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Temple Goes Public -- 1 Month Only

Starting Sept. 6, the new Mormon edifice in Redlands is reserved for worshipers. Its opening reflects the religion's growth.

August 07, 2003|Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writer

The public has a month to get a peek inside the Inland Empire's new Mormon temple -- a rare opportunity, as entrance to such structures is ordinarily reserved for qualified worshipers only.

The opportunity ends Sept. 6, when the temple closes to the public forever. Only Mormons in good standing will be allowed inside for reflection, reverence and rites such as weddings and baptisms.

California's fifth and the world's 116th Mormon temple opened this week in Redlands, generating awe and appreciation in hundreds of admirers and reflecting the religion's growth in the Inland Empire and statewide. With 800,000 Mormons in California, two more temples are being built in Newport Beach and Sacramento. Officially called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is the world's fastest-growing religion, its leaders say, with nearly 12 million faithful around the globe.

Mormon Church members view the temple as a bridge to heaven, reserved for the most sacred rites. It is expected to accommodate 70,000 members in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, who had to drive to temples in Los Angeles or San Diego. Mormon chapels, which are less restrictive and where Sunday services are held, are more plentiful.

"I'm happy it's here," said Olga Lykkegaard, a church member who turns 100 this month and could not travel to visit other temples. "It's my church, my God."

"You'll see the architecture, the beauty, the savior," Lynn G. Robbins, Salt Lake City-based president of the church's North America West region, said before he guided visitors through the temple.

About 150,000 visitors are expected to tour the Redlands temple before it closes to the public, church officials said.

After Sept. 6, Mormons can enter by presenting church-issued cards. But first, to be declared worthy of entering a temple, Mormons undergo interviews every two years with local religious leaders to ensure, for instance, that they tithe at least 10% of their income; abstain from smoking and drinking alcohol, coffee and tea; demonstrate honesty and fidelity; and wear sacred undergarments.

Once inside, members must wear white clothes, symbolizing veneration and purity.

Worthiness was not important Wednesday, as Robbins hosted Mormons and non-Mormons in the 17,300-square-foot temple. All that was required of guests is that they slip on white booties over their shoes to prevent dirt from soiling the interior's plush carpet.

"Welcome to the House of the Lord," Robbins said.

Towering behind the reception desk is a multicolored glass mural depicting Jesus, God and Joseph Smith, the faith's founding prophet. It dates to 1930, when it adorned a Mormon chapel in San Bernardino, where a Mormon colony formed in the mid-1800s, serving as a religious way station in Southern California.

Robbins led visitors through light-filled rooms decorated in creams, grays and robin's-egg blue, all adhering to Spanish Colonial design, reflecting the area's heritage. Mirrors, moldings, hand-painted murals and authentic and reproduction oil paintings embellish the temple's walls. Crystal and gold chandeliers shimmer from the ceilings. Marble abounds.

The exterior is available for all to see amid the citrus groves, tract homes and San Bernardino Mountains.

The temple and surrounding walkways are made from 2.7 million pounds of granite imported from China. Rising 128 feet to the top of the edifice, overlooking lushly landscaped grounds, is a gold statue of the angel Moroni, a prophet in the Book of Mormon.

"Isn't the temple beautiful?" asked Brian Bascom, a Mormon leader in Redlands. "It inspires you."

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