A new Mormon temple is opening soon in Philadelphia, and several friends of mine are over-the-moon excited about it. I’m excited for them. I’m Catholic, yet many of my local friends are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
These Mormon ladies have been talking about the new Philadelphia Temple for several years, and now it’s finally going to open this fall.
When construction first began with the groundbreaking and dedication on September 17, 2011 (Constitution Day), it was thought that the 53,000-square-foot temple would be open by 2014. While these initial estimates were too ambitious, it seems fitting that the final dedication is now scheduled for September 18, 2016 (the closest Sunday to Constitution Day). The temple will be open to the public on August 10 until September 9 (the Open House is free, but reservations are required).
MormonTemples.org, the official website for the open house, says tours will include a video and a description of the purpose of each room. After the temple’s dedication on September 18, only church members will be permitted inside — following the dictates of LDS religious guidelines.
John McElroy, the public affairs specialist of the Valley Forge Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, explained what sets the temple apart from the standard local buildings used for weekly worship and baptisms. “Temple houses have strict ordinances and covenants that deal specifically with families,” he said.
He and his wife, Susan, converted nearly 40 years ago after they both graduated from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and moved to Philadelphia to start their careers. “The Philadelphia area was critical to the young church in the early 1800s,” he told LifeZette. “The Quaker community believed strongly in the freedom of religion and permitted the church to hold meetings locally without fear.”
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He added, “The opening of the temple in Philadelphia is exciting in so many ways. We believe the temple will bless the community in many ways and we look forward to working there frequently.”
When I asked a few friends to share their feelings about the new temple, I was struck by the unmasked joy that each person radiated when talking about it.
Rachael White and her husband were raised Mormon and live in Springfield, Pennsylvania, with their two young children — 115 miles away from the nearest temple in Manhattan. The Washington, D.C.-area temple (located in Kensington, Maryland) is 125 miles away. She said that once the Philadelphia temple opens, she looks “forward to visiting the temple more frequently and for more opportunities to serve the Lord.”
She explained that for Mormons, the temple is “God’s house on earth.” Being there, she said, fills her with spiritual contentment and a renewed devotion to working God’s will in her life.
Visiting the temple is different from attending Sunday worship services every week in the local ward or branch. A ward is a geographical area for a congregation; a branch is just a smaller version of a ward. Wards and branches are part of a larger organizational unit called a stake. It is loosely analogous to the way that Catholic parishes are part of a larger diocese or archdiocese. It seemed to me that going to the temple is for my friends what going to benediction and adoration is for me.
Erynn Wilcox, another friend, is also eagerly anticipating the opening of the Philadelphia temple for the same reasons as Rachael White. “I’m excited that the architecture matches the beauty of historical colonial Philadelphia as homage to the birth of our nation,” she said.
My close friend Erin Traverso agreed, but also said, “A lot of people in Philadelphia are going to admire the temple for what it looks like on the outside. What I love, what I’m most excited for, is the peace we’ll find inside of it. September can’t come soon enough!”
The events leading up to the opening include a cultural celebration on Saturday, September 17 — the 229th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. Erin Traverso’s son, Sam, will be performing in the celebration, along with nearly 2,000 other Mormon children ages 12 to 18 from four states: Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. The event celebrates the cultural heritage of the Philadelphia region and will include narration, song, and dance.
The new Mormon temple will bless my life in a personal way: My friends and I will be able to jump on the train for a visit to Philadelphia together — and while I go to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, they’ll go to the temple. After our spiritual refreshment, we’ll then all meet up for lunch!
Jewels Green is a mother, writer, public speaker and advocate for the right to life from conception to natural death. She lives in a suburb of Philadelphia.