With one week left, Washington D.C. Temple open house hits milestone
Thousands line up each day as ‘unique opportunity’ to see inside a landmark of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nears the June 11 deadline.
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KENSINGTON, Md. — The line to see inside the Washington D.C. Temple on Memorial Day snaked from the large, temporary hospitality tent in the parking lot down the manicured, tree-lined mall.
It crossed the mall and a road and then doubled back on itself as hundreds of people waited to get their first looks at the renovated temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Saturday was the open house’s busiest day, with 14,193 visitors between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Memorial Day’s long lines waned by 5 p.m., and concluded with 12,389 people. People in shorts, t-shirts and baseball caps. Others in white shirts and slacks or dresses. Babies in arms or in strollers.
On Tuesday, the open house surpassed a quarter of a million visitors, said Kent Colton, co-chair for the open house.
“Numbers are nice, and they’re interesting, but what we’re interested in is the quality of the experience so people can feel some of the Spirit of the temple,” he said.
For some of those 250,000, it is their first time inside this or any other temple. For others, its the first time inside the Washington D.C. Temple in 48 years, since it was built in 1974, opened to the public briefly and then dedicated for use only by worthy church members.
Kimberly Bronow was 9 when her parents took her to the original temple open house.
“I remember being so impressed,” she said of the Capital Beltway landmark.
“It’s like a castle to kids,” said Bronow’s mother, Kay Dorsey. “We know what it really is, but it’s always impressive to drive past it.”
This open house is scheduled to end in a week, on June 11. Then the temple again will close to the general public for decades.
Last week’s visit to a temple was a first for Bronow’s husband, Jeff. He laughed when I asked him about reserving the free tickets online.
“I saw the open house dates in the newspaper six-to-eight months ago and put it on my calendar,” Jeff said. “Then Kimberly saw it again and reminded me, and I got the tickets. Then my sister in Fresno emailed me and suggested I go. She’d been to (the Sacramento California Temple open house). Then another acquaintance, a church member, told me about the opportunity, too. I told him, ‘It just so happens that I’ve already got tickets.’
“I’m glad I came. It’s nice. It’s lovely and beautiful inside. It’s a unique opportunity.”
Returning after nearly half a century was a fuller experience for Kimberly Bronow.
“We grew up Methodist,” she said, “so to come back and understand the intricacy of the rituals as an adult is wonderful. We also heard there are 205 pieces of art, including an original new painting of Jesus in the opening lobby. All of it was very powerful to me.”
Her father, Fred Dorsey, said one thing hasn’t changed.
“The welcoming by the people here, the ‘Mormons,’ hasn’t changed,” he said. “Very cordial, very pleasant and most helpful, happy to see us here.”
That’s not as easy as it might appear. Colton and his wife Kathryn oversee a massive volunteer effort that draws from Latter-day Saint congregations across the area know as the DMV — the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
The open house requires 188 ushers today. Then there are the youth who sit or kneel to place foot coverings over the feet of each visitor and covers over the wheels of each wheelchair. In all, more than 250 members volunteer at the open house every day.
Oh, and those 250 volunteers turn over every day, as different congregations fill the volunteer assignments.
“It’s like starting a brand-new restaurant with a new brand-new chef and a brand-new menu and a brand-new crew every day,” said Brian Swinton, who, like Kent Colton, is a former temple president and helps oversee the open house.
On Friday, after a tornado warning and torrential rain, 15-year-old Louisa Groesbeck sat on on the floor with her legs tucked under and to the side of her and put the plastic coverings over visitors’ shoes as they filed in the doors.
Usually, teenaged boys and girls sit on folding chairs, but the night before, some sister missionaries had begun to sit on the ground, to the chagrin of one of the shift coordinators.
“It’s easier to sit here,” Groesbeck said near the end of a six-and-a-half-hour volunteer shift. “Our backs get stiff after sitting a long time.”
Out on the mall, in front the fountain, a large group of people posed for a photo. Suddenly, they broke into song, the first verse of the Latter-day Saint hymn, “High on the Mountain Top.”
It was the Minnesota Saints Chorale, made up of singers from eight Latter-day Saint stakes around Minneapolis-St. Paul. The chorale was in town to sing at the Kennedy Center on Memorial Day.
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