Mormon Endowment Ceremony Experiences





My First Mormon Temple Experience

One Mormon's first experience with the temple endowment ceremony, and responses from other church members.

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mormon temple"It is the Lord Himself who, in His revelations to us, has made the temple the great symbol for members of the Church."

"The inspired erection and proper use of temples is one of the great evidences of the divinity of the Lord’s work. Where there are temples, with the spirit of revelation resting upon those who administer therein, there the Lord’s people will be found; where these are not, the Church and kingdom and the truth of heaven are not."

"Temples are sacred for the closest communion between the Lord and those receiving the highest and most sacred ordinances of the holy priesthood. It is in the temple that things of the earth are joined with the things of heaven."

"No wonder the Lord desires that His followers point themselves toward His example and toward His temples. No wonder He has said that in His holy house, “I will manifest myself to my people in mercy.
- The Prophet Howard W. Hunter, First Presidency Message, “The Great Symbol of Our Membership,” Ensign, Oct 1994, page 2

Growing up as a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I always looked forward to going to the temple. I have many fond memories as a child of my parents taking their little suitcases and going for the evening to attend the temple. They wouldn't say what they actually did in the temple and their suitcases were off-limits. Nonetheless, I looked forward someday to going with them to that special place.

After my 19th birthday, I took those standard church temple preparation classes at the Stake Center. After the six classes, I was even more exicted about attending the temple because they expounded on the teaching that temple worship was centered around Jesus Christ.

Those classes didn't provide any real details about the temple ceremony. And none of my family or friends that had already participated would tell me what happened there. All I knew was that the temple endowment included a play/movie "about Jesus" and church members made sacred covenants to "be more Christ-like."

mormon temple jesusSo I prepared for my first time all excited, expecting the endowment ceremony to be about the ministry of Jesus Christ. I thought, perhaps they would enact the Sermon on the Mount? Or maybe they would show the Last Supper and have us participate as disciples? Or maybe they would portray other scenes in Christ's ministry that were lost to time that revealed spiritual meanings.

mormon temple jesusAbove all, I fully expected the temple covenants to be related to Christ's ministry - helping the poor and the sick, forgiving others and loving one another. I imagined that I would see some of Christ's parables enacted, and then make a covenant to do as Jesus taught. For example, covenant to be a good samaritan, or forgive the prodigal sons among us, or not judge others.

To spiritually prepare for my first temple experience, I read the four New Testament gospels. So the example of Christ's life and his message were so vivid in my mind. I imagined the temple would be an elaboration on the main things Jesus had lived and taught us to do.

mormon temple ceremonyMy first temple experience was the Salt Lake Temple, where they still do the "live" ceremony instead of the movie.

What a disappointment.

Not only was the endowment far removed from the New Testament Jesus Christ, it didn't even have anything to do with what Jesus taught the Native-Americans in the Book of Mormon either.

Even more of a let-down was that Jesus (called "Jehovah" in the endowment) hardly had any real speaking parts. In the temple endowment, Jehova is nothing more than a glorified messenger boy, shuttling messages between his father, Elohim, and Peter, James and John.

mormon temple ceremonyJesus Christ's brother Satan, on the other hand, is the star of the temple ceremony. For example, he tells the audience to put on their aprons and everybody does it. He preaches little sermons to the audience and converses with Adam and Eve.

After attending the temple, there is no way I could honestly believe that the Mormon temple is a bastion of Christianity or Jesus Christ. I get more Jesus Christ out of a 15-second written blessing on the Sacrament every Sunday than in the two-hour temple endowment ceremony.

If you look into the origins of the Mormon temple ceremony, this all makes a lot more sense.

Am I the only one who felt disappointed by their first temple experience? Apparently not. After I posted about this on an anonymous Mormon discussion group, I received these sincere replies from other church members:

temple ceremonyI have to admit that I was actually relieved after my first temple experience. I had several people scare me to death about the temple. Some of my friends almost left the church over their first temple experience.

