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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Is Church Embarrassing? » Is Church Embarrassing?

Is Church Embarrassing?

Guest - July 6, 2005

Submitted by Ned Flanders

I continued my unprecedented streak of church attendance Sunday, making
it three weeks in a row. If anyone had actually noticed me showing up,
I would count as a "re-activated male." I don’t know if they still do
that statistic, but during my mission we had to report every week how
many men were reactivated (sorry, ladies, I guess you don’t count). To
count, these men had to attend for three straight weeks, so I assume
three straight weeks of non-attendance would officially make one
inactive. I could keep coming three weeks on and three weeks off to
help the local missionaries bolster their stats.


I am happy to report that one of the sister missionaries gave the
opening prayer in Sacrament Meeting. I think the First Presidency
should send out a letter instructing bishops to have women do the
invocations for a couple of weeks, just so everyone can get over that
silly tradition.

Anyway, as I was sitting all the way in the back during Sacrament
Meeting (feeling a little silly because the cultural hall was nearly
empty), I realized that each week I’ve been analyzing the meeting to
see how my wife would react. Maude and I occasionally attend the
Episcopalian Church together but she has never been to a Mormon
meeting. She thinks she’ll be stared at for not conforming to the dress
code, even though I assured her we could hide out in the back pew. I
don’t really care if she goes or not, but I’d like her to come at least
once so she can see that we’re not really that crazy.

Each meeting I’ve been trying to notice the things she’d notice and
analyze if she’d be offended or not. I was glad I didn’t take her to
April’s Fast Sunday, which featured a paean to the greatness of John
Paul II (she’s not a fan). The Father’s Day meeting was fine but had a
really terrible High Council talk. It sounded like he was winging it,
and it featured a long, rambling explanation about how elephant herds
fall apart without bull elephants. Yeah, great stuff.

This Sunday’s meeting was almost ideal: there was a confirmation of a
convert baptism, highly visible minority priesthood-holders, and a nice
(if overly long) musical number (classical music, not a cheesy Michael
McLean number). Other churches don’t have the same problem that we do
with widely varying Sunday meetings. They might change the reading from
the scriptures, but it’s still the same priests giving the sermons.
They have the entire Mass scripted; after the sacrament, ours is more
of a potluck.

I think my best bet is to take her on a Fast Sunday. It’s risky, I
know, but the testimonies in this ward have been pretty safe in the
past. I think the open format would be much more interesting than last
week’s three dull talks on the Fifth Article of Faith (it can barely
sustain one talk, let alone three).

Am I setting myself up here for the wackiest testimony meeting ever? Do
you ever envy the consistent, traditional masses of other churches? Am
I over-thinking this whole thing?

P.S. I’d like to thank Rusty for letting me visit. I
promise to keep my feet off the furniture and do all my own dishes.

Cross-posted at VivaNedFlanders.

27 Comments »

  1. Before anyone starts on a criticism of the Church arising from NFL’s implication that noone has yet noticed him at Church and thus does not know that he is “re-activated” and thus use it as ammo against the Church to say that the Church is unChristian and mean, etc. it should be remembered that NFL has stated elsewhere (recently on his blog) that he does not want anyone to notice or talk to him at church and that if they did, he would not go back.

    Now, to the point: everything about church is embarassing, NFL. Religion is irrational and wierd, unless you’re a believer, and nothing will ameliorate that except, perhaps, a retreat from the very religion principles (e.g. faith) that make religion so irrational and absurd to the secular mind. I am conscious of this fact when I sit in my sacrament meetings and realize how irrational just about every single thing said or done in the meeting and in the entire religion of Christianity is or would be to the secular mind. That is when a feeling of profound gratitude for my irrational faith comes over me and I reflect on the miracles of the Restoration of the Restored Gospel.

    Comment by john fowles — July 6, 2005 @ 4:00 pm

  2. My recollection is that once you are active, you will be counted as an active member if you attend once per quarter. That is the measure they used for counting in order to promot a branch to a ward in Brazil in any case.

