“He (Joseph Smith), an obscure boy living in western New York, had been chosen by God to perform the marvelous work and wonder of restoring the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth.”
November 10, 2019 10 AM
The official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints offers a wealth of information about the history, practice, scriptures, prophecies, missions, family life, callings, study and many other topics related to the denomination. As far as I can tell, however, there is nothing specific about the local Branch (the term for smaller congregations.) However, I was able to find the time of the local “Sacrament Meeting.” It took a bit of hunting, but I also found a note about what to wear. It said to “try and look nice,” and that men wore ties, women wore dresses and skirts. Even the children dress up, it said. So, I knew I was going to stand out in my athleisure.
I sat down in one of the closest chairs to the side door entrance of the sacrament area. It wasn’t the back or the front row of chairs, but everyone who came in after me had to walk right past me. The good news is they all greeted me, asking my name and where I was from. I think a few assumed I was Mormon, because they mentioned something that sounded like inside baseball. I neither denied nor confirmed their suspicions (a good tactic I learned in the military.) One woman greeted me as “sister,” which felt very inclusive. However, I’m pretty sure my sneakers were a clear sign that I wasn’t part of the family. All the other women and girls wore dresses.
The service began with a few announcements from the President, an older gentleman who must’ve been in the priesthood. A quick Google search taught me that the LDS church has two orders of Priesthood, with several offices and quorums. It would be above my pay grade to try and explain it all. But in general, only men can become priests. The lesser offices are: Deacon, Teacher, Priest and Bishop–which can begin as young as twelve and involve sacrament duties (passing, preparing and blessing.) The higher priesthood offices are: Elder, High Priest, Patriarch, Seventy, Apostle. So, apparently those young guys that come to your door with the “Elder” name tag are on track for the higher offices.
We stayed seated and sung a dismal old hymn. A woman lead the congregational singing up front by swaying her right hand around like a conductor. However, her efforts were in vain. The pianist seemed to be playing with only two fingers. It reminded me of my daughter’s first piano recital when she was about seven. Then, another man stood to give the invocation. The President followed by announcing that we would have two speakers after the sacrament. We sang another equally oppressive sacrament hymn, still seated and still singing without any enthusiasm.
The sacrament time consisted of two young men, elders I believe, who uncovered baskets of bread. One bent down and prayed over the bread. Then, four male servers brought the baskets around to the twenty five or so souls who had gathered there. After we finished with the bread, the elders uncovered a set of communion cups. The other elder knelt down and said a prayer over the water. The same servers brought us the water trays. I drank the holy water and replaced the cup to its tray holder.
I can’t recall if there was a concluding prayer, but that seemed to be the end of the sacrament time. The first speaker rose to share his message. After another terrible hymn, the second speaker rose to speak. Neither man’s message contained anything that felt remotely moving or thought provoking. Both seemed more like rambling thoughts rather than a prepared sermon or even a cohesive presentation. The first speaker said something about the 1/60 rule in navigation–that even one degree off of the correct calculation can lead you 60 nautical miles off course. He likened it to the importance of staying on the right path, or something to that effect. The second guy used a series of scriptures from the Book of Mormon to illustrate his points, but I’m not sure I know what they were. The children in the audience grew louder and louder the longer he spoke. They eventually started running in and out of the worship space. I was a little jealous of the wee ones. Needless to say, that in all this priesthood training, it might behoove the LDS to focus on preaching. Or at the very least, they should focus on effective public speaking. Perhaps this is something that is found only in the larger Branches, Wards and Temples. But small groups need good speakers too.
Then we sang the closing hymn. Without standing, we murmured “America the Beautiful,” which was only slightly more enthusiastic that the previous hymns. If this hymn was supposed to commemorate Veterans’ Day, nothing had been said about it whatsoever. In fact, there were no prayers for the people, for the nation, for veterans, for anyone. There was absolutely nothing liturgical about the service–no scripture readings, no Lord’s Prayer, no statement of faith, nothing that would hint at what they actually believe other than the few prayers offered at the sacrament time.
Okay, so the members all greeted me warmly before the service. For that, they PASSED the WELCOME TEST. However, this “sacrament meeting,” felt neither sacramental nor worshipful. It seemed to be lacking any form or function of a spiritual event. I left feeling sad and somewhat empty.