More and more, my life centered in the activities of the Church. When I wasnt working, I was studying Church doctrine or fellowshiping with Church members. It was wonderful. Gods people loved and accepted me, and I worked hard to be worthy of the confidence the leadership placed in me.
One evening I arrived home from work to a ringing telephone. Bishop Satterfield wanted me to come over to his office after dinner.
As I drove to the church, I wondered what the bishop could want. I was already a counselor in the Sunday school superintendency and I couldnt think of another position he might want me to serve in. As I pulled into the driveway, I could see the light on in Bishop Satterfields office.
Inside, the bishop looked up from a sheaf of papers on his desk, rose, smiled and took my hand. He was about 35, short, with glossy black hair and a winsome personality.
"Thank you so much for coming over," he said warmly.
"My pleasure, Bishop."
"Jim, Ill come right to the point. Weve been watching your progress in the gospel. We are very pleased with you."
I glowed with pride. "Thank you very much. I just want to serve!"
"We see that, Jim. And we want you to have the opportunity to do just that. You have been serving in the Sunday school superintendency for nearly a year now, havent you?"
"Yes, thats right. And I love it!"
"You certainly have the respect of the teachers and the children. Thats the only thing that holds me back from what I am about to ask of you. What would you think about giving up that job?"
"Well, Bishop, of course Ill do whatever you tell me."
"I was sure youd say that. Before I talk to you about another calling, I need to ask you a few questions. I think I already know the answers, but its necessary for me to ask you these things formally."
"Sure. Go ahead."
"You, of course, are a full tither?"
"And you are living the Word of Wisdom?"
"Yes, I am."
"I know you are faithful in attendance at meetings, because I observe that. Do you believe that David O. McKay is a true prophet of God?"
"And are you morally clean? I know you date. Are you compromising in any way the standards of sexual purity of the Church?"
"No, sir. I am morally clean."
"As I said, I was sure of the questions before I asked you. Jim, we would like you to serve a stake mission for the Church."
I dont think anything he could have said would have surprised or delighted me more. A stake mission was similar to a full-time mission call (such as that of Elder Jackson and Elder Morgan), except that it was limited to forty hours per month of service, plus it was local, performed within the boundaries of the local stake. Aside from that, the work was exactly the same. It was a position of real responsibility.
"We dont want you to give us your answer tonight, Jim," continued the bishop. "Pray about it and let me know your decision within the next week or ten days."
Outside in the parking lot, I sprinted to my car. I was exhilarated. To be called to a mission after only one year in the Church! I was humbled by the thought. Even more wonderful, I realized that if I were to serve a mission I would have to go through the temple! Obviously the bishop had thought of that.
Going through the temple, that privilege reserved for the most faithful in the Church, had been my highest goal. I already knew what my decision would be. I would tell the bishop that I would certainly be a stake missionary.
It was a big night. We were having a mens meeting on the eve of General Conference, a semi-annual convocation in Salt Lake City. Our meeting was attended by men from three stakes who came together at the Orange Stake Center. I was to hear the voice of the living prophet live via special telephone hookup.
One of the things that most impressed me about the Church, which Elder Jackson had told me about on my first visit to the ward, was its emphasis on family life. I was especially impressed by the commitment and sacrifice I saw fathers exhibit for their families, particularly since my own parents had divorced and I had been denied a close relationship with my father. The Church recognized the father as the head of his house, just as men were to lead and govern the Church. The General Authoritiesthe upperlevel management in Salt Lake Citywere all elderly patriarchs who led the Church with uncompromising strength.
This particular night, I watched men sitting reverently in the auditorium of the Stake Center with their arms draped over the shoulders of their sons. I envied that relationship, and recognized how fortunate I was to be a part of such a wonderful organization.
Suddenly, over the speakers in the room came the voice of David O. McKay, prophet, seer and revelator of the four-million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As President McKay began to speak, something startling happened: All the men in the room stood to their feet singing "We Thank Thee, 0 God, for a Prophet." I had sung the hymn many times in sacrament meeting. I loved it, as I loved the hymn we sang about Joseph Smith, "Praise to the Man!" It was an emotional moment. Many in the room wept.
