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The public will be allowed to visit the Mormon temple on the Beltway for the first time in 46 years

The Mormon Temple in Kensington, Md., is visible from the Beltway. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

For anyone who drives around the Capital Beltway, the soaring white spires are a familiar sight — and yet a complete mystery to most.

Maryland children have grown up believing that the fairytale building was Disneyland, or heaven itself. Drivers sitting in maddening I-495 traffic have likened the building to the Emerald City so often that pranksters started writing “Surrender Dorothy” on the nearby bridge.

Finally, for the first time since the 1970s, all those curious onlookers will finally have their chance to peek inside.

It’s not heaven or Oz; it’s the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kensington. The Mormon Church allows only members inside its 156 working temples. So, since this one opened in 1974, only the Washington area’s approximately 40,000 Mormons have had access.

But the church will be renovating the Kensington temple, starting in March 2018. And that means, as Bethesda Magazine noted on Monday, that there will be a brief window, when the renovations are complete and before the rededication, when the temple will not yet be dedicated and thus will be open to non-Mormons.

Mark your calendars for 2020. That’s when you’ll get to take your tour.

A new Mormon temple opened in Philadelphia last year, offering a glimpse inside

At the Kensington temple, guests have always been welcomed at the visitors center adjacent to the temple, and on the grounds, where the church puts on a spectacular Christmas light show. In a statement, the church said that the temple itself needs updates to its mechanical systems and new furnishings and fixtures.

The temple isn’t used for worship services. Those take place in meetinghouses and chapels, which are open to any guest who wants to attend a service on any Sunday. Instead, Mormon temples host weddings and adoption ceremonies, and offer members quiet places for prayer and reflection.

Each time a new temple is dedicated, the church offers open houses before the consecration. So if you just can’t wait until 2020, get yourself to Cedar City, Utah, or Meridian, Idaho, this October and November, or to Frankfurt, Germany, in 2018. The church currently has a dozen temples under construction, from Rio de Janeiro to Rome to Kinshasa, the capital of Congo.

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