In temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the dressing room is a place of quiet expectation. There's a feeling of busy activity, as some people are preparing for an endowment session and others are returning from one, ready to change out of their all-white temple wear and into everyday clothing.
But anyone coming or going from a session can pay their respects at a modest wooden box on the dressing room counter, where they're invited to take a tiny pencil and scribble the names of people they want to add to the temple's prayer roll.
The pint-sized orange pencils and scraps of paper set aside for this purpose always remind me of the old-fashioned card catalog days at the library when I was a child, when I would scrawl the call number of a book I wanted before heading off to the stacks on a quest to retrieve it.
I'm guessing that the quaint system of pencil and paper will live on in Latter-day Saint temples, but as of this week it is being expanded in a beautiful, virtual way. On Tuesday, the First Presidency announced that Mormons around the world will be able to sign in to the church's website to submit names of family members and friends to be added to any temple's prayer roll.
I tried it today and it could not have been easier. After signing in to my church account, I chose my local temple and clicked on a link to add up to five names to the prayer roll:
I have no shortage of people to pray for right now, since I've got friends who are battling cancer, coronavirus, and depression. The hard part was choosing just five.
After I did so, typing in their names and holding them in my heart for that moment, the site popped up with a quick acknowledgment.
As I said, it couldn't have been simpler. It was also, for me at least, a strong spiritual experience that helped me connect more deeply with the church, during a season when such experiences are frankly thin on the ground.
While I'm sure the church has instituted this new possibility because of the unique circumstances right now of so many temples being closed because of the pandemic, I hope this is a change that sticks. Even in the best of non-pandemic circumstances, not everyone has access to a temple. For some people it's hundreds of miles away. And if Mormons are a people who believe that the truest "order of prayer" is what exists in the temple, it makes sense for that blessing to be offered to every member of the church, no matter where they live.
In 1978, according to historian D. Michael Quinn, the First Presidency stated that a prayer circle was intended to accomplish multiple goals, including drawing people closer to God and his Son, praying for the sick, and softening the hearts of participants. I'm glad that work can continue, even when the temples are closed.