The Mountain of the Lord’s House
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.