who know nothing about the temple ceremony.

    Temple ceremonies are radically different than a typical church service. The endowment composes of 2 parts: a ceremonial washing, and an endowment. In the ceremonial washing, you are blessed with many spiritual blessings, and are clothed with the holy garments. It typically takes less than a half hour or so (but you may talk to the temple president prior to the ceremony, so it will last longer.) You may find this ceremony as a little strange, because it is much more intimate than a typical Mormon ceremony. It is highly symbolic. Listen to the blessings, and try to contemplate these blessings in your life.

    Part 2 is known as the endowment portion, and takes about 2 hours to complete. A temple film will portray many events of the creation, and deals with the fall of Adam and Eve, as well as other information from the scriptures. Men and women will be separated. During the ceremony, you will be instructed to put on some ceremonial clothing that will represent ancient ceremonies of ancient Israel. There will be other ceremonial rituals that you will participate in, and you will covenant with God to obey certain commandments. (You may find these rituals unusual, and very different from typically Mormon worship services.) You will symbolically participate in the atonement of life as well. Once again, this ceremony will be highly symbolic, and as you participate in these covenants, you will be blessed with priesthood power. Listen to these blessings and contemplate them in your life. They will serve as a wonderful blessing to you, and you should continue to ponder on the symbolic meaning of these rituals through the rest of your life.

    Did I give away anything I shouldn’t? I don’t think so, but some of this basic information would have been extremely helpful to me. I remember people congratulating me in the Celestial room, and I wasn’t sure what I’d done to deserve congratulations for. I kept getting hung up on the weird ceremonial clothing that I wasn’t expecting. If there was some foreknowledge of that, it would have helped me.

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  10. Kristine A on April 3, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    My grandmother made my apron and I was in shock when I opened it, “I thought you could only wear white in the temple?” Everyone laughed at me. That and “read the Pearl of Great Price” is the only temple prep I got.

    I could have used a bit more prep. I remember in the initiatory they gave me instruction and I said, “you want me to what??” and “so what you’re telling me is that you want me to do this??” ooookay? Then in the session looking around I was just a little baffled “what is going on?” “what are they wearing?”

    The rundown somebody (#9) gave would have gone a long way for me that day.

    Good thing I kept going back :)

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  11. Jeff Spector on April 3, 2014 at 4:09 PM

    yeah, I think #9 is a good first start. i wouldn’t have been so surprised myself.

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  12. hawkgrrrl on April 3, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    I was downright suicidal for several days after. Someone recommended I just go back over and over, and I did; it helped somewhat because I felt more competent. But I hated the garments (they were ill fitting and made me feel fat and were unworkable with tights). I didn’t have any prep or family support locally. My escorts were my roommates. Nobody told me anything because they aren’t supposed to talk about it. I was worthy to go, but completely unprepared for it. I didn’t mind that it was symbolic, but I didn’t like making covenants in a high pressure situation and I truly disliked the penalties (which were still done when I went through in 1988). I hated how sexist it was, and as a single woman going through to go on a mission, it felt like all this business about my “husband” was irrelevant and strange. It is most certainly even still very different for women than men.

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  13. Mormon Heretic on April 3, 2014 at 4:45 PM

    I have to say that the new washing ceremony is better. Rather than actually help you put on the garment, they tell you to put it on for yourself. Some of those old men were rather rough in “helping”, and more than once I went out in pain from these “helpful” men that weren’t very gentle. Let’s just say that men are more sensitive below the belt than women.

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  14. Jeff Spector on April 3, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    I don’t think you ever remove it anymore. you wear it the entire time.

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  15. Jack Hughes on April 4, 2014 at 3:55 AM

    I found the whole experience disorienting and off-putting, feeling awkward and under judgment for being the only one in the room not knowing what to do, when to do this or that, etc. What I wish I had was a step-by-step run-thru, detailing the entire process from start to finish; I’m the kind of person that does not like surprises or mystery, especially in the context of religious worship, I just want to know what I’m getting into. I think it would be perfectly appropriate for a parent or bishop to lay it all out beforehand, in a private setting and in a respectful and dignified manner, detailing every last thing short of the specific items we are covenanted not to reveal. If the logistics are made clear beforehand, the initiate has more physical, mental and emotional energy to enjoy it, find personal significance in it, and leave satisfied yet hungry to come back for more.

