The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will open its most sacred building in San Antonio later this year.
But church members, commonly called Mormons, won’t be able to worship there on Sundays.
In fact, many Mormons will never see the inside of the temple unless they join the rest of the public at a one-time “open house.”
Officials expect the San Antonio Texas Temple, a 17,000-square-foot building in Stone Oak on the North Side, to be completed by December. The open house will be in early 2005 before the temple is dedicated.
After that, church authorities will admit only “worthy” members for special ceremonies such as eternal weddings.
“To LDS Church members, this building is no different than Solomon’s Temple or Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem,” said Vern Martindale, the Salt Lake City-based church’s official overseeing the project.
“They’re identical in purpose. The temple is the house of the Lord, and only those who are worthy may enter,” he said.
The structure will be one of only 125 LDS temples in operation worldwide — 100 of which have been built in the past 30 years.
Church President Gordon B. Hinckley — whom Mormons consider a prophet like Moses and others mentioned in the Old Testament — has quickened the pace for building temples.
“The factors he considers are proximity and LDS Church population in a given area. The idea is to bring the temple to the people so it’s convenient for them to visit,” said church communication director Gary Gomm.
The San Antonio metropolitan area has 16,584 Mormons, less than 1 percent of the population. The total number grew by 33.7 percent from 1990 to 2000, according to the American Religion Data Archive.
Mormons are organized into wards, similar to Catholic parishes, and worship on Sundays in ward chapels.
The wards are grouped into stakes, which are roughly analogous to Catholic dioceses although much smaller. San Antonio has four stakes.
The temple will serve a district of 11 stakes that stretches from Brownsville to Hillsboro, with about 47,000 congregants in 69 counties.
Texas’ first temple was built in Dallas in 1984. Before that, members who wanted to have ordinances performed had to travel 1,000 miles to Mesa, Ariz., outside Phoenix. In 2000, temples were opened in Houston and Lubbock.
The San Antonio temple will be visible for miles around. It’s on a high hill, which Hinckley chose during a 2001 visit. The signature feature will be a distinctive open-air tower crowned by a gold statue of the angel Moroni, whose head will be 115 feet above the ground.
“This is the one of the nicest temple sites I’ve ever worked on,” said Martindale, who’s supervised more than 40 temple construction projects.
The property will have only about 90 parking spots — ample space since the brief ceremonies held there are limited to 40 attendees.
Two church officials screen potential attendees ahead of time with questions about faithfulness and how well members abstain from alcohol, caffeine, etc.
Worthy attendees are given two-year passes that must be shown to enter the temple.
“Everyone who enters the building for ceremonies must change into special white clothing — even the president of the church, if he’s here,” Martindale said.
Members have certain ordinances, or rites, performed that will be binding for eternity, including baptism, covenants with God, sealing of marriages and sealing of children to their parents.
Marriages and baptisms performed in ward chapels are binding only until death.
Members also are encouraged to have the ordinances performed by proxy for deceased relatives who have never had them done.
The LDS Church maintains extensive worldwide genealogical records and encourages members to research their genealogy to have the ordinances performed for those relatives.
LDS members believe that they will go to a spirit world after earthly death.
The sealing ordinances conducted in the temple will enable families to continue as families eternally and individual members to advance to a higher state of being, or a closer relationship with God in eternity.
Baptisms will take place in a spacious room with a large baptismal pool in the center. The pool, finished in marble, will rest on the backs of 12 life-sized fiberglass oxen representing the 12 tribes of Israel.
There are also three instruction rooms, each more ornate than the last to reinforce the feeling of increasing sanctity.
“I’ve been waiting for this since I moved to San Antonio in 1972,” said Ray Otte, chairman of the local temple construction committee.
“I’ve been going to Houston once a week; the round trip is 470 miles,” he said. “When the new temple is open, I’ll only drive 14 miles.”