Zelophehad’s Daughters

Welcome to the Temple

Posted by Pandora

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.”

19 Responses to “Welcome to the Temple”

  1. 1.

    I love the idea that those of us who want to see change in the church should put our shoulder to the wheel and make it happen. What a beautiful post.

  2. 2.

    I love your descriptions of the voices, and how you don’t do your shushing duty so that in at least one place, the women’s voices can be heard above the men’s. I hope you’re right in your conclusion. Wonderful post!

  3. 3.

    Pandora, this makes me sad, and yet at the same time I admire your willingness to serve and engage. I also liked reading a reminder of what I, as I man, have trouble noticing because the default in the Church is men being in charge and being able to do everything.

    Knowing your talents and experience, I wish you weren’t relegated to towel duty only. My prayer is that if you and others like you persist in seeking fuller involvement in the Church, that us stubborn men will realize that the Mormon feminists are not bluffing, and we’ll say, “I fold.” :-)

    I know that I would be the better for it, and I believe the Church would be too.

  4. 4.

    Beautiful and poignant.

  5. 5.

    Those young men are my hope. And women like you, who surround them and gently teach them that women are more than folding machines.

  6. 6.

    Also, I am going to have to study the scriptural prohibitions on women using projectors.

  7. 7.

    Oh, sheesh. This is the first thing that I read this morning and now I am wrecked.

    This is lovely and raw and miserable. Thank you for writing it.

  8. 8.

    Thank you for continuing your work in the temple in spite of your lack of voice. I too wonder at the lack of the female voice in the temple, and in other places in the church. I need to go more often and let my voice to the Lord be heard. I would like to do more initiatory work so I can think about what women really can do and what their voices sound like.

  9. 9.

    Oh, my heart. There is no aspect of our worship or service that is completely free from this. How can we ever undo what is so completely done? Thank you for your hope and faith. And thank you for your persistent search for symbols and meanings in the small things.

  10. 10.

    I can tell you definitively that in the Russian translation of the endowment, the men are promised they will be kings and priests _to_ God and women will be queens and priestesses _together with_ their husbands.

  11. 11.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

    Baptisms are the only part of the temple I can currently participate in, and I recently had the opportunity to attend a new temple as I visited a YSA convention in Stockholm.

    I sometimes find it difficult to feel the spirit, because there’s such a focus on speed, and yet it’s so disorganised. Also because I can see ways of improving things (to increase efficiency or reverence, take your pick), but I am not welcome to offer an opinion. My constant prayer is “please let this be a positive experience”.

    During this trip, there were a large number of YSA from many countries, speaking different languages. There was some confusion, and a lot of focus on “running smoothly”. It was impossible not to be reminded of my “otherness”. The man performing the baptisms was getting tired, and not dipping the women as low. Some water had been removed from the font, by all the wet clothes taking some with them. More than one girl, upon having to re-do the baptism because her finger did not go completely under the water, was asked to move her hand and bend her knees lower. Not as a favour to the man, or working together given the circumstances, but correcting her form in general, as if she was unaware of how to correctly stand.

    I was observing this as I was waiting my turn for confirmations. The voices were moving quickly, without much inflection, in both the font and the confirmation room (sometimes in a language I didn’t understand). It felt very impersonal, which is when I struggle most. Why are we even doing all this? If we don’t care about those involved here and now, or those involved in the spirit world?

    As I sat in the confirmation room, waiting for the sister ahead of me to finish her allotted number, I looked down and noticed that the texture in the carpet made a pattern of leaves on branches. I smiled, and remembered that trees are a symbol of Heavenly Mother, and felt my perspective change. The words were like wind moving through individual leaves on a tree. And the tree feels every leaf, even if the wind barely notices in its rush to head elsewhere.

    Thank you for this post. It helps.

  12. 12.

    Pandora, thanks for writing your story. I recently noticed many of these same issues while on a temple trip with the youth in my ward.

    In my temple (Atlanta), the wards have to provide the men to do most of the ordinance work in the baptistry. Our ward has to bring enough men to do the baptisms, confirmations, witness the baptisms, feed the names in the projectors, and of course shush the YM in their locker-room. Thus in addition to the YM leaders, we also had to have additional men from the ward come on the temple trip. Meanwhile there were plenty of YW leaders who were there without any tasks to do.

    For the most part, we YW leaders just sat in a waiting area and watched. We had the one locker-room shusher and we had one sister who was allowed to hand the towels to the YW as they exited the font (this was only a part-time job as the women were not allowed to hand the towels to the YM, just to the YW). So we only had like 1.5 jobs to do while there was a need for like 8-10 men. The women were definitely underutilized.

    I hadn’t really thought of it in terms of voices, but yes, there are so few women’s voices heard in the temples. It’s really heart-breaking.

    Nevertheless, like you, I think there is a glimmer of hope for younger generations. I was touched when one of the younger 20-something male leaders acknowledged privately to me that he felt the YW leaders were underutilized in the baptistry, and that he felt bad when he saw us just sitting there watching from a distance all night. Maybe, just maybe, someday there will be more women’s voices in the temple.

  13. 13.

    Ugh.

    I had just one rite that didn’t break my heart to think of. Baptisms for the dead are the only rites in which we are equal before God- men and women get exactly the same blessing.

    Now, I have to open my eyes and see even the feminine erasure even in the font.

    :(

  14. 14.

    I’m so sorry that you feel so excluded. I’ve been an ordinance worker for years and I’ve honestly never thought about some of the things you posted. I just never noticed. I don’t mind the males because I kind of just thought we were all in this together, doing different things. One of my favorite things was being a sealing coordinator, because it was my responsibility to put arrange the sealings that would bind families together. I loved it and I guess if I were to look at it through your eyes (as you’ve described your experiences here) you would have probably felt left out because you weren’t in the room performing the ordinance. I just really never felt any sort of competition that way. I think I see it more as a joint effort, not is and them, but more all of us, as God’s children, doing different things, working toward the same goal. I guess I’m just sorry that you’re having a negative experience where you feel that you don’t have a voice or are marginalized. I personally appreciate gender differences, and I’m okay with having different roles. Let the men perform the ordinances, we get to create life within our bodies… You don’t get much closer to Godliness than that. :-) I’m glad that you are continuing to work in the temple though, and I hope your experiences improve.

  15. 15.

    “Let the men perform the ordinances, we get to create life within our bodies… You don’t get much closer to Godliness than that.”

    God creates life within his body? Does this refer to all life–viruses, redwood trees, skunks–or just human life?

    I hear this claim made frequently, and I personally find it to be a bizarre fit with Mormon theology. The Mormon God is limited by his gender, whatever the implications of that (“gender is eternal”). So it strikes me as more than odd that gestation would in any way be God’s special bailiwick.

  16. 16.

    Patience, not all women get to create life with their bodies… you would probably be surprised by the percentage of women who do not. And very, very few temple workers get to be sealing coordinators. You are speaking from a privileged position that has blinded you to the heartache of many of your sisters. I’m glad that you’re continuing to work in the temple though, and I hope that your empathy improves.

  17. 17.

    […] Pandora, Zelophehad’s Daughters:  “Welcome to the Temple” […]

  18. 18.

    […] Pandora, Zelophehad’s Daughters:  “Welcome to the Temple” […]

  19. 19.

    […] Pandora, Zelophehad’s Daughters:  “Welcome to the Temple” […]

Leave a Reply