Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Saints Testify

Today, I went to fast and testimony meeting at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As I mentioned in my previous blogs, this is me returning to the church of my childhood for one of the services. I also mentioned that I still carry a lot of emotional baggage with this Church. So, did the service uplift me, or stir up a lot of old emotions?

For those not familiar with Mormon terminology, I use the word, "ward" a lot in this entry. A "ward" is basically a Mormon congregation.


Okay, to start, I didn't just go to the local church meeting house. I thought about it, but then I thought, I live in Utah. Temple Square is here within driving distance. If I'm going to only go to one LDS service the entire year, I might as well go to the Mormon Vatican since it's basically right in my backyard.

The day started with a tour of Temple Square. Here are some highlights.

We started at the Church History Museum. The first thing you see on the tour are these lovely stained glass windows depicting Joseph Smith's First Vision. As someone who used to work in a stained glass studio, this quite impressed me.

There were a few other cool artifacts in that museum such as:

This cross stitch from Africa that says, "The Mormon creed is to mind your own business."

This recreation of an early Mormon chapel. I wish they still looked like this. This is quite beautiful.

This old sealing altar from the Manti Temple. For those of you who don't know what this is, when a couple is married in the temple, they believe they are getting married for all eternity. They kneel across from each other at altars like this one holding hands and exchanging vows in a simple ceremony.

This replica of the Angel Moroni statue that sits atop the Salt Lake Temple. The Angel Moroni is believed to be the angel that revealed the Gold Plates to Joseph Smith who translated them into the Book of Mormon.

One of the old pulpits used by the prophets of the Church. Here I am standing behind it.

And for fun, here I am delivering a hell fire and damnation sermon. I've always wanted to do that from the pulpit.

But probably the thing that impressed me most in this museum were the replicas of the death masks of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. You can actually see what the face of the founder of this faith looked like. Joseph is on the left, Hyrum is on the right.

Afterward, we went through Temple Square. I caught this picture of the Salt Lake Temple, the iconic symbol of the LDS Church.

And I took a picture of this, but it didn't save, so I am using my friend Austin's picture of the famed Christus Statue celebrated by the LDS Church, but also several other Christian denominations that have replicas of it. The original is in the National Cathedral of Denmark called Our Lady's Church.

We then made our way over to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building for Sacrament meeting. The downtown wards in Salt Lake don't have a church building to meet in and there isn't really much room to build one. So they meet in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The building used to be a hotel, but the Church turned it into a tourist site. In this building is a cafe, an auditorium where they show church videos daily except Sunday, it's also used as a reception hall for weddings, and several other functions.

The building is gorgeous inside. My friend Reed who accompanied me said, "Well, you know how to pick the places, don't you, Chad?"

I also snapped this picture of my friend Reed sitting in this fancy chair in the lobby. We called it his throne.

The chapel itself was the most beautiful Mormon chapel I've ever seen. It obviously used to be a ballroom. The room was white with green carpet and seats. The ceiling looked like something out of a baroque palace, and there were pilasters topped with gold and white fruits and golden leaves.

I got a good picture of the ceiling. I tried to get a good one of the chapel's pulpit, but I was trying to be discrete and it came out blurry. I am still sharing it, hopefully you can get the idea.

This chapel is atypical of LDS chapels. Most LDS chapels are whitewashed, have no decoration to speak of, no artwork on the walls, no crosses (Mormons don't like crosses. They see them as symbols of death and torture.), and no real accents of any kind. With a few exceptions, churches built in the second half of the twentieth century and beyond all follow the same sort of pattern. In fact, every church built within a certain decade will be built on one of several pre-approved floor plans. There isn't much diversity in LDS churches. They put all of their creative resources into their temples which are all different and filled with the finest materials the Church can provide.

The People:

This church was also atypical in another striking way. Mormon churches, especially ones here in Utah, tend to be filled with families with lots of children. Usually there are many children in Sacrament meeting, often being shushed by parents. This ward however only had a few families. This was a type of ward I had heard about growing up. They call this type of ward a "newly weds and nearly deads" ward. This is a very irreverent term for wards comprised mostly of elderly people and young newly wed couples who haven't yet had children.

This was first apparent to me when I saw few children or teens in the ward, and when I saw adult men preparing, blessing, and passing the Sacrament (Mormon communion). Typically, young men between 16 and 18 bless the Sacrament, young men between 14 and 16 prepare the Sacrament, and boys between the ages of 12 and 14 pass it to members of the congregation.

