Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Maginot Line

I almost didn't go to church again this weekend. The Episcopal church meets at the same time and Maude wanted to go. I told her we could alternate Sundays (since we only have one vehicle) and that she could take the first one. When it actually came time to wake up, she was too sleepy and told me to go ahead.

I didn't know what to expect, but this being the Northeast, I figured the Mormon ward house would be small and possibly located in a converted IHOP restaurant. Boy, was I wrong. I pulled up to a brand-new building, fresh out of the church-approved architectural oven. Is it just me, or are the Church buildings getting better-looking? I think this is a positive development for missionary work; it's hard to get people excited about worshipping God in what looks like an old bank branch.

The chapel itself was actually pretty small. Who has ever heard of a chapel with only six rows of pews? I guess this is a mini-ward house, kind of like the newer mini-temples. They had the overflow open so that it was about the size of a regular chapel, only with half of the seats being located in the cultural hall.

I came in about two minutes before the meeting started and landed a primo spot in the back row, just like old times. In my old ward in Virginia, I never exchanged more than two words with anyone during the eight or nine times I went, probably because there were 200-250 people there every week. This week, however, as soon as I had sat down, the guy next to me had introduced himself, his wife and his kids. I was right; it's going to be a lot harder keeping a low profile in small ward. He had gotten my name and half my life story out of me just during the prelude music. I tried going with the whole "I'm just visiting" shtick, but that never works. I wasn't planning on revealing too much about myself, but he came right out and asked me, "So, is your wife a member?" There's really no way around that question. I was only hesitant to answer because I saw two sets of typical over-eager Elders sitting in the chapel. I think they can smell part-member families, just like dogs can smell fear.

Finally, the meeting started and during it I met the guy sitting on the other side of me. He seemed like a kindred spirit, and possibly a new convert. He didn't take the sacrament either, which I find helps ease some of the stigma. As I prepared to bolt at the end of the meeting (to avoid having to meet the Bishop), this guy says, "See you next week." I don't think he was planning on sticking around for Sunday School either.

I am glad that everyone I've met so far has been so nice; I think I could enjoy my time here. However, I am a little apprehensive about the Elders getting ideas about Maude. She hasn't shown any interest in attending, but if she ever does come, I don't think she'd respond well to the missionaries. It was easy to have boundaries in a large ward; I have a feeling it will take a lot more energy now to defend them.


Tess said...

Hi, Ned-

Yes, it is hard to keep a low profile in a smaller ward. They might be so desperate for people that you may wind up being the Gospel Doctrine teacher :)

As far as the missionaries go, they can be very pushy at times - especially because your wife seems like she could be a good prospect for baptism. So you might have some explaining to do to them at first, but usually the missionaries respect boundaries. They're used to people telling them "no, thanks".

Good luck in your new ward!

Susan M said...

I prefer small wards. To me, church should be about service, and it's much easier to serve in a small ward.

When my husband started coming back to church, we attended a small ward, and he always says he never would've re-activated in any other ward. Because no one made a big deal about him being there or made him feel uncomfortable about having been inactive for years.

It was a wonderful ward. I hope yours is as great as that one was.

RoastedTomatoes said...

In my personal experience, the best way to get the missionaries to leave a non-member wife alone is perhaps to let the wife tell them to leave her alone. When Serenity Valley was an Episcopalian, she had that conversation with the missionaries once. That was all it took!

But I always hated having to explain why I was at church alone. Awkward yet unavoidable...

SRA said...

I'm in a branch of about 30 people here in the woods of northwestern PA...and wow, they just go bananas over missionary work and nonmembers coming to church. It's a little scary. They have good hearts, though, even if their zeal can be overbearing (missionaries' included). We just got the size of our building almost doubled last year. For a group this small...it was almost a nonsensical decision on the part of Salt Lake...but here we have it.
Don't worry about the missionaries. Having returned semi-recently from my mission, I know that they will respect your boundaries IF you make those boundaries clear to them from the get-go. Don't be afraid to talk to them at church this weekend...explain your situation...let them know that you'd love to help them with their work, but that their work probably won't be including your wife. If they're at all worth their salt and/or obedient to their mission president, they will focus on strengthening you and not bum-rushing your spouse.
And for heaven's sakes, don't be afraid to talk to the bishop!! What the crap are you trying to pull? It's like you're inactive in spirit, but your body is making you go to church...and I'm sorry, but you can't endure very long with that mentality. ~~

NFlanders said...

