If I had to describe the new Mormon Tabernacle in Kansas City, MO, in two words, those are they. It was very nice and very white.
In case you were not one of the 80,000 people to tour the tabernacle during its limited time open house (it’s now closed to the public forever), here’s a quick rundown of the highlights:
- From the outside, it’s an imposing, impressive structure. It is, well, large and white. Along with the other 136 tabernacles, the words “Holiness to the Lord, House of the Lord,” are engraved on the front, and a small statue of the angel Moroni, credited with bringing the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith, graces the top of the steeple.
- Recommend Desk- Those entering encounter this in the lobby. After the open house, which ended April 28 2012, only church members in good standing, with a letter of recommendation from their local church leader, may enter the temple.
- Baptismal Font- This large pool, surrounded by 12 statues of oxen to represent the 12 tribes of Israel, is where church members can be baptized on behalf of deceased ancestors. Once this is accomplished, the ancestor must accept the baptism to be allowed into heaven. Members are baptized on their own behalf in their local meeting houses, so this font is only used for ancestoral baptism.
- Dressing rooms- One for men, one for women, these look like locker rooms in a really fancy gym. This is where members change from their street clothes into their white temple outfits- dresses for women, slacks, shirt, and tie for men. This is to represent equality and purity while in the temple.
- Chapel- This small room, with organ and seating for up to 60, is for quiet meditation before instruction or other temple work. Services are not held in the chapel.
- First instruction room- In this room, about twice the size of the chapel, members receive instruction, via video, about creation. A beautiful mural of a Missouri landscape wraps around 3 walls in this room. It was painted by a local artist, though the artist’s name was not mentioned and was not in the brochure.
- Second instruction room- This room, taller and whiter than the previous, is dedicated to instruction about atonement, the theory of how Jesus’ death and resurrection purifies believers.
- Celestial room- Here members reflect on the instruction they just received. This room is even taller and almost overwhelmingly bright. Three large crystal chandeliers hang from the tall ceiling, two giant mirrors face each other on two of the walls while on a third is a floor to ceiling glazed window to allow in natural light. The carpet and walls are white, while the furniture is white and pale green. The décor here continues the theme of the olive branch that runs throughout the temple.
- Sealing room- Here couples are joined in eternal marriage. It is a small room, with a single row of chairs running around its walls and an altar with kneeler in the middle. Married couples also bring their children here to be eternally sealed to their parents.
Thus ended our tour. The hospitality at the temple was impressive. Everyone was cheerful and helpful, tours were offered in both English and Spanish, those with physical limitations were graciously accommodated with golf carts and private elevators (the temple has 3 floors), and guides were open to questions throughout the tour. Along with our two tour guides, hosts greeted us at every corner to welcome us.
Though not Mormon, I understand the appeal of a place like this. Their temple is not so much a place of worship as a sacred space for meditation, instruction, and ritual. The architects and designers worked hard to create a space that feels peaceful, bright, and safe, a place set apart from the busyness and stress of everyday life. For Mormons, the temple is a metaphor for heaven, and they have done all they can in their temple design to emphasize the beauty and purity they expect in the afterlife.
What was missing, except in the second instruction room, was the beauty, serenity, and color of the created world. If there is a heaven, might it not look bear some resemblance to what the creator has already made?
It was kind of the Mormon Church to open up their sacred space to the general public for a few weeks. If you missed the opportunity, you must now wait until the next temple is built to see inside. Or, you can always convert.