I hope by now we’ve established that I’m a believing Mormon. I accept the Church’s truth claims and find them spiritually fulfilling. I remain committed to the Book of Mormon, the modern prophets, the priesthood, modern revelation, and the ordinances and covenants that go with them.
But, increasingly, I find little of spiritual value in attending Church with my fellow saints. I like them just fine. The services just don’t do much for me.
That hasn’t always been the case. As a kid I was very church-y, including a period in which I kept on the white shirt and tie throughout the day as a part of my Sabbath worship, something my family found peculiar. In college and afterwards as I lived in Southern California I found Sundays very fulfilling. I had meaningful callings and spiritually uplifting experiences in my meetings.
Now I’m in a suburban Utah ward and it just feels … blah. The people (our neighbors) are nice. I like my bishop personally and think he’s doing his best. But after two almost years I still feel isolated and disconnected from those around me.
Part of this, I’m sure, is that this is the first ward where my wife has not attended. When she stopped attending in the previous ward it was easy to maintain those bonds we’d forged together. Now I’m on my own. And I’m learning quickly how isolating our church culture can be for those who don’t fit the mold. It was much easier to connect with a ward as a whole family than it is as an individual.
Another part of my growing dissatisfaction is that the services themselves just aren’t very uplifting. This ward (and I think the whole stake) has adopted a standard of always assigning Sacrament speakers to talk about a General Conference talk. The opening line of almost every talk (after the apology and joke section) is “The talk I’ve been assigned to talk on is …” To put it politely, this doesn’t make for the most engaging worship service.
I’ve been bumped around in a few different callings, usually with significant gaps in between. My latest calling leaves me entirely isolated, working on the bishop’s behalf in some confidential matters. It’s kind of him to have put some trust in me, but it adds to my isolation. There’s nothing in particular to do or prepare on Sunday and nothing that brings me into closer contact with my fellow saints.
There was a time when I might have advised someone like me to reach out and get active. Now I can see more clearly how the Church lets people down – even believing people who want to be a part of this organization.
What I want most from the Church right now is to experience it like Moroni described it:
And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.
And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus. (Moroni 6:4-6)
Is that too much to ask from the faith I love?
(Photo Credit: “Canterbury Chapel Sign” by Matthew Bembridge – used under CC License)
We have all experienced this sort of thing. Maybe ahead of time try to think how you might be of service to someone during the meeting block. When I see a new face I often go out of my way to talk to them.
Thanks for your sentiment, Ken. That’s the kind of advice I would have given in the past to people who didn’t feel connected. But I’m experiencing it on so many levels and directions at once, I’m realizing how much it’s an institutional problem not a personal one. As a Church, I think we need to do a better job of learning how to reach out to embrace our whole community, not just those in family arrangements that fit most easily into the current institutional structure.
This almost reminds me of Elder Oaks’s stargazer analogy. Different focus, but same observation that there is often a certain group of individuals within the church who are left out of its social component. I don’t think he had a clear structural response about how to address it, though.
I wasn’t aware of that analogy. Thanks for sharing.
I wish you were in my ward.. we seem to miss people like that.
Thank you. That’s very kind.
I’m in a suburban Utah ward and can understand what you’re saying (particularly the talk assignments!). This may sound like the Sunday School answer, but I’ve tried to focus on the sacrament ordinance (real reason for attending) and the concept of worship as articulated in Eric Huntsman’s book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HN509J6/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 to find meaning when I feel those same issues. I’m sorry. Hang in there!
I’m glad that’s been helpful for you. Thanks for the suggestion.