As far as the people and how they reacted to us, not one person in the ward approached any of us and talked to us. Only one person approached us, and that was an elderly missionary in the lobby of the building who basically wanted to make sure we weren't tourists and were there for the service. I got the impression we were being watched by several people in the congregation who all wanted to know why we were there.

There is no social hour after a Mormon service, nor before. Members of wards are pretty tight knit, outsiders visiting often feel like they're not welcome, though this isn't necessarily the case. Today, I did feel pretty unwelcome. It felt as though some of the older members in particular didn't really want us there.

The Service:

The service was very typical of an LDS service. They began with the bishop giving announcements. Then there was an opening hymn and a prayer. The woman who gave the prayer was clearly feeling it and not just going through the motions. I haven't heard a public prayer in a Mormon church before with such emotion behind it.

Afterward, they blessed and passed the Sacrament to the congregation. Mormon Sacrament consisted of sliced wheat bread torn into little bits and tiny plastic cups of water that could be disposed of. No, I didn't partake. Mormons practice closed communion and I am officially no longer a member of the Church.

Afterward, they opened the pulpit up to testimonies. More on that in "The Message" section.

After testimonies, they ended with a hymn and a prayer. I have never liked LDS hymns. The Mormon Tabernacle choir has lovely arrangements of these hymns, but the ones sung in Sacrament meeting are watered down, monotonous, and lifeless. Often it's hard to tell the difference between hymns. I would like to see more lively hymns in their church, which can be done in a traditional style still, as we see with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Overall, the service left me wanting more out of it. It was very uninspired and unmoving to me.

The Message:

Here was where I had a few issues.

The bishop began testimonies by giving his testimony. He said a couple things that really bothered me. He talked about encountering Catholics on his mission when he was young. He mentioned that Catholics didn't read the Bible because they were taught not to and that it was forbidden by the Catholic Church and that a priest had to interpret it for you and give you the true meaning. This is a blatant lie. Catholics are not discouraged from reading the Bible. They are in fact encouraged to read it. As a Catholic convert, I was given a Bible to study, told to read it, joined a Bible study group offered by my parish, and Bible passages are read at every single Catholic service. The fact that this bishop, a man in a position of authority was making this claim to members who would readily and easily believe it really upset me.

He also said he read the whole Bible and found it very uplifting. I have a hard time believing he actually read it cover to cover as he mentioned if he found it uplifting. I have never met anyone who has done that and found the experience uplifting. It usually inspires many questions, doubts, and tests one's faith. Even the devout Christians who truly believe I know who have done so say it was a challenging experience but one that brought them to a level of deep faith. Not one person I've known has said it was uplifting, but they have all said it was rewarding in one way or another.

A lot of the testimonies were similar, sharing life experiences, people who clearly had fallen on hard times and needed the Church to give them meaning of it all or get through it, people who were grateful for what they had, etc.

One thing that really bothered me was the woman who brought her daughter up to bear her testimony. It bothered me as a Mormon, and it bothers me now. Children can't have a testimony of the Church and know it's true. They are small children. They don't understand what the Church is, what it really teaches, or the concept of belief and doubt. They simply parrot what their parents tell them to and this is wrong. Let the child be a child and discover what they believe and want as they grow up. Do not force them to make public statements of faith when they have no real concept of it.

Overall Experience:

I am glad I did this, because it allowed me to see some of my past. But I will not be returning to an LDS Church anytime in the near future. This was too hard for me and made me feel very awkward. I am not inspired by these services, and personally find them boring. I am glad that others find lots of meaning in them, but it is not something I could ever believe in again, and it is certainly not where I want to be.

Additional Comments:

I will be adding another blog sometime this week commenting more on my trip to Temple Square and the LDS Church in general. Join me for that.

Next week I will be going to the Community of Christ, formerly known as The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Until next time. Peace be with you.

1 comment:

  1. I've been to my daughter's ward and felt very unwelcome, spied on also. There were several older people who blatantly turned and looked at me with frowns on their faces and furrowed brows. It was only the children who in their innocence asked who I was, and parents quickly shushed them like it was a forbidden subject. Only one child, who was quickly carted off, came over to my daughter and Iand asked who I was, we quickly, as his mother was rapidly approaching, told him I was her mother.