I had also been warned about the washing and anointing beforehand. I had "threatened" my sister that I would leave the church if she didn't tell me before I went, because I had heard things at work from other church members about temple "nakedness." Thanks goodness they have removed that from the ordinance.

But I never became comfortable enough with the temple endowment to attend often. At first I was relieved, then the reality set in. I will never get over the "five points of fellowship" experience at the veil.

We were preached at all our lives about sexual purity and then they put us in these situations? I felt violated every time I presented myself at the temple veil. I only went to four sessions.

I know I shouldn't talk about it, but the temple ceremony frightened me the first time.

Before it started, I was told nothing, and I was not sure what I would get--something like "Step forward Tin Man," or a warm fuzzy feeling as I watched some stars on a planetarium ceiling.

What I did not expect was walking naked in a "shield," having elderly gentlemen with Scandinavian accents touch me, and then going through a weird ceremony where I slit my throat, promised to be perfect under pain of death, and went into a room full of Victorian furniture, where I was told I should be just happier than anywhere else on earth.

I came home, slept, and awoke in a state of horror. What had I stumbled into? What was this? A long struggle began with talks to the Bishop, my father, and more trips to the temple. It only got worse. I finally ended up praying, and asking God to help me get through it.

Horrible experience.

People like you are the reason the church changed the temple ordinances. The church has made many changes before, but it was still creeping out too many people, so they diluted it again, and again, and again.

The church will continue to water down the ordinances until there's nothing left that resembles the original throat cutting, vengeance swearing, masonic order left in it. That's what I went through my first time.

mormon temple endowment

Yeah, it freaked me out the first time too. The washing and anointing was fine because my Stake President told me a bit about it.

After the washing and anointing ordinance, they gave me the packet of other clothes stuff and I wondered what was in it. I was scared to look in because I had no clue what was going on. So, I waited until everyone else did.

Then my father told me to take my watch off because "There's a lot of switching robes around." That wasn't what I was expecting.

After we put the temple robes on, I thought we were at a Toga Party or something.

The secret temple handshakes and passwords were what really freaked me out though. God needs handshakes? I thought he knew us enough to just let us through the veil into heaven.

I was 20 years old and didn't have a clue. I had no preparation class and was confused and supervised. I told my husband, that no wonder the rest of the world thought we us Mormons were a peculiar people. If they knew what we did, they would be surprised.

After going through the temple the first time, I thought in a way, we were no different then the holy rollers, or snake charmers.

I tried to go to the temple and feel the spirit. I tried to get into it and memorize the secret handshakes and the passwords. But I couldn't help wondering why I had to have a password with God, why I had to obey my husband as he obeyed the Lord.

The death penalties scared me, afraid that I would slip up and then I would have to wait for the angel of death.

I also didn't understand that if God loved me, and I was doing what he wanted, would I have to worry about my throat being slit.

If the angel of death or whoever would slit my throat, who would take care of my children. Would they be damned because I would be in eternal hell?

But I wasn't supposed to question. "Sunflower, don't worry, as long as you obey you won't have to worry about that."

But it was always there.

endowment ceremony

My biggest question which I still don't have an answer to is why they gave me a new name? Why couldn't the name I had been given at birth be good enough? If I lived the law of the gospel and knew God and He knew me, wouldn't I know him when he called me?

I heard my name given to me in the temple once, and spoke it once, but remember it always. Never to be spoken again until I was called from the grave.

So what was the biggest thing I learned in the temple?

Never question, just obey.

Due to surfing the Internet, I knew what was going to happen in the temple ahead of time.

I wish the church could get Hollywood to make the temple movie. Was anything so boringly repetitious? "Shall we go down?" "Yes let's go down blah blah.." over and over. Is it any wonder Satan was the most interesting character in the temple?

Then two hours of clothing arrangement and changes without a mirror, and secret signs and symbols and tokens, oh my. It was a two hour lesson on how to get past heaven's gate. I don't mind going to the temple to do baptisms for the dead. But I have resisted going back for another temple ordinance session. How do people do it week after week?

