New Mormon temple welcomes visitors

It was an invite too big to pass up -- a tour of the new Newport

Beach California Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day

Saints.

The personal invitation to tour this temple, the first in Orange

County and only the 122nd in the world, came from local church

members Kathleen Peterson, Ann Owens and Joe Bentley.

I was flattered to be on the invite list, and I must say, the tour

didn't disappoint.

Perched at the edge of Bonita Canyon in Newport Coast, the

completed temple is 17,800 square feet, 90-feet tall and made of

Salisbury pink granite imported from North Carolina.

Atop the steeple, which was a source of neighborhood controversy

before its construction, is a golden statue of the Angel Moroni. The

Angel Moroni, I learned, always faces to the east with his golden

trumpet.

My tour included half a dozen other invitees and was led by church

member Roy Christensen and his wife, Carol.

Peterson, who accompanied me on the tour, noted that the church

has received requests for tickets from people in 47 states and 18

countries, including Mongolia, the Czech Republic, Nigeria, Cambodia

and Germany.

We started the tour on the grounds of the temple, which are

punctuated with a pair of sparkling fountains and some 54,000 .

Peterson explained during the tour, and later in an e-mail, some

of the terminology used in the temple and the Mormon church that

those of us who aren't members may not understand.

In fact, even some published reports didn't get things quite

right.

"For example, no Mormon would recognize the term 'the three-part

ascent toward the holy spirit,' or 'services' in regard to a temple,"

she explained. "We might say that our faithful members receive

instruction about where we came from, why we are here, and what

happens after we pass away. We are taught symbolically.

"We believe that through priesthood authority, we can be sealed

together as a family throughout all eternity," she continued. "Our

members can always enter the temple if they are faithful members.

That includes being honest with your fellow men or women, being

faithful to one's spouse, paying tithing, and keeping our 'word of

wisdom' that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, meat

sparingly, avoiding alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea, tobacco, etc."

As we entered the front of the temple for the tour, inscriptions

of two phrases that characterize all temples stand out for all to

see: "Holiness to the Lord. The House of the Lord."

Before we entered the building, we all had to cover our feet with

cloth slippers.

No, that was not some secret ritual. The reason was simple -- to

keep the carpets clean, something my wife would appreciate.

In fact, the tour was designed to clear up lots of misconceptions

about the temple and the rituals performed there.

"As you come in the temple, you leave the world behind," our tour

guide Roy Christensen said. "A temple isn't secret; it's sacred."

The first thing you see is the baptismal font that sits atop a

sculpture of 12 oxen, which represents the 12 tribes of Israel.

Next we visited the Ordinance Room, a room of instruction whose

walls are splashed with a California-coastal-themed mural. It's a

stunning room.

Peterson pointed out to me that as we went from room to room, we

climbed a little higher through the building. In addition, each room

gets lighter, symbolizing how more light comes into your life as you

become more versed in the ways of the church, she and Christensen

explained.

Continuing the tour, we saw the Bride's Room, where brides prepare

for marriage, and the Celestial Room, where we all stood in silence

to admire its architecture and beauty and of course its dazzling,

14-foot chandelier.

We visited the Sealing Room, which Christensen noted is the most

sacred place in the temple.

"The highest ordinance of the temple is performed here," he said.

An ordinance, I should explain, is a ceremony or ritual, such as

baptism or marriage. It's one of the biggest reasons why Mormons are

so happy to have a temple, rather than just the chapel or stake

center that sits adjacent to the new building.

"That building [the stake center] is busy all week long with

activities," said J. Donald Turner, a church member and Newport Beach

dentist for more than 30 years. "The temple is something different

entirely. It's where those members of the church who qualify can take

part in ordinances."

For example, a civil wedding can happen in the chapel, but

weddings that seal or bind families for eternity can only take place

in the temple, Turner said.

Building the Newport Beach temple to serve the 50,000 Mormon

church members in Orange County means that Orange County Mormons

won't have to travel to Los Angeles or San Diego to attend a temple.

"It fulfilled all of my expectations," Turner said of the new

building. "It looks so beautiful inside and out. I just feel the

community is going to be so pleased."

After all the arguments and concerns about the temple, a quick

tour like the one I took most likely will assure community members

that they have a treasure in their neighborhood.

Public open house of the temple will take place every day except

Sunday through Aug. 20. The dedication of the temple will take place

Sunday Aug. 28 and after that, the only thing open to the public will

be the temple grounds at the 8.8-acre site.

Tied to the temple opening is the 175th birthday of the Mormon

church and the 200th birthday of its founder, Joseph Smith.

Turner summed up the feeling of local church members best with

these words:

"We didn't, in our wildest dream, think we would have a temple in

Newport Beach. It's a dream come true."

* TONY DODERO is the editor. He may be reached at (714) 966-4608

or by e-mail at tony.dodero@latimes.com.

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