Dwan and Gary Bradley have traveled long distances for the past 27 years to perform proxy baptisms and seal marriages for their ancestors.
Now, they and other San Antonio members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can do so without leaving the city with the long-awaited opening of the new San Antonio Temple next month at 20080 Stone Oak Parkway at the corner of Hardy Oak Boulevard.
It’s the Mormon church’s 120th temple and the 57th in the United States, but only the fourth in Texas. Temples were opened in Dallas in 1984, Houston in 2000 and Lubbock in 2002.
The San Antonio metropolitan area has about 17,000 LDS members. But the temple will serve about 50,000 members in 69 counties from Hillsboro north of Waco to Brownsville.
Elder Ronald Rasband, executive director of the temple department at LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City, led a 30-minute tour of the 17,000-square-foot structure Wednesday. It included small rooms where marriages and families will be “sealed” for time and eternity and a large baptismal pool supported by 12 huge fiberglass oxen representing the 12 Tribes of Israel where members will perform proxy baptisms on behalf of deceased ancestors.
Visitors also saw small theaters where members can receive high-tech instruction in any one of 82 languages to prepare them for the rites, and a “celestial room,” which one member described as “a metaphor for what heaven might be like.”
It’s a comfortable, elegantly furnished room with fine white carpeting and furniture, and a large, 22-foot-high stained-glass window on each of three walls that combine to create an atmosphere of quiet, peaceful reflection and a sense of being in God’s presence.
Like many other temple rooms, it features African cherry wood finish.
Church policy forbids visitors from photographing temple rooms.
Many rooms are decorated with paintings of events in Jesus’ life. Stained-glass windows depict peaceful landscape scenes with trees and water.
“It’s a wonderful blessing to be able to visit the temple as often as we like,” Dwan Bradley said after the tour. “There’s no other place on earth we could go to have the kind of closeness to the Lord that we feel inside the temple.”
Church member Jana Hilton said the temple is “all members have been talking about” in recent months, and non-members have shared the excitement.
“They keep saying, ‘Tell me when it’s going to be open. I want to see it.'”
She and the Bradleys helped welcome members of the media during the tour Wednesday.
Rasband said the church considers each temple the house of God just like the ancient Jewish temples. Visitors are required to wear cloth shoe coverings while inside the buildings.
“Temples have been part of God’s plan for his people since early Old Testament times. Moses built a portable tabernacle in the desert, and Jesus himself spent a lot of his time in the temple in Jerusalem. The temple defined Israelite and Jewish history,” he said.
The building is considered so sacred that after the May 22 dedication by LDS Church President Gordon Hinckley, only those church members certified as “worthy” by their bishops will be admitted.
The need to perform ordinances for ancestors is the reason the LDS Church has the world’s most extensive genealogical resources.
Bradley said the work is never completed because “the more genealogy you do, the more ancestors you find.” The ordinances performed are conditional, meaning that it’s up to the deceased relatives themselves to accept or reject them.
“We don’t see it as a wasted effort either way,” she said. “We still get this wonderful blessing of having done a service for someone, and each time we come, we receive the instructions. And I learn something new every time.”
Temple President Ray Otte said the temple isn’t expected to have more than about 90 people inside at any given time.
Gary Bradley said excitement over the temple’s imminent opening provides an easy way for church members to talk about their faith and beliefs openly and answer friends’ questions.
But it’s also a motivator for them to improve themselves spiritually.
“It’s a reminder to live better lives — to be more obedient and more dedicated to the Lord,” he said.
Beginning Saturday, the temple will be open to tours by the general public through May 7. The tours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each Monday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each Tuesday through Saturday. It will be closed Sundays.