Church History
Adjustments to Temple Work

“Adjustments to Temple Work,” Church History Topics (2022)

“Adjustments to Temple Work,” Church History Topics

Adjustments to Temple Work

Understanding of temple ordinances was revealed to Joseph Smith “line upon line, precept upon precept.”1 Acting under divine direction, he introduced all the ordinances associated with temples today: baptisms for the dead, the initiatory and endowment ceremonies, and temple sealings. As he gained more revelation and experience, Joseph made adjustments to the administration of these ordinances to better instruct the Saints.

Subsequent prophets have continued to modify the way temple ordinances and covenants are administered. These changes were made in response to revelation, to the changing needs of Church members, and to practical concerns. While many adjustments have occurred over time, the core doctrine and central covenants of the temple ordinances have remained consistent. In 1959, Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught this principle to ordinance workers at the Salt Lake Temple: “We are having new methods,” he said, “but the truths are the same regardless of how they are presented. We may expect to have more new methods—but the fundamentals will not be changed.”2

Other Church History Topics discuss historical changes to baptisms for the dead and temple sealings and discuss the introduction and inspired development of the endowment during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. Before his death, Joseph directed Brigham Young to “organize and systematize” the endowment so it could be administered within the temple.3 Accordingly, Brigham Young introduced changes in late 1845 to establish “better order in conducting the endowment” as it was being administered in a temple for the first time.4

In early temples, the endowment sometimes lasted for many hours and featured lengthy instruction. Over time, Church leaders have sought divine guidance to make it possible for members to perform more endowments for the dead. As a result, they adjusted the language of the ceremony and also reduced and standardized instruction given during the ordinance. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the temple endowment was typically administered to companies of Church members organized by wards, stakes, or quorums. In the 1920s, the Church discontinued healing blessings that had been performed in temples, giving more attention to the increasing number of Latter-day Saints who came to temples to perform ordinances on behalf of their ancestors. Church leaders added more seating in the temple, expanded the number of daily endowment sessions, and called a superintendent to organize and oversee temple workers. They also established regular endowment sessions open to individual Latter-day Saints as well as groups who had traveled to the temple together.5

The first decades of the 20th century also saw changes in dress and clothing styles in Europe and the United States. Women’s fashion shifted away from long sleeves and full skirts. These shifts in clothing styles were not only about fashion; they were also viewed as allowing freer movement and leading to a healthier lifestyle. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, under the leadership of President Heber J. Grant, became aware of these changes and wanted to help Church members honor their temple covenants. In 1923, they introduced a new pattern, advising that the temple garment could be shortened to the knee and elbow, the traditional collar removed, and buttons used instead of string ties.6

In the early 1950s, the First Presidency approved a new temple design in which the endowment would take place in a single room rather than requiring temple patrons to move through a series of rooms. This change would make it possible to build smaller temples that required fewer temple workers.7 To facilitate the administration of the endowment in these smaller temples, President David O. McKay accepted a proposal from Gordon B. Hinckley that a film be used to present portions of the endowment. The filming took place on the fifth floor of the Salt Lake Temple, and the film was ready for the dedication of the temple in Switzerland in September 1955.

Occasional changes to temple procedures and clothing have continued in recent decades. In 1979, for example, two-piece garments were introduced as an alternative to the previous one-piece style.8 Another important adjustment came in 2019, when the First Presidency authorized women to act as witnesses for temple baptisms and sealing ordinances.9

President Wilford Woodruff taught that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young “did not receive all the revelations that belong to [temple] work; neither did President Taylor, nor has Wilford Woodruff. There will be no end to this work until it is perfected.”10 In every instance, changes have been authorized by the President of the Church, who holds all the necessary keys for priesthood ordinances. In 2021, President Russell M. Nelson taught that these “adjustments in temple procedures, and others that will follow, are continuing evidence that the Lord is actively directing His Church.”11

Related Topics: Baptism for the Dead, Anointed Quorum (“Holy Order”), Endowment House, Nauvoo Temple, Salt Lake Temple, Sealing, Temple Endowment, Temple Building, Healing, Family History and Genealogy

  1. 2 Nephi 28:30.

  2. Harold B. Lee, Remarks, 9 Aug. 1959, Salt Lake Temple Historical Record, Book B, p. N, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

  3. L. John Nuttall, Diary, 7 Feb. 1877, typescript, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

  4. Heber C. Kimball, Journal, 13 Dec. 1845, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

  5. Matthew S. McBride, A House for the Most High: The Story of the Original Nauvoo Temple (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 271–73; Lorenzo Snow, Instructions to Brethren and Sisters of the Salt Lake Temple District, 23 June 1893, reproduced in The Church News, Dec. 5, 1964, 15; Dale C. Mouritsen, “A Symbol of New Directions: George Franklin Richards and the Mormon Church, 1861–1950” (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1982), 196–226; Report of Regular Meeting of First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles, Feb. 13, 1913, 11–13, Historical Department Journal History of the Church, 1830–2008, 1910–1919, CR 100 137, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

  6. For example, see “Temple Garments Greatly Modified: Church Presidency Gives Permission,” Salt Lake Tribune, June 4, 1923, 12.

  7. Richard O. Cowan, “The Pivotal Swiss Temple,” in Donald Q. Cannon and Brent L. Top, eds., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: Europe (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 2003), 129–45.

  8. Spencer W. Kimball, N. Eldon Tanner, and Marion G. Romney, Letter to Executive Administrators, Regional Representatives, Stake, Mission, and District Presidents, Bishops, Branch Presidents and Temple Presidents, 15 Dec. 1979, Historical Department Journal History of the Church, 1830–2008, 1970–1979, 1979 November–1980 January, CR 100 137, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

  9. Sarah Jane Weaver, “Women Can Serve as Witnesses for Baptisms, Temple Sealings, President Nelson Announces in Historic Policy Change,” Church News, Oct. 2, 2019,

  10. Wilford Woodruff, “Discourse,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, vol. 56, no. 21 (May 21, 1894), 321–25,

  11. Russell M. Nelson, “The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation,” Liahona, Nov. 2021, 95,