I’ve been working in the temple baptistery now for 6 months.
And there are a lot of aspects that are really painful, just as I suspected there would be. Consider that in the baptistery, there is absolutely no role for women in the ordinances. (While there are more active roles for women in the ordinances in the other parts of the temple, there are also those very serious issues that do not make it worth it—there is a reason I work in the baptistery and not elsewhere.) Men do the baptisms. Men do the witnessing. Men do the confirmations. It is even an exclusively male-only job to feed the names onto the little projector (?!) and sit and the counter to say “Welcome to the Temple!” No matter how short staffed they are with men, they will never allow the women to feed names into the projector…or sit at the counter to say “Welcome to the temple.”
Women’s jobs are folding towels. Hanging jumpsuits. Folding towels. Distributing jumpsuits. Folding towels. Sitting in the locker room to direct people between the ordinances that are all performed by men. Folding towels. Rolling socks, folding sports bras, folding briefs….and folding more towels.
There are men’s voices, everywhere. Prominent. Confident. Loud. I can hear them in the baptistery even when I’m sitting in the women’s locker room, rolling socks. I hear them telling people where to go and what to do. I hear them always saying “Welcome to the temple.” Male voices. We’re supposed to remind the young women in the locker room to be reverent and shush them when they get too excited talking as they blow dry their hair or get dressed. But I can never do it—the temple needs more women’s voices even if all they are saying is “where is my sock” or “pass the hair tie.” I like it when I’m sitting in the locker room, rolling socks and finally, finally the male voices drifting in from everywhere else are drowned out by the women’s.
There are other places where the women’s voices hold their own, too. Mostly in ways and places I did not expect at all. Like when I interviewed with my bishop, and then the temple president and matron and they all insisted I be an ordinance worker. But I insisted I work in the baptistery in the face of all that ecclesiastical authority and because I knew what it was that I needed—and my voice was listened to and respected. That was an empowering experience.
And then there are the women that work with me. They are incredible! (hat tip, Elder Cook). As we stand at the counter folding folding folding, we talk about our careers—these ladies and I. We help each other with our resumes and grad school applications. We talk about politics and traveling. We commiserate about hard times at work and we celebrate promotions. And folding towels for hours can actually be quite cathartic and stress relieving, I have been surprised to find.
I get to wear my cherished temple dress, hand-made by my grandmother, with pearl buttons painstakingly sewn on the sleeves. I get to hunt for symbols and evidences of Heavenly Mother—water, bees, triangles—and even though it is painful to have to hunt for what should be so prominent, it’s nice to find (and feels delightfully subversive!) I get to see the large Minerva Teichert painting of Esther at the end of a long hallway. I get to work up a little bit of a sweat carrying towels up stairs or baskets of laundry down. And even though there are always men’s voices drifting through the walls no matter where you go, it feels good to work— to put my shoulder to the wheel so to speak.
(And let’s not underestimate the perk of having incredible parking with the temple worker pass in a very busy downtown area.)
The best thing though, about working in the temple is the beautiful glimpse of change coming. The mid-twenties men and women who don’t see the strict gender lines like the older men and women do. Men who come over and fold with us or ask us to sit at the counter to say “Welcome to the temple” or feed the names in the projector because it never occurred to them that that should be an exclusively male responsibility (the old men always intervene, unfortunately). I hope that these mid-twenties men become bishops or temple presidents in the future. Then there’s the one woman’s job actually at the font (which is handing towels to people as they come out). That job goes only to the most senior of women temple workers—it’s the most coveted spot. Because it feels good and it feels right to be close to the ordinance, even if all it is handing out towels. Women want to participate, which means they DO want the priesthood, even if they won’t admit it just yet or don’t see it.
Maybe one day there will be women’s voices in parity with the men’s, drifting through the wall of the temple. And men and women will fold, and men and women will baptize, and men and women will be seen behind the counter and heard saying “Welcome to the temple.”