Reader Insights: Are there problem points in Temple Prep?

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My little sister is about to go to the temple for the first time.

I have a strong testimony of the temple. But when I went the first time, I was shocked—why hadn’t anyone helped me prepare for this? 

I want to make sure there are no glaring gaps in my sister’s preparation. So I’m looking for problem points. I have two questions for you. Please leave a comment below—even one sentence will do:

What were your main frustrations with the temple preparation you received before your first time?

What do you wish your teachers and parents had done differently?

Now, this is a sacred topic, so tread lightly. (No spoilers, please.)

I am eager to hear your thoughts!

 

 

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J Washburn has authored three books, including DEAR JEFF: Straightforward Temple Prep from an Older Brother. He also owns and operates HelamanGallery.com, a gallery of LDS temple photography. If you'd like to get to know him better, receive some free ebooks, and maybe win a temple print, subscribe to The INFORMANT, his personal monthly newsletter.

38 comments on “Reader Insights: Are there problem points in Temple Prep?

  1. Chris Gordon says:

    My best recommendation is to think of the official temple prep materials as merely an excuse to start the conversation. There is so much that can be appropriately and reverently discussed about the specifics of how the endowment works (even just logistically!) that can serve to de-mystify the experience. Preparing new patrons for the what of the endowment can free them up to begin to find the why.

  2. Chris says:

    My first time through, and even subsequent times left me frustrated for a multiple reasons. 1) It’s said that within the temple you’ll be making the most important covenants of your life, but yet you’re not allowed to know what they are UNTIL you’re making them. When that time came around, I didn’t know if I wanted to covenant to what was being said, but I couldn’t leave because of the social pressure. In my opinion, that’s extremely unfair.

    2) Honestly, nobody ever told me how ritualistic it was going to be. I think people need to be prepared for that, and it definitely took me by surprise. Everybody in prep said it’s great, it’s the best experience you’ll ever have, you make wonderful promises… but we can’t tell you what they are or what they mean…

    If I could recommend one thing, it would be to demystify the experience and bring it down to a practical level. I don’t feel like anybody ever did that for me, and it would have been nice. I would move for greater openness in what happens, and (I know I’m really going against the grain here), I 100% believe that everyone should be required to read and learn about the covenants you’ll be making and what you’ll be doing so that nothing catches you by surprise.

    1. Travis W. says:

      ha ha. chris, this is great. and i’m with you too. i was ready to commit 100%, but for some reason it just didn’t click with me that that’s what i was going to the temple to do. it’s a big deal, but i went in pretty clueless about it all. good comment. : )

    2. I’ve thought about this issue myself and I realized that for every covenant we make in the temple, we will have been prepared to make it simply by living the gospel, keeping the commandments, and keeping the standards in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet.

  3. hyrum says:

    I honestly think the inclusion of a description-even if just an overview of the physical steps taken would be helpful – it helped me. I had a good bishop who prepped me like that, reverently discussing “you do this then this” helped me feel more calm. Then having the guide taking you through also go through and be mindful of you. I love some people but they are oblivious. I started pannicking during my endowment w the clothing and wasn’t sure. My now stake pres saw my panic – put his hand on my shoulder and quietly walked me through it. Support is everything.

  4. Caitlin says:

    I went through the temple to receive my endowment just about a year ago. One thing that my bishopric did that really helped me was going through the covenants that are made (in a very intimate, sacred setting), as well as going through what happens in the initiatory. The only people who were in the conversation were those who had temple recommends and were ready to go through for the first time, as well as endowed members. It helped me to feel a lot calmer about the experience in general. The best piece of advice I was given was to just focus on the feelings I felt rather than what was going on for the first few times I went. I love the temple now and am so grateful I went through when I did.

  5. I think it would be perfectly appropriate to discuss the idea of symbolism. It’s completely okay to share that there are special symbolic clothing, and gestures. You can easily use things done outside the temple as a point of reference. For instance: The symbolism of the sacrament seems familiar to us so we take for granted just how out-of-place it might seem to another culture. Just as each part of the sacrament has symbolic meaning, so do temple ordinances. I would also reference scriptures from the old testament that speak of washings and anointing, and clothing with hold robes. Explain that these sort of things are carried over into our modern temple ceremonies. I think it would also be appropriate to share the covenants we’re expected to be willing to make.

  6. Joe says:

    All of these are good points, just make sure to point out that Satan is always trying to copy God’s way. Some of the practices in the temple might seem weird, but only because satan has tried to duplicate things that go on inside the temple with similar, cheapened imitations in different social groups, sects, cults, what have you. The first time I went through the temple, I was convinced we were a secret combination!

