- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Radio traffic reporters have considered it a rush-hour touchstone for decades. Its image has adorned posters with the legend “Surrender Dorothy” at area Jerry’s Subs & Pizza locations. Even the Thompson Guide, a pre-Google Maps reference, put it on the cover of the D.C. edition one year. But for the past three years, the Washington D.C. Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in suburban Maryland has been shut, first for renovations and then by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday morning, that all changed. Local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints got the long-awaited news that their temple will be rededicated on June 19, 2022. For the first time since the mid-1970s, non-Mormons will have a rare, brief chance to view the refurbished site.

A letter signed by LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson and his two counselors, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring, announced the news. The announcement did not indicate which Mormon church leader would officiate, but then-President Spencer W. Kimball presided at the 1974 dedication.

“We tried to do this in 2020, but this one’s going to take,” LDS Church Temple President Kent Colton said at a news conference. “We want as many people as possible to come, see and feel the spirit of this temple.”

The gleaming white structure, a six-spired edifice of Alabama marble towering over a heavily trafficked curve of the Capital Beltway in Kensington, closed in March 2018 for renovations. The 160,000-square-foot, 288-foot-high building first opened in 1974.

The Utah-based church called the project “a significant renovation.”

“Mechanical, electrical, plumbing and lighting systems throughout the structure have been refreshed, in addition to other work done to refurbish and renovate the temple,” the church statement said. The temple was originally set to reopen on Dec. 13, 2020, but officials said the pandemic kept pushing back the date.

Those who are not members of the church will have a rare opportunity to tour the interior before the rededication. After that, only “worthy” church members who possess a “temple recommend” card are allowed to enter. The open house will begin on April 28 and end on June 4. The church said it will not offer tours on Sundays.

Maryland Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith praised the church as “a great faith-based partner to the state of Maryland [that] continued [its] service during the pandemic. The church has provided thousands of pounds of food to communities throughout our state.”

The open house will offer the first chance since 1974 that nonmembers will be allowed to view the interior of the Mormon temple. More than 750,000 people took tours before its original dedication. Because it was the first modern temple constructed east of the Mississippi River, and for years the only one on the East Coast, the opening attracted a great deal of attention. Mr. Wobensmith, on a White House detail from the National Security Agency at the time, said of his tour, “That was a very historic day and one I do remember.”

Temples are not regular places of weekly worship for LDS Church members. In fact, the structures are closed on Sundays, when members of the 320 congregations in the D.C. temple’s area attend services.

Matthew Bowman, author of the 2012 history book “The Mormon People,” said temples hold different places in the lives of the faithful.

Mr. Bowman, who heads the Mormon studies program at California’s Claremont Graduate University, said the LDS church “is like the Roman Catholic Church, a sacramental religion, which is to say they believe in the importance of rites and rituals that are sacred to members of the church.”

He added, “Those sacraments, specific to the church, are known as the ‘endowment,’ which is something like a Catholic confirmation, that is done when one comes of age, this signifies their full membership in the church. [There is] also ‘sealing,’ which is where the members of the church believe that marriages can be solemnized for eternity. And both of those rites are done in temples.”

Another rite performed in temples, proxy baptism for the dead, has spurred the LDS Church’s pioneering work in genealogy but has also generated controversy. The faithful believe that the proxy baptisms enable the deceased to hear and respond to the church’s message in the afterlife. Most Christian churches do not perform the ritual, and some have criticized the practice. In 1995, the LDS Church specifically banned proxy baptisms for Holocaust victims who were not direct ancestors of church members.

Terilynne Butler, 54, who describes herself as a “lifelong member” of the LDS Church, said she is eager to return to the temple, which has “been a part of my life for many years.”

Having visited the iconic site as a child and teenager was significant, said Ms. Butler, a resident of Gaithersburg, Maryland.

“I got married there,” she said, “so that makes it super-special.”

One new church member who has never set foot in a temple, Bruce Turnbull of Woodstock, Virginia, said he hopes to gain that privilege soon.

Mr. Turnbull, 65, was baptized in September. New members generally do not receive their temple recommend cards until after a year of membership. The retired paint factory employee said he is working toward that goal.

“I’m just trying to stay on the path until that time is right for me to go” to the temple, Mr. Turnbull said. “I know I have to follow my commandments. I have to be charitable, be righteous.”

Mr. Bowman, the historian and a church member, said he expects LDS officials will want nonmember visitors to come away with a sense of the spirituality intended to be appreciated in a temple.

The church says that temples are not secret, but sacred,” he said. “The goal is reverence, to create a space that feels rather hushed, that feels solemn. And that has the gravity I think appropriate to how church members think of these rites. I think the church would be happy if they were kind of touched by that feeling and became aware of how holy this space is to members.”

Open house ticket information is available at dctemple.org. Church officials said reservations will be available through Eventbrite beginning Jan. 1.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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