An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Mormon worship’

Church of One

A recent Salt Lake Tribune article described the North America Old Catholic Church (OCC), which has broken from mainstream Catholicism. This group follows Catholic liturgy without guidance from Rome. It emphasizes the traditional Catholic value of social justice. The church opposes abortion but does not lobby for legislation enforcing their religious beliefs. The OCC ordains women and allows priests to marry and divorced persons to take communion. Is it Catholic-lite or is it Catholicism refocusing on Jesus’s core teachings?

Reading this article made me wonder what I would drop and keep were I to form a breakaway group from Mormonism. Deciding what to throw out is easy. I would start with the organs which few members can play with lively enough tempo to keep the congregational singing from sounding like a herd of water buffalo lost in the desert.

On a more serious note, I would de-emphasize obedience to church leaders. Unquestioning obedience stifles individual thinking and growth.

My starter list would also downgrade Word of Wisdom emphasis. It’s increasingly hard to defend the 89th section as a health law when medical research demonstrates benefits from green tea, coffee, and moderate consumption of red wine. Substituting Diet Coke for coffee and tea strikes non-Mormons as bizarre.

Those are my priorities to drop. What would I keep? I would focus on Jesus’s teachings, especially the two great commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . .Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-39) And while we’re quoting the Bible, I would definitely open Bible study to include all translations. Understanding scripture is tough enough without dealing with archaic language.

Emphasizing the two great commandments might even alleviate the need for home and visiting teaching. I think the original purpose of both programs was to serve as training wheels—helping us learn to love and care for our neighbors. Like other programs, they have become crutches—excuses to ignore our neighbors unless assigned. I do enjoy the camaraderie found within wards in which I’ve lived. Could we could retain that by stressing principles rather than programs?

I wonder if emphasizing the first and second commandments might improve missionary work. Service missionaries already focus on helping others instead of prosyletyzing. Would the church make, perhaps fewer, but more permanent conversions if all missionaries focused on service?

Of course, I would keep the concept of James 22:17, which we have shortened to “Faith without works is dead.” However, I would expand James’ wisdom to include grace—the love of God for saints and sinners alike. The kind, loving Heavenly Father we teach about in Primary doesn’t withhold his love on the many occasions we mortals fail to live up to our understanding of the gospel.

I like the contemplative time while the sacrament is being blessed and served. A few minutes of quiet during a busy week is restorative, a time for self-reflection—except for parents of small children. Possibly Primary could be held during Sacrament Meeting and everyone—except Primary workers—would return home refreshed for family togetherness.

Naturally, I would keep—possibly restore is the better word—the Mormon emphasis on learning: “Study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.” (D&C 90:15) Keeping commandments I enjoy is painless.

 “An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work” is a slogan I’ve heard so often in church that for a long time, I thought it was from the Bible. Work, honesty, and wise stewardship are principles I learned at church and would definitely retain.

That’s what I would keep in my break-away group: Love of God who loves all His children unconditionally. Love and service to others. Contemplation. Family. Learning. Work and provident living.

My list ignores hot-button issues like gay marriage and priesthood for women. Maybe those issues could be addressed in open discussions of how to apply the first and second commandments.

The Old Catholic Church break-off group has a North American membership of about 10,000. I suspect my group would be a Church of One. That’s no big deal. I’m an introvert.

Blocked Out

Much wishful thinking exists in Mormon circles about shortening the 3-hour Sunday meeting block to two hours. Dropping the Sunday School hour is the most common suggestion.

The original idea behind the 3-hour block was to save travel time and expense for members not living within easy walking distance of meetinghouses. Auxiliary activities were to be conducted on a monthly basis. Since Mormons have never bought into the idea that less is more, monthly activities for YM/YW activities—at least in Utah wards—have expanded to a weekly basis. In many wards from two to four enrichment activities each month fill Relief Society sisters’ calendars although attendance at all is not mandatory—except, of course, for the RS presidency. So much for saving time and travel.

I do think the powers-that-be got it wrong when they clumped all auxiliary meetings and sacrament meeting into a Sunday block. What they should have done was drop sacrament meeting. The old 90- minute Sunday School meeting schedule consisted of a half hour for sacrament service, short talks and hymn practice, followed by age-grouped classes. Sacrament meeting was redundant after people had already taken the sacrament in the morning. And as for the SM talks—if members don’t get the message in 30 minutes of worship service followed by an hour of class instruction, something is wrong that another 90 minutes will not fix.

I suggest a Sabbath schedule of Sunday School in the morning followed by family time at home. Congregational hymns were much more musical in the days when we practiced singing on Sunday mornings. Class time could be gender as well as age segregated for those who find Priesthood and Relief Society more useful than Gospel Doctrine class—the lessons really aren’t that different. Wards would find it much easier to staff Primary for one-hour sessions. Retention rate of young adults might improve if kids weren’t subjected to three hours of sitting with arms folded every Sunday. And members might leave church on Sunday feeling uplifted instead of exhausted.

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.

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