    1. Chris says:

      Joe, how has Satan tried to imitate the temple? Sorry, but I don’t understand this thinking. Please explain.

  7. Mike says:

    I’ve been teaching the church curriculum for the Temple Preparation course for a couple years now in our ward. I invite any members of the ward to the class, endowed or not. I start off by spending the first 6 weeks covering the plan of salvation in detail. Members are generally surprised at how much of what goes on in the temple is in the scriptures. We explore these scriptures and discuss the symbolism behind them.

    I then cover ordinances and covenants in detail including ritual, symbolism, and other key ingredients with focus on the covenant. I like to use ordinances they are already familiar with to help them identify the similarities between them.

    Then we talk about symbolism and use talks given by general authorities to help us understand how to interpret symbols.

    I then review the Mosaic Tabernacle in detail outlining the symbolism and their meanings using the knowledge learned from previous lessons.

    Finally I give them some practical instruction concerning their first visit such as what to bring and what to expect without getting into the sacred details.

    I’ve found that using this approach, which is guided by the curriculum to be very effective at helping individuals grasp the wonder and beauty of the temple.

    1. Travis W. says:

      mike, this sounds super thorough–i’d like to attend : ) how many weeks is the whole course then? (i’d assumed temple prep was usually 6 weeks total.)

  8. Kjirsten says:

    I LOVE the temple, and feel like there were many giant “Ah-HA!” moments my first time through as well as,” Huh, that’s not so different.” and a few, “Well, that’s strange. Guess I’ll have to ponder that one.”

    “Temple Prep” as outlined in my local singles ward was severely lacking. “Uh, so read the D&C…and um…it’s really great. and Um…read The Holy Temple…and Um…yeah.”

    It helped to have my Mom say, “Okay listen…there’s been some changes through the years, and it’s really Masonic. Just remember as we go through the story- sometimes you’re representing Eve, and sometimes you’re “the company”—sometimes you’re you.”

    In the times of the early Saints, they stopped and sang hymns, and there were scripts about the evils of Missouri, and several other period prejudices named–which thankfully have been removed so we can focus on the covenants we’re making.

    At first I was worried about these giant, promises with so much weight attached to them, but then I remembered, I’ve been living this life already. I’m not making any promise that I haven’t heard of, or wouldn’t be willing to make before I came to the Temple. Okay–this is fine!

    My brother, thankfully went through before me, and said, “Read lots of C.S. Lewis– especially Narnia. Read about symbols. Read about Covenants.” —which was a greater help than those funny glances by the previously endowed in my religion classes when reading a chapter–”Ohhhh! That’s in the Temple! but…shhhh, we’re not going to say anything.”

    I was amazed at how many phrases were familiar, and how much ritual was there. I had to take it with a big grain of Masonic salt, and just go with the flow.

    Also, I wish there was a debriefing after the ceremony–where you could ask questions. I did, with my own parents, in the Celestial room, thank goodness–but I don’t know that many people have that chance afterwards.

    I’m glad I live in a place where I get to enjoy and ponder the Temple symbols many times over and over, and not—because of travel expense–go once in a lifetime!

    1. Travis W. says:

      ha ha. “read lots of c.s. lewis.” brilliant!

  9. Kjirsten says:

    Oh, and sorry for writing a novel there… Guess you struck a chord.

  10. The Monk says:

    After teaching Temple Prep, I decided we had a problem. Instead of recreating the wheel every time someone asked or posted on the topic, I just wrote up some ideas and made some thematic bibliographies. See
    The contents of the covenants have been discussed in several places, and a general outline of the whole endowment was published by Deseret Book, sources I cite and draw upon. Hope it’s helpful.

    1. Travis W. says:

      To the Monk, I say, impressive site. I couldn’t, however, find the outline of the endowment book from Deseret Book. What’s the title?

      (And I apologize that our site is eating your link. Not sure why, but I’ll ask the head honcho.)

  11. The Monk says:

    Ate my comment with link, just click on my name.

  12. Travis W. says:

    Thanks, everyone, for your awesome comments! Let me sum up what I’m getting out of this so far:

    * Don’t set your sights too low–there’s a lot you can study, and you SHOULD.
    * You should have an idea–an idea, mind you–of the type of covenants and the types of ceremonies before you go. There’s not reason it should be a shock.
    * You need a caring guide to help you prepare–it’s not a great journey to make alone.
    * Focus on the spirit–after all, it’s the only way we can begin to overcome our mortal shortcomings.
    * Understand the importance and the balance in symbolism–we don’t want to be idolatrous toward symbols, yet we can still embrace them righteously, and gain a lot of strength from them too.
    * The adversary will try to make you stumble at this step, just as much (or more) than at others throughout your life.
    * Have an outline for your study–and rely on ancient temple and tabernacles ceremonies as a way to inform the modern ones. But look at general conference talks and great literature too.
    * Be aware that you’ll get to have a debriefing afterwards, so don’t stress when you don’t understand.

