In 1988 I found myself as a 33 year old, divorced mother of three, two girls ages 12 and 9, and a boy age 5. Although it was me who wanted the divorce, it is still important to understand that there are still many, many emotions associated with divorce, not the least of which is guilt. Mostly, I felt guilty because I didn't feel guilty, does that make any sense?
I was raised as a Catholic (which many Mormons quip "Catholics make the best Mormons"), and had some basic foundations of religion, but throughout my adult life I wavered in and out of belief. In my early adulthood I described myself as an agnostic. Periodically I would pick up the Bible and try to read it, never really getting much farther than Exodus. Then the Bible got put aside for the most recent Stephen King novel, and wasn't picked up again until the next crisis.
During the initial period of my separation and divorce, I turned in desperation to the Bible for some type of guidance, because I was scared about being a single mother and was unsure as to how much strength (psychologically) I had. It was right about that time that the missionaries came to my door. Since I had been "dabbling" recently, I suppose I was a lot more receptive to the missionaries. They were nice boys too, and I do not blame them at all. I do not fault anyone their faith. Besides, I had a common tie to Mormonism, which was family that lived in Macedon, NY, the town right next to Palmyra, where it all started.
So, I took their gift of the Book of Mormon, and began reading. I found the reading to be far more understandable than the Bible and I began praying a lot. The missionaries came over quite frequently and we developed a very close "family" relationship
. My two daughters and I were baptized on Christmas Eve in 1988. My decision was based on events that, I believed at the time (and may still somewhat believe), were guided by the hand of God.
In October 1988, one month after we separated, my ex-husband sent me a letter indicating the he was going to commit suicide. He and I both were in military intelligence in the Army, and I knew that reporting this could ruin his career, but I felt I had a moral as well as a legal obligation to report it. I tried calling the missionaries, more to bounce my feelings and impressions off them than for actual guidance. When I called them, there was no answer, so I assumed I was meant to handle this myself. I no sooner hung up the phone and my doorbell rang. It was the missionaries with a fantastic story. They'd had two appointments scheduled that evening, one for 6:30 and the next for 8:30. The 6:30 appointment called and canceled, and they no sooner hung up from that call when their phone rang a second time, and, not surprisingly, it was the 8:30 calling to cancel also. The missionaries felt at that point that they were needed someplace so, as they told it, they knelt and prayed for guidance and after a few moments, looked at each other and simultaneously said to each other "Pat needs us."
My husband did not succeed in his suicide attempt, but I still believe I would not have made it through that time without the love and support of the missionaries and the two families they had introduced me to.
In December 1988, I ended up in the hospital, unexpectedly, undergoing surgery to have my gall bladder removed. The missionaries and the two families never wavered with their support for me and my kids during that time, coming with food, housework, a fully trimmed Christmas tree, love, and blessings. At no point in my life had I ever felt as good about myself and my life as I did at that time. It was inevitable that the baptism would follow. My only regret at that time was that my son could not participate and complete our family circle.
Very shortly after our baptism, both the missionaries were transferred and we were left virtually on our own. From that point forward there were no more lessons, no more visits, nothing. When I asked the Bishop why they reported 100% success in Home Teaching when, in fact, I had not been visited by either a Home Teacher or anyone from the Relief Society, he simply sidestepped the issue and indicated that there was probably just a mistake with the statistics, nothing to worry about.
At the same time I was investigating the church, a 15 year old mother (still a child herself) was investigating the church. She was baptized a month before I was. When my children and I were assigned our Sunday school classes, I was astounded to see the 15 year old in the Relief Society room as opposed to the Young Women's room. The topic of discussion that day in the Relief Society was about teaching sexuality to your children. I was appalled that this young girl, still a child herself, was in this room with us. After class I asked the Relief Society President why this child was a member of the Relief Society and not Young Women's, her reply was simply "We don't want our daughters exposed to that." I was shocked and angered at the narrow minded, prejudicial attitudes displayed by these women. I had just been "called" to serve as Young Women's Secretary, and immediately informed the Bishop that if this narrow minded thinking was being taught to "our daughters," I wanted no part of it, as it did not teach good values. I asked him how this child could teach her own children about sexuality when she needed to be taught herself. He compromised with me by placing this young lady half time in each program.
