An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Church attendance’

Crisis of Faith

As a child, I enjoyed neither Primary nor Sunday School. My dad worked Sundays and my mother had to get dinner or care for my baby brother on Sunday mornings, so my brother Dooby and I were sent to church only half the time. But I knew I should go—something about blessings bestowed for seat time. I felt guilty when I didn’t attend—something about disappointing Heavenly Father. Church attendance for guilt appeasement continued until I left Utah. Our ward in Casper, Wyoming was so welcoming—the people so interesting—that one morning as I dressed for church, I was shocked to realize I looked forward to meeting my friends there and learning their take on the gospel.

Church attendance generally inspired me for almost 20 years. Sisters in Relief Society provided the wisdom I would have received had my mother lived longer. Scripture study in Gospel Doctrine class fed me intellectually and spiritually as we spent two years each delving into both Old and New Testaments. Repeated study of the Book of Mormon—my least favorite of the four standard works—helped me winnow spiritual gems such as King Benjamin’s admonition to share with the poor without judging whether they deserve their misfortune for, “are we not all beggars?” Alma’s teachings that the baptismal covenant includes being “willing to bear one another’s burdens” was another spiritual find.

Mormon meetings and activities met my social needs—especially when I became a Stay-at-Home-Mom and had no other access to adult company. Church provided spiritual comfort. I was taught, and in turn taught, that Heavenly Father is a kind, loving parent who would guide me in making wise decisions, help me deal with challenges, and raise my children righteously.

After sixteen years of marriage, George and I decided we needed a change in our lives. Instead of having separate flings, we decided to move. We fasted and prayed for guidance, received a confirmation, then plunged ahead into the worst financial decision of our lives. Church isn’t a lot of comfort when you do something stupid. In fact, it makes it worse to associate with people who relate their experiences of fasting, praying, and getting the right answers. I struggled with God’s unwillingness to bless us when we were trying so hard to obey the commandments.

Before I’d resolved that crisis, the church decided to save money by recycling Relief Society lesson manuals. Lessons that were already fairly similar were repeated until I could not only recite the lines with the teacher, I could predict when Sister Wilson would share the time she had gone back to the grocery store to return the 86 cents extra change the checker had given her—or when Sister Barnes would describe walking out of a movie with inappropriate language. I replaced Relief Society with my own home schooling.

Sunday School held my attention for several years longer because lessons were based on passages of scripture. But even scriptures get tedious if only one interpretation is allowed. General Conference, which used to inspire me, lulled me to sleep. I’m not sure if the speakers changed or if I had just heard it all before. But not attending church left a hole in my life. I investigated several possibilities and found spiritual compatibility with Buddhist study.

Church of the Laid-back Saints

I used to speculate about the first three things I would do when I got to be in charge of the church:  1) Throw out the organs—use peppy piano accompaniment to revitalize our dirge-like hymn singing.  2) Excommunicate the Curriculum Correlation Committee —for driving droves of life-long members from church by the endless repetition of “milk before meat” lessons.  3) Burn the synthetic lace tablecloths “decorating” tables in Relief Society rooms.

Obviously, I’m not going to get into a position of authority to enact my recommendations anytime soon. That’s why I was so captivated when my cousin, Thinker, decided to start his own church—The Church of the Laid-back Saints—with beginning and ending times within the same hour and tithing optional.

I have a few more suggestions for Thinker.

  • Dress code:  Neckties banned. Dresses optional for both genders—why should only women be allowed the privilege of cool, bare legs and thighs in the summertime?
  • Refreshments:  Juice and muffins, bagels or donuts served after Sacrament Meeting.
  • Optional Sunday activities: Children’s activity classes with a broader curriculum than folding arms and sitting quietly. In-depth scripture study groups for adults wanting to dive into deep study. Less studious adults can continue munching donuts and chatting, lead children’s activities, or go home.
  • Paid music directors:  Developing ward musical talent and appreciation will be much more successful with paid professionals in charge.

Thinker actually proposed replacing the water with wine for the sacrament, but that sounds like heresy to me.

Text Me Your Testimony

At a stake conference held in a college fieldhouse, the lights dimmed for the video presentation and scores of little blue lights glowed from the seats across from my section. I’d seen good Mormons—mostly male—using iPods, iPhones, Game Boys, and, less recently, Time Magazines and Harbor Freight Tool Catalogs to get through church meetings. Still, the darkened fieldhouse and stadium seating revealed a surprisingly high percentage of people tuned elsewhere during a meeting.

Is this a phenomenon of Mormon culture? Although iPhones are everywhere, I have not noticed parishioners sneaking peaks at semi-covered Blackberries when I visit other churches. Possibly that’s because meetings at other churches don’t run for three hours. It’s also possible that their meetings are more interesting—or maybe other denominations exert less pressure for members to attend every meeting every Sunday

For decades Mormon parents have brought toys and snacks to occupy children during Sacrament Meeting. Web-enabled devices might be a logical extension of this tradition to teens and adults. As availability of web-based media increases, speakers and class instructors will find themselves more frequently directing comments to the tops of heads bowed over illuminated screens. The solution, of course, is for the instructors to text their remarks and questions to class members who could text back answers. No more agonizing waits for hands to raise. E-connected classes would still be held in ward meetinghouses, of course, to provide fellowshipping and to be sure everyone is plugged in.

Now, if we could just make it acceptable for adults to bring snacks more sustaining than breath mints to get us through the 3-hour block!

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