    The existing temple prep curriculum (when taught strictly by the manual) is woefully inadequate, and even a bit patronizing. We need to do better, since while the temple experience is delivered consistently around the world, individual members learn in different ways, have different needs and come from different stages in life. Also of concern is that due to the lower missionary ages, the average age of members receiving own endowments has decreased, along with a corresponding decrease in maturity level. Good preparation is even more essential now.

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  16. IDIAT on April 4, 2014 at 8:34 AM

    For my adult children and others, I’ve had them read a portion of a book by Gerald Lund (if I remember correctly) that goes through the initiatory, covenants, symbolism, etc, similar to Somebody’s suggestion #9. So far, they appear to have gone through the temple unscathed. The first time I went, I remember thinking to myself: “I just learned a whole lot of stuff. I wonder what they’ll do the next time I go?” I naively thought there were a series of films and instruction (maybe 10 or 20?) so I was a bit disappointed when I went back the next week and it was the same endowment session. I’ve obviously come a long way since then, and even though I’ve been in a position to attend the temple twice a month for the last 14 years, I still learn things. Yes, there are some times when temple work is just that — work. But, most of the time, if I can really slow down and concentrate, I come away happier than I was than when I entered. I don’t necessarily learn something new every time, but I am starting to appreciate things a little more as I get older.

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  17. Mormon Heretic on April 4, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    I wonder if we should tell prospective temple goers that Joseph Smith was a mason, and modified the masonic ceremony to reflect LDS perspectives, so in fact there are a lot of similarities. Would this form of inoculation be good or bad?

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  18. KLC on April 4, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    The problem with existing temple prep, from one who has been assigned to teach it, is a lack of specific details. As Jack Hughes said, people need to know what they will do, what they will say, what they will wear. They need that in order to be able to get past it when they experience it for the first time. And once you are past it then you can contemplate the philosophy behind it. But for many people the specifics are so jarring they never get past them.

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  19. Mormon Heretic on April 4, 2014 at 9:28 AM

    Yes, I agree with KLC and Jack. Is there any reason why we can’t know what covenants we will be making prior? (no adultery, yes consecration, yes obedience and sacrifice, and the other one escapes me at the moment–or did I combine 2 already?) I know that technically they allow you to say, “I don’t want to covenant to these”, but there is tremendous peer pressure to walk out at that moment. These covenants aren’t really that unusual, and it would be nice for people to know them before they go.

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  20. Jeff Spector on April 4, 2014 at 10:49 AM


    I think you are correct. We’ve told that there is much we CAN talk about, but still folks get surprised….. There is really no need for that. Where there are parents involved they should have the temple talk just like the sex talk.

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  21. Jenonatir on April 4, 2014 at 11:54 AM

    We converted and never made it through our first yr cause hubby lost his testimony and was upset that I was still involved. It is the church of my heart but u can be happy elsewhere and my marriage was my first covenant with God.

    Hubby was VERY creeped out by what he read about temple ceremony. Had the church just admitted it was modified from Masonic rituals, might have been easier.

    I had no opportunity to defend it as I’d never been.

    Should be public knowledge and stand the test of anyone’s criticism. Would be more meaningful to completely know what to expect.

    Incidentally, he still thinks the Mormons he met are the best people he ever met he just doesn’t trust the church.


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  22. MB on April 4, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    No Lund temple titles that I can find. Title? Author?
    I found an old Widtsoe book that was helpful, but would be interested in more recent publications.

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  23. Hedgehog on April 5, 2014 at 3:42 AM

    No we aren’t properly prepared. I would have liked to have been talked through everything beforehand. I don’t get much out of it. Not being a kinaesthetic learner all that getting up and down, and robing, unrobing etc., is a big distraction and breaks the concentration.The first time I went it was baffling just trying to keep up with that, trying to keep on top of left and right, and the veil I had was opaque, so I couldn’t see a thing and kept trying to unveil after the prayer circle not knowing I had to wait to be granted permission, so all in all it was a major stress. Can’t I just sit in a quiet corner with the book version? I like the changes to the initiatory since I am apparently too ham-fisted for the peace of mind of the ordinance workers who would be constantly irritated by my flashing too much thigh, so that was more stress!
    And yes, I didn’t like the high pressure environment for making covenants either. I’d have liked them spelled out beforehand so I could have been better prepared, though the penalties were gone by then, thankfully. What’s with that asking if you prefer to leave at the start, which pretty much makes it sound like leaving later is too late? That’s pretty unnerving I always think.

