FRANKFURT, Germany — While the Frankfurt Germany Temple closed for more than four years while under extensive renovations, “going to the temple” for the members of the Frankfurt and Friedrichsdorf stakes took on a new meaning, an organized effort and considerably greater distances.
That included Latter-day Saints traveling as families and small groups as well as larger-organized assemblies on a ward, branch and even stake level to the temples in Freiberg, Germany; Bern, Switzerland; The Hauge, Netherlands; and Paris, France. The first three are just under 450 kilometers (275 miles) from Frankfurt — a one-way drive of more than four hours. For Paris, tack on another 150 kilometers (93 miles) and another hour.
“I believe our members deeply missed the closeness of our Frankfurt temple, especially those members for whom it is not easy to travel four to five hours to reach the Freiberg temple or the temples in Switzerland, France or the Netherlands,” said President Manuel Metzner, president of the Frankfurt Germany Stake.
“Still, it was also a time where, in my observation, many members gained an even deeper appreciation for the spiritual strengths that come from visiting a temple and spending time in the house of the Lord.”
President Mark Harth, who presides over the stake in Friedrichsdorf, the town 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Frankfurt where the temple is actually located, called the closure “a time of adaptation and adjustment” and the resulting family, ward and stake temple trips “a learning process.”
“Just the fact that you had to plan ahead, take days off and prepare for a temple trip had significant effect on the spiritual preparation,” he said.
To help their members in continued temple attendance and worship, the two stakes assisted in bus-chartered trips for Relief Society sisters and youth while encouraged families, wards and branches in their own organized efforts.
The Friedrichsdorf stake conducted several two-day trips via double-decker buses to the Freiberg temple, with similar buses on three-night trips to The Hague Netherlands Temple — the last one with 85 youth just two days after the conclusion of the Frankfurt temple’s open house.
The Frankfurt stake sponsored a pair of similar Relief Society trips — one to Freiberg and one to the Bern Switzerland Temple. And the Frankfurt stake’s annual youth excursions became “temple camps” outside of Freiberg.
New opportunities for the youth
The Frankfurt temple’s closure came at a time when announced policy changes expanded youth involvement in temple proxy baptisms.
Since January 2018, young women with a limited-use temple recommend can assist with tasks in the baptistry, while ordained priests with a similar recommend can officiate in proxy baptisms by performing or witnessing the ordinance.
Since January 2019, young men and young women qualifying for a limited-use recommend can go to the temple at the start of the calendar year in which they turn 12.
And as announced just prior to October 2019 general conference, anyone with a current recommend can serve as witnesses for baptisms in the temple.
Women can serve as witnesses for baptisms, temple sealings, President Nelson announces in historic policy change
“During the last two years, we were witnessing that we are part of a Church with a living prophet and ongoing revelations,” said Daniel Wiese, the Frankfurt stake’s Young Men president. “The fact that both young women and young men actively participated in the baptism sessions contributed to unique moments and a higher level of spirituality.”
Angela Cordray, the stake Young Women president, agrees. “Observing the youth participate in these holy ordinances, you see the change in them and their behavior as soon as they enter the house of the Lord,” she said. “They feel the Spirit, they know that the temple is the holiest place here on earth, and they respect and honor it.”
The Friedrichsdorf youth received notice of the recent new baptism-witness policy soon after coming out of the temple during their recent trip.
“We read it to the group of youth before testimony meeting that night, and they literally ‘freaked out’ because they were so happy about these changes,” said Ronja Harth, wife of President Harth.
President Metzner said the youth “in a very natural and earnest way” took on their new responsibilities — whether it be as witnesses, young women as helpers or priests as officiators.
The Frankfurt stake’s “temple camp” had youth and leaders camping several miles outside the city for their annual trip. “It has become a place that feels a bit like home to them, and they have been asking if it is possible to go back,” President Metzner said.
He expressed appreciation not only for adults assisting with the camp experience but to the Freiberg temple leaders and Freiberg ward for their continued help.
Cordray said many of the youth initially were drawn to the temple camp because of social opportunities — to go and spend time with friends, be away from home and participate in camp activities ranging from hikes, sports and games to spiritual workshops and devotionals, Cordray said.
“When you ask them afterwards, ‘What was your favorite part of the trip?’ they all say: ‘The temple, doing baptisms,’ ” she added.
Said Wiese: “Bringing the youth together for a couple of days in order to learn, develop spiritual strength and make friendships always make for a good time. Having the temple as the focus of such conferences lifts all aspects of the whole event.”
The youth accepted the invitation to prepare names of their own ancestors to take to the temple — sometimes with the help of family members and sometimes with the help of ward members.
President Metzner recalled “many special moments where we saw young people increase in stature and measure” as they were involved in proxy baptisms or confirmations for their own ancestors, including some that the youth had personally known.
Relief Society and children
The Frankfurt and Friedrichsdorf youth weren’t the only stake members enjoying organized temple outings, as the trips organized for the Relief Society sisters aided those who may not have had an opportunity to go on their own.
“The sisters not only appreciated being able to attend the temple but also having a couple of days free from their daily routines and worries, being able to just concentrate on the temple,” said Søs Gram, the Frankfurt stake Relief Society president. “The temple presidencies were kind enough to hold a fireside for us, which greatly added to the spiritual experience it is to attend the temple.”
Because of greater travel distances and challenges for temple patrons in Europe than in much of the United States, most European temples have guest-housing complexes available, which is what the Frankfurt Relief Society groups used. “That gave the sisters the opportunity to spend time together in the evening and during meals as well,” Gram said.
“Since these few days away from home and with other sisters meant so much to many, we are considering arranging temple weekends for the sisters even after our temple has been rededicated, thus having the best of two worlds.”
In family, ward and branch temple trips, younger children often traveled with their parents and older siblings.
“I have great memories of the fun the children had around the temple grounds and to come in touch with the house of the Lord in such a natural and uplifting way,” President Metzner said. “There were also spontaneous activities for the children, which I am certain will have them associate good memories with the trip to the temple.”
Besides traveling to other temples, the youth and children anxiously took important roles in helping prepare for the rededication and re-opening of the Frankfurt temple.
The recent open house allowed the youth their initial view of the new baptistry — a more open area on an underground level excavated during the temple renovation that will accommodate several times more than the 15 to 20 who could squeeze into the smallish, main-floor baptistry in the original temple.
“The youth are very excited that the Frankfurt temple will open its doors again,” Cordray said. “Many of them came to the open house, not just once but as often as it was possible for them to volunteer or bring friends. The willingness to serve and the smiles on their faces testified of their love for the gospel and our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Like the youth, the children enthusiastically anticipated the Frankfurt temple’s open house prior to rededication.
Children drew pictures of the Frankfurt temple for display during the open house. Juleen Metzner, President Metzner’s wife, accompanied a ward Primary group bused to the open house, and watched children eager to both look for their drawings and get their first views inside the temple.
“In the group I happened to be touring with, three 5-year-old girls held hands and stood in front of the mirror in the brides’ room,” she recalled of one tender moment. “They began singing, ‘I Love to See the Temple’ — it was very sweet.”
President Metzner said he and fellow stake members hope to continue similar trips to neighboring temples, even with the Frankfurt temple having returned to operation.
Added Juleen Metzner: “These were special experiences, but it also helped us realize how valuable a temple in our area had been.”
Acknowledging the difference regular temple attendance makes in her life and the added strength given to her and her family, Juleen Metzner said, “I hope we will never take this blessing for granted,” adding “we are absolutely thrilled to have our temple back!”