    I think that my perception of fast meetings is tainted because I dread the inevitable ramblings of people with a less than firm grip on reality. However I’ve noticed that visitors don’t seem nearly so troubled by this as I do. I probably am conditioned to cling to a very narrow view of what is appropriate in such meetings. I’m such a Utah Mormon… :)

    Comment by a random John — July 6, 2005 @ 4:14 pm

  3. I think that one of the reasons they keep missions at two years, is that if you stayed any longer, you would “go native.” The last couple of months, I started to ananlyze all things from a French paradigm. I would cringe at the things that new American missionaries would say (that would be completely acceptable here). I would analyze General Conference as a French person, etc. In any case Flanders, you have more faith than you let on to if you are considering a Fast and Testimony meeting ;)

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 6, 2005 @ 4:22 pm

  4. I went to my own ward by myself 3 week in a row myself. (my wife was out of town and or sick). I’ve been in this ward a very long time!

    I sat on the back row by myself. It was lonely. I too found that no one spoke to me. I observed that everyone else was pretty busy trying to get their kids, spouce or themselves to the restrooms, and S.S. or primary.

    Bottomline, I don’t go to church to socialize, I go to renew my covenants and to worship. I usually worship better in solitude.

    Church is a nice place to “learn” things, it’s a nice place to see friends, and it’s a nice place to “feel” good. But real church is about worship.

    Comment by don — July 6, 2005 @ 4:45 pm

  5. For what it’s worth, in our mission that statistic counted for both men and women.

    John,
    I sincerely love your pre-emptive strike, though you should give Ned a little more credit, I don’t think he has any intention of calling the Church un-Christian and mean. I think you’re right in your implication that many people have noticed him. I now sit up on the stand and notice every new face (what else am I going to do during a boring talk), especially those new faces who return week after week. Ned, you might be able to sneak under the radar in your own mind, but no doubt there are those who are aware.

    Ned,
    Testimony meeting is tricky. It’s a gamble because it could have a fantastic payoff if the testimonies are sincere and nobody says anything crazy, but if some members start telling the congregation how God helped George W. get in office or that all other religions are of the Devil then you will be squirming. Roll the dice…

    Don,
    Saying real church is about worship sounds nice, but how do you imagine the churchgoing experience without the learning, socializing, and feeling good (but truly worshipping)?

    Comment by Rusty — July 6, 2005 @ 5:04 pm

  6. John Fowles has it half-right. I am trying to avoid socializing at church, but I certainly wouldn’t vow not to return if someone started talking to me. Now, if they started coming to my house, that’s another story.

    BTW, John, no need to be so defensive. I wasn’t condemning the friendliness of my ward. If anything, it is a reflection of the largeness of the ward.

    Comment by NFlanders — July 6, 2005 @ 5:22 pm

  7. Rusty- It’s interesting that your mission counted both men and women. Our statistics sheet had a column labelled “VR”, which meant “varones reactivados.” I thought that this stat sheet was used Church-wide.

    Comment by NFlanders — July 6, 2005 @ 5:58 pm

  8. Yes. You’re overthinking it.

    The first time I ever attended an LDS service it was a Fast Sunday. I don’t remember a bit of it.

    The RS Pres in my current ward was telling me about a ward she visited for a baby blessing and how there were a bunch of non-member visitors there for the blessing. She said people kept getting up and talking about crazy-sounding things like seeing spirits in the temple.

    Is you wife pretty closeminded towards the church? Is she going to judge it based on one Sunday service?

    Take her on a Fast Sunday and bear *your* testimony. Ha!

    Comment by Susan M — July 6, 2005 @ 5:59 pm

  9. This is my first time posting, — and i haven’t read much. NFl. sorry you haven’t been totally active. I guess it is hard. My mish. in Bolivia counted varones reactivados because women and children usually outnumbered men 12 to 1. Since we needed priesthood to get it all up and running, we focused on the stats for male members. You probably knew that that is why they did it.

    While I was at BYU my elder’s quorum president’s little bro (an RM) had a crush on the young woman I was trying to date. The EQP, aware of the threat I posed to his little bro, approached the young lady at church and told her that I was a total player and that she shouldn’t date me. He said he had a bad feeling about us dating. It affected her a little, but now we are married, so it is all cool.

    I guess my reason for telling this is so that you know that I am not without some bruises that come from sticking with the church. I expect them in the future as well, but I include this is the calculus of whether or nor church-based associations are worth it. In the end, for me there’s no contest – it’s worth it.

    j.

    Comment by jordan — July 6, 2005 @ 6:12 pm

  10. Ned,
    Great sense of humor. It sounds like even the worst LDS service will satisfy your wife because her expectations are so low. I’d personally like to see even a freer form LDS service w/ dance, call and response, speaking in tongues, tambourines, snake handling, etc.