Jason, I agree with you completely. We live in different times than the pioneers. I believe that we need a “reform” in the Church that adapt our spiritual needs to the present time. I believe that we can live WITH the pass but NOT IN the pass. The Church soends so many “resources” in “remmenbering the members of the beginning of the Church” and not enough in the PRESENT time needs of the Curch members. We need to adress the “spiritual function/purpose of the Church” as an instutution capable ti help its nemmbers in a “holistic/human” way. “Creating” places of physical/emotional help 24/7 conducted by “Profesiona/Pay” people that are well prepare to guide the members into the right path to their own “individual/different/unique” way of “efective” HEALING. NO in a Church traditional “way of a narrow mind “, but in “A Christ Way” of caring for ANY Human being using all the good knowdlege (tools) we posses at this time to help. At this point of my life I feel like you and I do not like to WASTE my time in any thimg that does not guve me “peace and Joy” (God created us to have those). So acording my personal “holistic” needs, this is what I try to do by lookung for activities and same like mind people thst creates that space for me to grow spiritualy acording to my NEEDS. By doing so, I notice that I atrack also the “right” people that I can “serve” as well, not just “be call by the Church” and be assigned people that maybe do NOT need my help.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
(Long time no see)
Thanks for your comments. I feel the same way as well. I was the ward organist and didn’t really involve myself in social activities due to anxieties and feeling like I didn’t really relate to a lot of people or make connections. So yes, every Sunday I said, “I don’t want to go to church.” Mostly because I felt so lonely and invisible. It’s like I didn’t even matter. I feel the same way about church culture. It needs to change. But I feel like change is always slow and can only start with an individual. I guess that’s my inner optimism. I’ve wondered too what can make my church worship better when I cannot connect with the speaker or lessons
Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree that change is slow and often rooted in individual actions, but those are much more powerful when the individuals in question are in leadership roles. I think and institutional answer is best.
And I hope you’re able to find a way to feel less lonely/more connected to your ward.
Jason L, That’s a tough spot to be in. I’ve felt the same way in the past, especially when I felt somewhat muzzled because I perceived (right or wrong) that my nuanced comments may not be appreciated in Gospel Doctrine or priesthood quorum. I used to think that I needed deeper doctrine or more nuanced messages to be ‘filled’ at church. But, for the last 5 years I’ve attended the Gospel Principles class. I love it. I’m lucky enough to live out of the Wasatch Front (WA) where there are a good number of investigators, new and returning members that attend the class. It’s amazing how being part of the very core basics of the gospel being delivered to eager spirits is so enjoyable to me. These people are so raw and humble. They haven’t yet learned the “proper” way to talk (and hide their true feelings) from the rest of the group. They are so more open to asking heartfelt questions that get to the core of Christianity. It helps me to reset and return to the fundamentals of my belief and faith. Many of the teachings and principles of the gospel as taught by the institution do have nuances that I would normally want to talk about, but I don’t need to or want to because these people don’t care or need to know it at this point. They are just trying to keep from smoking for another week or keep from getting evicted from their apartment or figure out how to get their uninsured car running, or wondering if their deceased parents who weren’t all that great have a chance for happiness in the next life. Listening to them and offering ministering support and friendship rather than the theological intellectual rhetoric I would offer in priesthood or Gospel Doctrine is so much more rewarding. Don’t know if any of that fits, but I recommend going back to basics. Another thing that has helped me in Sacrament meeting is to remember that I am there to worship, not just to have someone else fill me up, which allows me to sit through a less than “inspiring” talk and feel closer to God as I reflectively worship.
One of my happiest moments in the Church was when I taught Gospel Essentials for two years. I’d been in the bishopric for 3+ years before that, so I knew the ward well and basically volunteered for the calling on the way out. I wasn’t a ward missionary, just the Gospel Principles teacher. It was a wonderful mix of investigators, new converts, members returning to activity, missionaries, and active members who just liked to join and fellowship. The power of testimony and the eagerness for spiritual knowledge and peace made it a great place to be every week. (I was also the Primary Music Leader at the same time, providing a different kind of good church experience.)
For sacrament meeting, I try to do that, too. But I usually feel like I could be doing that better somewhere else on my own. It’s the sense of community I long for and am not getting.
