First off, the city of Bluffdale is between Salt Lake, and another slightly metropolitan area about a half hour south of Salt Lake called Provo. It's a very rural area filled with windmills, strip mines, and miles upon miles of desert landscape. You really do feel like you're in a small city in the middle of nowhere in the area.
Bluffdale is about an hour and a half drive south of where I live. Finding the place proved to be a lot harder than we anticipated, we knew it was near Camp Williams Army Base, but it wasn't obvious. We drove around for a very long time before we finally came upon it from the main road. We turned down a side road that actually turned out to be the road leading there.
When we saw it around the bend, it was more surreal than I expected. I was told this was a ranch. This is was not a ranch, but a compound. There were two main buildings and several smaller buildings, including what looked like a couple of housing units, surrounding the two main ones, and a large parking lot.
Here are the two main buildings:
We were unsure which one to go to, so just followed members to the one on the right. I asked someone if this building was opened to the public, he said "Yes," and then quickly sprinted away from us. From my understanding, one of these buildings is the meeting house, and the other is their Endowment House (a substitute temple) used for their Endowment Ceremony (a special and secret ceremony in the Mormon tradition that is believed to endow you with special blessings from God).
This building was their chapel.
The entry way to the building was a simple foyer with white walls. There was a picture of George Washington praying at Valley Forge. I've seen this painting in many LDS churches and buildings. The significance of this painting to Mormons has never been explained to me, and anyone who can tell me why it's so common, please let me know. Right next to the entrance was a picture of this church's most influential leader, Rulon Allred. The picture was surrounded by a few flower displays. Also along the wall was a picture of Joseph Smith and one of Jesus.
The chapel was a giant gymnasium complete with basketball hoops that were raised up. Towards the front of the gym was a stage. The stage was converted into a pulpit with a podium and several chairs for the leaders of the priesthood and the choir director. To the right side of the stage were pictures of the first three Mormon prophets, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor. These are the only prophets the AUB honor. Below their pictures was a quote from John Taylor which read, "The Kingdom of God or nothing." To the left of the stage was a picture of Jesus, and right below it was a banner that had a quote from the Book of Mormon.
Overall, the atmosphere was not one designed for function and not aesthetic. I wasn't impressed by the look of it, but it was functional and did have a few personal touches on it.
This was one group of people who didn't want us there. Only two people talked to us the whole time we were there, and the rest wouldn't even make eye contact with us. They were rather friendly with each other, but not us.
The people were dressed like typical Mormons going to church, long skirts and cap sleeve tops for women, slacks and ties on men. There were a couple hundred of them, and apparently that was about a third of the congregation. The rest were at a funeral for one of the members who had died.
There were a few members that looked like the stereotype of a polygamist with the braids and prairie dresses, but they were a minority. I'm assuming these ones are ones who left the FLDS or similar groups and joined this one.
Most of the members of the congregation were white with a few Latino members. In addition to that, most of the people looked remarkably similar to each other. So many of the young boys were tall, lanky guys with blond hair, and many of the women were similarly built. The ages spanned many generations, from babies to people in their 80's or 90's.
When we first entered the chapel, an elderly gentleman came and introduced himself to us. He then found some other elderly gentleman who looked a lot like Vincent Price in his old age. The old man then proceeded to interrogate us as to why we were there. The first question out of his mouth after he got our names was, "Are you guys LDS?" I told him that I was, but that I left, and my two other friends with me told him no as well. He then asked if we believed in the Book of Mormon. We again answered no. He then asked if we believed in Joseph Smith and modern day prophets. We again said no. He then looked at us with this look of disdain and asked why we would waste our precious time by coming there. We explained that we were just there to see what it was all about. For a moment, it seemed he wasn't going to let us into the chapel, and nearly asked us to leave. At the last minute, my friend Lisa won him over by talking about her Mormon pioneer heritage. This seemed to disarm him and he let us come in, but very reluctantly.
We sat towards the back, and the president of their church, along with several other members sat up on the stage. They kept looking at us, pointing at us, then talking about us. This concerned me a bit, but we played it cool.
Overall, I realized we were not really welcome there. They didn't do anything to make us feel welcome and avoided us in general. People even moved to make sure they didn't sit by us. I've never felt less welcome in any place we've been. The families were big and definitely polygamist families, but they were dressed quite normally for the most part.
The service was very similar, yet quite different from an LDS Sacrament meeting. It started with the President of the Priesthood (not just the leader of the local group, but the leader of their whole church) saying a few things. Then announcements were made by several members in the congregation.
After the announcements, a hymn was sung. The hymn was a typical, Mormon hymn called "Come, Come Ye Saints." The hymnals were actually old LDS hymnals from the 40's and 50's that it seemed they had bought in bulk, thus none of the songs were different from any hymns of my childhood. After the hymn a prayer was said, and the President stood up again to speak.
He then said that they would begin the Sacrament by singing a hymn. He looked straight at the three of us and said, "Those who have not been baptized by the hands of this Priesthood, we ask that you do not partake of the Sacrament."
