Manti temple to undergo renovations and end ceremony tradition

“The Manti Temple” by CCA Christensen, 1889. The painting shows the Manti temple before its completion. Christensen envisioned terraces leading up to the temple, which were never implemented. Today, grass, flowers and trees surround the temple. Photo courtesy of Deseret News archives

By Robert Green and Rhett Wilkinson

MANTI—The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced the Manti temple will be renovated later this year, and along with the physical changes, the church will end the live endowment ceremony and remove historic wall murals.

Following renovation, the temple will also have additional, larger dressing rooms and a larger waiting area. But the cafeteria will be eliminated. The renovation is also designed to protect the structure from earthquakes.

Michael Christensen, the temple recorder, said start date for construction will be determined in the temple department in Salt Lake City. For now, the live ordinances are continuing, he said.

For the past few decades, while most LDS temples have used films to present ordinances, live presentations have continued in the Manti and Salt Lake temples. “Live” sessions mean that temple workers memorize and recite the endowment ceremony, which takes about an hour. It takes eight temple workers to present each session.

In a news release, the First Presidency stated, “As announced in April of 2019, the Manti temple is…scheduled to be renovated and renewed as part of our effort to preserve and extend the life of our pioneer-era temples.

“Similar to the changes in the Salt Lake temple, the progressive room-to-room presentation by live actors will transition to single-room presentations by film. The murals will also be photographed, documented and removed.

“Some elements of the temple’s structure will be updated to accommodate these changes and improve accessibility for patrons. The historic staircases in the Manti temple (and Salt Lake temple) are being preserved during the renovations.

“With each of these temples, there is a desire to ensure that the learning and experience are similar for all who come to the temple from anywhere in the world. The same ordinances, covenants and authority are available in every temple, and will now be presented in the same way, and now in more than 80 languages.”

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that one of the church’s artistic gems—a “World Room” mural painted by the famed Minerva Teichert, who studied at the Chicago Art Institute in the early 20th century, will be removed from the temple. Teichert’s masterpiece depicts a panorama of biblical and secular history down through the ages.

Besides Teichart, artists represented in the temple include CCA Christensen, John Hafen, J.B. Fairbanks, and Dan Weggeland, according to a church website.

Eliminating live ordinances will make it less stressful to be a temple worker, since workers will no longer have to memorize the ceremony. Also, the film endowment takes less time. Instead of holding one session per hour, a session can be offered every 20-30 minutes.

After construction, more sealing rooms will be added for weddings and for families being sealed. (Latter-day Saints believe “sealing” binds a couple or family together for eternity.)

“As this project has progressed, we have felt the Lord’s hand guiding us in modifying several aspects of the renovation,” the First Presidency stated.

“The historic pioneer-era temples have been a blessing to the Latter-day Saints for more than 140 years, and we know that with the updates and renovations now announced or underway, they will continue to serve their sacred purpose for generations to come,” the First Presidency said.

Doug Barton, former president of the Mormon Miracle Pageant, shown on the Manti Temple grounds in 2019. Barton says local people he has talked to are surprised by the announcement that live endowments will end. “We’re all good, we’re all obedient. … But I really thought it would stay live — I really did.” Photo courtesy of the Deseret News

According to the Deseret News, discontinuing the live endowments has been quite a shock to some members, who were anticipating attending live endowments for the dead following renovation.

Lifelong resident Doug Barton said of the change, “I’ve talked to a few folks in the valley and most of them are kind of surprised. We’re all good, we’re all obedient. … But I really thought it would stay live — I really did.”

Barton was born and raised on a farm in Manti. His father Lee R. Barton served as president of the Manti Temple from 1994-1997. Outside of an LDS mission and college, he has been in Manti all his life, including 52 years working with the Mormon Miracle Pageant. He currently works as a Manti temple ordinance worker.

Barton thought a single-room film presentation made sense in the Salt Lake temple, where more languages are in demand. But there is not as big a need in Manti, where Spanish is only occasionally used. He loves the live presentation of the endowment because even though the dialogue is the same, different personalities make each session a little bit different.

“It is taxing to learn the parts — there is a lot to memorize and it’s challenging — but it’s also really quite exciting,” Barton said.

Barton’s great-great grandfather is CCA Christensen. Barton hopes CCA Christensen’s murals can be preserved.

Milton Olsen, another lifelong Manti resident and former Mormon Miracle Pageant president, said his initial reaction was “a little surprise and sad, then not-so-surprised.”

“It brings us in line with everything else, all the other temples going through the same thing,” he said. “Yet it’s hard to let the familiar and the cherished go.”

Milton’s brother, Jay Olsen, a former Young Single Adult stake president at Snow College, said the changes make sense.

“We’ve been anticipating some closure and update for a couple of years now, so that didn’t come as a surprise. Now there’s a little bit of a timeline on it,” Jay Olsen said.

“The changes? I’m just fine with the changes in the name of efficiency. It takes a lot of people to run a live session. So in the name of efficiency and time commitments for people, it will make it more efficient all the way around.”

Kenneth and Claudia Olsen of Manti are not temple ordinance workers, but many in their LDS congregation serve in the temple. Kenneth’s ties to the temple go back to his great-great-grandfather, who at age 10 attended the groundbreaking ceremony with Brigham Young in 1877. Several ancestors helped build the temple, and his parents served there for many years.

The 75-year-old recalled accompanying his grandson Jared Olsen to the temple a few years ago and hearing his grandson remark that he loved the live presentation because “it felt more personal with actual people.”

Since COVID-19, only ordinances for LDS receiving their own endowments and sealings have been performed in temples.

If the temple opens for ordinances for the dead between now and when it closes for construction, the live ordinances will still be performed until the temple closes.