The LDS Church Uses Pencils

Reader Angus Macfarlane reached out to me recently with an anecdote I found fascinating. He agreed to let me share it below:


I’ve been a long time reader of the Cramped. Thanks for taking the time to curate interesting content about analog creativity. I would like to share an anecdote.

I was in the temple* yesterday and it occurred to me that we were still using pencils and paper. To get in, we show a piece of paper; to participate in an ordinance, we use a piece of paper; when the ordinance is complete, we show that with a red checkmark from a pencil. I think there are a few reasons for this. 1) There isn’t anything distracting about a piece of paper and a pencil. This allows focus to be placed elsewhere, while still ensuring accurate record keeping. 2) There are few points of failure in the system. If the paper arrives at the recorders desk with a red check mark, then it is recorded as complete. If not, then it isn’t. Paper also never runs out of batteries. 3) If a failure does happen, it is obvious. If a patron proceeds through the ceremony, it will quickly be apparent if they don’t have the paper, in which case the ceremony can’t be completed for them. There isn’t any ambiguity, it provides a binary situation of success/failure. 4) There is no delay in transmission. It is as fast as reading what is on the paper and verifying the check mark.

There are many digital systems in place as well, including databases, etc. My point here though, is that on the individual level, the experience in the temple is with paper and pencils.

*Context: This was an LDS temple (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormon). The LDS church has been very serious about record keeping since the 1800s, part of which is explained by the belief that heavenly and earthly records will be compared in some judgement day, and also that the LDS church does ordinances for the dead. The idea here is that for a person to be saved, they must complete certain ordinances on the earth (such as baptism). For those who died, the LDS church does ordinances for them (only in temples). Everything that is done is witnessed and documented. I don’t want to be blind to issues or concerns that surround this practice, but just wanted to share something interesting about the practice of using pencil and paper.

Angus M.

Paper and pencil make sense for such things – especially for longevity. I’ve long said, if you’d like something to last 100+ years, use paper. Every digital format I used 30 years ago, besides plaintext, is unreadable by computers of today. Yet, I have church ledgers from my great, great, grandfather well over a hundred years old that I can read easily today.