Report on Attending a Mormon service as a non-Mormon
Subject: Report on Attending Mormon service/ Friend's ordination for first time
Date: May 04 21:01
Author: njy

I promised I would report back on my coworker’s husband’s ordination service as branch president. I attended today and it was my first time ever to visit a Mormon church. I’m not sure what I expected, but in some ways I left a bit disappointed. It had been interesting, but it had also at the same time been boring. I suppose I was hoping it would be more, but at the same time I wasn’t all that surprised by what it was.

I had asked my friend last week how many people they usually had at Sunday service. She said generally 300 to 400 attended. This made me feel good as I realized it would probably be like my parent’s church (Southern Baptist) back home that has that many attendees on Sundays. I knew in a crowd that big I wouldn’t stick out too much. You can imagine my surprise when I showed up a few minutes before service and walked in to see only about 40 people milling around. I quickly realized I wouldn’t be having the anonymity I thought. Or so I thought for the moment. More on that later. I easily spotted my friend and she said I could sit with them. Once we took our seats I almost laughed as I looked around at the congregation. First of all, there was no way that the entire room could seat 300 people. The room had three sections of rows of ten. Maybe 200 people could fit in the entire room if everyone squeezed together in the rows, but I doubt even that many could really get in. For the service I estimated that there were about 100 in attendance but it may have even been as little as 80.

I was first struck by all the commotion. The retiring branch president just got up to start the service and people continued to talk, to walk in and out of the room, and the babies and children continued to cry and run around. We sang the first hymn. I could not believe how awful it sounded. Hardly anyone was singing and those who were seemed to be doing so only half-heartedly. It was a pretty pathetic display. The district president (my friend explained to me that he is like a stake president but for some reason that I can’t remember he is called a district president) then got up and talked about how he was here to release the branch president who was moving to another state. He said some general words about the departing BP and then asked my friend’s husband to stand up. He then told the congregation that my friend’s husband was the new BP and asked him to come to sit up on the platform. They all sustained him and his two counselors.

We then had sacrament. Or rather they did. As they were getting it ready my friend leaned over and said, ‘we’re about to have the sacrament. When it comes to you, you know that you can’t take it, right?” I was like, “uh huh.” I then asked if it was bread and grape juice and she explained it was bread and water. I said, “oh in my church growing up we always had grape juice. Other denominations drink wine but since we’re Baptist we drink grape juice.” I’m not even sure if she was really listening to me, but I wanted to kind of remind her that many other churches do the same thing they were about to do. The kids passed out the sacrament. They couldn’t have looked less interested in what they were doing. It struck me as an incredibly un-sacred experience. I was surprised that each person ate or drank the second it was given to them. In my church growing up and every church that I have ever been to the entire congregation holds their bread or drink and then once everyone has it the congregation takes it together in unison. It also didn’t help that the entire time (and the entire hour and a half) there was a constant din of crying babies and talking children. I couldn’t see how any of this could be that spiritual with the sounds of so much commotion everywhere.

After that the departing BP announced that the district president had requested that the branch presidency being released and the branch presidency being sustained and their respective wives be the ones to give their testimonies that day. I was hoping that there would still be time in the service for regular members to bear their testimonies because I thought those might be more free-reeling and interesting but it turned out there wasn’t any time for anyone else than those that the DP had requested speak.

I was quite disappointed by the testimonies. At the same time, thanks to reports on this board, I pretty much knew what to expect from them. Nearly everyone, both men and women, cried in their talks. But the tears were odd to me because they didn’t seem to come at especially emotional moments. Hardly anyone said anything that touching, though a few of the people did say some genuinely thoughtful (or so it seemed) comments about their spouses. Still, the talks in general just seemed so inconsequential. One person recounted some branch history, one talked about his wife, they all praised the departing BP and they all talked about how they knew the new BP was chosen by God. Meanwhile, babies continued to cry and kids continued to run wild. I was amazed by what commotion was going on. Kids were constantly running up on stage and moms would occasionally go up there and bring them back down. The entire time I felt like no one was really paying attention because there were all these other constant distractions taking place: moms passing kids to dads, moms coloring with their kids, dads taking screaming babies outside, etc etc. I should also mention that the district president sat there on the stage and issued the biggest yawns one after another. Some he tried to cover with his hands, others he just let everyone see. After a while of this, he then fell asleep, though he was periodically awakened by various screams and cries from kids and babies.

