MOSES LAKE — When Judy Miller moved from Boise to Washington in the 1970s, she still had to drive to Idaho Falls to participate in Latter-day Saint temple ceremonies.
“Sometimes we would just keep driving and go to Salt Lake (City),” Miller recalled. “It wasn’t that much farther after you’d been driving for nine hours.”
Miller’s driving times shortened as the church has built temples in Bellevue and Richland, but in September, her drive will be just an hour from her home in Ellensburg when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dedicates its newest temple in the state.
Church leaders conducted a media tour of the Moses Lake Washington Temple on Monday. It will be open to the public through Aug. 19, except on Sundays.
The temple’s construction is part of the 17-million-member church’s efforts to put temples — and the ceremonies performed for both the living and the dead — within easy reach of members around the world.
The Moses Lake temple will serve 18,000 church members in Central Washington, including Terrace Heights, Moxee, Selah, Naches, Ellensburg and Cle Elum.
The open house is a chance for people who are not church members to see the inside of the building, which is clearly visible along Interstate 90, and learn about the work that goes on inside.
“We believe the temple is the place where Earth and heaven come together,” said Elder Shayne M. Bowen, a General Authority Seventy in the church who also serves in the church’s temple department.
The Moses Lake temple is one of 315 temples the church has either dedicated, is erecting or has announced plans to construct. Church President Russell M. Nelson announced its construction during the church’s April 2019 General Conference.
When it is dedicated, it will be the church’s fourth operating temple in the state — there are temples in Bellevue, Spokane and Richland — with one proposed for Tacoma.
Bowen and Elder Gary B. Sabin, who is a counselor in the church’s North America West Area Presidency, said that temples are different from the thousands of meetinghouses where church members attend Sunday services that all people are welcome to attend.
Temples are considered “The House of The Lord,” with those words inscribed on the outer wall of the temple above the entrance, Bowen said. They are closed Sundays.
Temples are reserved for some of the church’s most sacred ordinances, and only members who are in good standing with the church can go in and receive them, either for themselves or their dead relatives.
Sabin said that being temple worthy does not mean flawlessly following the church’s teachings.
“It says, ‘I’m trying to be good. I’m doing my best,’ ” Sabin said.
Church members also do not discuss the exact details of what temple ceremonies involve, but not because there is anything to hide.
“Everything that takes place in the temple of God is sacred, not secret,” Bowen said.
Among the ordinances performed in the temple are baptisms for the dead, where church members, including youth as young as 11, are vicariously baptized for deceased relatives, and sealings, where couples are joined for “time and all eternity” both for themselves and on behalf of dead relatives, as well as have their children joined to them as well.
In another ordinance, the endowment, members are instructed on God’s plan for humanity’s salvation, centered on Jesus Christ’s atonement, and make covenants with God and Jesus Christ to, among other things, obey his commandments, be willing to consecrate everything to his service and follow Jesus Christ’s teachings.
Church members also go through the endowment for the dead as well.
The church leaders said proxy baptisms for the dead are a tradition dating back to New Testament times, as mentioned by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, and that performing the ordinance does not make a dead person a member of the church automatically. Rather, the church teaches that the dead have the option in their post-mortal state to either accept or reject the work done on their behalf.
The ordinances, Bowen said, teach church members about their relationship to God as well as teaching them that all people are children of God, which he said is a message the world needs.
“If we all treat each other that way, all of the problems in the world will go away,” Bowen said.
Along with going to the temple to perform ordinances for her ancestors, Miller said the temple is a place of peace for her, where she can reflect, as well as go and pray for guidance on life’s questions or for blessings for loved ones.
She said the temple’s teachings also give people hope, especially when loved ones die, with the assurance that family ties are not severed in death.
The church’s first temple was built in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1836. The tradition of an open house for the community dates to 1893, when church leaders gave journalists and local dignitaries who were not church members a tour of the iconic Salt Lake Temple the night before it was dedicated.
The Moses Lake temple tour starts in the neighboring church meetinghouse that was constructed at the same time as the temple, where guests first watch a video explaining the purpose of temples, and then tour guides take them through the various rooms of the temple and explain the ordinances performed there.
Among those that have toured the temple as part of VIP tours was the Rev. Robert Siler, the Diocese of Yakima’s episcopal vicar and moderator of the Curia. He said the temple would help to strengthen the faith of Latter-day Saints and provide spiritual moments in their lives just as St. Paul Cathedral has for the region’s Catholics.
“Getting a personal tour this morning from Pastor Bowen and his wife, Lynette, reminded me so much of the many connections we have with the LDS Church,” Siler said. “We need to pray with each other.”
He said Latter-day Saints and Catholic Charities have partnerships to help people in the Yakima Valley.
“We have more in common than we have different, and we need to reach out to each other in love and compassion,” Siler said.
Some of the church’s critics have argued that the money used to build temples would be better spent on helping the poor. Bowen and Sabin said the church maintains a massive humanitarian program, in which more than $1 billion was spent on projects around the world last year, including aiding refugees from the war in Ukraine, as well as church members contributing 7 million hours of volunteer humanitarian work.
“I don’t know of any organization that does more that goes unnoticed,” Sabin said. “We go wherever there is a need and we’ve done it all over the world.”
Temples, he said, also help the poor by showing people their divine potential and their identity as God’s children, which can empower them.
“We need to feed and clothe people, but we also need to tell them who they are,” Sabin said.
Since temples are regarded as God’s house on earth, they must be built with the best that people can provide, the elders said. The Bible describes how Israelites used cedar imported from Lebanon to build Solomon’s temple.
The Moses Lake Temple is clad in granite quarried in Portugal, with apple blossoms carved on the stone in recognition of the area’s agriculture industry. Inside, the temple, apple, potato, alfalfa and other blossoms are featured in decorative windows and other features in the temple.
Even though the temple is close to the interstate, no traffic sounds could be heard inside, especially in the Celestial Room, a place which symbolizes entering God’s presence and where temple patrons can ponder and pray.
In recent years, the church has built many smaller temples, some measuring only 10,000 square feet, which Bowen said are not as expensive as some of the larger temples.
The church’s goal, Bowen said, is to have a temple within 200 miles of church members, making it easier for people to go to the temple often, rather than having it as a once-in-a-lifetime event.
In addition to blessing church members, Bowen and Sabin said the temple will also benefit the community.
“I think it will have an amazing effect on the community. It is a tide that raises all boats,” Sabin said.
“Moses Lake will be a better place because the Spirit of the Lord will be felt more strongly in this area, and you will see miracles because of this temple,” Bowen said.