Then President McKay, his 90-year-old voice quavering with emotion, begged us to be true to our God, our families and our Church. At the end of his speech, we again stood to our feet in song.
After the meeting I drove around Santa Ana reflecting on the evening. I had a hard time going to sleep that night. What a privilege to be a young Mormon missionary!
Since the Mormon Church places high emphasis on family life, young people are encouraged to marry young and have lots of children. For that reason, the Church provides opportunities for young people to meet in healthy social situations. Family Home Evening on Monday nights provided just such an opportunity, when we single adults were encouraged to meet together and have our own fellowship time. The Mutual Improvement Association organized dances, parties and co-educational softball games. Every Sunday night after church we went out for dessert or soft drinks.
One group of girls shared an apartment and often invited the single men over for dinner on Sunday afternoons. After dinner we played the guitar, sang and watched television.
One afternoon a new girl showed up for dinner. She was beautiful, with long black hair and dark eyes. She was also vivacious, with a good sense of humor, and I was attracted to her immediately. After dinner, I taught her some songs. She had a beautiful trained voice. I wanted to ask her out, yet because I was so involved in my mission I didnt want any entangling relationships. So I decided just to be her friend. That seemed to suit her.
But after a month or so of exchanging pleasantries at church and church social gatherings, I noticed that a couple of the other young men were asking her out and she was accepting. That motivated me to ask her for a date.
We took a long drive from Santa Ana to Riverside and back. We talked about our personal hopes and dreams, but mostly about our lives as they related to the Church. She was from a good Mormon family and the Church was very important to her.
I was captivated. What I noticed most was that she was the most honest person I had ever met. She was guileless. By the time I dropped her off at her apartment in Santa Ana, I knew I had a problem. And its name was Margaretta.
The Los Angeles Temple sits like a jewel atop a beautifully manicured hillside in the heart of Los Angeles. The night of January 15, 1966, I entered the building for the first time. I made my way down a corridor to the basement in the company of dozens of others coming for the 7:00 p.m. session.
In my pocket was a Temple Recommend, the official document signed by my bishop and my stake president. They had interviewed me and found me worthy to enter the house of the Lord. In addition to answering the questions the bishop had already asked me, I had sworn that I upheld the General Authorities of the Church and that I was not in sympathy or in any way connected with apostate groups.
At a checkpoint, a temple worker took my Recommend, examined it and stamped it. At a window I rented white clothingshirt, pants, belt, socks and shoes. I also picked special temple clothing.
I was then directed to a dressing room, where I removed my clothes and placed them in a locker. I put on a garment called a "shield"a piece of white cotton cloth with a hole for the head. The garment hung down the front and back of my body with the sides open.
I walked into a booth in the Washing and Anointing Room where a temple worker recited the ritual of washingthat I would "be free from the blood and sins of this generation"as he dipped his right hand in water, reached under the shield and touched various parts of my body. He ritualistically washed my head, "that my brain and intellect would be clear and active." He washed my ears, eyes, nose, lips, neck, shoulders, chest, arms and hands, abdomen, and then my legs and feet. The same process was repeated with oil in an anointing ceremony.
Next I was handed a special temple garment, which I was told represented the garment God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden. This garment, unless I defiled it, would be "a shield and protection for me against the power of the Destroyer until I finished my work on earth." From this day on, I was to wear such a temple garment, in place of ordinary underwear, for the rest of my life.
Then I went back to my locker and put it on, along with the white outer clothing I had rented. I carried with me the other clothing, which I was told I would put on later in the ceremony.
Then I was given a new name which I was never to reveal to anyone, except at a designated place in the temple ceremony. Now I was ready for the Creation Room.
In that room a temple worker told us we would watch a play reenacting the creation of the world. In it we would hear the voices of Elohim, Jehovah and Michael the archangel. (I knew Elohim to be the father of Jehovah, who was actually Jesus Christ.) In the play, the three heavenly beings organized the earth: they divided the light and darkness, and they created vegetation, animals, and eventually Adam and Eve. Also in the Creation Room I swore an oath, along with about a hundred others, to sacrifice everything I had, including my life, for the Church.