    What other points need to be made? Or what points to people want to shout a HEAR, HEAR for?

  13. The Monk says:

    It’s less explicit than I recall (just reskimmed it), but it’s the Ludlow book with a chapter on the temple,
    http://www.mormonmonastery.org/what-happens-in-mormon-temples/

    More, which I don’t cite on that page-
    “After receiving instruction concerning the creation, the Fall of Adam, and the early laws given him by God, we can follow Adam’s example and claim allegiance to God, promising to obey him and covenanting to be willing to sacrifice our time and talents to building his kingdom. As the narrative progresses to include teachings from Christ’s original apostles, we covenant to keep the laws of the gospel and to work together in a spirit of unity. Two particular commandments represent our worthy intentions— the law of chastity and the law of consecration, signifying the degree of purity and commitment that God desires of his dedicated disciples. 14
    Having pledged our all to God and his kingdom on earth, we are then privileged to participate in prayer circles surrounding the temple altars and to receive certain keys in the form of specialized instruction necessary to return back to God’s presence. Prayer circles are collective prayers petitioning God’s blessings for mankind, his Church and its leaders and missionaries, and for those with special needs, particularly those whose names are on the temple prayer rolls (consisting of names submitted by those attending the temple). “

  14. Melissa Petrella says:

    There wasn’t a temple prep class where I lived so my parents were my temple prep teachers. My main frustration was that everything was rushed. I was getting ready to go on my mission and from the time that I got my call to the time I had to report to the MTC was less than a month so I felt like everything was so rushed. I have since helped a couple of temple prep classes and I sometimes feel like they are rushed. I think a combination of the class and going through it with someone else who has been to the temple would be helpful. Also the best advice I got was to go as soon as possible after the first time because there is so much to take in the first time you go to the temple.

  15. Laurie says:

    It helped me that someone told me that if I had any questions to go ask the temple president. Something bothered me after my 4th or 5th time through, and I went to the temple president’s office. He cleared it up for me so simply and beautifully that it was a “well, duh,” moment for me.

    1. Brenda says:

      I was endowed on the 17 August 1999′ the same time as my daughter. My husband and I were sealed and then my daughter and her husband were sealed and then my daughter was sealed to my husband and myself. We all had been for the Temple Preparation course, but there is a lot left out. We were all very fortunate to have escorts to help us. It was the most exciting time of my life, although we were very over-whelmed, but did not let that stand in our way. The best way is to continue to visit the Temple regularly and your understanding will increase. My husband and I became oridances workers in the South Africa Johannesburg Temple in October 2009 and finished off in September 2012. The best experience of my life and I was able to learn and understand so much more as we covenant not to discuss these sacred ordinances outside the Temple.

  16. Blain says:

    Temple prep has improved since I first went — in those days, the curriculum had almost nothing to say about the Temple. The newer version that came out in the mid-90s did talk about the Temple a bit.

    I’ve found that the quality of the preparation depends greatly on how it is taught. There are very, very few things in the endowment that we covenant not to divulge outside the temple, and erring on the side of extreme caution has made things seem more mysterious and left people less prepared than necessary. Talking about the content of those covenants (which are not among the things we covenant not to speak about) for those preparing to go is a very good idea. I know women who were very upset with the covenant to obey their husbands (and, yes, I know, there are conditions on that) to the point that it’s hard for them to return, if they do at all.

    Some conversation about life-after-endowment also helps — garment dos and don’ts, particularly.

  17. Joel Headley says:

    Walk her through everything – start to finish, leaving out the *very* limited stuff you’re asked not to share. Again, that’s a very limited set of things. You can recite nearly every word of the ritual along with describing what, in basic terms, they be asked to do. That includes the convenants being made.

    Finally, talk about why you love the temple and if there’s something that moves you about it, and if she could listen to that same thing.

  18. Nancy says:

    Edward and I went through for the first time together, and if Grandpa hadn’t been with Edward I think he would have bolted and said “See ya later, good luck with all of that!”. For new converts who haven’t been “temple prepped” their whole lives I think it’s especially difficult. Afterwards Edward wanted a few days just to think about things, and decide how he felt about it all. (No contact from me or any of my Idahoan relatives ;) My Mom was my escort, and she and Grandpa couldn’t figure out why Edward would be having a hard time with any of it. Your Mom (Trav) was such a huge comfort to me. She said she completely understood why he would be shocked and that she was shocked the first time she went through too. I greatly appreciated her honesty.

