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Insights from a Temple Worker (+What It's Like to Work Behind the Scenes)

Growing up and doing baptisms for the dead, I never thought much about all of the people dressed in white who gave me directions and performed the ordinances in the temple. But these faithful members actually come in a variety of ages and volunteer their time and resources in a miraculous way. Serving in the temple has been a valuable blessing in my life that I didn’t know was a possibility for me to do at this stage of my life. However, I have served as an ordinance worker for over a year and a half now and have seen the blessings in my life as a result of it. Because of this calling, I am frequently asked about what it's like and what I do during my six-hour shift. Here are a few insights and answers to some of the most common questions I've found people wonder about working at the temple.

What kind of training/preparation do you have to do to become a temple worker?

I think one of the first myths of serving in the temple is that you have to be retired. Though many temple workers are older members of the Church, there are many younger workers as well. Being a temple worker is actually a calling, and those who work in the temple are set apart for it by a member of the temple presidency. Though you do need to be endowed, if serving in the temple is something you are interested in, talk to your bishop and see what opportunities to serve are available in your temple district.

Because each temple is designed a little differently, workers themselves are organized to meet the unique needs of each House of the Lord. However, the ordinances always remain consistent and exact in every temple.

There are different types of temple workers, from those who volunteer a few hours when they are able to those who volunteer in 4-6 hour shifts every week. Training is a regular part of temple service as well. In the Salt Lake Temple, for example, workers gather before their shift to receive spiritual instruction as well as procedural training from temple leaders. There are many temporal things to know, from how to direct guests for a sealing to where the nearest first aid kit is, but our primary focus is learning to become better tools in the Lord’s hands by keeping his Holy House a place of spiritual refuge and learning for those who visit it.

Another thing to be aware of is that, while temples workers are happy to answer questions about which way the exit is or where to return rented clothing, questions about doctrine and symbolism in temple ordinances are best answered through personal study, revelation, and communication with the Spirit. Temple workers do not get special training on the meaning of ordinances or the unique symbolism in different temples. We may have discovered a few personal insights for ourselves through our own study and inspiration, but we are learning, just like you. So if a worker refers you to the Holy Ghost for an answer to your question, you'll know why.

What are the most memorable stories or experiences you have had?

Working in the temple each week has given me plenty of sweet memories and inspiring experiences. One of my favorites took place over the course of a few months. On one of my shifts, I was assigned to help a sister who was going through the temple for the first time. I could tell by her bright smile and humble spirit that she was ready for this next level of spiritual education. When our time together was finished, I was excited for her and hoped she would love the temple as much as I did. I did not expect to see her again, but a few weeks later, I was substituting on another day when I noticed someone who looked familiar. It was this sweet sister I had helped, surrounded by her parents and holding the hand of her new husband after completing a temple ordinance together. I continue to see her every so often at the temple, and I can’t help but feel a peaceful happiness knowing that she not only made temple covenants but that she and her husband continue to make them a priority in their lives and marriage.

I have had many other touching experiences, from watching a 50-year-old woman cry tears of joy after finally being sealed to her deceased parents, to observing a newly married couple pause together to reverently remember the significance of the temple on their wedding day before going outside to greet their excited families.

I have felt the presence of deceased individuals whose work is being done and have been astonished by the love and care of Church members, represented by the countless names left on the temple prayer rolls. But the most memorable thing I’ve observed is that no matter the language, age, or race of those attending, the temple is the great equalizer—a place where the common languages are always love and the Spirit.

What goes on behind the scenes? 

Temples vary in size and location, as does the way they are organized and the number of workers needed to keep them running. But however big or small the temple is, it does take a surprising number of people to make sure that ordinances are administered correctly and reverently every day that a temple is open. As one of the biggest temples, the Salt Lake Temple requires hundreds of volunteer workers, many of whom work multiple shifts a week, to keep the administration of ordinances orderly and sacred. And that doesn’t even include those who are paid to do the endless loads of laundry, housekeeping responsibilities, and maintenance work required to keep the actual building clean and functioning.

