Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What Really Happens in "Mormon" Temples?

If you’ve ever seen an LDS temple, chances are you’ve wondered what it is and what goes on inside. Or you may have even heard some rumor about the “strange” or “mysterious” rituals that take place there. Growing up a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve probably heard them all; and I’d agree with anyone who said that some of them are, well…pretty weird. 

The truth is, there are a lot of misconceptions about LDS temples, including the idea that what goes on there is some big secret. On the contrary, an entire section of the church’s official website is devoted to answering questions about temples and what happens inside them. But my purpose here is not to review all of the FAQs of temples; there are plenty of other resources offering that kind of information (a few of these are listed at the bottom of this post). Instead, I’d like to take a more personal approach by sharing some of my own experiences inside the temple and the blessings that have come through those experiences.

Participating in Baptisms for the Dead

My first experience inside the temple occurred when I was 12-years-old and went with my youth group to perform “baptisms for the dead” in the Orlando, Florida temple. Now before you get any strange ideas, let me say that we do not baptize corpses in temples (that’s one of those strange rumors). Rather, we are baptized on behalf of our ancestors who died without that ordinance. Then, those waiting on the other side have the opportunity to accept or reject it.

I don’t remember a lot about that first experience, but I do recall a strong feeling that what I was doing was right. Coming out of the water, I understood for the first time what the ancient prophet Obadiah meant when he referred to “saviors on Mount Zion” (see Obadiah 1:21). Christ taught that baptism is essential for salvation (John 3:5). But being a merciful, loving God, the Lord has provided a way for those who, through no fault of their own, never received baptism while on the earth. In latter times, just as in biblical times (see 1 Corinthians 15:29), He has “authorized baptisms to be performed by proxy for them.”[i] What a great honor and responsibility to participate, even as a young man, in an ordinance that very literally offers salvation to another individual. Working alongside the Lord in His work to save His children—that’s what really happens in temples.

Receiving My Endowment

Several years and youth trips later, I went to the temple, this time in Washington, D.C., for another purpose—to receive my endowment. The temple endowment is a beautifully simple, but symbolic ordinance where “we are taught about the purpose of life, the mission and Atonement of Jesus Christ, and Heavenly Father’s plan for His children.”[ii] As part of the ordinance, we make covenants to keep His commandments and live according to His plan. We then “gain a glimpse of what it will be like to live in His presence” as we pass from the ordinance room to the celestial room (for images of these rooms, see Inside the Temple).[iii]

As long as I live, I will never forget the feeling I had when I passed from the ordinance room and saw my parents smiling, waiting for me in the celestial room. I was overcome with a flood of emotion as I embraced them, reflecting on the symbolism—that someday, through God’s grace and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, I may pass from this life to see my loved ones awaiting my arrival on the other side and live with them for eternity in God's presence. Learning about our potential and committing to live God’s plan—that’s what really happens in temples.

Being Sealed to my Family

As an adult, I have returned to the temple many times to participate in additional ordinances, including proxy endowments for my deceased ancestors. But two of the most sacred and meaningful experiences of my life have come in connection to the sealing ordinance. I first participated directly in a sealing in February 2011, when my wife and I were sealed (or married) in the St. Louis, Missouri temple “for time and all eternity.” Then last January, after finalizing the adoption of our darling daughter, we were blessed to take her with us to the temple in Houston, Texas to be sealed as a family.

During those sealings, I knelt across an altar from the love of my life and, with her and my daughter’s hands in mine, we made additional covenants together. In return, we were promised that if we were true and faithful to the covenants we made to each other and to God that day, we would be together as a family not just in this life, but also in the next. In my short time on this earth, nothing has quite compared to the sweet joy and excitement I felt during those two experiences. Knowing that not even death can separate me from my family is one of the greatest blessings and comforts in my life; and one that I and others who have been to the temple desire all to receive. Incidentally, that is one of the major reasons we send missionaries to share the message of the restored gospel throughout the world.

Binding families together, in happiness, for eternity—that’s what really happens in temples.

Additional Resources:

Joseph Harrison is the proud father of an adorable little girl (with two more on the way!) and the husband of an incredible and accomplished wife. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration and worked for several years in management consulting before coming to Texas A&M, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in strategic management. His passions include his family, the scriptures, serving others, teaching, and college football. His favorite teams include Clemson and Texas A&M Go Tigers & Gig 'em Ags! 


  1. Dear Joseph Harrison.

    Such an honest and beautiful Testimony about the Temple. I am a member since i was 16, am now 63 yrs old and love the Gospel of Jesus Christ even stronger now. Your love of The Lord and the Plan of Salvation and your love of family, show in your writing. Thank you for passing on the Gospel and the "REAL" truth of the Temple instead of what you hear from those who spread false witness, and have there own agenda. Sad really, trying to kill the truth of The One and Only Jesus Christ who gave His life to be able to Come HOME. Thank you. Again, lovely.

  2. Beautifully explained. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for that lovely explanation!

  4. I will be sharing this. It is such a happy story. Thanks for thinking about and writing it. (I'm Jefra's friend.)

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Glad to know this is being shared!

  6. As we know, the goings on in the temple are more sacred than "secret" and you are to be complimented on emphasizing how "sacred" it really is.
    Thank You

  7. Thank you for sharing this article. I wanted to share my own experience using your post as a template. Changing the pictures, putting my own experiences in but leaving in the explanations about ordinances etc. Would that be ok with you?

    1. Hey Rennie, I replied to this on the Google+ post. Thanks again for your interest in the article!