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Looking back on my childhood in the church

January 2, 2010

On Main Street Plaza, Chanson asked if anyone actually enjoyed their church meetings in Mormonism. That sent me down memory lane…and I wrote a comment on the thread…but decided to post a fuller version here too.

When I was a little kid, sacrament was looooong and booooring and unbearable. I think the seeming extreme length and unbearability very highly (and positively) correlated to the unbearability of waiting for Christmas to come on Christmas Eve. I enjoyed prayers (good chance to close my eyes), and I enjoyed songs. I enjoyed the actual eating/drinking of the sacramental bread and water (because who doesn’t like food?). My parents didn’t allowed other snacks or other books or sleeping like some other parents did, so we had to at least look like we were “paying” attention, so there was no escape like that. So, it made sacrament an endurance challenge that sometimes we failed, sometimes we didn’t. On the other hand, plenty of speakers came to my parents after some meetings and would say, “Your kids are so attentive during sacrament! What great parenting,” etc., So I guess it wasn’t a total loss.

It’s funny. I would DREAD when songs would be skipped (e.g., like how there are only 3 songs on fast sunday). Because that would mean there’d be no opportunity to stretch *something* (even if it was only my vocal chords.)

Primary (as in the big group…I guess that’s sharing time? gosh, I’m forgetting my own cultural language) was kinda lame. I don’t like a lot of primary songs, but I liked a few. And the big group lessons were lame. No offense.

I always had great teachers during the smaller groups/classes, especially for later on (basically, when CTR changed to Valiant). I don’t want to say “everything I learned in church, I learned in Valiant 10/11” because 1) that’s lame and 2) I was barely paying attention in a deep sense when I was that age…but I think that was a pretty good foundation.

Growing up changed things a bit. Christmas became less of a big deal (isn’t it crazy how that happens? It doesn’t necessarily correspond to losing belief in Santa either…it’s a change in something else that is gradual). Sacrament became less “long.” It didn’t really become interesting in the sense of the theology ever becoming interesting…but rather, it became less boring in terms of my understanding the social dynamic of the ward. Fast Sundays were more fun, because I could think, “Now, what the heck happened in Sister So n’ So’s life?” When someone got tapped by the Bishop for saying something too heretical, that meant something. I glossed over when people said they were “edified” or whatever. Didn’t know/don’t know what that means. But that didn’t mean the meetings were total losses.

Classes changed too. Like Seth, I was the one saying the controversial stuff. I made it more of a game than anything, and what I liked more was the stupid things the other kids would say (that had nothing to do with the lesson). THAT’S entertainment.

Same thing with priesthood classes. It was more social than anything else.

The interesting thing is with General Conference. when we had to go to the church building (stake center = our building, YESSS), it was as painful as sacrament used to be. GenConf only got to be interesting out of the church, as I’ve pored over the several talks on my blog.

I practically disaffected from the church before getting into the real adult stuff, so I remember staying for Elder’s quorum only a few times (I graduated high school when I was 17, so I was “upgraded” informally when I went to a college ward…and then when I turned 18 I was upgraded formally…but I was kinda gone by then.)

Elder’s Quorum actually intrigued me. Instead of sitting around listening to kids I had grown up with say stupid things, I was now sitting around listening to their parents and their older brothers I had “grown” up with say…marginally less stupid things. The only “jokes” in the quorum seemed to be the legendary aversions to home teaching (why are so many people so averse to it? My dad and I always did it. Maybe it helped that we did it in a very lax way…it was more about helping people and listening to their troubles than reading out some message from the latest Ensign), cleaning up the church every once in a while, and going out to help people move.

Elder’s Quorum actually was the first time that people actually tried to be theologically serious. I mean, in primary and gospel doctrine and priesthood and whatever, the kids would be lost or would just give the standard seminary answers (often getting the wrong one for the question at hand…ouch!) But people seemed to try to incorporate more doctrine into elder’s quorum meetings and were even more imaginative to incorporate things outside of the church

The college ward was just weird though. The college Elder’s Quorum was all about 1) going on a mission and 2) getting married. Don’t wait! Get married now! Don’t try to start a career! Get married now! It was really really creepy, I’m not even going to lie. And pretty alienating.

Now, I think that if I went to a ward (either my ward at home or my ward at school), it would be pretty enjoyable…because I would know that I would have the freedom not to consign myself to the standard answers just to keep with appearances. If I didn’t like something, I could and would just walk. No skin off my nose.

Isn’t it funny how that works? Maybe the church should encourage more sabbaticals from it in the hopes that people come back with a fresh new look?

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4 Comments
  1. I suppose one thing that keeps me active in the church is that when I am most happy, living life in a more engaged way, and just generally not suffering from any mild existential depression, I REALLY enjoy the meetings. I found that on my mission. If I’m not engaged, not really caring, or my mind is elsewhere, the meetings can be a huge drag. I know people get all up in arms at the hint of anything like “it’s not the speaker’s fault it’s yours” – and I’m NOT saying that. I have just found that through multiple experiences in 4-5 wards that if I’m engaged, then I generally enjoy the meetings a lot.

  2. I started visiting the LDS ward when I was 16. I found the experience very confusing. I remember I had called the local LDS ward building, not understanding that the number led to a phone in the foyer. The phone had been picked up by whatever hapless mook happened to be wandering by, and he gave me the time when his ward started. I was later told that I was at the “wrong ward.” The church where I was supposed to visit was designated by my address? That was weird.

    These were my earliest impressions of Sacrament meeting:

    ~ I thought they were using a tape recording for the sacrament prayer. I had never heard a communion prayer that was exactly the same every time.

    ~ I didn’t really enjoy the music. I still don’t. Hymns aren’t my thing, and besides, I don’t read music. If I don’t have the melody of a hymn memorized, I have no idea what to sing. So half the time I can’t sing them anyways.

    ~ When speakers or F&Ters are sharing interesting life experiences that led them to believe in the church, I find their talks/testimonies fascinating. When people are repeating ad nauseam “I know that this church is true” or other polite, remedial church sayings, I stop wanting to be there.

    Sunday school was the best part for me. Most of the kids in the Sunday school class went to my high school and I knew them, and I enjoyed being in class with them. I enjoy discussion and I enjoy making comments. I may have even gone to a few scripture chase activities. Shh, don’t tell.

    Young Women… blech. I could just never shake the feeling that the reason we’d been sectioned off into our own separate meeting is because we’re the “not priests,” not because we have our own unique gifts, roles and talents to develop. The He-Man Woman Hater’s Club is supposed to be for five year-olds. Not teenagers and adults.

    My husband is always coming home from priesthood recounting the arguments and debates they had that day. In Relief Society and YW, everyone just agrees with each other until they fall asleep.

  3. I wouldn’t call the kind of home-teaching you and your dad did “lax.” I’d say having the focus be on helping people and listening to them is exactly what it’s supposed to be all about…

  4. Andrew, I can relate to many things you said. Often I still feel sacrament meeting can be long, but that probably has more to do with keeping my baby quiet enough not to disturb others.

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