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  24. Left Field on April 5, 2014 at 7:59 AM

    The endowment is a ritual enactment of the creation, fall, and redemption of humanity. Each of Adam and Eve’s posterity is individually represented in a company of temple patrons. Each of us ritually falls from the presence of God, and yet is redeemed and brought back to His presence. In the temple drama, there is no audience; every person is an actor in the ritual. Every patron acts as one actual historical person. When you receive your own endowment, you will act as yourself in this ritual. Later, when you do endowments for the dead, you will enact the same drama, but will play the role of a deceased person. By intent, every person who ever lived or will live, is individually by name, brought through this ritual redemption.

    In addition to the company of sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, each temple session includes temple workers acting as the God the Father, Jehovah, Adam, Eve, and others as messengers of God. Another temple worker acts in the role of Lucifer. In the Salt Lake and Manti temples, all characters are represented by live officiators and live temple patrons acting together on the same stage. In all other temples, some characters will be represented entirely or in part, in a video presentation. Two of the characters will be represented at times in the video, and at times by a live officiator in the endowment room. You will probably be experiencing the filmed version of the endowment. To fully understand what is happening, it is important that you not think of the film as a presentation you are watching, but as part of the same sacred drama you are acting in. The video and the endowment room should be understood as a single stage. You are not watching a film about the creation and fall. You are in the Garden with Adam and Eve. You are cast out with them into the lone and dreary world. You are redeemed and brought with them to be reintroduced to the Father at the veil.

    The story of the endowment might be thought of as the story of the prodigal son. Each of us falls away from the Lord, and yet we find our way back and in the endowment we embrace the Father at the veil, wearing his best robe, and are welcomed back to his presence. The endowment begins with the company witnessing the creation and plan for redemption. When Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden, we move with them into the the garden. In some temples, the company literally moves into a garden room painted with appropriate murals. In the garden, Eve and Adam make the conscious choice to partake of the fruit to continue their progression. We are cast out with them into the lone and dreary world (sometimes represented by moving into a World Room). In the World Room, we are visited by divine messengers who give us the covenants and symbolic knowledge needed for us to progress and be redeemed. This is certainly not intended to show literal historical events involving Adam and Eve. We as the posterity of Eve and Adam were not literally present with them in the garden, and were not cast out with them, as depicted in the temple. The endowment drama is best understood as a ritual play depicting our own redemption in parallel to that of our first parents.

    After making the covenants required for redemption, and after being coached in the required symbolic knowledge, Adam and Eve and their posterity are presented one by one at the veil, where we literally embrace the Lord and return to his presence, entering the Celestial Room.

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  25. Mormon Heretic on April 5, 2014 at 8:16 AM

    I nominate comments 24, 9, 19, and 17 to be part of the new temple prep curriculum.

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  26. Temple Prep Suggestions | Mormon Heretic on April 5, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    […] post originally appeared at Wheat and Tares from Guy Templeton under the title Are We Properly Prepared to Enter the Temple?  I thought it was worth sharing, along with some insightful […]

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  27. Hedgehog on April 6, 2014 at 2:30 AM

    #25. tThose things would have been good to have had covered beforehand, as opposed to a generalised series of lessons about what is a covenant is and what is symbolism, which had no more depth than any seminary or institute class I’d attended, and told me nothing specific that would have been helpful.

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  28. Mark Shields on May 7, 2014 at 2:22 PM

    Hi guys. This is Mark Shields, the guy who wrote the book quoted from at the beginning of this post. One of the biggest reasons I wrote the book is because I have known soooo many people who never wanted to go back to the temple after receiving their endowment because it was just so foreign to them. I know it is a big problem in the Church, and I’m convinced there’s more we can do about it. The format of the Church’s temple prep class I think is wonderful, and it’s clearly divinely inspired. I imagine that the Church is probably hesitant to put much depth into the manual because they don’t want teachers getting carried away and saying things that shouldn’t be said. I really can’t think of another explanation, and that’s why I’m grateful for the good, positive ideas that I’ve seen on this board about how to help.

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  29. Guy T on May 8, 2014 at 7:19 AM

    Mark, thanks for stopping by. I plan some other posts from your book, and hope you can join us!

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