Thoughts on Visiting a Latter-day Saint Church Service
After years of thinking about it, I finally got up and went.
Eleven years ago, when I spent a semester at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, my friends took me to speak with Mormon missionaries. The meeting hadn’t been set for me — another friend was actively seeking to be baptized — they just invited me to tag along. At the time, I knew next to nothing about their faith. Even though I still do not consider myself a religious person, eleven years ago my atheism was practically anti-theism. Catholic and Lutheran and ex-Mormon friends alike had all given me stern warnings to “stay away” from missionaries. But my Mormon friends in Utah were so nice, and seemed to so genuinely enjoy my company, that I couldn’t possibly say no.
The lesson the Elders had prepared that night was on the Plan of Salvation. The full scope of the Plan of Salvation is far beyond the purpose of this blog entry — but the TL;DR version is that Mormons believe that God loves us, He wants us to go to Heaven, and that almost everyone will. There was no preaching of hellfire, no eternal damnation. It was the most refreshing version of Christianity I had ever heard spoken — and jaded atheist college junior me was profoundly moved.
I didn’t talk to those missionaries again; I never went to church. But something from that meeting stuck with me — a seed got planted somewhere — and it has been growing ever since.
About four years ago, for reasons I honestly don’t recall, I started studying Mormonism seriously. Not seriously in the sense of wanting to join the church, but in the sense of finding the subject academically fascinating, and wanting to know more. The more I read, the more I liked. There are absolutely policies and teachings with which I vehemently disagree. But, on the whole, the things I liked outnumbered the things I didn’t. I remember thinking at the time that it would be nice to go to a service — but when you live and work on a cruise ship that is essentially impossible.
I live on land now. I don’t study the church quite as much these days. But I threw on the YouTube stream of General Conference last weekend — and there was Elder Costa telling me to go to church. Alright — I thought — why not. I decided that after years of study, I owed it to myself to at least go once.
So I went.
It was Fast & Testimony day — which meant that instead of planned talks prepared in advance by members of the ward, anyone who felt moved to could take the stage and explain why their faith was important to them. Most of these testimonies were really nice. One was fully off-the-rails insane — she was speaking to how glad she was that God prompted her to read the reviews of Beauty and the Beast before she took her children — thus sparing them from Disney’s “satanic homosexual agenda”. One woman spoke on how it was absolutely impossible to be moral without God. But most of them were really nice. One young man spoke about how he wished that every kid who gets bullied in school could find the same comfort he did through faith. One woman was simply thankful that God had given her the strength to not sink into despair when she lost her job. My favorite was from a man who went to watch videos from General Conference on the Internet to find that only the Women’s Session had been uploaded. He said that he wouldn’t normally have watched those, but that they were all that was available, and that he was humbled by the profound messages of talks he wrongly assumed would have no relevance to his life.
There were things that were strange for me, coming from a more liturgical background. I missed there being a choir, or at least a cantor. I missed the full readings from the Old and New Testament. Part of me missed the sense of organization.
But another part of me loved that it didn’t feel organized. I loved that people came in late and were coming and going, some people in their absolute Sunday Finest, and some in sweaters and jeans. I loved that people just got up and spoke because something prompted them to. That the members of the ward are the ones who give the lessons. It really felt like a family just trying to work it all out together. To grow as people in a congregation of equals. A place where I was instantly welcomed and shown around and made to feel like an old friend.
Will I go back? I’m honestly not sure. I don’t think that actually being Mormon is something my future holds. I mean, most days I don’t even believe in God. I live with a man that I am definitely not married to. Some days I have more varieties of alcohol than I have food. I’m a pro-choice Democrat with two gay brothers who wants every right in the world for them. I’d make a really terrible Mormon. I don’t deal well with rigid gender roles and the strangely prevalent opinion that Christian values equal Conservative values. (Seriously, have these people read the Gospels?)
But I can say that my academic flirtation with the church has made me a better person. It has made me want to be more charitable, more forgiving. To be more openly generous to strangers. To more willingly listen to a view wildly different from my own.
I don’t see Mormonism through any kind of rose-colored glasses. I do not like their policy on not baptizing the children of same-sex parents. I do not like their policies towards LGBT members in general. I don’t like the benevolent sexism or how the missionary I spoke with told me that the next class was Relief Society, where I would “learn to be a better mom”.
But I also see a religion where no one preaches eternal damnation. Where they believe that families are eternal. A religion that fiercely values education and arts and the pursuing of talents. I see a church with a policy on helping refugees that seems like the purest essence of what Christianity should be.
There is not likely a baptismal font in my future. There is almost definitely no Temple Sealing. But it is a church that I would like to keep reading about and learning from and maybe attending, if they’ll have me. My draw to this church is inexplicable, but I do believe that it has been nothing but a positive influence on my life. I’m not sure where my journey with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is going, but I’m glad I’m on it, and excited to see where it leads.
Originally published at jackimurphy.com on April 11, 2017.