An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Aesthetics and Worship

“What attracted you to Catholicism?” I asked my brother who is contemplating baptism into that faith. He answered thoughtfully: “The beauty of the liturgy, the pageantry, the tradition of combining art and ceremony with worship. Protestant churches are stark and bare—empty.”

Dooby’s answer made me think of the temples and churches humans have constructed for worship throughout history. From Angkor Wat in Cambodia to gothic cathedrals in Europe to simple Shaker meetinghouses in New England to sacred mountains in many lands, humans have equated beauty with worship.

I have not attended a Catholic service—probably for fear of not knowing what to do. But, I have attended Episcopal services and found the liturgy quite beautiful and inspiring of reverence.

I sometimes attend services at the Salt Lake Unitarian Church for the wit and wisdom of the Reverend Tom Goldsmith and for the music. The paid music director, an accomplished pianist and composer, plays a variety of music—classical, jazz, popular, even hymns to complement the sermons. The choir, under his direction, can raise goose bumps with their performances. When he conducts a children’s choir, the kids have fun and the audience enjoys. I always leave feeling uplifted. The old Zen Center in Salt Lake had a classic Japanese style with candles, incense, and sometimes flowers giving an aura of peace to the Zendo. (The group recently relocated, and I haven’t seen the new facility yet).

The evangelical churches where our sons worship generally are not given to displays of beautiful art or music. When we attended Christmas Eve services with our older son’s family last year, I nearly wept at the beauty of singing “Silent Night” in the darkened sanctuary with each member of the congregation holding a lighted candle.

With one exception, beauty is lacking in Mormon worship. Chapels are bland, cookie cutter sameness—inside and out. Congregational singing drags. In most wards instrumental or vocal performances provide opportunities for young members to perform, but do little to elevate the congregation’s appreciation.

One element of beauty I do find when I attend my home ward is the warmth of friendship among members. Fellowship is fostered by assigning members to attend within boundaries which keep wards relatively small and members living within the same general area.

Camaraderie thrives within these borders. If only we could have beautiful music, uplifting architecture, and articulate sermons to match.

Comments on: "Aesthetics and Worship" (4)

  1. I agree with your brother that Catholicism does have some wonderful pomp and ceremony associated with their liturgy and architecture. I majored in Roman History as an undergrad, and I naturally studied Catholicism by relation. You should attend tonight’s Midnight Mass at a local Catholic Church. They have recently changed the liturgy, and you will get a lot of Christmas/Easter Catholics who will be completely out of their element. You could show up with absolutely no knowledge of what is going on, and fit right in.

    I agree entirely that our (Mormon) services are often boring to the point of insanity. And our buildings are far more pragmatic than they are inspiring. I do not know what the culprit is, but the trend it moving into the one architectural salvation, which were temples. Now the more pragmatic, but essentially “cookie-cutter” buildings which are completely functional, but not as unique.

    It is a curse and blessing, I suppose. We are an extremely pragmatic, and reserved, people. Art and expression are standardized and rarely provide the depth or breakthrough vibrancy that make a mark. Our services are the same, something I have lamented more than a few times. I do not know what to do to fix it, either.

    Part of it (boring meetings), in my opinion, is the lay ministerial work, which brings almost everyone into the fold of responsibility, and is almost definitely more in line with early Christian communities, but fails to produce the talent or depth in sermons that are the hallmark of successful congregations. Most Sacrament Meeting talks fail to provide any real depth or meaning beyond that covered in Primary. In a few of the university towns we have lived in, the trend varied a little with some excellent speakers, who were significantly versed in history and theology, but there were the exception to the rule.

    I’ve found that I simply complement my LDS worship with forays into Midnight Mass, and Orthodox Easter. Christmas is not Christmas without a guy swinging incense. Our family is moving to Italy in a year, and we are looking forward to the art and architecture. One day, we will probably produce some fantastic speakers (I think Pres. Uchtdorf is a huge breath of fresh air), architects, and artists, but it will take time. Until then, I borrow where I can.

  2. I chuckled a few days ago as I entered the fourth DI in 6 hours. They are all nearly identical up and down the Wasatch Front. The ones that were unique are now being replaced with cookie cutter DIs. The Ogden Temple is currently a skeleton, undergoing renovation that I believe will make it look like the rest.

    My first thought in all of this boring architecture is that it saves lots of expense when constructing a building on every other block in Utah.

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