In Kensington, Maryland, off the Capital Beltway, through a winding residential community, nestled at the end of a wooded area is a carefully tended spiritual oasis, a pinnacle of light that sparks interest, sparks curiosity, and exudes promise. It’s the Washington DC Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that I was able to visit recently.
The greeters were very gracious, friendly and hospitable. I was touring on a rainy day when canopy covered walkways, umbrellas and escorts were everywhere. The agenda, logistics, and leadership seemed like a well-choreographed ballet, with no glitches, pitfalls, or mistakes. Our tour was led by Elder David A. Bednar, the outstanding teacher and presenter who, along with Elder Randall Bennett, introduced us to history and storytelling.
Before the tour, each person watched a video about the history and purpose of the church. The video message from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, watering his eyes as he talks about heaven and says he can’t imagine heaven without his family, also brightened my eyes and allowed me to see heaven a little imagine differently. More importantly, it has challenged me to think about the work I still need to do on earth to see my family in heaven.
The design and details of the seven-storey building are endowed with ecclesiastical excellence. The soft shades of blue, gold, yellow and sand convey a sense of calm. Each room is immaculate, pristine, and immaculate, expressing the temple’s distinctiveness and sacredness. From the stunning crystal chandeliers, Corinthian moldings, plush rugs and granite floors, the finest resources and craftsmanship have been brought together to bring a heavenly expression to God and to each person who enters. The temple feels special and you feel special in it.
I beheld the beauty of the artwork that evoked feelings of peace, joy and unity. The artwork is a series of different depictions of Jesus embracing people of every color and hue. Some artworks were presented in beautiful baroque frames, while other pieces didn’t need a frame because of their breathtaking beauty.
In the sealing room, where marriages are performed, simplicity reigned: an altar in the center of the room and flanked by chairs for witnesses. To reinforce the symbolism of the eternal bond, there was an infinity mirror on each side of the wall, perfectly reflecting infinity.
The great revelation for me was vicarious baptism for deceased ancestors, where a family member can be baptized on behalf of a deceased member who was not baptized before death.
This principle made a lot of sense to me because when my father died I heard his sister say, “I don’t think he had attended church or been baptized,” and I was amazed.
I wondered because although I didn’t grow up with my father, I never got to know him, go to church, relate to God or even pray. I thought he was a good man who, like all of us, had flaws and was trying to make things right on the path of life. I thought he did his best as a husband and as a parent. My memories of him are fond. But my aunt’s words haunted my soul. I wondered if I would see my father again. After more than 30 years, proxy baptism for deceased ancestors has helped me to reconcile the turmoil I’ve carried for decades.
While the grandeur of the Latter-day Saint temple may be a cultural norm, for me it was a majestic experience that inspired me spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. My only comparable experience was when I visited the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy, where I saw Michelangelo’s statue of David and all I could do was stare with tears streaming from my eyes.
As I left the temple, I realized that I had not heard a speech, lecture, or sermon, but I left inspired. There was no prayer or choir, but I felt peace. To the Renovation Visionaries – thank you for being a vessel of the Lord and creating a special space that invites us to come closer to God. There is an obvious presence in this temple that has nothing to do with the beautifully curated rooms and has everything to do with the holiness of God.
Rev. Theresa A. Dear is a National Board Member of the NAACP and a Deseret News contributor.