    BTW, I believe you’re considered active if you go once a month. If you go less than once a month, you’re less active. So, you’ve been active for a while now. But you were gone so long I’ll remind you our liturgy is in the temple and, even in today’s much simpler form, more than makes up for the freeform meetings you dislike.

    Comment by Steve (FSF) — July 6, 2005 @ 6:32 pm

  11. Ned:

    As the only member in my family, I can totally relate. I often find myself listening to a talk or testimony from the viewpoint of my non-member sisters, brother, parents, etc.

    I recall bringing them to the mission “homecoming” of my brother-in-law (they knew him rather well). If the floor could have opened up and swallowed me whole I would have preferred it to what happened.

    Comment by EastCoastEddie — July 6, 2005 @ 9:06 pm

  12. Okay EastCoastEddie, you can’t leave it at that. Pray tell!

    Comment by Rusty — July 6, 2005 @ 9:49 pm

  13. As a meeting, Sacrament doesn’t have much to offer except the chance to mingle with the ward as a whole. It’s the people that make it worth attending, if you’re lucky enough to have a ward full of decent and friendly folks. If not, consider relocating.

    Visitors, who don’t know any ward members personally, sometimes come away with the wrong impression, I suppose. Testimony meeting, offering a personal glimpse of ten or twelve people, might actually be the best option. Scary thought.

    Comment by Dave — July 6, 2005 @ 11:17 pm

  14. Last I saw the FT missionaries were only required to keep tabs on the amount of time they were spending with the less-active, and there wasnt any criteria for reactivating. In the Elder’s Quorum, they do tab “prospective Elders” differently from “Elders” (i.e., 19+ years old without the Melchizedek Priesthood) and they are supposed to be the focus of reactivation efforts. The only statistical criteria for success in these cases would be the guy receiving the MP.

    As for awful sacrament meetings, we have all endured them. My favorite was in the Portland, OR downtown branch when a woman who wasnt entirely altogether there asked us to pray for her hemorrhoids because they were killing her. Whenever that kind of kooky krap happens, I just remind myself that I am glad the Church isnt a facist meritocracy or elitist priestcraftocracy.

    And, Rusty, here’s your bumpersticker threadjack back at you:

    “I love cats, they taste like chicken”

    I drive a 1987 MB 300D. With no bumperstickers.

    Comment by Kurt — July 7, 2005 @ 8:22 am

  15. I’ve never been able to hide when I go to church. Every single time I go, there are at least three or four people that will talk to me.

    As a non-member, I would say the fast and testimony meetings are the best–simply because the ‘talk’ meetings are such a craps-shoot. The fast Sunday meetings seem to give the best ‘feel’ for the ward. At very least, it’s a conversation starter.

    Comment by Pris — July 7, 2005 @ 11:06 am

  16. Ned,

    Those who have stated that you’re overthinking church may be right, but I boldly say, “Who cares?” What’s the point of life if we’re not allowed to overthink things every so often? Besides, I think the more common problem for LDS folks is a tendency to underthink things like whether or not our meetings are useful and/or embarrasing.

    For me, as for probably a lot of other folks, attendance at sacrament meeting in particular, and the three-hour block in general, is a ritual more than anything else. By showing up, I prove to God, the universe, and everything that I’m willing to show up. If that sounds a bit silly, that’s how it seems to me, too–but I do it anyway, because God seems to want me to. I rarely get much else out of the meetings… Except a lot of opportunities to cringe at accidental idolatry of Joseph Smith, right-wing politics, racism, etc.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — July 7, 2005 @ 11:42 am

  17. Ned,
    You’re worried about meetings? What does your wife think of G’s? Check our my post at http://mormonopenforum.blogsome.com/2005/07/05/temple-fashion/

    Comment by Steve (FSF) — July 7, 2005 @ 6:45 pm

  18. If you want to take your wife to a really, really, tedious meeting, take her on high council Sunday.

    Fast & Testimony meeting at least has the potential to be interesting.

    RoastedTomatoes, you are my New Hero.

