Have you ever wanted to see what it looks like inside a Mormon Temple? Now’s your chance.

As you may know, unlike most famous landmark cathedrals (like Notre Dame in Paris), Mormon temples are not open to the public — in fact, they’re not even open to all Mormons. So if you go to Salt Lake City as a tourist, and want to check out the iconic grey castle-looking temple, you can walk around it, and take pictures in front of it, but you can’t go inside.

Because of this, some Mormon temples have Visitor Centers on the temple property. The Salt Lake City temple has several Visitor Centers. In the town I grew up in, St. George, the temple had a Visitor Center (Ben Blair and I were married in the St. George Temple). And right now, the temple I live closest to (the Oakland Temple), also has a Visitor Center.

Visitor Centers are a separate building from the temple — they are free to enter (there’s nowhere to spend money in the Visitor Center) and everybody is welcome. They are manned by volunteer missionaries and have displays where you can learn about church doctrine and history. (They also have clean restrooms and cold water fountains if you happen to need either and are nearby. My daughter Maude once told me she would have her high-school cross-country team stop by the Oakland Visitor Center when they needed a water break during a run.)

So if you’ve ever been curious about a Mormon Temple, the closest you’ll probably get is the Visitor Center. BUT. Once in awhile, a temple gets overhauled/remodeled in a big way. When that happens, the temple needs to be rededicated, and before it’s rededicated, it’s open to the public and anyone can check it out! That’s what’s happening in Oakland starting this week.

The Oakland Temple has been closed for over a year, undergoing extensive renovations inside and out. And now, for the next several weeks, the Temple is hosting an Open House, including tours of the inside. The Open House is a ticketed event, but tickets are free. Everyone is invited — kids and grownups. And I really hope all the Oakland families who live nearby, and have grown up seeing the temple everyday, will come check it out. This is their big chance! : )

You can find info about the free tickets here, and all the details. I’m volunteering as an Open House usher — I’ll be there this Friday afternoon, and next Friday afternoon, and some other dates too (that I can’t remember at the moment). Maybe I’ll see you there.

When I lived in New York, several floors of the Mormon church building at Lincoln Center were converted into a Temple. There was an Open House and I invited all my co-workers. Exclusive spaces and events can stress me out, so I loved getting to openly share the space with everyone.

Three other related things: 1) It was just announced that the famous Salt Lake City temple is closing for four years! That’s a long time. And I’m sure it’s a bummer for engaged couples who were planning to get married there. But happily, there are many other Mormon Temples near Salt Lake City. I imagine they’ll host a huge open house when it reopens.

2) Mormon Temples are different than Mormon chapels. (Confusing!) There are way more chapels than there are temples, and chapels are open to everyone. On Sunday, the congregations meet at the chapels, and during the week, that’s where activities and meetings take place. Chapels are typically smaller buildings than the temples, and the architecture isn’t as showy. Chapels are more practical — with lots of classrooms, kitchens, and usually a cultural hall where you can host a party or play basketball. Our chapel buildings get a lot of use.

In contrast, our temples are not open on Sunday and are not part of our weekly worship. Some Mormons go to the temple often, others go a few times a year, and there are lots of Mormons who don’t go to the temple at all.

3) The Oakland Temple is a bit unusual (as far as Mormon Temples go) in that the grounds are very open to the community. Even after the Open House is over, people are always welcome to come walk on the grounds — and they do! There’s even a path that takes you up on the roof of the Temple where you can get amazing views of the whole Bay Area. And the Oakland Temple grounds are the number one most popular spot for quinceañera portraits.

The Oakland Temple also has another building on the grounds with a huge auditorium and stage, where groups from the community are invited to perform (there are plays, and choirs, and every December, performances of the Nutcracker too).

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Have you ever lived near a Mormon Temple? Or maybe you’ve seen one daily on your commute? (There’s a spot on the freeway in San Diego, and another spot in D.C., where the Mormon temples happen to show off.) Have you ever had the chance to go to an Open House for a Mormon temple? I’d love to hear.