The Sacrament was interesting as it was similar, yet radically different from the LDS version of it. LDS Sacrament services typically use pre-sliced white bread torn into bits and individual, thimble sized cups of water for their communion. Here, they used several full loaves of home baked bread and several glass water glasses to hold the water.
There were a group of about 20 men who passed the Sacrament, and two who blessed it. As they blessed it, they all got on their knees. The two guys who blessed the Sacrament then did something I wasn't expecting and put their arm to the Square. This is a symbol that is very sacred in the Mormon world as it's one of the special gestures used in the temple. The only time I've ever seen this done outside of the Temple is during a baptism, so to see it done for Sacrament was quite shocking. The prayers they used to bless it were identical to the ones of my childhood.
They passed the Sacrament by going row by row giving the people the bread. After all the members had gotten the bread, they asked anyone who hadn't been served to raise their hands. They then went back and had people eat the bread a second time until it was all gone. They then passed the water by taking the glasses to the people and handed it to each of them one at a time. Again, once all the members had been served, they asked if anyone had not been served, then they had the members partake a second time again until all of the water was gone. I liked this part of the tradition of not wasting any of the bread or water, because it used to bother me as a Mormon when I would clean up after Sacrament meeting and they told us to just throw the bread and water out. Their President spoke on this immediately afterward stating that to throw it out would be a dishonor to Jesus and would be like symbolically throwing away his body and blood that had been given up for us.
There was then a speaker. The speeches are given by members, and supposedly impromptu. More on that below. The speech was so insanely boring and long, and only the first speech of the service. We were feeling more and more uncomfortable as time went on and more and more bored. We weren't the only ones bored, everyone was playing on their phones, hunched over, and/or nearly asleep with this speaker. He didn't seem to get them pumped up and inspired.
After he was done, my friends and I sneaked out. We were noticed by everyone, and we weren't sure if they were going to be relieved, offended, follow us out, or all three. They didn't seem happy, and we just wanted to get as far away as possible because we felt very unwelcome there.
Overall, this was the most grueling and uneasy service for me to sit through, it was like a Sacrament meeting of my childhood, but much longer, more boring, and stranger. It was scheduled to go on for two hours, but I have a feeling it would have gone longer as we stayed for only one speech and that went on for 45 minutes after the 30 minute Sacrament portion of the service.
This is a hard one to do as the PA system they have was horrible and the room had terrible acoustics. It was hard to understand anything being said. Add to that that the speaker was a man from Mexico with a thick accent and it was even harder to understand what was said. I didn't pay attention to the whole of his 45 minute speech as it required a lot of effort to understand, but he did touch on a few themes.
One of the themes was that the people of the Tribe of Ephraim must go and save the Lamanites in Mexico and elsewhere. Let me explain this one. Mormons teach that the tribes of Israel will gather in Zion, which to them is in the New World and in Jerusalem during the Last Days. As such, Mormons believe they are adopted spiritually into one of the 12 Tribes of Israel and that the tribe they belong to is revealed to them in a special prophecy session most Mormons have done to them in their late teens called a Patriarchal Blessing. Most white Mormons are adopted into the Tribe of Ephraim. Mormons also believe that the current Native Americans, including Latinos, are descended from a race called the Lamanites. They believe the Lamanites were Israelites who came to the Americas and were cursed with darker skin for their sinful ways. Therefore, he was saying that those white people who had been adopted into the Tribe of Ephraim must go and spread the Gospel to the people of Mexico and beyond to bring them back to righteousness.
Another thing he was talking about was the significance of special dates of when the Priesthood was restored and how it coincided with various prophecies. This one was hard to follow and where I spent the least amount of time paying attention as none of it seemed to make sense.
The other thing he said was that it was the goal of their church to go out and purify the LDS Church by actively seeking to convert people in the LDS Church. They believe that the LDS Church is valid, but it must be brought back to the fullness of Truth and that they will be the ones to do it. He stated that they have lots of work to do until the LDS Church fully embraces the Principle (plural marriage) and the United Order (a form of Mormon communism) both of which were once practiced by the LDS Church but later abandoned.
Essentially, he said that we must go out and convert the Lamanites and the Mormons and not rest until they were both brought into polygamy and into agreement with their doctrine and practices.
I wasn't expecting this militant of a message to come from the pulpit. It was all at once horrifying, intriguing, and insanely boring.
I can safely assert that after watching that show Sister Wives and seeing this organization that the show Sister Wives is a very polished, well choreographed show to make this group seem more mainstream and progressive than it is. They are not welcoming to outsiders, in spite of saying so, they still have an isolated, compound feel to them even though they are actively engaged in the world, and they are seeking to convert the entire LDS Church into their dogma and belief. They don't seem to be as progressive as the LDS on things like race. While they use modern technology and dress in modern clothing, they are still very much in the mindset of a different time. Try as they want to look like they are part of the mainstream, their lifestyle and radical beliefs will keep them from being so.
In short, this wasn't Sister Wives, it was another Mormon Fundamentalist group in modern clothing.
There are some small changes coming to this blog. Stay tuned for more details on that.
Until next time, peace be with you.