How to Include Family and Friends Who Can’t Attend the Temple

By Kerry Smith

When my husband and I were sealed in the Bountiful Utah Temple years ago, our fathers and a couple of siblings weren’t able to join us for the sealing. They respectfully waited until we’d finished and joined us for family pictures and the rest of our celebrations. It was a beautiful day for us as a couple, but years later, my father-in-law told me how hard it had been for him to wait outside on our special day.

My husband is the youngest of seven children. Almost all of them were sealed in the temple when they married. Now that our nieces and nephews are marrying, there have been about 14 sealings over the years. On these most special occasions, my father-in-law isn’t with us, and it’s hard.

I’m glad he’s talked with me about it a couple of times. He doesn’t feel any resentment towards us as his family. He knows that being sealed in the temple is what we want. But he’s also an extremely good man, as is my dad and the siblings who couldn’t be with us for part of our special day. It is incredibly hard for him to not attend our weddings. That’s how he sees it.

Truly, there’s no best way to smooth things over for those who feel hurt that they can’t be in the temple with us. They know they could come to church and over time seek a temple recommend, but that’s not what they want to do. We mutually respect that decision and move forward on common ground.

We’ve worked hard over the years to maintain strong relationships with all our family members. If you also find yourself in a family situation similar to ours, here are a few things you might consider to be a bit more inclusive for those who can’t attend the temple:

  • Make clear plans to include everyone. Our invitations specifically included family and close friends who could not attend the sealing with us. We inserted personalized invites that welcomed family and friends to be included in our pictures after the sealing and at the luncheon. All family members joined us at the evening reception as well and helped in various assignments.
  • Host a luncheon or reception at a nonreligious setting. After pictures, we headed to a fabulous luncheon at a clubhouse, a familiar setting for my father-in-law who had been president there. My father also felt very comfortable in that setting. It was casual, western-rustic, and the food was fantastic! My style at the time wasn’t western, but I recognized the importance of having everyone feel included and comfortable. It worked, and years later the family still talks about our luncheon at the clubhouse.

That evening our first reception was held in a historic home, which was a comfortable setting for all. I highly recommend bypassing meetinghouse receptions, if you can, when less-religious family members have already been gracious to visit the temple grounds with you.

  • Carefully talk about the temple. I added the word “carefully,” because some family members just aren’t open to talking about the temple. That was our case. In the years since our sealing, questions have been asked and answered. We just had to wait for those opportunities. But some family members may have questions. It’s ok to answer the basics. A friend of mine wrote this helpful article: How to Talk about the Temple. 
  • Write a letter. I didn’t think to do this at the time, but I wish we had written letters for our fathers to read while we were in the temple. Perhaps it would have helped them feel more included. If I had a do-over, we’d take the time to compose a few thoughts to share with them.
  • Ask a temple worker to visit with your loved ones. If you arrange it ahead of time, someone at the temple will be glad to talk with your family or friends while they are in the waiting room. I wouldn’t suggest surprising guests with this type of visit but would ask if they’d be open to it. In the temple setting, it could provide a beautiful feeling of inclusion.
  • Hold a ring ceremony. This was the right option for a friend of mine who’s the only child of a minister. She included both of her parents in a ring ceremony held after her sealing at a separate location. Consider your own situation and decide if a simple ceremony after would help to soften hearts. The temple sealing is the main focus, of course, and perhaps ring ceremonies should be considered only sparingly, but we can adjust plans to include others whose hearts would be broken otherwise.

Honestly, there’s no set way to handle the sensitivities that come with long-held traditions and all family situations. Once parents hold their newborns, they dream of one day seeing them get married, of being there to give the bride away. If those parents are members of the church who attend the temple, the dream includes attending their child’s temple sealing.

For parents who aren’t members of the church or who don’t hold temple recommends, those dreams likely don’t include a temple sealing of which they cannot attend. It’s so important to be sensitive to such real feelings. 

Hopefully, all parents want what’s best for their children and what fulfills their children’s goals and desires. As a couple, my husband and I were blessed to have fathers who wanted us to have our dreams. Our mothers and many other family members were able to attend our temple sealing with us, and we treasure that blessing. 

My husband and I are so grateful we married in the temple. It’s been important for us to have the influence of temple worship in our home. Ultimately, any parent wants their child to feel blessed and happy. For us, that meant marrying in the temple and doing what was right for us as a couple.

Kerry Griffin Smith enjoys uplifting those around her. She was a writer and editor for the former Ensign Magazine. You can find her sharing impactful, clean books in her online book club group. Feel free to join.

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