The November issue of the Church’s Liahona magazine is always one to look forward to—another great place to review, study, and mark the inspired messages we heard from Church leaders in the recent October general conference. But general conference talks aren’t the only articles in this issue. Tucked in the back of the November 2021 issue is a short article addressing some exciting changes to temple recommends. By the end of this year, digital signatures will be used on any newly issued temple recommends, which will be both signed and printed through the Church’s Leader and Clerk Resources program. The second change is the dropping of the phrase “limited-use temple recommend”:
“In addition, the design of the recommend that unendowed members use to participate in proxy baptisms and confirmations has been updated. The designation ‘limited-use temple recommend’ will no longer be used.”
We often hear about the temple recommend question changes, but what path of change have our physical recommends taken over the years? Here are a few interesting facts about the history of these small but important cards.
1. In the early days of the Church when temples and temple ordinances were just being introduced, those who received a special invitation from Church leaders were endowed, with only a few requesting the ordinance and receiving permission.
2. After settling in the Salt Lake Valley, recommends appear to have taken the form of letters. Local leaders began to recommend members to the President of the Church (at that time Brigham Young) who could then issue approval. The letters of recommendation were countersigned by the president of the Church until November 1891, when Wilford Woodruff, who signed over 3,000 recommends that year, gave the responsibility to bishops and stake presidents. At that time the First Presidency issued the following statement:
“Dear Brethren: It has been decided that it is no longer necessary for those going to the Temple to attend to ordinances therein to send their recommends to President Woodruff, to be by him endorsed. The signatures of the Bishop and Stake President will be all that is required.
“This being the decision, Bishops of Wards and Presidents of Stakes will see the increased necessity for care, so that no unworthy person will be recommended for ordinances in the Temples.
“[Signed] Your brethren, Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith, First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (In James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 3:229).
Side note: Saints Volume 2 does mention one significant exception to this, when President John Taylor was so ill that George Q. Cannon, then a member of the First Presidency, took on the responsibility of signing temple recommends. See chapter 35, pg. 534.
3. Around 1922, the first recommend book was published, marking the first time an official and uniform recommend form was printed for all Church members (Found in Journal of Mormon History Vol. 24 by Edward L. Kimball, “The History of LDS Temple Admission Standards” footnote 17).
4. Some form of “limited-use” recommend existed in the early days of the Church, when Jane Manning James was issued a recommend for baptisms for the dead (See Saints V.2 chapter 39, page 590). Another “limited-use” recommend that has been discontinued in recent years is the single-use group recommend, which was used for youth trips to do baptisms for the dead.
5. All temple recommends (regular and limited-use) used to be valid for only one year. In 2002, regular temple recommend expiration dates were extended to two years.
6. In 2007, temple recommends were updated to include a bar code that could be scanned. Temple recommend holders at that time needed to exchange their old recommends for the updated ones.
Despite these changes over the years, one thing is for certain: No matter what a temple recommend looks like or how it is signed, it is an important symbol of worthiness and not just a ticket of admission. As President Nelson said in October 2019 general conference, “Individual worthiness to enter the Lord’s house requires much individual spiritual preparation. But with the Lord’s help, nothing is impossible. In some respects, it is easier to build a temple than it is to build a people prepared for a temple. Individual worthiness requires a total conversion of mind and heart to be more like the Lord, to be an honest citizen, to be a better example, and to be a holier person.”
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