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Op-ed: Why last week's LDS Church announcement is about much more than towels

Morgan Jones (middle) smiles for a photo in front of the Salt Lake Temple with friends McKenzie Gummersall and Chelsie Hightower following a temple worker devotional.
Morgan Jones (middle) smiles for a photo in front of the Salt Lake Temple with friends McKenzie Gummersall and Chelsie Hightower following a temple worker devotional.
Courtesy of Morgan Jones

Editor's note: This commentary by Morgan Jones is part of an ongoing Deseret News opinion series exploring ideas and issues at the intersection of Faith and Thought.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few days thinking about handing out towels.

As a woman in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’m more concerned about my connection to heaven and my ability to serve than any particular responsibility I may or may not be given.

An LDS Church announcement last week said that ordained priests, young men ages 16-18, will now be able to baptize in the temple and serve as witnesses while young women ages 12-18 will be able to assist in assignments, which in the past have been performed by women who have received ordinances in LDS temples. Both are aimed to help young people stand in holy places and prepare to make and keep sacred covenants. It helps them look beyond themselves. But these “tasks” were immediately interpreted by some to mean only one thing: handing out towels.

I’ll admit, when the story first came over, I too made a joke about towels.

While some scoff at this responsibility, which will be shouldered by many young women, I see it as a symbol of comforting others, of serving those who serve. This responsibility will also help young girls connect with heaven as they connect with fellow Saints, witness God’s saving work and feel the power and peace found in the temple at a time in their lives when they really, really need it.

The announcement is something to be celebrated rather than torn down or critiqued. It is about so much more than towels.

As I have spent time thinking about the announcement, I remembered an experience I had as an Especially For Youth counselor in Nauvoo, Illinois. Youths with limited-use recommends were permitted to do baptisms in the Nauvoo Illinois Temple. At the time I only had a limited-use temple recommend but, because I was responsible for several groups of girls, the temple presidency made an exception and allowed me to stay in the temple, assisting in various tasks, as I waited for these groups of girls to complete their baptisms.

It was by far the longest amount of time I had ever been in the temple up to that point, but I think Heavenly Father knew I needed more of what my friend calls divine “Daddy-Daughter time.”

You see, right before this experience, I had texted my “earthly” father (who was my bishop at the time) from a hotel room telling him I didn’t feel worthy to enter the temple and through my tears I read his text reassuring me that I was.

I’ve always been known to have a very guilty conscience, and I struggle with forgiving myself. But that day as I sat in the temple, in between handing out towels and helping girls shuttle in and out of the temple, I poured out my heart to my Heavenly Father like I never had before. I told him how I was feeling and how bad I wanted to feel worthy. I opened up the Book of Mormon while in the temple and read the words, “How can ye disbelieve on the Son of God” (Alma 33:14).

Those words leapt off the page and in my 22-year-old heart I felt God speaking directly to me.

Six and a half years have passed since that day, and I have always felt so grateful that I was able to spend a little extra time in the temple that day. There have been many times when I have needed to feel adequate to do God’s work, no matter how simple the task.

I recall my time as a missionary when I had the chance to teach people about the cleansing power of the Savior’s Atonement. I was able to testify from personal experience of the reality of that power. I believed it because I had felt it. And occasionally, I had the privilege of watching the people I taught enter the waters of baptism. I didn’t baptize them then either but I stood outside the font and held out a towel. The gesture may be rudimentary to some, but to me it was a token of the warmth, welcome and service we must show each individual who enters the path back to God. Meanwhile, I was full of gratitude for having been able to play just a small part in the miracle of helping someone else experience the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In both cases, I handed out towels but in neither instance was this really about the task at hand. This announcement is not really about what these girls do but rather, I believe, about the time they will be able to spend in the temple. It’s learning to serve and understanding the profound symbolism taught within these sacred spaces. I know some will say I’m simply subservient, but I really do believe there is value in understanding that service isn’t always some glamorous made for Instagram photograph, or a reflection of earthly power or status. Most service means genuine sacrifice.

Although the assignments I had during my day in the Nauvoo Temple may not have seemed important to many, through serving I personally witnessed the love of our Heavenly Father for his children and, especially, for me.

And perhaps that’s the point of this whole thing.