Several things occurred to me as I listened to the testimonies. First, hardly any of the talks touched on God, Jesus, spiritual matters, etc. I would say overall, 80% of the words spoken were about nothing in particular. I was almost embarrassed for them by how much the released presidency men spoke about how glad they were to be released. It was like an almost too public admission of how much they were glad to be done with it. It stuck me at one point that I could just have easily been observing a sorority meeting, because the testimonies had so little to do with anything spiritual or religious. Just change a few terminology words and it could have been a sorority president or rotary club president stepping down and the new one rising up. The testimonies I heard made it so obvious that this was just another organization with business to take care of.

While I almost couldn’t bear the constant disrupting noises of the kids and babies and the mindless talks of the testimonies, I did especially enjoy looking at a couple of hot mishies two rows in front of me. I was especially hoping that one of them would take the pulpit and talk so I could get a better view of their faces. One of them was particularly hot. He was very buff and filled out his suit quite sexily. I thought it was good that this F&T had some homoerotic fantasies going on in it. But maybe I wasn’t the only one. One of the new counselors being sustained had made my gaydar alarm go off when I initially entered the church. When he got up and spoke it only went off harder.

One thing that surprised me was that no one seemed to care that I was there. This was actually the complete opposite of what I had been expecting. At my parents’ church, and really every church I have attended, they always have a moment where visitors are recognized and people greet them and welcome them. Only one person came up to speak to me and that was the departing BP. (He genuinely seemed like a very nice man). My friend’s husband’s parents had flown in from Utah to see their son be sustained as the new BP. I sat next to my friend and her husband’s parents sat on the other side of her. It was very obvious that I was a guest (I heard her tell them) but they never leaned over to say hello or welcome me or even acknowledge that I was there. It occurred to me that my parents would have been very friendly and welcoming to anyone they knew was a visitor at their church. Maybe I shouldn’t expect other people to have the Southern hospitality I am used to at churches back home, but it just struck me as odd that no one seemed to care that I was there. Especially since I had thought that people would be all over me trying to convert me and find out where I lived so they could come witness to me. At one point after the service this woman was speaking to my friend and I was just sitting there. My friend was finally like, “oh this is my friend from work who is visiting today.” The woman said hello, shook my hand and then just continued on talking to my friend.

My friend asked me if I wanted to stay for her husband’s ordination service that was taking place right afterwards. Part of me wanted to stay to see what that was like but I mostly was ready to get out of there so I declined. I said that I needed to get back home to work on my papers (I am also in graduate school) and she told me that I should take the day off from working. She then said, “I never once studied on a Sunday in my four years at BYU and I graduated with a 4.0.” I wasn’t sure if this was a statement about the proof of the Lord’s blessings for following his commandments or if it was more revealing about the academic standards of BYU.

So, that was the general experience. Sorry this message is so long. Most of this is probably not too new or interesting to anyone else here on the board but as a first time visitor to a Mormon church service (or “meeting” as they kept referring to it – how business-like!) I felt like I wanted to jot down as much as I could recall while the memories were still fresh.

My friend said that she was curious to hear my impressions. I wonder if she will actually follow up tomorrow at work.

One other thing that I forgot in my long scribe...

It struck me that disbelief was a constant presence in the testimonies. First of all, many people here have talked a lot about how saying "I know the gospel is true, I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God" etc is something people constantly have to say because they have to force themselves to believe something unbelievable.

One of the women speaking today was talking about the departing BP and saying how one time when she heard him giving blessings to a group of girls she thought to herself, wow this must be so hard for him to have to give each girl an individual and unique blessing that is special to each of them. I almost couldn't believe the woman had said this aloud because it seemed to me an obvious statement of how the blessing from God is hooey. I mean, if they really believe that the BP is just a mouthpiece to deliver God's words then why would this woman be worried about him being able to do it? She then said that he went on to deliver three beautiful and unique blessings for each of the girls and that she realized this was proof that he WAS speaking the words of God.

It just struck me that many of the things said in the testimonies today were about disbelief. Of course, I know that none of the speakers would realize this was what they were saying but their words and logic (or lack thereof) revealed that the speakers are constantly teetering back and forth between disbelief and belief.

does this make sense?

