KENSINGTON, Maryland — Last November, President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency placed in front of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan a laptop computer displaying a photo of the Washington D.C. Temple.
Hogan recognized the illuminated building immediately — he’d driven by it countless times.
Located in the town of Kensington in Maryland’s Montgomery County, the towering, multi-steepled edifice is a familiar sight to anyone who travels along the busy Capital Beltway.
President Eyring, along with Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, then invited their new friend to attend the future open house of the Washington D.C. Temple, which is being renovated.
The governor’s face lit up. He never expected to walk the interiors of Maryland’s only temple.
“I would love to have that opportunity,” he said.
Thousands of Latter-day Saints living in the multi-state Washington D.C. Temple district understand Governor Hogan’s enthusiasm. Dedicated in 1974, the temple is a beloved symbol of the Church’s lasting presence and influence across the U.S. Atlantic Coast.
It was the first U.S. temple to be built east of the Mississippi River since the destruction of the Nauvoo Temple. And on a personal level, it’s where legions of members have been sealed to their families and participated in the life-defining ordinances of salvation.
Visit Latter-day Saint families anywhere from West Virginia to Pennsylvania and there’s a good chance you’ll find an image of the Washington D.C. Temple hanging prominently in their home.
For many, the past 22 months have been bittersweet.
The venerable Washington D.C. Temple was closed in March 2018 for an ongoing extensive renovation project. The members know that the building improvements will allow for decades of future temple work. But they also feel a bit melancholic knowing its doors are closed, albeit temporarily.
Closures aside, the Latter-day Saints belonging to the Washington D.C. Temple district remain a temple people.
A refuge for youth
Like countless of other East Coast youth, 15-year-old Brighton Bradshaw claims a special connection with the Washington D.C. Temple. It’s the first temple he ever entered to perform baptisms with his family members.
During the closure, Brighton has crawled out of bed “way too early” on Saturday mornings to participate in ward-sponsored trips to the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple.
But, he added, it’s been time well spent.
Brighton and the other young men and young women and their advisers from the Broadneck Ward, Annapolis Maryland Stake, have grown close on their temple-bound three-hour drives from eastern Maryland to Philadelphia. They typically spend their morning serving in the temple, then visit a few historic sites before grabbing Philly cheesesteaks and heading home.
“I’ve definitely developed a greater appreciation for the temple,” he said. “And I’m really pumped for the Washington D.C. Temple to reopen. I have a lot of friends who are always asking me about my beliefs. I’m so excited to take them to the temple open house and show them.”
The open house and rededication is expected to take place later this year.
Championing family history in communities
Units in the Washington D.C. Temple district such as the Alexandria 1st Ward and Franconia Ward of the Mount Vernon Virginia Stake are utilizing the temple renovation period to double down on family history work.
Members of the Alexandria 1st Ward implemented a ward plan identifying several “temple people” goals — including instruction sessions on indexing and organizing youth classes emphasizing the joy found in temple work and family history.
They have also budgeted for biannual ward trips to the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple.
Ward family history leader Richard Johnston meets monthly with his family history consultants to monitor ward goals. In a few days, he’ll join fellow ward members, including several youth, for an excursion to Philadelphia to worship and serve together in the temple.
A convert, Johnston said the D.C. temple closure has allowed him “to become much more involved in creating family history.” He’s grateful for a family history-related calling that gives him a deeper understanding of temple work.
Traveling to Philadelphia is not always easy — so he’s eager for the Washington D.C. Temple to reopen.
Meanwhile, James Dewey’s duties as a family history leader in the Franconia Ward are helping him and others remain anchored to the temple.
Trips to the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple, he said, have been family affairs. The same youth and adults serving alongside one another in the temple in the morning fill afternoon shifts together caring for the little ones having fun in the gym at a stake center near the temple.
The Franconia Ward also hosted a family history fair at the local meetinghouse last November, drawing over 150 people from the community. Activities in the cultural hall entertained the kids while older visitors participated in workshops focusing on subjects ranging from utilizing records at the Library of Congress to family history research in the local African-American community.
Several of the presenters were not Latter-day Saints.
Such activities are preparing people of all backgrounds for the reopening of the temple.
“I have coworkers at the State Department who are always asking me, “How can I get an invitation to the upcoming temple open house?’” said Dewey. “I’m hungry for it to open.”
Temple blessings amid renovations
Annapolis Maryland Stake President Ken Niumatalolo said the Washington D.C. Temple’s ongoing renovation project has not stopped the flow of temple blessings reaching his stake members.
The key, he said, has been remaining worthy to enter the temple.
“It’s important to have a current temple recommend and to live worthy of the that recommend,” he said. “In our stake, we have also encouraged our members to attend another temple, if their circumstances allow.
“Those that have made drives to, say, the Philadelphia temple or temples in North Carolina or New York have been blessed by the Lord.”
President Niumatalolo said Annapolis-area members are also eager to soon serve in the newly renovated Washington D.C. Temple and the upcoming public open house.
“It will be a historic day for the Church on the East Coast,” he said.