Mormon Baptisms for the Dead
Tiffany Sowby is a mother of five and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon” woman). She tries to find humor, joy, and contentment in the little things life has to offer.
While a student at the University of Utah, I passed the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (often mistakenly called the Mormon Church) on my drive to school each day. At that point in my life, I was able to count on two hands the number of times I had entered into a Mormon temple to do what we Latter-day Saints (or “Mormons”) believe to be temple work for those that have passed on before us. This temple work consists of performing certain ordinances, by proxy, for family members who passed away without an opportunity to receive those ordinances. Specifically, at that time in my life, I was limited to participating in baptisms for the dead only. Worthy Latter-day Saints age 12 and older have the opportunity to participate in baptisms for the dead, the first of the essential ordinances.
Heeding the challenge of my bishop (a Mormon ecclesiastical leader), I began to attend the temple more frequently. As Latter-day Saints, (“Mormons”), we believe baptism by immersion to be the first ordinance of the gospel that begins our way back to eternal life. The Fourth Article of Faith (which Articles of Faith Mormons believe to be the basic guidelines and principles of the religion) states, “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”Before long, it became a weekly habit for me and my best friend to visit the Salt Lake Temple early each Wednesday morning before our college classes began. At times, it became a somewhat social event as other college friends often joined us, not to mention the dear friendships we gained with the workers that worked that early Wednesday morning shift. The weekly reminder of an important gospel principle had an impact on my young adult life.
I was baptized and became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as an 8-year-old child. Despite having a horrible fear of water, being baptized was an easy decision for me to make as a young child. Baptisms done by proxy in LDS temples are performed with faith and understanding. Faith that those persons who are now deceased will accept the work being done for them, yet an understanding that though deceased, the people we know briefly by just a two- or three-word name on a piece of paper, have the agency to accept or decline the ordinance done on their behalf. Latter-day Saints can participate in doing work for those who are not direct family members, but any names turned in to the temple must be submitted by direct family members (see Church Policy for Baptisms for the Dead link below).
I remember distinctly an early morning at the Salt Lake temple, sitting next to a lady who was at the temple to observe the baptism by proxy for her deceased husband. I remember her nervousness that her husband, who never had an interest to be baptized a member of the Church while alive, would accept the work now that he was deceased. It was a light-bulb moment for me! Up to that point, I think I had a somewhat naive approach to the work done within a temple. Yet sitting there visiting with a lady forty years my senior taught me a valuable lesson and reminder: agency (the right to choose for oneself) is an eternal principle—it is the same in life as it is in death.
After just over 2 1/2 years of weekly Wednesday morning temple attendance, I got married and moved away. My weekly temple visits to do baptisms for the dead came to an end. The day before I was married, a Wednesday, was the last time I performed baptisms for the dead at the Salt Lake Temple. That morning, the two dear elderly men who had greeted me with a smile each Wednesday for two years embraced me and challenged me to always maintain a good habit of temple attendance.
Several days later, following my wedding, I was thrilled while opening up my wedding gifts to see these two dear men had purchased two plates towards my china set. I use my china almost once a week, and though I can’t remember anyone else (besides my mother-in-law) who contributed to my complete china set, I remember these two dear men regularly as I retrieve plates from my china hutch. The memories of them and their unspoken testimonies through faithful service will remain with me forever. It was through them and with them that I gained a love for temple work.
The young children of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints frequently sing a song, “I Love to see the Temple.” There is a phrase in the song that says, “I’ll prepare myself while I am young. This is my sacred duty.” It is a declaration that many Latter-day Saints hold true. I was a proud mother when a year and a half ago, my daughter chose to wake up early on her 12th birthday to attend the Bountiful Utah Temple with her dad to perform baptisms for the dead for the first time. Before presents were opened and a birthday breakfast was eaten, my daughter chose instead to take the time to do her “sacred duty.” Returning home, she had a big smile on her face—mine was likely just as big. Behind my smile was the hope that she will learn to love the temple as much as I have.
LDS News on Church Policy for Baptisms for the Dead