This past weekend was General Conference. One thing at conference that made me happy was something President Nelson said in his talk in the Sunday morning session. He specifically invited single people to receive their endowment, and he didn’t connect it to missionary service. This is a welcome change from past practice.
I’ll be dating myself with this, but back in my day, the age for women to serve missions was 21. The general practice at the time was that the endowment was reserved for prospective missionaries, people preparing for sealing, and people who were so old that there was little hope of ever marrying. When I was a teenager, my friend’s mother, who was divorced and in her late 30s or early 40s and had been a faithful member of the church her whole life, was finally allowed to receive her endowment after much pleading with church leaders.
When I turned 18, I felt the Spirit prompt me that it was time for me to receive my endowment. I approached my bishop about it and he said no. I had a limited-use recommend for doing baptisms, so it wasn’t a worthiness issue. I was saddened but powerless to do anything about it and put the desire aside. I was in the institute presidency in college, and I knew of many other faithful women (and at least one faithful man who was medically unable to serve a mission) who desired the endowment but who were unable to receive it due to singleness.
When I was 19, the spiritual prompting returned, more urgently than before. My bishop and stake president allowed me to receive my endowment that time around. A few months later, a letter from higher up circulated codifying the prior practice of reserving the endowment for people who are going on missions, marrying, or who are far into adulthood. I was grateful that I had slid in under the wire and was able to receive my temple ordinances, but I wept for all my sisters who lost bishop roulette and couldn’t receive theirs.
I’ve heard stories of women in their 20s who were unable to be sealed to their parents because their bishops wouldn’t allow them to be endowed because they were single – effectively separating them from their parents for eternity because they lacked a husband. I’ve heard stories of vastly different interpretations by bishops of how old constitutes “old enough” to give up on marriage and allow an endowment anyway.
Tying the endowment to mission or marriage had the effect of decreasing women’s access to temple ordinances much more than decreasing men’s access. When I was seeking my endowment, women were discouraged from serving missions. The women who did so anyway were stigmatized and judged for being unable to land a man.
So men could be endowed at 19 and women had to roll the dice. When the age of missionary service was lowered to 19 for women and more women served, that helped to increase access for women, but only for women whose life path involved missionary service. Women for whom God had other plans still lacked equal access.
I did end up serving a mission when I graduated from college, but I’m glad I had the chance to receive my endowment two years earlier. I had the chance to be a temple ordinance worker before my mission, which I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. Singles make up more than half the church, and I’m glad my fellow single siblings are being specifically invited to God’s house. I hope the temples are flooded with single people newly armed with God’s power.
Reminds me of another change that I think would be great – allowing adult children to be sealed to parents even if those adult kids aren’t endowed. I have a friend who was a senior in high school when her parents were sealed to each other. Her younger brother was 16, so he was sealed to them, but she was told that since she was 18, she would have to receive her own endowment first (as would her two older siblings) if she wanted to be sealed to her parents. She was a senior in high school, for crying out loud – of course she declined being endowed! However, since this was over 30 years ago, I give kudos to whoever actually gave her a choice in this matter. But still, since she married a non-member a few years later, she has never been sealed to her parents. And I think that’s just a dumb policy that if adult children don’t want to be endowed or are for some reason are disallowed from receiving their own endowment, they can’t be sealed to their parents. It’s a policy that hurts families. Yes, clearly I have non-mainstream thoughts about the temple…..
I agree. I don’t see why a limited use recommend should be deemed inadequate to attend parents’ sealing in such situations
Trudy, I am so impressed with how you persisted and choose your own spiritual journey at a time when church policy was so discouraging. And I love that you had the opportunity to be an ordinance worker.
Good on you for pushing when you felt inspired to! I agree that’s it’s deeply unfair to make women wait to go to the temple and rely on the good will of their local leaders to allow it if they don’t happen to be going on a mission or getting married in the immediate future.
I remember a Sunday School lesson while in college where the teacher asked the question, “How many places do we learn about the creation story?” I thought I had the right answer, but I was wrong – the temple was one of the places, but I had literally zero idea what happened in that place because I was a 20 year old unmarried woman (and I was also back in the day before the age change when women were discouraged from serving and couldn’t go until age 21, explicitly being told that leadership was hoping we’d get married first instead).
It’s funny that it bothered me so much that I still remember it with frustration to this day (twenty years later!), because I was very aware that no matter how much I studied and prayed it didn’t matter – I could never know the right answers that all of the men in the room knew because they were part of a secret society of temple endowed folks that I couldn’t join into I was years older than they were when they went through.
I remember thinking, “That’s not a fair question to ask! How could I possibly know the answer to that?” It made me feel like I was sitting at the little kid table while the adults discussed gospel matters in front of me.
I also remember my older sister went through the temple in her mid-twenties without any marriage prospects on the horizon, and my mom strongly encouraged her not to do so. The phrase she used was this: “Men want to marry a “social virgin”. They want to be the one to take you through the temple for the first time. You should wait.”
My mom is from an older generation and says funny things like this all the time and we’ve called each other “social virgins” ever since then to make ourselves laugh, but it reminds me of how much women in our culture have been treated in a more child-like role than men. I am glad to hear about this change! Women should not be held back so that their future husbands can have the opportunity to show off what they know about the temple to their future Brides