The most heavily attended temple activity is the "endowment" session. The temple sessions begin every half-hour or so depending on temple use and overlap, so there is much busy coming and going as people arrive and leave throughout the day. Sessions may begin as early as 5:30 A.M. before work hours and continue until 10 P.M. Those traveling to the temple come prepared to spend two or three hours to "do a session." Some spend the day doing additional sessions. Adult temple patrons present their recommends and change into temple clothing in dressing rooms. This clothing can usually be rented in the temple at a modest cost, but many patrons enter carrying small suitcases with their own long white dresses or shirts and pants. The uniform whiteness of these garments suggests equality, purity, and separation from worldly fashion. Inside a temple during sessions one would find many people dressed in white, silent or speaking in hushed tones, and standing quietly or moving purposefully from place to place. The general impression is a folk-art view of heaven with many kind-faced, wingless, slightly rumpled angels.
The endowment dramatizes the Mormon view of creation. The individual who is "receiving his endowment" is guided along, taught, and tested. The endowment service resembles in some respects the rituals of the Masons, though the overall pattern is different. Masons claim that their ceremonies are rooted in Solomon's temple; the Mormon endowment is organized around biblical events, the Creation and Fall of Adam and Eve. Mormons honor their covenants with God by wearing special undergarments reminiscent of the "coats of skins" Adam and Eve wore as they left the Garden. Genesis 3:21 KJV. Like Masons, Latter-day Saints generally decline to discuss temple ceremonies on the grounds that the ordinances are sacred. They object to claims that their ceremonies are "secret," contending that they are available to all who prepare themselves through baptism and Church service. The ceremonies are discussed freely within the temple itself, but people who have revealed details of the ceremonies to the media have had their recommends revoked. The endowment has been pirated and published on several occasions, but members limit discussion to protect the temple 's sacred space. Over the years since the endowment's introduction in Nauvoo, the ceremonies have changed. Some Masonic elements have been toned down and the ceremony shortened.
When they attend the Salt Lake Temple, members speak of doing a "live" session. They symbolically move from one stage of life to another by physically moving from room to room where extensive murals create the background. Temple workers take roles in scenes illustrating lessons pertaining to the stages of life. In newer temples, patrons are shown the film recreating these scenes in a single room. The film covers the same material as the live session. Here the patrons move forward virtually rather than literally, some listening to other languages through headphones.
Mormons invest Adam and Eve's "fall," a key element of the endowment, with a particular meaning. Although Eve is disobedient in partaking of the forbidden fruit, she makes the right choice. She eats the fruit, understanding that only then can she know good from evil as God does. "Were it not for our transgression," Eve says to Adam, "we never should have seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption." Carnality is not involved in this high-minded version of original sin-the fortunate fall. Producing families is the main purpose of earthly life. God brings spirit children to the world to obtain bodies, teach them correct principles, and bring them back to heaven after death. In LDS belief, temple ordinances grant "the power of godliness" to living people.
In the temples, women officiate in priesthood ordinances. Women's work is essential to the endowment ceremonies. Not everyone, however, is satisfied with the role of women in the temple, which reflects the counsel of Paul in the New Testament, that the "husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church." Ephesians 5:23 KJB. Critics say the teaching is outdated and demeaning to women. In 1990, when Church leaders softened some of the gendered language of the ceremony, the event attracted press attention. One woman "greeted the changes with a great deal of joy," noting that "some portions of the temple ceremony have been painful to some women." Another woman said, "I still have concerns that haven't been addressed, but I personally find the temple endowment ceremony empowering of me as a woman, more so than demeaning."
Faithful Mormons find temple blessings worth large investments in time and effort. Some save money for years, sometimes their whole lives, to attend the temple. Stories of sacrifice to attend the temple become part of family lore. In 1946, when temples were still distant for many Mormons, three cousins, Grissom, Thurman, and Rodolph Harper of Albertson, North Carolina, bought an old city bus to transport their families and a few friends, thirty-one in all, to Salt Lake City for temple sessions. The Harper boys fitted the bus with luggage racks and a big wooden water keg and set off on state roads before the interstates were built. Going up the mountains, the bus was the slowest thing on the road. Some got out and walked. Some got out and pushed. Some broke out with chicken pox. All slept on the bus to the clinking sound of repairs. After the bus arrived in Salt Lake, the families were sealed in the temple. Five days later with a new bus engine, they started home. The Harpers saw themselves as plains-crossing pioneers, and their epic journey illustrates the importance of these rituals to members. For the most part, Mormons build their temples in predominately non- Mormon communities, and the Mormon presence can create tension. The Church prefers affluent residential areas where crime is low and land will hold its value. Unfortunately, these are also places where homeowners are sensitive about their neighborhoods, and not eager for a large white-steepled church structure, dramatically lit at night, visited by many but closed to the public at large, to be erected nearby. Zoning ordinances, land use commissions, negotiating committees, lawyers, and courts have all been invoked to stop the building of LDS temples or to scale them down. Leaders are always engaged in multiple negotiations.