The next part of the ceremony left me a little bewildered. Terms were introduced which I did not understand. The character representing Elohim, or God, addressed us. He had previously led us in the oath of sacrifice. He now told us he was required to give us "the First Token of the Aaronic Priesthood," along with its name, sign and penalty. He impressed us that what he was about to reveal to us was very sacred and that we must promise never to reveal it to anyone, under any condition, even at the peril of our lives.
The Token was a secret handshake, which he showed to us.
The name of the Token, he said, was the secret new name we had received earlier in the temple ceremony.
The sign of the Token was made by placing our right thumb under our left ear, with our palms open flat and down.
The penalty, Elohim said, was a representation of the way a life could be taken. The penalty for revealing this first Token was depicted by drawing our thumbs "quickly across the throat to the right ear."
By this time I was growing most uncomfortable. I felt something was wrong. One of the things I had liked most about Mormonism was the simplicity of its church services. I liked the inornate settings and the plain, frank people. I now found myself in a ceremony I didnt like at all. What was wrong with me? Ed had promised me that this would be the greatest day of my life; that he had his most spiritual experiences at the temple.
As I brooded about this, the temple worker moved us into the next room, which he called the Lone and Dreary World.
In the Lone and Dreary World another play was enacted. A man playing the part of Lucifer had a dialogue with a man representing Adam. Lucifer introduced to Adam a man dressed in black who represented a preacher. To the preacher Lucifer said, "I will give you five thousand dollars to preach to this man." The preacher held out for more money since it had cost him so much to go to college to learn how to preach. Lucifer promised to raise his pay if he did well.
Then the preacher said to Adam, "Good morning, sir. Do you believe in a God who is without body, parts or passions; who sits on top of a topless throne; whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere; who fills the universe, yet is so small He can dwell within your heart?"
Adam replied that he could not comprehend such a Being.
"Thats the beauty of it!" the preacher replied. "Perhaps you believe in hell, that great bottomless pit which is full of fire and brimstone, into which the wicked are cast and where they are continually burning and yet are never consumed?"
Adam said he couldnt believe in that, either.
After more dialogue, seemingly designed to make the preacher look foolish, the play was interrupted and we were instructed to put on the additional articles of clothing we had been carrying. They included a sashcalled a robea white cloth cap, and a green apron embroidered with fig leaves. We then were given another secret handshake with its name, sign and penalty. This time the name was my own first name, and the penalty disembowelment.
The rest of the evening offered a continuation of the same plays, oaths, Tokens, signs and penalties. We went through the Terrestrial World, the Law of Chastity, the First Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood (or Sign of the Nail), the Law of Consecration, the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood (the Patriarchal Grip or Sure Sign of the Nail).
Finally we went Through the Veil where we stood on one side of a curtain separating the Terrestrial World from the Celestial World and gave the Tokens and their names to a worker who stood on the other side of the veil. The handshakes took place through a hole in the veil. After we had (with much prompting) said all the right things and given all the right signs, we were admitted into a beautifully furnished Celestial Room, and the ceremony was over.
I drove home in paralyzed shock and wonder. I had absolutely no comprehension what had happened in the temple. It made no sense to me. It repulsed me and angered me. Yet working against all those fears was the thought that I was in no position to tell the Church, the eldership, the General Authorities or God what to do. I did not understand. I must be wrong. It was as simple as that. In the morning I would wake up and understand. Now I just wanted to go home and go to bed and go to sleep.
In the morning, however, I felt no better. I stewed over the thing. I considered going to see Ed, but I wasnt up to facing him with such an issue. I thought I was losing my mind. I had just completed what was supposed to be the most wonderful spiritual event of my life, the event that would open up new vistas for my spiritual development, and I felt drained. What in the world had gone on in there?
I knew I had to talk to Ed.
