By Richard Packham

I feel kind of sad: I never got to see the movie, just the stage version.

I left the church so long ago that nobody had thought up yet the wonderful idea that the most sacred and holy ritual of their religion should be an audio-visual presentation. I mean, those were great minds at work, really in touch with God and holiness and so on.

I remember years later, when I heard from my still-Mormon family members that the Endowment ceremony was now going to be presented on film, and that the temple - the House of the Lord - was going to be equipped with movie screens - I laughed out loud. I really thought they were putting me on!

My first time through the temple (when I "got my endowment" as the Mormons say) was the day I married my childhood sweetheart, August 27, 1952, in the Idaho Falls temple. In those days, it was the whole thing in one day: washing and anointing, endowment, sealing. None of this spreading the thing out. And no movies, and no popcorn. And no "temple preparation" courses.

It was very impressive. I was a little put off when the first thing inside the door was a cash register, with the bell whenever a sale was rung up, for folks who were renting the temple clothes. I thought immediately of the moneychangers in the temple.

The washing and anointing ceremony was very impressive. I wondered why there were locks on the lockers. I mean, this is the temple of the Lord, isn't it?

I wondered if the worshippers in the ancient temple ceremony also had to wear neckties.

The murals in the rooms were impressive and beautiful. I wondered how they did the flaming sword thing in Solomon's temple (it was a neon sign in Idaho Falls, and you could hear the click when the temple worker switched it on).

I wondered what would happen if somebody did actually say they didn't want to go through with it, and raised their hand. It never occurred to me to do it, I mean, I was going to get married.

During the whole thing I kept looking over at the other side of the room to see my bride. She looked kind of silly, in that fancy white bridal gown, surrounded by all the old ladies in their plain white dresses. And wearing that green apron.

It was so solemn, so impressive. I mean, this was the actual ceremony that God had instituted in the Temple of Solomon, and revealed to Joseph Smith in the latter days! But what's this Protestant minister doing there? Was he in Solomon's temple? When everybody joined in to sing the Protestant hymn, I thought, what's going on? I didn't ever remember even hearing this hymn in church, and here they are, singing it in the temple? (It was "We shall gather by the river," I think).

I wondered, when they said to raise your hand if you had forgotten the new name, how anybody could hope to be saved if they had already forgotten something so important. And if you raised your hand, who could help you? How would any of the temple workers know what God had given you as your secret name?

The secret passwords and grips and everything - wow! I mean, I had made up stuff like that when I organized secret clubs among the neighborhood kids, but this stuff was GOD'S secret club! Heavy!

The prayer thing was particularly impressive, I thought. And convincing, too: who would be so brash as to invent something as dumb as "Pale Ale" as the most sacred and powerful words by which to address God? It HAD to be divinely inspired!

What really convinced me was the "name of the Second Token of the Melchizedek priesthood" - it was so long and complicated - how was I supposed to remember it, to say it back? But I DID! It seemed the most natural thing in the world! I got it right the first time, without any help from the old temple worker standing there ready to prompt me, who patted me on the back.

Right behind me was my bride, whom I brought through the veil, and she told me her new name. It was all beautiful. And we went into the sealing room and got sealed, and everybody came around, all smiles and handshakes.

In the Celestial room that day an old friend of the family, faithful Mormon, came up to shake my hand, and asked me what I thought about it - wasn't it wonderful? Of course, I said yes. And then he said, "Oh, in the old days it was frightening! All this talk about ripping out your tongue and gushing your bowels out on the ground! It's much nicer now!" I remember thinking, but if this is the "correct, pure, unadulterated" endowment as established thousands of years ago by God, how could it have changed?

I learned later that in the version of the endowment ceremony my old friend was referring to, the patrons were also required to take an oath of vengeance against the United States, to avenge the blood of the Prophet Joseph Smith. That could not very well have been in Solomon's version, nor in the version revealed by God to Joseph Smith.

But in those days I didn't pursue that kind of non-faith-promoting question. And besides, it was my wedding day.

As my bride and I were driving off on our honeymoon, we talked about the ceremony. I had to confess to her that when she told me her new name, I wasn't sure I really had understood her clearly. I thought she said "Nary," which I thought was a rather odd name, useful only in a sentence like "she said nary a word!" She hesitated a moment, and then told me her new name was "Mary."

Well, I guess it doesn't matter. I won't be pulling her through any celestial veils. (She divorced me a few years later. So much for "eternal marriage"!)

My name is Enoch, after the man who was translated to heaven without tasting death!

For complete description of the Mormon temple endowment ceremony, as well as other temple rituals, click here.
Comments?   Questions?  (Please, no preaching, testimonies, or hate mail!)   To send a comment or ask a question, click here. ©  2006 Richard Packham    Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included


We're off to see the Wizard! The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

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