    For me, I think focusing on the kindness the workers exhibit it their countenance and smiling eyes, and the peaceful feeling in the temple and on the grounds in general, will help subdue any nerves felt over the unfamiliarity of the rest of the process.

  19. Jeff says:

    Your sister should be explicitly informed of each covenant she is expected to make. There is no reason these should not be revealed to her as she prepares. It will make her feel much more comfortable in the temple to know everything that will be expected.

    Someone should demonstrate how to wear the clothing the night before she goes through. It will go much more smoothly and provide a context where a real explanation can occur. There is no reason not to do this.

    You should explain straight up, holding back only select details, what will happen and what should be expected. This is certainly an appropriate context to respectfully and privately discuss the ongoings of the temple and prepare your sister to understand and receive well what is happening.

    I agree 100% that most people don’t do anything sufficient to prepare for the temple. My bishop made me go to temple prep before I went through and I found it trite and honestly rather useless. Nothing we hadn’t heard hundreds of times previous thereto was taught. The only thing I learned was the last day, when the teacher told us there was a lot of room for individual deviation in the clothing, as long as it met broad standards like being all white and opaque. I had assumed the clothing rules would be very strict and only approved cuts from Church Distribution would be allowed.

    I don’t necessarily think temple prep is the right venue for this discussion anyway. Like most sacred, eternal things, it is best handled privately and intimately by close family members. If such a person does not exist in one’s life, the responsibility should fall to the bishop or other immediately presiding patriarch. The amount of people who recklessly discharge their responsibility to provide preparation and context and comfort is extreme and really disheartening. Don’t let this happen to you.

  20. Tamra Jackson says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I am sending this to my daughter. My grandson is 18 and hopefully will be going on a mission when he graduates from high school. I think this will help HER help HIM.

  21. anonymous says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post since I found it yesterday, because I’m someone who had a flat-out awful experience. And that statement makes me feel like I’m sugar-coating the experience.

    The only useful preparation I was given was that my mom went over the clothes and the order they get put on. I didn’t even know I needed to bring garments. I thought that that was something you could only get after you had been though the actual ceremony. Everything that isn’t explicitly not to be discussed should be discussed.

    I had no idea what covenants I would be making and was panicking over not being able to make an informed decision when the ominous warning to leave now if you are not prepared to make such covenants was given at the beginning. I knew it was going to be highly ritualistic and with a large portion of my family being Catholic, I had been to enough high mass services that I knew that wasn’t going to be an issue for me, but I think people who didn’t have that exposure ought to have some sort of discussion about high church versus low church styles and how that applies to the church.

    I came dangerously close to vomiting when the hearken covenant came up. Dead serious. I wonder to this day if someone had just *told* me, warned me beforehand if it would have been better, if the shock of something that was completely incongruous to everything I knew and understood about God wasn’t part of why I had such a vitriolic reaction. I know some people don’t have a problem with that but I am not one of those people. *IF* I can bring myself to go, I can’t not cry. 3 years later and I still hate it.

    I felt so, so alone after. Everything was rushed. Nobody offered to sit down and talk with me in the celestial room. Nobody said, “I know this part is different, or new, and here’s what I’ve thought about it” etc. Everyone assumed that it was all rainbows and unicorns. They looked at me like I had just won Olympic gold and I’m standing there wondering what on earth I had just done and what I had gotten into. I didn’t even get a chance to even try to enjoy the celestial room, not really, since we had a lunch reservation to make.

    I know people find the temple to be a wonderful, spiritually uplifting thing. Awesome. I’m happy for you (honest). I wanted *so badly* to have that sanctuary. I’m telling you my experience so you can do your best to prepare your sister and also I hope you can prepare for a possible negative reaction. Please be her safe person. I don’t want someone else to have my experience.

    1. Travis W. says:

      Anonymous, I’m so sorry that your first experience was rough, and, even worse, that those feelings have lingered. I hope this forum has helped you feel less alone. And I hope you can find a way to resolve these conflicted feelings.

      God loves you, and so do your friends and fellow saints. : )

  22. Kjirsten says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    You’re NOT alone. I have dear friends and relatives who have had your same reaction. I’m so sorry you didn’t have a friendly face to turn to–and say, “Whoa–what was that?” and talk about it in the Celestial room.

    The “Hearken” issue is something I’ve pondered a lot too–and found a lot of comfort in this talk: http://empoweringldswomen.blogspot.com/2011/09/two-trees-revisited.html

    Hope this helps a bit.

