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  • Writer's pictureNathan Augustine

Temple Ordinances Outside of Temples

Updated: Mar 1

Have you ever heard of the Endowment House? Did you know that Church members first performed baptisms for the dead in the Mississippi River? In my post on Assembly Rooms I discussed how early temples were built for more than just temple ordinances. In this post I will discuss how early temple ordinances were performed in places other than temples.

Following the principal of line upon line, as the Prophets have received revelation they have expanded and changed the endowment ceremony, (First Presidency Statement on Temple Worship, Dialogue: The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony and BYU: The Evolution of Sacred Space: The Changing Environment of the Endowment). Students in the School of the Prophets participated in ritual washings and anointings and Joseph Smith performed an early, preliminary version of the endowment on select individuals in the Kirtland Temple (LDS Living: What We Know About the First Endowment in the Kirtland Temple), described by Brigham Young as:

A portion of their first endowments, or we might say more clearly, some of the first, or introductory, or initiatory ordinances, preparatory to an endowment. The preparatory ordinances there administered, … were but a faint similitude of the ordinances of the House of the Lord in their fullness (Journal of Discourses, 2:31).

President Henry B. Eyring said something similar in his talk during the Saturday Evening session of the April 2020 General Conference:

Although the temple endowment as we know it today wasn’t administered in the Kirtland Temple, in fulfillment of prophecy, preparatory temple ordinances began to be introduced there, along with an outpouring of spiritual manifestations which armed those called on missions with the promised endowment of “power from on high” that led to a great gathering through missionary service.

Joseph Smith performed the first official complete endowments on approximately ninety men and women between 1842 and 1844 in Nauvoo at the Red Brick Store (Church History in the Fullness of Times: Chapter Twenty). Joseph Smith established the idea of the endowment ceremony being something to be improved upon, when, after he presented the endowment ceremony to the very first group of men he spoke with Brigham Young and told him "Brother Brigham, this is not arranged right. But we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed, and I wish you to take this matter in hand and organize and systematize all these ceremonies” (Joseph Smith Lecture 7: Doctrinal Development and the Nauvoo Era). Significantly women participated in these first endowment ceremonies both as participants and as officiators (Joseph Smith Lecture 7: Doctrinal Development and the Nauvoo Era).

After learning of the doctrine during a funeral sermon by Joseph Smith in August 1840, Church members performed baptisms for the dead in the Mississippi river until the October 1841 General Conference. At the conference Joseph Smith declared it was the Lord’s will that baptisms for the dead stop until they could be performed in His house (The Nauvoo Temple and Baptism for the Dead). After leaving Nauvoo the Church performed some baptisms for the dead in the Missouri river while camped at Winter Quarters (Line upon Line, Precept Upon Precept pg. 43) and then in the Endowment House until it was demolished in 1889 ("Temple Pro Tempore": The Salt Lake City Endowment House pg. 19). Since then they have only performed baptisms for the dead in temples.

Nauvoo Red Brick Store

The Church has presented endowment ceremonies for the living in a number of buildings and locations besides temples including: the Nauvoo Red Brick Store (1842-1844), Ensign Peak (Brigham Young recorded one endowment here in 1849, this is the only recorded instance of an endowment performed outdoors), the Council House (1851-1855) and the Endowment House (1855-1889) ("Temple Pro Tempore": The Salt Lake City Endowment House pg. 2 and 4) The Church continued to use the Endowment House in Salt Lake despite having dedicated the St. George Utah Temple in 1877 and the Logan Utah Temple in 1884. The Church has only performed endowments for the dead in temples (Journal of Discourses, 16:185 and Significant Temple Work Started at the St. George Utah Temple).

The Council House

The Church performed sealings for living couples in several locations in Nauvoo and at Winter Quarters and in the Council House (Nauvoo Temple Podcast: Episode 5: “Looking Toward Eternity,” and Line upon Line, Precept Upon Precept pg. 47 and 49). In addition to sealing living couples they also performed sealings for a living person to their deceased spouse in Nauvoo and the Endowment House. (Nauvoo Temple Podcast: Episode 5: “Looking Toward Eternity,” and "Temple Pro Tempore": The Salt Lake City Endowment House pg. 66). Otherwise the Church has only performed sealings in dedicated temples. Also the Church has only performed sealings of children to parents in dedicated temples.

The Endowment House

Truman Angel, the Church's architect originally called the Endowment House the "Temple Pro Tempore" which is Latin for "temple for a time" or temporary temple, though the saints most often referred to it as the Endowment House. It was an adobe building built next to the Salt Lake Temple. Inside were a baptistry, sealing rooms and progressive rooms for the endowment. It was dedicated in 1855 and used until the performance of unauthorized plural marriages led Church President Wilford Woodruff to order its demolition in 1889 ("Temple Pro Tempore": The Salt Lake City Endowment House pg. 53).

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