Subject: You've just accurately described. . .
Date: May 04 21:09
Author: catholicgirl

. . .about every LDS Sacrament Meeting and Fast and Testimony Meeting I've ever attended.

I'm sure others here would say the same.

NOW you know why we're EX-Mormons.

Subject: Thanks for your comments.
Date: May 04 21:33
Author: Lara C

It's always interesting to get a never-mo's view. Once I took a friend to church, and he commented that it was like a business meeting. LOL!! Little did I realize at the time what a business it is.

Subject: and one more thing...:)
Date: May 04 22:36
Author: njy

during the service my friend pointed up to the row of mishies and pointed out a guy sitting with them who she said had just been baptized last week. the funny thing was that before the service i had noticed him (well, really i had noticed the hot mishies and then saw him sitting there too) and had thought, boy that guy looks insane.

maybe to some degree he is.

but after i knew he had just been baptized recently i then felt very sad for him. i probably know 100 times more about what he is getting into than he himself knows. and i'm a nevermo!

this brings up a question i have, however. where are people baptized? the temple? did he have to hike all the way up to boston or all the way down to dc just to get dunked??

Subject: No, baptisms for the living take place in fonts. . .
Date: May 04 22:42
Author: catholicgirl

. . .generally, in local ward or stake meetinghouses (you might not see them, as they are usually under the floor, sometimes located in places like the Relief Society room of a meetinghouse).

When I was growing up, we didn't always have them in our local churches, so many baptisms were done in a local river. I imagine this sort of thing still takes place in areas of the world where a font is not available. I also knew of occasions when the immersion font at the local Baptist Church was borrowed for occasional baptisms in bad weather.

My own baptism took place at a meetinghouse an hour away from our own church, as ours didn't have a font, on a Saturday night, and I shivered, wet and cold, in the station wagon all the way home, and was confirmed in Fast and Testimony meeting the next morning.

The only baptisms that currently take place in LDS temples are baptisms for the dead, by proxy.

The water for LDS baptisms is not consecrated, and the font is usually filled, just like a hot tub would be, prior to baptisms. For baptisms for the dead at least, the fonts also have chlorine in them.

I hope that helps.

Subject: Word of caution - beware of what questions you ask
Date: May 04 22:51
Author: alex

Most LDS meetinghouses on the eastern side of the Mississipi river in the USA have a baptismal font in the meetinghouse adjacent to the Primary room or Relief Society.

If you ask your TBM-work-colleague about this or any other questions then she'll think you are thinking about baptism. So my recommendation would be that unless you are seriously thinking about being baptized to let her know that "looking for a church" is not the right thing for you at this time in your life or in the near future. Otherwise she'll continue to keep you in mind as a target for baptisms. Besides now that her husband is Branch President he is responsible for leading the missionary work in his Branch and the LDS leaders do teach that leaders should lead by example so don't be suprised if your name shows up on some target list of people to work on. They won't be mean or vicious just eager, super-nice and hopeful like a nice car salesman. So unless you are eagerly thinking about becoming a Mormon I'd recommend you let the car salesmen know that you won't be buying a car for a long time and they'll leave you alone.

So if you have any questions about the LDS church, its people, its history, its doctrine or anything else then I'd recommend you keep this in mind.

Best wishes :)

Subject: Re: Word of caution - beware of what questions you ask
Date: May 04 23:04
Author: njy

actually, i don't think there's much worry about that here. she has never seemed interested in talking much with me about mormonism. i bring it up with her constantly and often i am disappointed by how little she is willing to talk about. of course, i know that may be because she believes in milk before meat. but she's never seemed to talk about religious matters with me much at all unless i start the discussion and then it never gets very deep. she knows i am really interested in the church because i am possibly going to write my dissertation on some aspect of mormon history. i think it's pretty clear to her that my interests are only historical/sociological.

also, i doubt she thinks that i, as a gay man, am that likely of a convert. she always asks me about my boyfriend and our dog. it's never seemed to me that she thought of me in any way as a possible convert. in fact, this has bothered me often because i've thought perhaps she would be more willing to talk with me about things if she did think of me in that way.

however, she does tell me constantly that i "look" like a mormon. it always kind of shocks me that she says this aloud. it's always a startling confirmation of mormonism's emphasis on looks and the racist undertones of the beliefs. but as a 6'2" blonde with blue eyes and clean-cut looks i guess i would make quite the poster child. and my last name is Young to boot!

