Since the beginning of the project, I had been adamant that we needed to go to an LDS service, because we are in “Mormon Country”– it seemed wrong not to . . . but it was a huge mental hurdle for both of us. When you’re raised in the evangelical subculture, the Catholics are suspect (they might be Christian, but that “Mary stuff” causes serious pause), and both the LDS and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are definitely considered cults, and one ought never associate with them, unless it’s to convert them to evangelical Christianity. (Evangelicals usually call “uncle” first in these scrambles . . . both the LDS and the JWs come to the fight with more training–and they’re usually there in pairs).
So there we were, Saturday, with only two weeks left in the project, having not attended an LDS service. For a church that is as mission- and conversion- oriented as the LDS, finding out information for attending a service is surprisingly difficult (even finding out the service times is surprisingly hard, as they don’t post them on their church buildings (I know–I’ve looked)). I suspect this is another difference between evangelicals and the LDS: the purpose of evangelical, er, evangelizing is to get people in to church services. In the several months I had LDS missionaries in our home, we were never asked to a service. I think the LDS model is conversion first, church attendance second. (To be fair, evangelicals wish to first bring the person into relationship with Christ, but the invitation to church services is always early in the process).
LDS services have three parts that run about an hour each: The Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School, and Priesthood–Relief Society–Young Men/Women–Primary. We planned only to attend the Sacrament Meeting (we pretty much haven’t attended anyone’s Sunday School or other services/Bible studies, etc.), but the others ended up being canceled because of the weather.
The Visitor’s Guide was immensely useful for preparing to attend the LDS service. Among other things (like what folks usually wear), it included an order of service:
Sacrament meeting begins with a hymn and prayer. Then, the member of the bishopric conducting the meeting addresses the congregation from the pulpit with any necessary business (e.g., announcements, new callings, etc.). Next, the congregation prepares to partake of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which is considered the most important spiritual event of the LDS week. By partaking of the Sacrament, baptized members of the Church can gain spiritual renewal by rededicating themselves to following the Savior. While selected members of the priesthood prepare the Sacrament, the congregation sings one of a collection of hymns that pay special tribute to the Savior’s atoning sacrifice.
After the Sacrament, the congregation will normally hear from three speakers speakers previously selected from the congregation. After the second speaker the congregation sings a hymn, informally knows as the “intermediate hymn”.
In the LDS Church, since we have a lay priesthood, we do not listen to the same preacher every week. Instead, members of the congregation take turns speaking. Most active members of the congregation will be asked to speak to the congregation on an assigned gospel topic.
At this point, the congregation has a closing hymn and prayer.
To summarize, the following steps occur in the Sacrament Meeting block: 1) Opening Hymn and Prayer, 2) Congregation Business, 3) Sacrament Hymn and Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, 4) Speakers and 5) Closing Hymn and Prayer.
The LDS celebrate communion with bread (a soft white sandwich bread, neatly cut) and water in teeny cups, that are passed, individually, in trays with large handles like this one through the seated congregation by the young men. I can’t find the link now, but in my reading, I stumbled across a discussion about taking the sacrament with the right hand, and as I think back to watching the service, people picked up the elements with their right, and passed the tray with their left. Although it does not dishonor the LDS for outsiders to take communion, we declined.
As the LDS do celebrate Christmas, many of the hymns we sang were Christmas carols we already know, which was nice, if for no other reason than we’ve often felt really out of place this year, and the familiar is always comfort/able/ing. The speakers spoke on the topics of the birth of John the Baptist, Christmas celebrations, and Mary and the birth of Christ.
Once again, we found ourselves afterward thinking that the service wasn’t “half as weird” as we thought it might be . . . I’m glad for Farmergirl to have had the experiences this year without some of the baggage and biases Michael and I carry. (I’m glad to have her growing up without some of that baggage. Don’t cry at that last sentence, grandparents–it’s less anything any of you did and more just part and parcel of the subculture. We’re probably giving her a whole new set of luggage).