    Comment by Ann — July 7, 2005 @ 9:59 pm

  19. I hope Eddie tells us his story; if not here, then at least on his always-entertaining blog.

    Comment by NFlanders — July 8, 2005 @ 11:41 am

  20. Rusty,
    I think Don’s statement has more credit then you give him. I’ve been going to a single’s ward the last 3 months and have not achieved ANYthing in regards to social activity and such. No one talks to me or seems to care that I go or sit alone every week. However, like Don said, I go to worship and recieve much in that respect.
    Ned,
    I go along with some of what’s been said above but really in general have found that church meetings have a little of everything. Some are terrible and embarassing, some make me only a little squeamish, some are average, some are above average and some are supurb. I imagine others feel the same in their own denomination’s meetings.
    Also, to attach to what I said to Rusty, I go worship…or at least try to have that attitude every week. I find when I’m being cynical of those speaking or bearing testimony, I get squeamish and have a bad experience, but when I try to glean all I can from the sincerityof the person and their testimony and I try to ponder and study what they say, I gain SO much more. Now, granted some are so awful it’s too hard to get anything from them, but I try to take them with a grain of salt and remember that the church will never be led astray.

    P.S.–Hey at least he lets you post while you’re here. I do my own dishes and clean my room and all and I only get to shout to company from my room in the back!>:p

    Comment by Bret — July 8, 2005 @ 6:22 pm

  21. The second Sunday my wife and I attended the new ward, it felt a little flat. Then last Sunday (our third time) it felt great again. I realized something … since our NYC ward is the first one to have Church in the morning, all the people visiting NYC attend that ward. Ask how many people are visitors and it looks like everyone in the room is a visitor (due to all the upraised hands)! So I realized that until we bear our testimony or show up enough times or introduce ourselves to a bunch of people, no one would recognize us. Fortunately, I think the 3rd Sunday was the charm.

    Comment by danithew — July 8, 2005 @ 7:41 pm

  22. I worked with a guy who stopped going to church because he said it was like “a bad amateur night.” I suppose sometimes it is. On the other hand, I’m glad people are willing to put up with my own attempts to say something worthwhile. I think it’s great that we all get the chance to put forward whatever we have, even if it’s not so great, sometimes. It keeps the responsibility on us, both when we present and have to try to bring in the spirit and when we listen and have to try to get something out of a talk that is underprepared or prepared by someone that’s terrified of speaking in public. Sometimes all I get out of a talk is the courage of a new convert speaking for the first time.
    And every time I cringe at a musical number that goes flat, a particular challenge for me, I remind myself that I’m focused on things that don’t matter.

    Comment by Steve H — July 10, 2005 @ 4:29 pm

  23. I see where you’re coming from in regards to bringing Maude to a fast and testimony meeting. Sometimes they’re just strange! But, I will say that when I converted 8 years ago, it was the Spirit in the testimony meetings that really sold me on this Church. I had never felt anything like that in my life and it was a result of hearing Truth. Certainly there had to have been crazy testimonies during my conversion period, but the point is, the Spirit touched me. Take a chance, Neddy Boy!!!

    Comment by Rebekah — July 11, 2005 @ 2:50 pm

  24. Hi, Ned -

    Just wondering why you are going back to Church now. If you have discussed this already, could you link me to it? Thanks!

    Comment by Tess — July 13, 2005 @ 9:16 am

  25. I grew up in a mainstream Protestant congregation, American Baptist Convention, not Southern Baptist. And the meetings were so predictable and boring that my mother would give me Dexadrine tablets to stay awake.

    One of the first things I noticed about the Mormons when I first met some as a Junior in high school was that their meetings were more interesting because you never knew when someone was going to say something off the wall. Once in a while you would get a deeply inspirational sermon straight from the heart. And often you would hear the most hilarious crap. It just seemed so much less “orchestrated” than a typical Baptist meeting.

    Besides, despite his good intentions, Reverend Baldridge was a lousy public speaker. And we had to listen to his lengthy sermons every week. How I wish that the boring talks could be shorter and the interesting talks longer.

    Comment by John W. Redelfs — July 14, 2005 @ 3:53 am

  26. I’m a non-member, but I frequently… okay, weekly I attend. I support the religion of my wife, and I don’t have one so there’s no need to reciprocate.

    Anyway, I have yet to notice anything offensive. Except priesthood meetings. Those put me off day one. But I’m thinking your wife won’t be attending any of those. Hey, maybe just take her to sacrement and let fly.

    So what if she thinks it’s crazy? That just gives you an in to talk about it even more!

    And discussing your faith with your spouse/s.o. is never a bad thing.

    Comment by Charlie — July 19, 2005 @ 12:07 am

  27. Thanks for the advice and reassurance, Charlie. She might not even notice all the things I imagine she will.

    Comment by NFlanders — July 20, 2005 @ 4:09 pm

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