I hate to say this, but my first time I couldn't stop giggling. The whole thing was bizarre to say the least. But when I saw my husband in that goofy bakers hat the first time I got a case of the giggles that wouldn't stop.

My husband is a sharp dresser. He was the first guy in our ward to buy snappy white suspenders to accent his temple costume. He had to have the least-ugly white silk tie and bought his white slacks at a golf shop. They were always well pressed. But he never could find a way to improve that ridiculous bakers hat.

It was pretty weird to see a room full of men in baker's hats and women in covered in veils doing the slashing motions of the temple covenant penalties. I struggled keeping a straight face.

What startled me about the temple ritual was when Satan himself warns the temple audience that if they don't go along with the rituals that they will be in his power. In other words it's like Satan is saying:

"You better go along with the Mormon God, or I'll get you!"

So, why is Satan siding with God and the Mormon Church? I thought Satan was the father of all lies, the Grand Deceiver, the sworn enemy of God. Instead Satan actually agrees with the Mormon temple rituals! He actually endorses them!

mormon temple ordinance

If the rites were really God's truth, then wouldn't Satan be trying to talk everyone out of them? If I pray to Satan to ask him what I should do, would he answer: "Be a good Mormon or I'll get you?"

The temple endowment made me wonder, whose side is Satan actually on? Apparently he's on the Mormon Church's side - that is, if you take the temple ceremony seriously.

So just follow Satan's advice if you want to be a good Mormon. That's what I learned in the temple.

Unfortunately, my first time was before the big ordinances changes in 1990. I was waiting for the chicken sacrifice after that "pay-lay-ale" chant. As we stood in the prayer circle in our temple clothes with our hands raised, I looked around and thought "oh no, I'm in a cult!"

At that point I fully expected them to pull out a live chicken, place in on the temple altar and whack the head off.

Yeah I freaked the first time too. Then nobody would talk with me about it, because we were all under death oaths of secrecy.

The whole temple secrecy thing bugs me. We're supposed to share the gospel, but apparently only part of it, because we don't want people to know how creepy and goofy it really gets.

I've come to believe that any religion that cannot stand up to public scrutiny is not worth standing up for.

A church of Jesus Christ should have people worrying about slitting their throats or ripping out their guts. I'm so glad they removed that from the temple ordinance in 1990.

Yeah, the pre-1990 temple ceremony was a little freaky.

I'm a convert and had nobody to tell me anything about what to expect before I went to the temple. All I knew was the quote by Brigham Young about what the endowment was.

I was freaked out by the temple experience.

What I can't understand is how the church members and General Authorities claim that Blood Atonement was not an official doctrine of the church. Excuse me, but the pre-1990 temple penalties were covenants to commit blood atonement.

I can understand how a Mountain Meadows Massacre can happen when church members took those gruesome temple death oaths seriously. We're all better off now that they are removed.

templeRight off the bat, I realized that the "temple preparation" classes were a total waste of time, because they didn't tell you squat about the actual temple ceremony.

We went by bus - left at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday night and arrived at the temple at 5:00 the next morning. This, of course, really helped the mental acuity angle.

One of the missionaries who taught me had told me that there is a "test" that you must pass before you will be allowed to leave the temple. So I was pretty keyed-up about that.

When we got to the lecture just before the veil test, I was laser-focused. Then at the temple veil I felt belittled by the elderly man on the other side who kept telling me to "repeat after him." I kept saying "no, man, I think I've got it. Let me do it myself." Finally, a friend who was with me told me not to get into an argument with this guy playing the role of God.

The whole temple clothing-shuffling bit was very unnerving and unexpected.

Worst of all, I think, was that the whole thing made me wonder what was wrong with me - why didn't I "get it" like everyone else seemed to? (Looking back, I wonder now how many else were pretending they were getting it.)

Once I "got it," I felt betrayed.

I take pride in my memorization skills. I got to the point I could lip sync the whole temple ceremony, and initiatory as well.

I used to prompt or correct the guy playing God on the other side of the veil when he messed up his lines.