more things keep coming back to me...

the pulpit that people spoke from had some kind of mechanism where it could be raised and lowered. every time a woman came up to speak it was lowered. then as the man came to speak it was raised. since the speakers alternated male then female it was constantly being raised and lowered. the thing is, none of these women were short. i started paying close attention after a while and saw that most of the women were generally the same size as the men. in fact, one of the men was quite short. but as he came up to the podium it was raised high again. it just seemed to me like it was this visual symbol of women's place in the church. it was this constant visual depiction that women are below men, that they aren't as high as men. there was no need to lower the podium for any of those women that spoke. but at the same time, since i believe things like this can be so subconsciously powerful, i guess there was a great need indeed to lower it for each woman.

Subject: Extremely interesting observation, indeed. . .
Date: May 04 22:58
Author: catholicgirl

njy wrote:
> it just seemed to me like it was this visual symbol of women's place in the church. it was this constant visual depiction that women are below men, that they aren't as high as men.

You're probably correct in your assessment.

Subject: I doubt that the raising/lowering of the stand was any symbol
Date: May 05 10:08
Author: alex

It was probably just a Branch presidency member bored and trying to concentrate on what was going on so he'd lower/raise the pulpit subconsciously to do this.

Subject: Re: I doubt that the raising/lowering of the stand was any symbol
Date: May 05 10:12
Author: njy

i didn't mean it was an overt, conscious act. in fact, i meant quite the opposite. but still things like this send subconscious messages to people's minds. there was no need to lower the pulpit for any of the women. everyone was tall enough to speak from the pulpit at its original height. my point was that things like this subtly convey an implicit message about the sexes.

Subject: Great post.
Date: May 05 11:58
Author: Metatron

I enjoy reading posts of people's encounters with Mormonism, especially from an "outside" perspective.

I guess if you grow up Mormon, you don't notice all the commotion--it seems normal--the constant milling and noise. I was "introduced" to Mormonism at the age of about seven. The wildness was really different for me. Up to that point, my only religious experience was Southern Baptist and Vacation Bible School at a Methodist church, plus a little exposure to hanging out at a Catholic church with friends and maybe a tent revival or two (my dad was fascinated with tent meetings). My mom never got used to the commotion. She grew up Southern Baptist. I think she just went along with Mormonism to be a good wifey.

I remember as a child, whenever I would visit another church, (like my grandmother's Baptist church) I would get a lapel sticker that said "Visitor". I couldn't just blend into the woodwork.

I also remember the grape juice and the little rubber-lined cup holders on the backs of the pews. Baptismal services were pretty cool. It was a large church and the baptismal font was built-in up behind the choir seats. It scared me though. I guess I've always had conflict with authority figures, and my Granny's minister scared the heck out of me. The revivals were the worst. I still don't see the point in putting all that pressure on people to make a proclamation of something that they don't really understand. I think a lot of teenagers just take Jesus as their Savior because family and social pressure. But it isn't my place to say.

Subject: I sometimes wished for normalness.
Date: May 05 12:13
Author: Metatron

Throughout my TBM years (age 8-30) I would sometimes wish the Mormon church meetings were more "normal" like other churches, even into my adult years, when I considered myself Super-Righteous TBM. I would think, "If The Church weren't so weird, maybe we would get more converts." at the same time trying to keep myself convinced that this was The Only True Church.

Subject: You were right on target...
Date: May 05 12:09
Author: Longtimegone

Your post brought back the exact atmosphere of attending a mormon meeting, especially a branch, out of the mo-corridor.

When you are raised in that culture from the day you are born, you don't realize how odd it is to outsiders. If I was a TBM and moved to NYC and joined that branch, I would be welcomed with open arms. Everyone would know exactly what to say to me and I to them. There would never be a moment of discomfort or loneliness. My new TBM friends would be clones of old TBM friends and I would never miss or be missed by old friends.

When I went to my sisters ward with her, I watched an investigator stand alone in the foyer while that churning mass of confusion boiled around him. Children running, yelling, adults greeting each other, gossiping, laughing. He looked so uncomfortable and I felt so sorry for him, that I thought about talking to him.

When mormons are out of their group they don't know how to act and are often perceived as rude. Then they say nobody likes them and how persecuted they are.

Thanks for your observations. I really enjoyed reading them.


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