Temple workers are responsible for a variety of things. Aside from our primary responsibilities of reverently administering ordinances, there are workers who give directions, help first-time temple goers, and coordinate sealings. Some take care of children while they are waiting to be sealed to their parents, and others record ordinances and restock clothing shelves. In the Salt Lake Temple, we could do anything from folding laundry to taking a new bride and groom to their sealing room to replacing water pitchers, assigning lockers, or helping hand out clothing in the baptistry. No job is unimportant, and all workers take turns with these responsibilities.

Many may not recognize the enormous sacrifice and effort many temple workers make to serve in the Lord’s house, or the attention to detail and organization that is required to truly make it a “house of order.” And that’s okay. For many of us who serve each week, the temple has become an inseparable part of our lives, and we are the happiest when those we are serving in the Lord’s house recognize and focus more on the Spirit and the ordinances than those who administer them.

What are some insights you’ve heard from others or have gained yourself that have helped you see the temple in a new way?

Some things that I have learned in the temple are a result of my own pondering, while other insights have come by observing and listening to other more seasoned temple workers, but here are a few of them that stand out the most to me:

Record Keeping and the Law of Witnesses

We know from scripture how important it is to keep records and have multiple witnesses, and the temple is no different. Every temple ordinance is carefully kept track of, and completed ordinances are always immediately recorded. There are always at least two ordinance workers observing that ordinances are done correctly and another two to confirm that they are recorded correctly. Records are an important part of God’s church and our own identity, and they are especially watched over in the House of the Lord.

Along with the careful recording of ordinances, one thing that I personally have found value in is recording the things that I learn at the temple. Obviously, there are things that should be kept sacred and be recorded only in our hearts and minds. But moments of insight, answered prayers, or a unique interaction with a temple worker or another patron are ways to help you remember the special, heavenly connections you’ve had in the temple, as well as pass on your love and testimony of the temple to future family members.

Connections Between Ordinances

Another thing I have learned is the power of thinking about connections. Because temple ordinances each require some time, most of us go with the intent and time to do only one. And while that is still a wonderful service, sometimes doing them all separately makes it easy to forget that they build on each other and work together. Take a few extra minutes after an endowment session to think about how the covenants work together, or visit the celestial room after completing initiatory or sealing work to ponder and reflect. One thing I would like to do someday to help me understand these connections is to find a family name and do all of the ordinances for that person in one day. But no matter how or where you do it, thinking about why each ordinance is needed before or after another will bring new insights and answer questions. I know that as I have done so, it has made the individual ordinances more meaningful to me.

Remembering Covenants

One of the great blessings I have seen in my life from serving in the temple has come from memorizing the words of different ordinances—a requirement for temple workers. Now, whether I am focused and studying or simply encountering things in my everyday life, I find phrases and words coming to mind that I have memorized at the temple that bring me comfort, new knowledge, inspiration, or in some cases, a warning.

However, even when you can’t visit the temple frequently or don’t have everything memorized, you can still think about the promises you’ve made during the week. When you go to the temple, try selecting just one phrase to remember. Pay attention to how it applies in your life, and you might be surprised by how many times it comes up during your everyday life. The next time you go back to the temple, select a new phrase. Take time to study about temples in the scriptures, especially in the Old Testament (particularly during the life of Moses and the children of Israel) and the book of Abraham. There are many insights and important details about the purpose and importance of temples in these chapters that can build on your temple experiences.

No matter where you are at spiritually or how frequently you go to the temple, it’s important to remember that the temple is an individual experience and should not be considered casually. I have watched dozens of people enter and exit through the doors of the temple. Some carry heavy burdens and come to ponder while others rush in at the last minute and seem distracted. Some come alone while others come with friends and family. No matter the reason you are in the temple or who you come with, though, it is a refuge. Take advantage of its quiet atmosphere to pay attention to your thoughts and impressions from the Spirit and you will find your life richly blessed for it.