If you haven’t made plans to visit the Washington D.C. Temple, now is the time to do it.
Doug and I were part of a large volunteer corps for the invited guests’ tours a couple of weeks ago. After spending many years in the D.C. area as a Church public affairs director focused on building bridges of understanding with interfaith, government, community, and media leaders on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was deeply gratifying to welcome news media and other invited guests to see and learn more about our holiest place of worship.
“Our invitations are not an attempt to diminish your religious traditions or life experience,” said Elder David A. Bednar in a General Conference talk in 2014. “Just as Jesus beckoned two of His disciples to ‘come and see,’ so we urge you to come and see…”
The temple, prominently positioned on the 64-mile interstate highway that circles D.C. and its Virginia and Maryland suburbs, is a D.C. landmark. Every commuter hears about it in repeatedly in D.C. traffic reports. You can’t miss it as you drive around the beltway, round the curve of the highway, and see its massive spires reaching to the heavens.
It’s also an annual holiday tradition for locals who love to see the temple grounds lit up during the Festival of Lights at Christmas.
Even though it’s a well-known D.C. icon, little is known about what goes on inside. What are Church members doing when they flock there in droves carrying little garment bags?
Now is the time to come and see.
The temple was open to tourists 48 years ago before it was dedicated to the Lord and closed to the public. After this open house, it probably won’t be open again for another 50 years.
Here are some of the observations we found most interesting from some of the invited guests we met or escorted on a tour:
- The design and function of the temple are not what people expected. They expected a cavernous cathedral full of pews where church members sit and listen to sermons. What they discovered instead was a series of rooms with different purposes. They learned the temple is designed to lead members in an upward progression — each step symbolically leading them closer to heaven and to God.
- Guests were given the opportunity to ask questions in all the rooms they visited in the temple. Many of them expected to see icons and depictions of Christ being crucified on the cross. Instead, they saw paintings of the living Christ — serving, teaching, and praying. They asked why there were no pictures of the suffering Christ. The simple answer is that while Christ’s suffering and crucifixion have profound meaning as part of the Atonement, we focus on the end of the story — his Resurrection and life.
- Most people mentioned the light and brightness of the temple — even without a lot of natural light or windows on the upper floors. They noticed something unique about the lighting and the symbolism of that light — Christ being the light of the world and the light of the temple.
- Everyone that visited with us after their tours mentioned the peace they felt in the temple. One international reporter said it was unlike anything she’d ever felt before. “I don’t have words for it.” Another reporter said, “It wasn’t just that it was quiet, there was something else.” We would say that “something else” is the Spirit of God that dwells in temples.
- One of my assignments was to escort Maryland Governor Larry Hogan as he visited various media outlets after his tour of the temple. He said he noticed the calm and quiet in the temple and called it “a beacon of hope.”
- All the invited guests were able to spend a few minutes of contemplation or prayer in the Celestial Room which they described as “moving” and “special.”
- One of my favorite comments came from an interfaith leader in Washington who said that she toured the temple when it opened in 1974. She’s been a friend of the Church ever since. “I’ve watched your church grow up,” she said. She mentioned how she’d watched the Church expand and become a global church with more diversity and more international membership. I loved that concept. Being a relatively “young” church compared to other worldwide religions, she noticed how the Church has matured and established itself around the world, and she had great respect for that.
- One of the most frequently asked questions was whether the carpet in the bride’s room depicted local cherry blossoms or dogwoods. The final vote was cherry blossoms, a nod to the famous blossoms that are called the “stars of springtime” in Washington, D.C.
The nation’s capital is a city of monuments and the Washington, D.C. temple is one of them, even built from the same Alabama marble as other D.C. monuments. While others memorialize great national leaders, this one is a monument to God, a holy sanctuary dedicated to His Son, Jesus Christ, and a place of peace, quiet, and worship in a noisy, chaotic world.
Come and see.
For tickets, visit dctemple.org