It has been a little over thirty years since I received my endowment at the temple.

I think I was unusually well prepared for the experience, and little about it surprised me, except the parts that were supposed to surprise me. Sorry; you will find no spoilers in this post.

It struck me at the time that I had seen an entirely different face of Mormonism; one that was unfamiliar, but congenial. I understand that not everyone has that experience. We do our best to prepare those about to receive their endowment, but it is part of the sanctity of the experience that there should not be spoilers.

Temple worship stands in fascinating contrast with chapel worship. I will focus here on the endowment ceremony and on sacrament meeting, understanding that each is only one aspect of the particular mode of worship to which it belongs.  Our chapel worship also includes Sunday School; quorum, group and Relief Society meetings; ordinations; settings apart; and baptism services. Temple worship also includes the initiatory, sealings, and (an interesting point of commonality) baptisms, though those in the temple are vicarious baptisms for the dead.

Sacrament meeting is exoteric. It is open to anyone, including those not yet baptized and those who are no longer baptized (whether for disciplinary reasons or by their own choice.) Only if a visitor is willfully disruptive will he be excluded from sacrament meeting. The purpose of this meeting is for the Church of Christ to participate in a ritual meal (albeit a token one) and then listen to the after-dinner speeches. Perhaps this sounds as if I am making light of it. I am not. The greatest after-dinner speech ever given in the history of this world followed a ritual meal (though not, in this case, a token one) and was given by Christ Himself. Our sacrament meeting tells that story again and makes us part of it, so that we, too, may hearken to the Great Intercessory Prayer. The priests who administer the meal stand in the place of Christ serving the Passover at the Last Supper. It is a sacred thing. I hope these young men (they are usually ordained at age 16) understand this. I think those in our ward understand this, at least well enough. We have good advisors and teachers for our young men, and a good bishop as their quorum leader.

The sacrament meeting also includes song and prayer. No celebration is complete without song. Because this is a sacred celebration, it is appropriate for it to start with an invitation to God to join the celebration, and to end by thanking Him for the opportunity, and for much else besides.

Families sit together in sacrament meeting. The priests who bless the sacred meal, the sacrament, and the deacons who take it to the congregation, are typically invited to rejoin their families as soon as they have completed their duties. The chorister and organist often sit with their families when they are not performing their duties. The choir usually assembles only when it is time to sing, then dissolves back into the congregation. Only the bishopric and (sometimes) the speakers remain on the stand throughout the meeting, and it is understood that this separation from their families is a burden of their calling.

Sacrament meetings usually take place with a fair amount of background noise, mostly from little children. Sometimes this gets out of hand, and bishops call on their congregation to remember to be reverent. This is not wrong, but it should always be kept in mind that Christ suffered the little children to come unto Him. This did not just mean those tender in years.

The endowment is esoteric. It is open only to those who have been properly initiated, and the initiatory in turn is open only to those who have been properly prepared, a process that takes a minimum of a year for a new member. Part of the preparation is learning to adhere to some basic standards of conduct, something like those necessary things Peter spoke of following his vision of the unclean beasts cleansed by God, when the Church was thrown open to the Gentiles. This is to help make the temple a place of cleanliness. None of us is clean, but it is important that we show that we abjure our filthiness. And if I am old enough to have learned to watch what people do rather than listen to what they say, then God certainly has learned.

Esotericism carries serious risks. Mormon temple worship has deftly mitigated those risks. We are anxious to see every every person who is willing come into the Church, and every member of the Church who is willing receive his endowment. This is not compatible with any notion of a secret elite, which is one of the great risks of esotericism. We invite the public to tour our temples when they are constructed to reconstructed and before they are dedicated, and I can think of no important space in the temple that is not included in that invitation. We say as much as we can about the temple without giving away any spoilers. Our enemies have perhaps inadvertently served God’s purposes further by ensuring that anyone sufficiently consumed with curiosity can have the temple spoiled for them. This is not a beautiful thing, but perhaps, in the greater scheme of things, it is a necessary thing. God certainly must have foreseen it.

The endowment ceremony, too, tells a story. It is a familiar one, though with some plot twists. It is the story of Adam and Eve and their posterity (this is no spoiler.) We become part of the story as part of Adam and Eve’s posterity, and we make the same covenants and receive the same wonderful promises they did.  Like the sacrament, the endowment is a family affair. The sealings that follow the endowment unite families together. However, men do not sit alongside their wives, and children are not included until they are themselves adults, unless they are brought in briefly to be ceremonially adopted by their parents. (Children born to sealed parents are born already in the covenant.) This is mature worship, akin, I think, to the worship that will take place in heaven. It takes place in an atmosphere of profound reverence. And yet, like the sacrament administered by young priests, the endowment is preparatory, in token of that which is to come. Who has ears to hear, let him hear.

We customarily dress in our best clothes for sacrament meeting, though no one should ever be excluded for their dress (unless they are being deliberately provocative.) There is a tradition of men wearing white shirts and ties when performing priesthood functions. There is otherwise no dress code. The temple has a dress code, a strict one, because clothing is a big part of the story. Part of the clothing stays with us when we leave the temple, as a tangible symbol of our endowment.

Sacrament meeting is a social event as well as a worship service. You see mostly the same faces every week. Because Mormon wards are organized geographically, these are your neighbors as well as your friends. There are greetings and conversations, and a great deal of business (mostly of a religious character, such as setting up home teaching visits) before and after the meeting.

The endowment ceremony is also a social event. You are part of a company of strangers and pilgrims on the earth. But the faces are different every time, give the size of a temple district. You will often see some friends, including old friends whose lives you now seldom cross anywhere else, and there may be occasion for quiet conversations in the foyer and changing room. But there is little conversation in the endowment room or even in the chapel where one to await the endowment ceremony, and there is very little conversation after the ceremony, in the celestial room that represents the presence of God.

What is striking is that these two modes of worship, so seemingly different, fit comfortably in the same faith without tearing it in two directions. There is, so far as I know, no movement in the Church for greater ritual in sacrament, nor for greater informality in the temple. The two modes complement each other. Sacrament meeting is a bit of heaven brought down to earth. The temple is a bit of earth brought into heaven. Both are needed.



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