Thanks for the advice, all. At this point, it is all still theoretical.

RT-- So is Serenity Valley still an Episcopalian? I was under the impression that she was Mormon too. Did she convert at some point?

SRA-- Thanks for your comments but I'm not sure what you mean. I am trying to maintain a marginal level of activity in the Church. That is what I am comfortable with; long talks with the Bishop don't really figure into my plan.

Kristen J said...

I think I can kind of relate to what you're saying. While I've never been inactive I hate it when I run into people I barely know around town. I hate the whole small talk thing. It's always seemed so awkward to me.

I've always thought it was kind of a social anxiety thing with me.

mellancollyeyes said...

My favorite is when I started going to my local singles ward, where everyone jumps on any new face like starving dogs on a carcaus...The usual conversation was as follows:

Stray, well-meaning yet insanely nosy member: "Hi! Are you new?!"

Me: (shrinking back into my seat) "Uh, yeah."

Member: "Did you just move here?!"

Me: "No. I've lived in this area for about a year."

Member: "Oh! Did you just join the church?!"

Me: "Uh, no. I've been a member my whole life."

Member: (looking slightly confused) "Oh...so what ward were you going to, then?!"

Me: "Uh...none..."

I was also subjected to the usual relief society president's "I see a new face!!! Stand up and introduce yourself!!!!!!"

...please let me die...please, please...God, can you hear me? I'm siiting in your living room righ now, so I know you can...please, make me invisible...please make the RS president go blind...

I feel your pain. While it's nice and friendly to go and introduce yourself to someone new, it's completely horrifying to me to have someone pry into my business and create awkward situations when they realize I was/am inactive. And the introducing yourself thing...I am fairly sure it's of the devil

Susan M said...

I think it's kinda funny that it seems like no matter what happens, you can't win. I'm always hearing people complain about visiting a ward and no one talking to them at all. I've had that happen, myself.

fMhLisa said...

Woo Hoo!
Good Times Ahead.

NFlanders said...

That's a good point, Susan. I have to say that both have their advantages. I was left alone in the old ward, but I didn't really feel very included (but I didn't really mind). This one is more in my business, but I definitely feel more welcomed.

I guess it's true. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. I recognize that everyone has good intentions, and that's the most important thing.

SRA said...

I can't see why you would want to maintain a marginal level of activity in the Church. Honestly. Especially in this part of the country...and with a nonmember spouse. I'm the only LDS in my family & I live in the Northeast (kind of) and know that trying to float along in this rather small fishbowl is both difficult to do and not healthy for one's testimony. I'm not saying you should start gunning for the bishop's or EQP's job...but don't try to lay so low that your records don't get moved to your new unit...you don't get a calling...stuff like that. At least maintain some modicum of activity in the Church, because if you just go for sacrament and then slip out, you really are not any more faithful than an inactive member...in my estimation. Sorry to be blunt, but I don't understand why your attitude is what it is. I would imagine you knew when you moved north that you were not going to be able to do what you did in your old ward. Things are definitely smaller in this part of the country & every member needs to shoulder their share of the work. ~~

RoastedTomatoes said...


Serenity Valley was Episcopalian but is now Mormon. Long story, I should let her tell it. But I do want to point out that I didn't pressure her into converting--and neither did the missionaries... People always want to see me as a kind of missionary-work hero because of my wife. But I thought she was going to heaven when she was an Episcopalian, and I think she's going to heaven as a Mormon. So it probably wasn't me.

lchan said...

