Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Prodigal Son Returns

I haven't set foot inside a Mormon church in six and a half years. My recent involvement in the bloggernacle has made me more interested in Mormon issues. I figure if I want to be a Christmas/Easter Mormon, I need to at least start going on Easter and Christmas. I decided to semi-live blog my visit. (It still counts as live-blogging if everyone else is still in church right?)
8:45 am: This is so early. Sundays aren't supposed to have 8:45s. There aren't a lot of people on the roads but the Baptist church down the street has already blocked off a lane of traffic so they can park there. Is that even legal? I guess this is what it feels like to be non-Mormon in Utah. The Baptists have a large cross out in front of their church made up of flowers and people are adding to it. I haven't seen anything like that before.
8:50: I reach the Mormon church parking lot, which is surprisingly half-empty. I thought I was going to have a hard time finding a spot. I didn't want to come too early (to avoid any pre-church socializing), but I didn't want to be circling the lot looking for a space either. It looks like I timed it just right.
8:55: I find a pew near the back. The chapel is actually quite nice. Maybe I was expecting the ratty Utah church from my childhood, but this chapel looks good. It even has a wall of windows! The tithing is going to good use here. I notice that the pews are designed to look more like traditional Episcopal pews with everything except the little doors to lock you in. I think this is a nice touch. I know the church always says it tries to have its architecture blend in with the local customs but I thought it was just lip-service. Between the red-brick exterior and this interior, I think this might well be the nicest Mormon church I've ever been to.
9:00: The meeting shows no sign of starting. The organist is playing interminable prelude music while the bishop makes the rounds. Of course, I eavesdrop on the people sitting behind me.
Younger woman: "Why don't you and your wife sit here? I am going to sit over there."
Older man: "I bet you're going to find some good-looking guy and sit next to him."
Younger woman [uncomfortably]: "Uh, actually my friend just came in, and I'm going to go sit with her."
Who thinks this kind of banter is appropriate? She should go straight to heaven for not slugging this guy.
I watch as the chapel slowly fills up. I am literally the only man over twenty not wearing a white shirt. I think I may also be the only adult man not wearing a suit coat (I am wearing a blue shirt and tie). At least one of the reverence reminders is also wearing a blue button-down shirt. I totally forgot about reverence reminders! The concept is rather odd if you think about it. Anyway, the blue-shirted reverence reminder has his arms folded but his whole body is jerking back and forth with barely restrained adolescent energy. It makes him look like he's in a straight jacket.
A man comes by and shakes everyone's hand. I find out later that this is the bishop. I look down on my program and realize this is the wrong ward. I had looked up the time on but I guess they changed with the new year. I could have slept till 1! Oh well. At this point I start to get the tell-tale warning signs of an oncoming migraine. I don't have any Tylenol with me. I guess my Sunday is going to be cut a little short.
9:05: The bishop is standing at the podium and looks like he wants to start the meeting, but the prelude music just won't stop. I'll bet the organist has issues with cutting off the song in the middle of the verse.
9:07: Prelude music finally ends and the Bishop starts the meeting. The bishop recognizes a High Councilman seated with him on the stand and tells us that the High Councilman and his wife will be providing the talks today. My headache just got a lot worse.
A couple sits next to me on the pew, effectively hedging me in. This is going to make my getaway a lot harder. The pew is a very awkward length. There isn't quite enough room for all three of us to sit comfortably. By now, the chapel is packed and filled with the sounds of screaming children. For Catholics, the smell of incense reminds them of church. For Mormons, it's the scream of a child.
During the opening hymn, I open the hymnal and read along but I don't like singing. The woman behind me is trying to get all Beyonce on the hymn. Yeah, we get it: you're in the choir, stop showing off.
The bishop releases and calls a new Primary presidency. I feel a little weird not raising my hand to give thanks but I am not a part of the ward. I wonder how my wife would react to the sustaining process. She'd probably find it a little weird but it somehow appeals to my democratic nature.
Time for the sacrament. We sing (well, they sing) "There Is a Green Hill Far Away." I never liked this sacrament song as a priest because it is too short and there is never enough time to break all the bread during it. Sure enough, the priests need extra time to finish and so the music continues. Fortunately, the song is only two stanzas long so the organist won't have to quit in the middle of a verse. Otherwise, we could be here all day.
The passers of the sacrament are a weird mix of young men and a couple of middle-aged guys thrown in. I guess there aren't a lot of youth in this ward (not surprising considering the housing prices). At least there are some minorities represented by the sacrament passers. This is encouraging.
I noticed earlier that a woman sitting a few rows in front of me was definitely not wearing her garments. I see that she doesn't take the sacrament and I feel bad for noting her non-conformance to the unwritten dress code. I've become everything I hate and in just fifteen minutes! The sacrament is a weird thing. It kind of broadcasts more information about you than you really feel comfortable sharing. And even if people aren't actively watching they still notice. Fortunately, the couple in my pew are a buffer between me and the deacon. Somehow it is less embarrassing to refuse the sacrament at the end of a row than directly from the deacon.
All this time, my headache is getting worse and worse. I know that if I have to sit through a High Council talk, I might not be able to drive home (migraines can do that to me). The sacrament is over and I make a break for it. The married couple has to stand up to let me out but there are like thirty people streaming into the chapel looking for seats so it's not a big deal. On my way out, I hear the bishop inviting the late-comers to sit in the Choir seats on the stand. That is always the most embarrassing place to sit.
9:30: I'm back in the parking lot, which is now completely full. Not a single open spot. Ah, Mormons. Maybe that is where I get my habitual tardiness from. I notice an inordinate number of Utah and Idaho plates. This would have helped me out the other day when my wife and I were playing the license plate game.
On the way home, I see a car with the following bumper-sticker: "1 cross + 3 nails = 4given." Just another day in Virginia.