I finally became a veil worker, first in the Washington DC temple, then in the Salt Lake Temple.

mormon veil

That was back in the pre-1990 days when they had the full "five points of fellowship" in the ceremony. I think that was the most physical contact some faithful women ever got. As I played the role of God, the ladies held me real close through the veil and pressed their knee against my thigh. I wonder what they were feeling?

It's been 15 years since I last attending the temple, but I can still repeat verbatim the magical phrase needed to get through the veil and enter the celestial room, which represents to top level of heaven.

I find this interesting because my wife tells me she knows the church is true because she forgets all the mystical phrases as soon as she leaves the temple. For her it's truly a sign!

I was one of those unfortunate members born early enough before the 1990 gory covenants were changed.

So my first time through the temple I was freaked, wondering, is this a cult? If so, don't give in, but keep quiet. I raised my hand for the oaths like everybody else and said, yes, but each time, inside mentally recited NO!

mormon celestial roomI haven't thought about me first temple session in awhile. It was in the Salt Lake Temple, live session, pre-1990.

The experience was so hyped up, especially the final destination, the Celestial Room. When I got there I was like, okay, fancy room, yes, so what gives?

Give me the grand finale, the great prize, the spiritual enlightenment. Nope. Nothing. Just clueless people like me in weird white clothes making oaths of secrecy.

Supposedly the most profound and confusing gospel questions can be asked, and answered, in the Celestial Room. That's not what I found. All I ever got was answers like, that hasn't been revealed, we don't know that, God's ways are not man's way, etc...

I went to the temple quite a few times after my first year in the church. Having no preconceived notion of what to expect I was not horrified by anything performed back then in 1977 at the Salt Lake Temple. I had nothing to compare the ceremony to before I attended.

I really couldn't grasp what was going on. I didn't get it. The temple ceremony just wasn't coherent to me. I expressed my feelings of boredom to my new circle of devout Mormon friends. They told me to continue to attend the temple as often as possible, so I would be blessed with something new each time I went.

I converted to Mormonism as my new faith and I was going to try my best to do my duty to follow God, which would then bring blessings on my wife and first born son. So I went to the Salt Lake Temple probably six times that year and to the Provo Temple twice. I was told that if I went often enough I would begin to understand what it was all about.

endowment ceremonyI am capable of daydreaming through anything when I get bored so it became true, each time I attended the temple I got something new out of it. Great and wonderful things which I would ponder as I tuned out all of the pathetically stupid things going on in the temple ceremony while listening to my own intelligent inner thoughts. Of course, I thought the holy spirit was giving me all of those wonderful thoughts even though I've been that way all my life.

Anyway, in the very early eighties I realized that going to the temple was a huge waste of my time. So I stopped going. I didn't attend a session for more than ten years. Then I was called into the bishopric in the late eighties and served as the bishop's First or Second Counselor for many years. Still I refused to attend.

Only when I was called as the Bishop did I finally go back to the temple. I still didn't get it, but had to be a good example so I'd go about once a year.

I don't regret not spending more time on that meaningless 1800s mind bending ritual. Spending that time with my family brought us more happiness.

I remember being nervous but optimistically hopeful before I went through the temple for the first time.

I remember wanting to have some clue of what to expect and, of course, my loved ones would only say that it was "wonderful, spiritually enlightening, and the closest thing to heaven that exists on this earth." I halfway took that, in my own mind, to mean that Jesus would be there in person. What else could be so sacred that we could not talk about it, even with other worthy temple Mormons? Maybe, I thought, that was why we had to be sworn to secrecy....if other people knew Jesus Christ was actually in the temple they would storm storm the temple to get in and see him and it would create a mob scene? (I admit, I was painfully naive and trusting of the church at that time and these scenarios I came up with in my mind seemed real.)

It would have been creepy to get naked and be touched by a stranger and then have them dress you in hideous underwear even without the bait-and-switch atmosphere, but I think the way they set it up so you go in there being told it's going to be a wonderful exeperience, and then having it be something that's awful, and then having to reconcile in your mind the temple oaths and learning weird code words and making sure all your temple clothes are on and tied just right and being naked are the things that are monumentally important to Heavenly Father adds to the disappointment and the confusion and the questions later.

