MERIDIAN, Idaho – Before the LDS church’s 158th temple is dedicated here on Nov. 19, more than 200,000 people are expected to tour it, from its baptistry fashioned after descriptions of King Solomon’s temple to its cream-colored sealing rooms, where marriages are performed for a kneeling couple dressed in white under a sparkling crystal chandelier.
Once it’s dedicated, the elegantly appointed, 67,000-square-foot temple will be open only to members of the faith in good standing. And over the years, those closed doors have sometimes led to speculation, fear and myth.
“Many times, people think that things are secret that are really sacred,” said church Elder Quentin Cook, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who helped lead a group of media representatives and others on a tour of the new temple on Monday.
Unlike the simple chapels or meeting houses where church members attend regular services, temples are built of the finest materials, from Egyptian marble floors to intricately designed art glass. Murals and paintings, some of them original and commissioned specifically for the new temple, portray biblical scenes of Jesus Christ, or scenes of Western mountains, streams and meadows.
Temples are the places where church members come to celebrate the faith’s most sacred ceremonies, from weddings that “seal” the couple for eternity to taking instruction in the faith and making promises to live better lives.
Temples are actually closed on Sundays; that’s when adherents go to their regular meeting houses or chapels for services.
“You go on the internet, you can see some of those who are not fond of the church,” said Thomas Coburn, managing director of the temple department for the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The big public open houses, welcoming thousands to see the elegantly appointed temple that, once it’s dedicated, the public won’t see, are “an effort by the church to show the world that we are Christian, we’re community-oriented, we’re civic-minded, we’re friends and neighbors,” he said. “It relieves a lot of the myths that are out there.”
The baptistry in the temple isn’t for baptizing the living; it’s only for symbolic baptisms performed on behalf of people who have died, including ancestors of church members. Church members believe that through baptism and sealing, families, including multiple generations, can remain together after death, into eternity. That’s why the church sponsors extensive genealogical research efforts, which also are made available for free to the public.
The fast-growing church, also known as the Mormon church, has about 426,000 members in Idaho, more than a quarter of the state’s population. The new Meridian temple is the state’s fifth, and a sixth is in the works in Pocatello.
Spokane’s Mormon temple, dedicated in 1999, is just a sixth the size of the grand edifice that’s set to open in Meridian, a high-growth area for the church’s members. All of the church’s Idaho temples are in Southern Idaho.
During Monday’s tour, smiling members of the church, all volunteers, welcomed and directed visitors at every turn. Again and again, visitors were thanked for coming.
The LDS church’s Boise temple is slightly smaller than the new one in Meridian; it serves about 50,000 members. The new temple will serve a district containing 60,000 members and stretching from southwestern Idaho into Eastern Oregon.
The church was founded in New York state in 1830; its members moved to Utah between 1847 and 1869 and since have spread throughout the world. The church proselytizes and actively seeks converts; young members typically serve two-year missions, sometimes in far corners of the world.
Worldwide membership is now 15.6 million, including 9.2 million in North America, 4 million in South America and 1.1 million in Asia.
In Washington, the LDS church has 287,433 members and three temples.
In a film shown to visitors before the Meridian temple tour, church President Thomas Monson said Mormons go to their temples to “seek direction from God.”
“The temple lifts us, it exalts us,” he said. “It stands as a beacon for all to see and points us toward celestial glory.”
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