    Feel free to message me, for more on that topic.

    And…Who knows? Maybe I’ll be sitting next to you in a future session :) Hope so.

  23. Another Anon says:

    The “hearkening” has ruins the experience for me. Hope your sister does better with it all. I am pretty much checked out at this point.

  24. Another Anon says:

    Sorry – “ruined”

  25. Christie says:

    I know this was a while ago, but I just wanted to mention that for me a big help was the fact that I had done Family History research and had felt how much my ancestors wanted the opportunity to make the covenants I was making.

  26. BJEF says:

    I feel for those of you that have had disappointing experiences attending the Temple for the first time. It sounds like there is great disparity in how Temple preparation classes are conducted. I applaud those who take the time to educate those preparing for Temple blessings in a way that is informative and spiritually enlightening.

    I am a convert of nearly 40 years and attended the Temple for the first time shortly after I was eligible to do so. I wish I could tell you that my Temple prep class was a great experience, but honestly I don’t remember much about it. I do remember that my first experience in the Temple was a bit overwhelming, but I still enjoyed it.

    Fast forward to the present. I’ve been a Temple Ordinance worker for nearly two years. I look at this issue a bit differently now than I would have in the past. While a good Temple prep class can do wonders to assist those getting ready to take out their Endowment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be totally prepared. I have had the opportunity to be an assistant to the Shift Coordinator. The Shift Coordinator is the person who is responsible for the smooth running of the Baptistry, Initiatories and Endowments during one of the shifts at the Temple. As an Assistant to the Coordinator, I have had the opportunity to run all three areas I mentioned. As Ordinance workers, our main objective is to make sure that the Patrons (everyone who attends for their own work or work of ancestors) have a good, positive experience. We are counseled constantly by the Temple Presidency to make sure to help wherever we are needed and to try to make the experience as positive as possible. Some Ordinance workers are a bit more observant than others, some are a bit more spiritual than others and some (unfortunately) are oblivious to many things. We are still humans and prone to making mistakes just like everyone. I can tell you this though, that all of the workers I’ve had the pleasure to be around really want to do the best they can do.

    When I was running the Initiatories, I always made sure to take a few minutes and let the brethren that were going through for themselves know that they would be exposed to quite a bit of information during their first time in the Temple. I told them that the main goal of the day was to feel of the spirit while in the Temple. Don’t try to remember everything, don’t try to figure out all they would be exposed to. I would also tell them not to worry about doing everything perfect, that is why there are so many Ordinance Workers in the Temple, to help them get through it. I usually finished up my little talk by telling them that one of the reasons we are encouraged to attend the Temple regularly is so we can learn the things we need to know little by little, step by step. I’m sure there are people out there who can remember all they are exposed to, but not many. For me, it took several years to get to the point where I felt comfortable going through an Endowment session. Even after all these years, I am still learning new things.

    Last thing, I don’t understand what about the “Hearken” covenant that would make someone want to vomit. If you read Ephesians 5: 22-24, it is very similar to that covenant. There really isn’t anything in it that is foreign to the gospel so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. That’s my take on what was written, I’m not trying to be a jerk, just curious. Perhaps someone could enlighten me.

  27. CommenterFour says:

    My first time was at the MTC as a missionary. I don’t remember any temple prep. My home teaching companion back home told me it might seem very different from church services. That’s the only prep I remember.
    If I were to do it all over, I wish someone would have directed me to Pres. McKay’s temple annex sermon (at the byu site). He talks about how the ceremony didn’t make sense to him at first, either. Then he explains the highly symbolic nature of it all.

  28. William Greenhouse says:

    The best preparation I received the day before my Endowment was a member reminding me, “Just remember tomorrow, we ARE a peculiar people.”

  29. Seanette says:

    When my husband and I were getting ready for our endowments and sealing (I’m not sure I recommend doing both in one day, but that was how the time/distance thing worked out for us at that time), we took our ward’s Temple Prep class (taught by our bishop and his wife), then had a very nice and helpful conversation with our stake patriarch and his wife (they asked us to come over for that), and my now parents-in-law were quite helpful as well (my husband was BIC, but had been inactive until around the time we met, I was a convert). Having some idea of the mechanics of the session helped a lot, as did the info we got about what exactly takes place in the initiatory (which could startle some people if not prepared). I’d also been advised by my RS president that reading the Pearl of Great Price would be useful, and she was right.

    As far as the “hearken to one’s husband” issue, maybe I’m just brainwashed (as a lot of LDS women I meet online seem to want to think), but I’ve always found it in-line with Scripture, and there is the caveat about how obedient he is to the Lord. :)

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