I floated in marginal activity for awhile. Once I just decided to be totally honest about it - to own my partial activity - I liked it.

For me, the trick was to just be honest with everyone. Then, it was actually kind of fun. There's a freedom in just being who you are and not being ashamed of it (I'm not saying you're ashamed, I'm talking about me here).

I'd talk to the bishop or the relief society president or whoever, but just lay the truth out there as nicely as possible. When I told them I wasn't ready for a calling or even visiting teaching, they understood where I was at. And, it was okay.

There's nothing wrong with taking church at your own pace. I didn't know if I'd ever get beyond that tentative place, but I have.

SRA said...

RYN: I'm not talking temple recommend. I wouldn't expect such. I'm saying that if an hour of church every week (and nothing else) is enough for you, maybe going to sacrament meeting is not the place for you to be. There are plenty of other Christian denominations that offer a less in-your-face brand of spirituality than the LDS Church. I am saying that you may be better off and more comfortable elsewhere. I would rather see someone go to church somewhere else than see them come to sacrament and feel ill-at-ease. The question is, do you really WANT to be there, or would you just as well rather go to the Episcopal Church with your wife? Being LDS, truthfully, takes more effort than being a lot of other religions, so it is possible that the Church is not what you are looking for at this time in your life. If your heart or your mindset is telling you not to be there, don't force yourself to be. Just go to church SOMEWHERE. ~~

lchan said...

I disagree. He has the right to explore the church at his own pace. He doesn't need to be hot or cold. I'm sure his bishop wouldn't tell him to love it or leave it.

In going back, he may find that he can go more and that it can mean something to him again. Or, he may find that it's time to move on to something else. I don't think he should decide that without going back to church - or at least I hope he goes back and decides from that vantage point.

I've decided that this church is where I want to be and how we want to raise our children, but it took me time to get here. An important part of that was feeling like I had a choice. Although, if my husband weren't a member, that would be a different struggle.

I find the rhetoric that gets thrown at people who have questions and doubts about the church really disheartening sometimes. These aren't easy questions and there aren't any easy answers.

NFlanders said...

RT-- Thanks for the background. I don't want to pry, but I am very interested how you felt having your spouse convert when you had your own reservations (assuming you did at that time). Were you open about your concerns or did she have her own? Again, I don't want to intrude if it's too personal.

SRA-- I appreciate what you are saying, but I disagree. If the prospect of talking to the bishop made me miserable, then I wouldn't go. (As it is, I am simply avoiding him to avoid having to turn down a calling. That would be uncomfortable, but not unbearable.) The whole point of going is to find something that works for me. If the time comes when going to church makes me unhappy, then I simply won't go. I think that is a lesson that took me way too long to learn.

Laura-- Thanks for sharing your experiences. They give me hope. It's nice to see other people out there who have been in similar situations.

RoastedTomatoes said...

Ned, I'd be happy to discuss this with you further, and you should feel free to pry. But your question is starting to cross over into stuff that, as a general rule, I don't discuss in public fora. So feel free to email me (roastedtomatoes at hotmail) and I'll share the full and glorious story of how SV and I have negotiated religion...

Ann said...

I have discovered as my engagement with LDS doctrines flows and ebbs, is that I have the right to establish boundaries, and I am allowed to adjust those boundaries based on my own needs and wishes.

For me, the church begins and ends with the ward. That's a boundary for me. I don't care one little bit about the suits in Salt Lake. My husband is a believer, the Saints are my peeps, so that's where I go. I don't tithe, don't go to SS, and rarely attend Relief Society. On the other hand, I gladly support my DH in doing God's work as he perceives it, I fix meals for families who need them, and I'm in charge of parties. It's a good balance.

Ned, you get to take things at your own pace. If people push you, smile benignly. It doesn't hurt to have people think you are a slacker or a little slow. :)

Re: Maude - Tell her that the missionaries are chomping at the bit. Ask her what she would like you to tell them. Then, tell them that.

Free advice, worth what you've paid for it.