Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Meetinghouse, 912 Wicks Lane
Meeting: 9 a.m., Sunday, May 4, 2014
Length of meeting: 1 hour, 12 minutes. Length of testimony: 32 minutes
I entered the Mormons’ meetinghouse with a heavy load of stereotypes and old prejudices on my shoulders.
Nothing virulent or violent, just the kind of easy-going prejudices so many people seem to harbor about the Mormons. The kind of prejudice that allows otherwise sensitive people—I hope I can put myself in that category—to make jokes about polygamy, sacred underwear and the ban on coffee and Coke.
So perhaps my uneasiness had more to do with my own guilt than my expectations of how I would be received. I had gone online to make sure outsiders were welcome. I found that the temples were open only to church members of good standing, and were for the performance of rites and ceremonies.
But at the meetinghouses, where church services are conducted, outsiders are most welcome. I’ll say. I must have shaken hands with 12 or 15 Mormon men—all in suits and ties—before I pulled up a seat in the last pew of the smallish meetinghouse.
I was immediately impressed with the ethnic diversity on view. The Mormons were rightly criticized for their racism in days gone by, but they appear to be making up for lost time.
Despite the rather formal attire, there was a casual air about the meeting, and “meeting” was the word used by a “bishop” whose name I didn’t catch. Speaking of which, I was amused to see name tags on two young men describing them as “elders,” though neither of them appeared to have begun shaving yet. If they were elders I am an ancient.
What is this series about?
To read the essay that introduced this series click here.
There were a few mundane church announcements, after which two young women were given awards for completing some sort of program. Then came the first of three hymns. They all sounded like standard-issue Protestant hymns—though with lyrics inspired by the Book of Mormon—but I’d swear the organist played them all at half-speed. They seemed to go on forever, and everyone seemed to be having as much trouble singing as I was.
Then came the sacrament of communion. The bread was very white and in place of wine or even grape juice we all tossed back little plastic goblets of water, which was a first for me.
After the sacrament the bishop read a lengthy communication from the stake leadership, a stake being something like a parish, I gather. It advised congregants that church property was not to be used for any political or commercial purpose whatsoever, and that even sports activities not sponsored by the LDS Church were henceforth verboten. It was a lengthy and detailed statement. I wondered what had happened to trigger it.
Having read that announcement, the bishop gave a five-minute talk on the meaning of the Atonement. It was all rather vague and bloodless, as when he said, “We all make choices at times that are less than optimal.” I had read online that there was no preaching as such, just testimony from church members, so I thought maybe with his little talk that was the end of it.
Not by a long shot. He was followed to the pulpit by six more people—one little girl, two women and three men. Three of them kept their remarks quite short—one gentleman’s testimony consisted of little but the statement “I know that the Book of Mormon is true”—but one woman and two of the men were, shall we say, voluble.
The man who followed the bishop to the pulpit warned the congregation that he was liable to cry, which he did several times, and he fought back tears for most of the rest of the 15 minutes he spoke. His testimony was all over the map, and the most general statement seemed as likely to bring on tears as the most personal story.
One thing he said really caught my attention: “I feel like Satan is tempting us more and more as we get closer to the Second Coming.” That might have been what lay beneath all his tears.
One of the women also broke into tears, after speaking emotionally about the great joy she derived from singing the hymns. The only way to sing a sacred song was to emulate her son, she said, belting it out with no thought of how it sounded. I felt, yet again, as though I was being chastised.
The last man to speak was an elderly gent who went on and on with no personal asides at all, just a dry explication of church doctrine, as when he said that the purpose of life is “to receive the saving ordinances of the Gospel.” Even if you knew exactly what he meant, I doubt it would have been inspiring.
By the time he finished, the testimony had been going on for more than half an hour. After each previous speaker, there had been a long, silent pause until somebody else stepped forward. But when the elderly gent finally stopped talking, the bishop sprang to his feet and said it was time to wrap things up.
The whole thing was painfully reminiscent of so many city council meetings I have endured, listening to people talking long after they’d said all they had to say.
One other thing I noticed, no surprise, was that there was an abundance of children present. I had been entertaining this silly stereotype that the children of Mormons would be attentive and well-behaved in church, but there was no end of squirming, babbling, crying and shrieking.
This had the effect of increasing my esteem for the Mormons. There are few things more depressing than a perfectly respectful and obedient child.
Previously: Chapter 1: St. Patrick Co-Cathedral.
Chapter 2: Mount Olive Lutheran Church.
Chapter 3: Full Gospel Revival Tabernacle.
Chapter 4: First Church of Christ, Scientist.
Chapter 5; First Baptist Church.
Chapter 6: Billings Freedom Church.
Chapter 7: Faith Chapel.
Chapter 8: Eagle Ministries Inc.
Chapter 9: First United Methodist Church.
Next week: First Christian Church.