The senior citizen temple worker who did the temple initiatory ordinance on me tried to be very non-invasive as it was obvious I was having trouble dealing with having to comply with orders to get naked and stand there and let them do their thing. The temple worker tried to get it done quickly and gave only the lightest of touches and I think tried to be somewhat "vague" in where the skin contact was actually made so as to give me a fraction more personal space consideration. But it was still horrifying to me that my Lord and Savior thought this was something necessary for me to be let into heaven.

lds endowment ceremonyTo top it all off, after going through the whole temple endowment ceremony and going into the Celestial Room, thinking this had not been spiritual or special and that I now questioned what kind of church would act like this, my loved ones were waiting there for me and in hushed tones were gushing, "Wasn't that special? Don't you feel so close to the Lord here?" No, I didn't.

When I said that I didn't, sitting there in the temple Celestial Room, my parents gave me a lecture about "speaking evil of sacred things" and was rushed out of there. My otherwise sane loved ones claiming to have enjoyed the experience and gotten spiritually carried away by it added to the storm that was raging in my heart.

Here are my thoughts on my pre-1990 temple endowment.

After having been felt up by older men in a stuffy sheeted cubicle next to other stuffy cubicles and hearing the mumbling of initiatory ordinances being done over, there I was ready for anything. It got more and more strange as my temple day went by.

I came out of the washing and anointing ordinance and my dad was there beaming happily, "Isn't that POWERFUL?", he exclaimed.

What I really wanted to answer was "Are you crazy, Dad? I mean... are you nuts? I just got felt up and basically molested by an old man with you standing outside the door sanctioning his every move!"

Instead I said, "Yeah, that was spiritual."

After that there was the ushering me here and there, the changing into my temple uniform. The old man pulling me into that tiny cloaked room. He put his face in mine and whispered to me "And the neeeeew naaaame issss..."

This old man did not brush his teeth because his breath reeked and nearly turned my stomach over. Gee, man. Colgate? Crest? Ever heard of them? I swear the tiny room we were in filled up with a stench and I was so glad to get out of there.

Shuffle, shuffle again up to the temple waiting room chapel....

Wait.. wait.. wait...

Read the Book of Mormon...

Dad fidgeted with his temple packet...

I wanted to look inside my packet. All I knew was that I was going to have to wear a costume of some sort and that this costume included robes that were very holy and sacred. I was very curious.

The organ music soothed me. It tied me back to the my Mormon religion prior to that day that I was so familiar with. I was off kilter because what I was going through thus far in the temple was nothing close to the Mormon religion I had been practicing for that last 19 years.

All of this was so new, so bizarre.

Then single file, walking silently, we were lead to the endowment room.

Lights were dimmed slightly and a voice floated above me in the ceiling telling me that God will not be mocked and that if I wanted to withdraw from having to take on these covenants I should do so now. There was even a pause.

I wondered how I could make that judgment call when I did not even know what I would be covenanting myself to. Nobody stood up to leave. I guess we were all anxious and willing to make these covenants!

I enjoyed the first part of the endowment. I mean, it was cool that I could become an exalted king next to my exalted queen wife some day in yonder heaven. The ruler of my own worlds, with my celestial queen. There was a certain romantic notion to it.

But then the movie started. There was little Jesus but plenty of Satan. I didn't enjoy being threatened by Satan:

"If you do not walk up to every covenant made in this temple this day... you will be in MY power."

That creeped me out. I saw through it. That was such a threat.

I hoped that the gospel covenants I was going to be making were simple ones... you know, not too hard because I wanted to live up and keep them so that I would not have to be in Satan's powers.


I then, upon penalty of slitting my bowels, my chest, and my throat, covenanted to give all my life... my talents and everything that the Lord had blessed me with to the building up of God's kingdom here on earth.

How was I going to keep that covenant? That meant that I was now a slave. Mormon Church first and everything else in my life second. Church above my future wife, future kids, my career, my money, myself.