"I know exactly how you feel, son. I felt the same way myself the first time I went through the temple. It is such a spiritual experience! Everything is so different from the way things happen in the outside world that you feel disoriented and confused."
"Thats exactly how I feel!"
"Jim, I could tell you all kinds of things. I could tell you that the temple ceremony is the most wonderful thing God has revealed to manwhich, by the way, it is. But that would only make you more confused. You cant lean on my testimony here. You must find this out for yourself."
"But how am I going to do that?"
"There is only one way to do that."
"What is it? Tell me!"
"You have to go back and go through the ceremony again. Go back every week if you have to. Go back at least seven times. I have gone hundreds. I guarantee you that if youll go back seven times and really pray, God will show you the secrets of the temple."
I left Eds determined to do what he had told me. And I did: I went back for the next seven Friday nights. The only thing different was that, since the temple also exists for the dead who did not go through while alive, I went through on behalf of people who had died. Each time, I was given a slip of paper with some name on itone like Henry Cook, Richard Dewes, Henry Barton, Jacob Holden, Paul Moseleysupplied by a Church member from personal genealogical research. And I went through the washings, anointings, oaths, Tokens, signs and penalties in proxy for that deceased person.
I still did not feel completely comfortable with the temple ceremony. It seemed alien to the simplicity of the Church. But I felt angry with myself for not feeling differently. Obviously I was not as spiritual as the bishop thought.
After worrying for nearly two months about my inability to appreciate the temple ceremony, I decided the only way to handle it was to try to put it out of my mind. The temple concept was apparently bigger and deeper than I was able to comprehend. There was no sense letting it disturb me. After all, the leadership of the Church knew what was best. Someday I would understand.
In the interim, though I would still go to the temple from time to time, I decided to absorb myself in activity and continue to serve the Church.
Margaretta and I had begun to date regularly. My plan to avoid entangling relationships was failing. I was falling in love with her. One day I asked her if she would like to go with me to visit a family Lee and I had met in Mexico.
We crossed the border at Mexicali and drove a hundred miles down the Baja to San Felipe on the Gulf of California. There my friend Antonio earned his living as part of a cooperative that fished for shark. We spent the weekend helping himriding far out into the Gulf to tend the nets, pulling sharks into the old fifteen-foot whaleboat, getting sick from the blood and the rolling of the boat in the swells of the warm Gulf water.
In the early evening twilight we walked the beach. Margaretta knew what I was going to ask her.
"I want to take you to the temple."
Well, what do you think?" "I dont know." "Yes, but what do you think?"
"I need some time. Its a big decision."
"Would it help if I told you I cant live without you?" "Im afraid not."
"O.K., then I wont say that."
But before our trip to Mexico was over, she told me she would marry me.
We made plans for an October wedding. Coincidentally, Lee had moved back to Wyoming, met a girl and was making plans of his own. So we decided to make it a double wedding in the Idaho Falls Temple.
Margaretta looked lovely in her long white gown. We knelt on satin pillows across a white altar. Mirrors on both walls reflected and re-reflected our images into infinity, representing that our marriage was "for time and all eternity."
I felt happier than I ever thought possible.
As a young married man, I moved to an even deeper level of commitment to the Church. The bishop released me from my mission, saying it would not be right for me to spend so much time away from home as a newlywed.
Soon Margaretta was pregnant. Within a year our baby daughter, Erin, was born. I was overwhelmed by the round, pink, trusting bundle, gazing confidently into the eyes of her father, Elder Spencer, Mormon leader, True Believer.
It was time to move even deeper.
Since the Mormon Church encourages excellence, it places a strong emphasis on education. And now that decency and order were part of my life, it was natural that I should turn my attention to preparing for maximum usefulness in the Church. That meant college. Margaretta agreed to continue working and we would take advantage of the educational benefits of the G.I. Bill, since I was a veteran.
So I was accepted at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, just twelve miles from the town of St. Anthony, where Margaretta grew up and where her parents still lived.
We headed for college full of hope and enthusiasm. Surely God was good to us and we were being led by Him. We had no idea that Ricks would become a junction in the road on our spiritual journey.