Reflection on a Mormon Religious Service
March 1, 2016
I grew up in an agnostic family so any religious service would have been outside my own tradition, but I wanted to attend a service that might push me further outside my comfort zone. I attended a sacrament meeting of the Mormon Church, a religion I mostly just associated with the unwanted and awkward interactions occurring when Mormon missionaries visited my house.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is better known as the LDS or Mormon Church. Pop culture, through TV shows like Sister Wives and Big Love and the play Book of Mormon, portrays Mormons most often as a polygamous cult religion with wacky beliefs. I liked to think that my own understanding of the religion was more nuanced because my family lives in Salt Lake City, the epicenter of Mormondom. But I too fell into stereotyping as I walked to the meetinghouse anxious that they would smell the coffee on my breath and kick me out or attempt to convert me via pamphlets about my otherwise certain demise in hell.
In reality, walking into the red brick chapel, I was greeted by families milling about in their Sunday best. I hesitantly asked if someone could point me to the bishop and was greeted with a firm handshake and an inquiry of if I was new. I explained first to the curious family and then to the bishop why I had come. The bishop, in the very friendly manner Mormons are known for, said he was “thrilled to welcome me.” I quickly and quietly sat down in a back pew where a family joined me inquiring if I was new. I explained that I was just observing, and they offered to act as my informal guides. As the 200-strong, mostly white congregation settled on to the pews, it was apparent I was under-dressed in a blouse and skirt. All the men wore full suits and the women donned dresses and bright jewelry. I was certainly glad I remembered to wear tights, observing no women with bare legs.
There are no paid clergy in the LDS Church, so while the bishop is ultimately in charge of the service, it is actually led by different parishioners each week who give sermons of their own design. After the bishop’s initial welcome, six teenage boys distributed the sacrament, consisting of trays of bread and water. My guides said that I was free to partake, but I chose to abstain, still anxious I might appear interested in converting. After the sacrament, three community member gave sermons. It was surprising to see two women give sermons, when I considered the LDS Church to hold very conservative views on women’s place in society. The sermons touched on common themes of charity, hope, and the renewal that spring brings, but only in one sermon was a passage of the Bible read. The sacrament meeting, which was felt like a religiously-tinged motivational speaking conference, ended shortly thereafter, but for Mormons church was not finished. Adults and children alike attend Sunday School each week, and adult men also attend a priesthood meeting, while women attend a relief society meeting. Despite effusive and kind invitations to stay, I departed still agnostic but carrying a few less stereotypes and misconceptions.