Religious Sisters Invited to Mormon Temple
By Arlene Ronollo SSJ
The Church of the Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, invited religious sisters from around the Delaware Valley to tour their newly built Temple. Twenty of our sisters took advantage of the unique opportunity on August 2nd before the worship site at 18th Street and Vine Street Expressway closes its doors to non-Mormons next month.
First stop was the Meeting House, the low building on 17th Street, across from the Temple. It is the hub of business for the Mormons and the place of daily congregating and weekly services.
Our guides, Austin and Christina Houghtilay from Reading, Pennsylvania, met us in a large service room outfitted with blue cushioned pews facing a podium on a dais flanked by flat screen TVs. The Mormon congregation gathers in the meeting room during the week, not Sundays, for prayer and instruction. No symbols or pictures adorn the walls, and windows were narrow and some panes covered to block the distractions of the busy Vine Street Expressway, hotel traffic and the imposing Cathedral dome across the street.
As we made our way around the building, there were dozens of men and women standing by doorways and in corridors to welcome us. All workers are volunteers who pledge so many hours of service to the Temple, outside of their regular jobs.
After the preliminary introductions, we were escorted across 17th Street to the Temple entrance where we put on white shoe booties. Although our street clothes were acceptable now, after the Temple is consecrated next month, those who enter are asked to wear white clothes to signify their purity and that of the Temple. Members own their attire or borrow it from the Temple, where they dress in the changing rooms provided.
In the foyer there is a long receptionist desk at which all Mormons must present an ID card called “recommend,” for admittance into the Temple. A painting on the far wall of the foyer depicts the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This is unique to the Temple in Philadelphia whose structural design and furnishings reflect the simple spirit of religious freedom so consonant with the founding of our nation in this city.
There is a hushed quiet throughout the Temple’s four floors created by the high ceilinged, large rooms decorated in muted beiges, deep, plush rugs and elegant 18th century designed chairs and tables. Along the corridors are large paintings of Christ in his varied ministries.
We passed smaller rooms used by staff members, counselors, and the Office of the President, in which hangs a large painting of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, who was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the 1800s.
The Baptistery, a circular pool that soars two stories to the second floor, sits atop twelve life-sized black steel sculptures of oxen, representing the tribes of Israel. The member who wishes baptism for deceased relatives or friends is immersed in the pool, confirming their baptism by proxy.
We approached the Celestial Room where our guides said we would sit in contemplative silence. Comfortable sofas and chairs surrounded a walnut table bearing a huge vase of flowers. Hanging above this was an enormous chandelier. The wedding couple and their immediate families use this solemn room as a place to reflect on the deep commitment the couple is about to make. Children under the age of twelve are not permitted in the upper rooms, but are cared for in nursery rooms on a lower floor.
The most sacred rooms on the top floor of the Temple are called Sealing Rooms. There is an altar with kneelers in the center of the room, table and chairs where the officiator and witnesses sit and benches along the walls for family members. Kneeling at the altar, the couple signs their pledges to honor each other for the rest of their lives.
As the tour ended, our guides invited us for refreshments in the Meeting House. We crossed 17th Street again, and looking up, saw the sun glinting off a gold statue of the Angel of Moronic, who, trumpet in hand, announced to Joseph Smith, the good news written in the Book of Mormon.