There was so much room for me to fail. Such a wide berth there. I felt very uneasy.

The ordinance of slashing myself was horrifying. I recall looking around the room with a "please make this ride stop I want to get off the ride" look all over my face. But there were my grandparents, my uncles my aunts, my sister and her husband, my mother... my sweet mother was slashing herself! What was I getting involved with?

Then came the prayer circle and chanting at the altar. The monotone chanting that came after a repeat of the slashing death oaths only this time we all stood in a circle around the altar slashing ourselves.

I admit that I found some humor in it. I am a funny guy. I have a sense of humor and it did not fail me that first day at the temple.

I did laugh inside when it was demonstrated that everyone in the room was supposed to raise their hands above their heads and chant "PAY... LAY... AAAALE!" (hands lower from above head to my sides)



It was just a little too weird for me. How could this be holy or sacred in any way shape or form of the word?

There was just no way.

But I tried. I honestly tried. I whittled myself down over years of temple attendance to try to fit into that mold prepared for me. It was so uncomfortable.

It was a serious Emperor's New Clothes moment each time I went back through the temple.

Dad: "Son, wasn't that just awesome?"

Me: "uh, yeah Dad.. totally."

But inside I was screaming "That is not how I would describe anything remotely awesome!"

Because it wasn't. The only "awe" about the temple was that so many of us continued to go back and do it again and again... and call it sacred, holy... and worshiping the divine.

But I admit that I had my moments. I admit there were times when I was finding myself at more frenzied levels of Mormon commitment where I would come out of the House of The Lord completely convinced that I had felt the spirit.

That feeling was more a sense of satisfaction that had done my temple attending duty and now could check off one more requirement for the month's list of "things I gotta do this month to be worthy of The Spirit."

While I was a kid growing up in the church, my Dad would tells us that we get a secret new name in the temple. He said he knew Mom's name but she couldn't know his. That way, he was taught in the temple, he would be able to find her in heaven. Of course, us being curious kids, we tried to get him to tells us his name but he never would.

So many years later when I went through the temple, I was disappointed that my new name was not something cool or unique. Mine was Alma. After all those years of anticipation and all I get was Alma. I was hoping for something like Mahonrimoriankumer.

I had no idea was was going to happen to me in the temple before I went in for the first time on my wedding day.

Imagine: You are taken to a locker room (think High School PE class). You get undressed, and are whispered to put the "shield" (which is nothing more than an open white poncho) on and then you take your new underear in hand with you to this shower curtain cubicle.

Since I was married a log time ago before they removed the slitting-one's-throat pantomime, the old polygamy-style one-peice long-john, undies were the "temple garment" for my initiatory ordinance.

Keep in mind, this was my wedding day!

Since I was taught my whole life not to question anything in the gospel by those I most loved (my mother, aunties, grandparents, and returned-missionary husband to be), in I went to peform whatever rituals awaited me.

Honestly, I knew something was wrong with this picture at that moment, but dared not verbalize it.

The naked touching began, all in the guise of holiness. I realized in that moment that everyone in my good Mormon family had gone through this too. Why didn't they tell me? Then it was done. The temple worker took the new garment, and held it open for me to step into. Why? I don't know. (At that time, all garments were one piece. Perhaps so we did not fall down from the slick floor?)

And back to the locker room to now put my pretty dress over those polygamist long-john underwear. And this was wedding day. The first person on one's wedding day to touch you in the temple is not your husband or wife. After all those years of being taught not to pet, or touch another person, the first person to touch your naked body on your wedding day is a stranger.

This all happened after weeks of "temple preparation classes" which didn't included any fair warning, just a lot of information on how critical and important the temple is and how you're not going to be saved if you don't go.

Because no one would talk to me about what goes on in the temple specifically, I was a little concerned that I would be asked to do something I was uncomfortable with.

I expressed my concerns to my mother and others and was assured that nothing goes on that would make me the least bit uncomfortable-- it's just spiritual and uplifting and wonderful...

So I get there, all fired up and ready to be completely obedient, and then they ask me to do something completely humiliating that is a gross violation of my personal dignity.

