May 4, NEW YORK (AP) - Manhattan's first Mormon temple, intended as an oasis of quiet reflection and religious devotion for 42,000 believers in the New York region, opens next month - an anomaly on the city's pulsating Upper West Side.
Instead of the soaring white spires and other fanciful designs of freestanding Mormon temples elsewhere, the Manhattan version is part of a windowless, six-story building. It could easily go unnoticed amid luxury high-rises and the Lincoln Center cultural complex across the street.
But starting May 8, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will hold a monthlong open house - affording the public a rare glimpse into the inner sanctum of the faith, which claims 12 million adherents worldwide.
After the open house, the three floors set aside for the temple will be closed to all but church members, said Kim Smith, an elder who guided an advance tour Monday.
Mormons consider their church to be the restoration of the faith founded by Jesus Christ, and thus neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant. Temples such as the one in Manhattan are reserved only for members certified by their bishops, and used for marriages, proxy baptisms on behalf of dead persons, and other rites, while the denomination's meetinghouses are open to all for Sunday services and other functions.
A video presentation shown Monday featured people of all races speaking of their personal faith as Mormons, and officials sought to de-emphasize any impression that the church, now active in 173 countries, is exclusionary.
``We want people to come here. The temple portion is open to anyone who wants to make the LDS commitment to God,'' Smith said.
The newly created temple takes up three floors of the building that has stood at the site since 1975. The rest of it includes a meetinghouse and administrative offices.
Throughout the temple - a complex of rooms sumptuously appointed with immaculate white carpets, gold leaf and original murals and paintings - the theme was of faith in God and the continuity of marriage and the family, not only in earthly life but through eternity.
Visitors saw a baptismal pool where Mormon teenagers - volunteers, as are all participants in a church without paid clergy - undergo the proxy baptisms on behalf of ancestors who, Smith explained, ``did not have that opportunity in their own lives.''
Two ``instructional rooms, `` one with subdued lighting and original murals of woodland scenes, the other with bright lights, suggested the gradual enlightenment of LDS teachings and nearness to God. Next was the ``celestial room,'' a pristine chamber with sunburst-design stained glass windows and gilt-trimmed white decor, where meditation is the purpose and no one speaks.
``Here, you come to contemplate what you have learned,'' Smith said. ``In this peaceful feeling, there is the presence of God.''
To preserve that in the middle of the city, he said, the temple designers included ``significant soundproofing.''
The officials noted that the New York temple is 300 miles from Palmyra, N.Y., the small upstate village where - according to Mormon belief - Joseph Smith Jr., a 14-year-old farm boy, saw the vision of God and Christ that led him to found the church 10 years later, in 1830.
Officials said Manhattan's LDS temple is the 119th worldwide. Two others recently opened in Copenhagen and Accra, Ghana.