By Anne Golightly, IFC Board Member
For nearly the past three years, as a member of the Temple Open House planning committee of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve been inviting people in the metro area to “Come and See” the inside of the Washington D.C. Temple. This Open House event has just ended, with nearly 350,000 people accepting our invitation to tour the renovated temple, which had been closed to the general public since its original dedication in 1974. The 40-day Open House has been a time of great joy and learning. This experience has deepened my personal faith and strengthened my commitment to interfaith efforts.
I am not a meeting planner. I am a business and marketing strategist. But when my Church asks its members to serve, we consider it a divine request. As we were planning our advertising, we developed a simple theme “Come and See.” This was accompanied by several secondary taglines beginning with the words, “It’s about…”. We wanted to test with the public what might be the most meaningful reasons people might want to come to see the temple. Initially, we guessed that the list of motivators might include: faith, love, peace and family. Instead, we were surprised to find that the most important motivators were “community” and “connection”.
After a long season of pandemic isolation and political divisiveness, it seemed people were looking for a way to venture from their homes in a safe way, and were looking for a sense of community, a place to find connection. We were pleased to realize that our Temple Open House provided that.
I found many special and sometimes unexpected connections when I was touring old and new friends through the temple. Many of my Christian friends enjoyed the beautiful new artwork depicting Jesus Christ and the sacrament of baptism. Many of my Jewish friends were appreciative of the parallels within our temple to Solomon’s Temple and to rituals described in the Hebrew Bible that symbolize obedience and sacrifice. I found connection with my Muslim friends when we explored our mutual desires to better recognize the hand of Allah/God in our daily lives, and the contrasts between their pilgrimages to Mecca and my temple worship. With my Hindu and Buddhist friends, we deepened our common beliefs in the practice of finding peace from the inside out, and in the power of meditation. I wasn’t aware of the Hindu belief of marriages lasting beyond this life, as my church also teaches. My fellow church members and I were so grateful for the many connections we made with people of all faiths.
We also were very pleased that many of our LGBTQ+ friends came. That created opportunities for us to understand and discuss in a respectful way what we share and where we differ.
My husband commented on what an unusual experience it was to speak so much, so openly and so publicly about our most cherished and very personal beliefs. Once the temple is rededicated next month, we won’t have the opportunity to speak as much outside about what we do inside. We are so grateful that our guests were so respectful and kind in their questions and their responses. The experience reassured me of the goodness of all of our neighbors, regardless of their level of religiosity.
For those who missed it, there are two new videos that were filmed in the last year that show the inside of the temple. Both can be found on our temple website, here and here. And the Temple Visitors’ Center is now open to the public, every day of the year.
What are we all looking for? Connections and a sense of community. These are the things I have found in my twelve years of serving on the IFC Board. Great friends who work tirelessly at finding reasons to make connections across deeply held beliefs, while also being willing to discuss and explore our important differences. That gives my life more meaning.