For the next year I was left to fend for myself, with questions I could not answer, and no Home Teacher to help me find them. Questions of faith, understanding and reason.
I left the Army in 1989 and moved to Palmyra, NY. Our first visit to the chapel in Palmyra was humiliating. It was during July, the time of Hill Cumorah Pageant, and there were literally hundreds of visitors there. Each time my children and I found a place to sit, we were run out of the pew by a mother rudely informing us that her family would be sitting there. We were rudely evicted out of seven different spots, and ended up standing outside on the sidewalk wondering if we were even at the right place.
Shortly after our arrival, I contacted the stake and discovered that our records had already been received by them. How efficient. Six months after our arrival in Palmyra, my doorbell rang one night and it was a man from the church telling me that he was my Home Teacher. By then I had stopped going to church (like the good former Catholic that I was). This visit happened in January, just after Christmas. It would be the only contact I had with the church for the next two years. (It should be noted that my Home Teacher was "called" to be the Bishop that month. Guess he was just too busy to care.
In August of 1991, I prepared to move from Palmyra to a suburb of Rochester. Just as a matter of curiosity, I called the clerk at the stake and asked for his statistics as far as Relief Society home visits and Home Teaching successes for the preceding 24 months. He told me that they were proud to say that their successes were 100%. I casually informed him that somebody was lying, since I hadn't seen anyone in those two years. Then I moved away without informing the church. Why bother, I figured?
Well, it took them two years, but somehow they found out where I was. One night two female missionaries showed up at my door. I guess they figured I needed some reprogramming due to the prolonged absence from any church influence. At that point, I informed them that I had my problems, not only with the Church, but with my own faith as well, and I had done something that I was ashamed of and knew that I would not be judged well on it. I did, however, still have a son who still read his Book of Mormon primer, and I felt I could not make the decision to keep him from the church for him. The missionaries began teaching him, and arranged for a ride to church for him, as I would not go myself. The person they arranged a ride with lived one street over from me, virtually a stone's throw.
After three weeks, the missionaries informed me that they had been ordered to not come to my house any more, as they had more important things to do. I was livid with the arrogance displayed by the man in charge of the missionaries, who just happened to be the same man who had given my son a ride to church. He basically told me that if I didn't go to church, he wouldn't take my son. I called it blackmail, and asked him "What's the matter, you won't accept a kid because they have no money you can suck out of them?" He indicated that they would still require my son to tithe (what is a percentage of 0?) but that more importantly he could not be taught properly if his mother wasn't keeping the faith. I disagreed wholeheartedly and pointed out to him that I had read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover three times over a period of three years. I could quote passages and find anything my son had a question about. I had already explained some of the material to him. My intention was to teach him, and let him make his own decisions. This was not good enough for the church.
Since then, I have asked the Stake Bishop to remove my name from the church's records. He told me that he cannot just eliminate mine, it has to be all or nothing.
It should be pointed out also that my oldest daughter made a big mistake and got pregnant at the age of 18. She was not married, and still is not. She received a letter from the church saying she had been removed from the rolls because of her sinful ways. Her reaction was, Oh well!
I sincerely believe that the church wasn't a whole lot different than the Jim Jones cult, just less radical. It's a business, meant to make money, and the only way they can do that is to suck people in through whatever means possible. They take people who are undergoing difficult times and try to portray the church as the answer. If your crisis is large enough, you're susceptible, just like I was. Fortunately, I never became a real convert and I was amazed at how willing they were to let me just drift away. I still get cards from my Relief Society Home Teacher, usually once or twice a year, either for my birthday or for Christmas, but in the six years I've been here, not once have I ever talked to this woman on the phone or met her in person. I wonder if this stake is reporting 100%? Actually, I like staying on their roles, because it does screw up their percentages......keeps them honest.