Anonymous said...

Ned -

I'm not very computer literate, and I'm sure you have this somewhere, but why did you leave the church?

m said...

so you didn't even stick around for the talks? at least that ward didn't schedule a fast and testimony meeting for today (general conference being next week).

i think that the church should try hard to encourage the bishops to have very christ-centric sacrament meetings on easter sunday. i think it's quite disappointing to easter/christmas mormons to show up on easter and listen to some high council guy drone on about the restoration or the book of mormon.

good for you for making a go of it. i didn't realize that it had been that long for you. maybe next week you can try and listen to a whole session of conference (ha!).

NFlanders said...

Anonymous-- It's not you, it's me. I haven't posted about why I stopped going. I've never really enjoyed going to church, and once I was done with my mission, I didn't feel like going. I also resent certain teachings that I feel adversely affected my life growing up. Maybe I'll post about that someday, but it may be a little TMI for a general audience.

m-- I, too, was interested in whether the talks would be Easter-related but unfortunately my headache precluded me from finding out. As for conference, I read in the ward bulletin that it's going to be on cable here. But if there's anything I enjoy less than church, it's general conference. Just hearing that distinct droning sound sends me right to sleep.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to hear your story. What adverse events impacted you growing up? For me, it was that most Mormons were less considerate, less interesting, and more self-righteous than non-Mormons. Then I started reading the doctrine.

I have many intelligent Mormon friends, and it is so difficult for me to understand how they can honestly believe (or accept) that polygamy is a divinely inspired doctrine (preferable over monogamy) and that blacks deserved not to be given full membership rights until a few years ago. It seems that very intelligent people can just compartmentalize parts of their life and not apply any sort of reason or logic to religious issues. I wish I could believe in this religion. It would make my life a LOT easier.

m said...

oh yes, the drone of the GAs at conference. i always felt guilty for falling asleep or not paying attention during conference, for not taking detailed notes or reading and rereading the talks in the GC ensign issues. but truthfully the talks are boring, and are rehashed from previous conferences. very little new is ever said, and so what's the point of listening to it?

rather you can just check out the blogosphere after conference to see if anything exciting was announced.

i can tell you that you'll hear the following at conference so you don't have to bother listening for yourself:

- the work is moving forward
- the church is marvelous and wonderful
- a new temple will be built somewhere
- TSM will give a talk w/ some sappy story that will make all of the members feel good, it'll probably be about his youth and he'll refer to himself as "tommy"
- BKP or someone else will lay a major guilt-trip on the general membership
- the major points of discussion in the priesthood session will be the evils of masturbation and porn
- half of the speakers will say "and i quote...unquote"
- it will be boring

NFlanders said...

m-- Hilarious. That is a perfect digest of the conference talks. Maybe the Ensign will publish it. I think the worst thing about conference growing up was the fact that it infringed on six whole hours of a Saturday twice a year. Saturday was our only day off.

anonymous-- I feel that the Church demanded that I live up to impossible standards growing up, and then made me feel very guilty for not being perfect. I don't mind if they demand perfection from adults; adults know better. But kids have no frame of reference. I thought I was the worst person in the world, I was depressed and withdrawn, all because of the guilt trip I constantly got from church. It seems to me that church is supposed to make you feel better not worse. I refuse to let my kids be scarred in the same way.

J. Stapley said...

Fabulous post. The quintescential line:

"For Catholics, the smell of incense reminds them of church. For Mormons, it's the scream of a child."

Quite poetic.