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The what and why of temple media days

Church invited media on April 10 tour of Saratoga Springs Utah Temple and ask questions about the soon-to-be-dedicated house of the Lord

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah — Over the past 12 months, local media representatives have been among the first to walk through seven open-to-the-public temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States, the Caribbean, South America and off the coast of west Africa.

Another seven temples will offer similar scheduled opportunities across the U.S., in South America and southeast Asia through October, with more possibly to come before year’s end.

At the Saratoga Springs Utah Temple on Monday, April 10, the series of public tours began with the traditional “media day,” with the Church inviting members of news organizations to gather for an initial briefing with a handful of Church leaders and local Latter-day Saints living in the temple district. Then they tour inside the house of the Lord and then conduct interviews afterwards.

Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, and his wife, Sister Nancy Duncan, join media members on a tour of the new Saratoga Springs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, April 10, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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The ‘why’

“Media days are intended to help those who don’t understand that much about our faith to be able to come through the temple,” said Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Temple Department.

He was joined at the Saratoga Springs event by Elder Evan A. Schmutz, a General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Church’s Utah Area presidency, and Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency.

Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, and his wife Sister Nancy Duncan, lead media members on a tour of the new Saratoga Springs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, April 10, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The pattern and process of media tours

The media day signals the start of the public open-house period prior to most new or renovated temples, allowing members of the local media representatives to tour the temple and interview assigned general authorities and general officers about the temple and the instruction, worship and ordinance work done therein.

It seems like a decadeslong pattern of media tours, followed by several days of special-guest sessions for government, community, business and faith leaders before the temple opens to the general public for walk-through tours. But it dates back even further.

Members of the press touring the temple dates back to before the 1893 dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, with reports of that sacred edifice appearing in publications from Chicago, Illinois, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and from the New York Times to The Times of London.

Following brief remarks and the showing of an introductory video explaining temples and their sacred purposes — a video that is presented before all public tours — Elder Duncan led the media throughout the Saratoga Springs temple, with prolonged stops at the reception area and recommend desk, the baptistry, the bride’s room, an instruction room, a sealing room and a quiet, introspective pause for several minutes to ponder and contemplate inside the celestial room.

The Saratoga Springs Utah Temple on April 10, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Along the way, he and the other leaders pointed out interior and exterior design features and materials. They asked for any questions and answered them all.

But most of the tour focused on the temple being the house of the Lord and how the temple connects Latter-day Saints with the Savior Jesus Christ through temple ordinances and covenants. The leaders explained the temple’s purpose and the promised eternal blessings for individuals, couples and families who participate in temple work.

Just as with the public tours, photography, videotaping and audiotaping by media guests is not allowed inside the temple, with the Church providing photographs and B-roll video as part of its media kit it distributes onsite and online. However, photography and taping can be done outside of the temple for the media, including recording interviews, up until the temple is dedicated.

The Saratoga Springs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after media members had a tour on Monday, April 10, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Whereas recent media events, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Richmond, Virginia; Praia, Cabo Verde; and Yigo, Guam, drew media representatives mostly unfamiliar with the Church and its temples, the some 20 media types who attended the Saratoga event work in a state where the Church has 28 total temples — operating, under renovation or under construction — including 15 along the 95-mile stretch of Interstate 15 between Ogden and Payson.

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So, most media guests participating in the Saratoga Springs event were more familiar with the Church and its temples. Some were Latter-day Saints themselves.

“What I have found over and over is that people respect the temple, and when they go into the temple, they get a better understanding of why we we have built it,” said Elder Duncan, adding that in the media tours he’s been involved in, “you never really know who understands what and how much they understand. So we try to respond to every question we receive — and the media here at Saratoga Springs have been just wonderful and very kind to us.”

Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, joins with Elder Kevin R. Duncan, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department, his wife Sister Nancy Duncan, to lead media members on a tour of the new Saratoga Springs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, April 10, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

‘To talk about Him in His house’

For Sister Yee, just a year into her leadership calling, the media day was her first assignment at such an event.

“It was a sweet thing for me — less of a worry and perhaps more of an opportunity to express a testimony and to share what the purpose of the house of the Lord is all about,” she said. “And that was a great opportunity for me, because this was new — many things are new in this calling.

Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, speaks to media members prior to them taking a tour of the new Saratoga Springs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, April 10, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“But the house of the Lord is not new to me,” she continued. “The Lord’s love, His purposes and His focus on the individual, the one, is not new. I could feel that distinctly as I came today, and this has been a sacred occasion to talk about Him in His house.”

Having been a temple worker in both the Salt Lake and Bountiful Utah temples, Sister Yee saw hosting the media representatives as another opportunity to serve in the house of the Lord.

“It’s hard to put into words, but you can talk to any temple worker and they will tell you the same thing about what happens to you when you serve in the temple, what happens to your family, your life, your perspective — it all shifts in a beautiful way,” she said. “I’ve always felt at home in His house, and I’m grateful for that.”

Elder Evan A. Schmutz, General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Utah Area presidency, speaks to media members prior to them taking a tour of the new Saratoga Springs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, April 10, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Saratoga Springs temple ‘the beginning of a cascade’

Elder Schmutz sees the start of the Saratoga Springs public tours as “the beginning of a cascade for temples in the Utah area,” the first of 14 temple dedications and rededications that will likely occur in the state. The other 13 include three pioneer temples under renovation (St. George, Salt Lake and Manti) and 10 new temples under construction (Taylorsville, Orem, Lindon, Layton, Syracuse, Smithfield, Heber Valley, Deseret Peak, Ephraim and Red Cliffs).

“So, over the course of the next four or five years, you’ll see the number of operating temples double, beginning with the Saratoga Springs temple,” he said. “And it’s a marvelous explosion of opportunity to worship in the temple.”

He noted that with the increased number of temples — not just in Utah but worldwide — comes a correlating increase in the frequency that members of the Church attend the temple and participate in temple ordinances. “As the temples come closer to us, we attend more frequently — that’s been demonstrated again and again.”

Elder Evan A. Schmutz, General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Utah Area presidency, talks with a media member after a tour of the new Saratoga Springs Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, April 10, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Elder Schmutz said one reason for the Saratoga Springs temple’s 12-week open house period — which runs from Saturday, April 15, through July 8, nearly double the seven-week open house last year for the Washington D.C. Temple — is that it has been five years since the temple open house for the Jordan River Utah Temple prior to its May 20, 2018, rededication.

“So, there’s been quite a bit of interest among members and others about being able to see inside a temple before it’s dedicated,” he added.

Said Elder Duncan of the open house that extends into the summer months: “The hope is that young people who love the temple and go to the temple can bring their friends, and these young people can lead a tour with their friends. And with school out in June and July, that allows people who are visiting family here to also go see the temple — we hope not just once but that they’ll come back again and again.”

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