Droves of the faithful and the curious visited the new Mormon temple in Newport Beach on Saturday, eagerly lining up for a peek at the sacred rooms inside the massive pink granite structure.
After the temple is dedicated in late August, it will be off-limits to all but Mormons in good standing with the church.
The visit was especially significant for John Jacobson of Acton, who toured the temple with his wife, Liz, and their two daughters.
A longtime atheist, Jacobson became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last fall. He may attend Sunday worship services at meeting houses, but he has not earned permission to enter temples, a recognition he hopes to receive within a couple months. “It is beautiful,” he said. “It is awe inspiring.”
Orange County’s 50,000 Mormons attend services at local meeting houses. The 18,000-square-foot Newport Beach temple will be used for special ceremonies, such as baptisms and marriages. A striking structure topped by a gold-leaf angel facing east, the temple is one of 122 worldwide.
New temples typically have open houses before they are dedicated and restricted to Mormons.
Residents, local religious and government leaders and construction workers who built the 90-foot-tall temple had a chance to visit last week with their families. Public tours began Saturday, when the first of thousands of visitors arrived, and will continue daily except Sunday until the temple is dedicated by the church’s president.
Local stake President Weatherford Clayton said that the open house was partly designed to demystify the faith. “Everyone wonders what happens in there,” he said.
After watching a 12-minute video about the church and temples, visitors walked through peaceful gardens before donning white sanitary booties and stepping into the carpeted and tiled temple. Original paintings and sculptures decorated the rooms.
Visitors were led through a baptismal room, instructional rooms, a sealing room where marriages and family ties are consecrated and the celestial room, an airy, light-filled chamber with tall frosted windows and an ornate crystal chandelier.
The only disruption to the staid affair was at the entrance on Bonita Canyon Road, where a handful of protesters carried signs reading “Mormon Lies Found Here” and “Jesus Warned Against False Prophets” and urged drivers not to enter.
The demonstrators argued that Mormonism is not a true form of Christianity.
Protester Paul Mitchell of Los Angeles got into a dispute with a young woman who seemed to be on the verge of tears.
“Have a nice day,” Mitchell said as the woman walked away, carrying a petite dog. “It’s going to cost you your soul. This is not a game, kiddo.”
Inside, visitors ate cookies and socialized after their tours.
Nikki Sahagun of Rancho Santa Margarita brought her three children. The family has been driving to a temple in San Diego, a five-hour round-trip. “This will be really nice,” she said. “We’ll be able to go so much more.”
Free tours will operate daily except Sundays through Aug. 20. Tickets: (800) 537-6214 or www.lds.org/reservations.