My family and closest friends are there, so unless I want to disappoint everyone I care about, I'm stuck letting strangers lay greasy fingers on me while pronouncing blessings. It's no wonder they changed that temple ordinance in 2005. Why couldn't they have changed it sooner, before I went through that ordinance experience?

I was a nineteen year old boy about to enter the MTC. My parents were very excited about me going to the temple. For my mother, it was, I believe, a way for her to see herself as a successful mother.

The night before I rested in my bed wondering what my experience would be like. The big moment was going to happen! I was to finally learn the great secrets of the temple.

I had always been taught that the temple was the holiest place on earth, that Jesus walked its halls, that angels frequently appeared there. I had an uncle who swears that his deceased brother appeared to him in the temple and had a conversation with him regarding why he died and what he was doing in the Spirit World. All these things raced through my head. I felt in awe about entering a place where heaven and earth literally co-existed.

We dressed in our white clothes and sorted through our temple robes and aprons making sure that we had everything. Once our guide made sure we hadn’t left anything we followed him to the front row of endowment room. I sat down with mydad, next to another new missionary who was sitting next to his dad. I was very surprised that all the men had to sit on one side and all the women on the other. I didn’t quite understand this separation.

From the other side of the room, My mother beamed with pride. I saw her smiling over at me. I saw uncles and aunts whom I had seen in years wearing white clothing. My sister and her husband were present. Then the endowment presentation began.

endowment ceremony

The presentation of the creation was disappointing. This was the endowment? Then we started receiving handshakes, making signs and learning death penalties. I was blown away. This seemed like a secret combination to me. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. It seemed that the Book of Mormon had warned against such secret combinations which used handshakes. I was a bit confused. I looked over at my mom and she had a nervous apprehensive look on her face. I understood why. I knew that at the end of the session I would have to repeat all of these handshakes and password. So I focused myself on remembering all that I could.

Slowly, the presentation dragged on. The elderly temple workers performed their roles. I thought it was strange that an actor played the part of the devil, who seemed to have a significant role in the presentation. I was somewhat fascinated by his apron and the symbols on it. I wondered what they represented. In later years they changed the apron Satan wears to a plain grey one. I guess all those symbols on it drew too much attention.

We moved from room to room. By the time the presentation was nearly complete I was frightened that I hadn’t really understood my religion sufficiently. What had I missed that had failed to prepare me for the sacredness which I was not seeing? I felt worthy going in, but the temple didn’t feel sacred.

During that morning, I had wondered how many in the session were deceased people. I really did believe that there was no separation of living and dead in the temple. I had assumed that angels were there too.

At the end of the session, we were told that we would be presented to the Lord at the veil. I had missed the explanation that just a temple worker would be performing this part. My name was called and I was escorted up some steps to the veil. I looked for Jesus’ hand to reach through the curtain. My heart was beating quickly. Out came the hand of an old man, with no scar from the crucifixtion. Within moments I realized that Jesus really wasn’t there.

I repeated all the information back, making the handshakes and giving the secret passwords with the help of a temple worker. I passed through the veil into the beautiful celestial room of the Salt Lake City temple. It was full of people dressed as unusual as I was. What an eerie sight. My parents were already there. My mom was shining as her two sons came to her. My dad didn’t respond much but seemed to want to talk about the room decor instead of my experience.

Everyone was happy. But inside I was confused. The experience was different than what I had anticipated. My mother explained that I needed to go often to understand it better. After a few minutes, we left and returned to the locker room where I shed my robes for my suit, attired now in my garments.

When we left, I was afraid.

Eventually, the strangeness of the temple wore off. Repeated visits makes it all seem normal. But one thing never changes, the look of people’s faces in the session company. As a temple worker later in my life, I would often look at the faces of those attending. Nearly all of them had an empty look. No smiles, no interest, no nothing. We all just sat there enduring to the end. I also saw the nervous looks of mothers whose sons attended for the first time. It always reminded me of that day in 1985.

Read the history of the LDS Temple Endowment:

The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship

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