“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.