Jason L. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for express what my wife and I were talking about on our commute home from work! We want to feel loved, appreciated, and not taken advantage of. It bothers me to no end that it’s a church of expectations and not a church mentioned in your scripture. I get judged for my appearance at church, if I miss a Sunday, my comments and my stance on certain issues.
I’m a convert of 30 years and I still resent being judged more now as a member then I did as a non-member. I wholeheartedly sustain the Prophet, local leaders and my Bishop. It’s the people I have a hard time with. I told my wife that I’d just like to be a member, go to church (sacrament) and go home without made to feel inferior or demonized for not spending THREE HOURS AT CHURCH!!
As a home teacher I spend many many many hours a month taking care of my families with love, compassion and genuine affection for my families. I faithfully teach them what they need to hear, spend agonizing hours trying to help them overcome problems, work up budgets and sympathize with their plights. I love this church, period. It’s sad to say, it’s the people I have the hardest time with!
God be with you till we meet again!
I’m glad I wrote something that was meaningful for you. Thanks for sharing your own struggle. I agree that we seem to have a hard time inviting rather than measuring. I really, really want a Church that sounds like 2 Nephi 23-30. Too much to ask?
Also, my hat off to you as a good home teacher. That’s a skill I have yet to develop.
You should move to the East Coast. There are quite a few wild branches of the olive tree grafted in here.
Yeah, I do feel like this is especially a Mormonland problem. Growing up even in Arizona and certainly in California I enjoyed wards that were more diverse in outlook.
Go to church, read the scriptures, pray. You want to take 1 off the list. Ok. I know what the spiritual claims of the benefit or each are. Let’s suspend that for a moment and assume just academic claims for each matter. They are rituals. The produce familiarity, sense of community, nostalgia, belonging, and many other strong feelings. Church attendance is hymns, prayer, and many experiences designed very much to evoke a feeling. Perhaps the other 2 will still evoke feeling. There are other ritual traditions and cycles in other religions used to evoke feeling and attachment through it. Feelings rely on chemicals internal to the body and mind, but attachment through ritual cycles using such feelings is actually quite common in other scenarios. Substance abuse, and various kinds of addictions (sexual addiction, porn, or others too) also rely either on externally provided or internally induced chemicals to produce elevated feelings and experiences that lead to attachment, or as it is termed in that field, addiction. What is the difference between addiction and attachment? Positive vs. negative perception of it. Odds are if you take out one of those rituals you will become less attached/addicted, depending on if you view church attachment as positive or merely addictive. Less attachment and a less frequent high or bond with the church, will lead to more often being unwilling to dismiss things over a feeling, or a sense of community, or a sense of familiarity etc. There is a reason people are asked to do rituals like read, church, pray when they have concerns. Sure, some make spiritual claims; but the psychological ones are nonetheless present. The high and the increased attachment often makes it easier to dismiss concerns rather than resolve them with solid answers. From a purely academic standpoint, you will become more likely to question, to study, and to not just accept standard answers. Now, take whatever I have said and add whatever spiritual aspects you believe also apply. The attachment, bonding, or addiction if you will is very real, and not negated even if something else is or is not at play. Were I a leader who was faithless, the psychological decreased attachment bond would be a reason to frown on not attending, merely because the result is known. Were I a faithful leader, I would recognize the effect whether I attribute them to psychology, or just to faith alone. Either way you are going to be discourage from doing this because the result predicted by either model is the same.
I’m not sure what you’re point is, other than perhaps to blame me? Yes, I understand the potential psychological impact of attending. But I DO attend. And still don’t feel that growing attachment. THAT’s the issue. So just telling me I should doesn’t help. Can you see that?
Here’s the thing: What I’m describing is an institutional issue. It’s about how the Church (and in particular, this ward) is structured. It’s about culture and standard practices. It’s about a vision of who “we” are that excludes other possibilities, either explicitly or implicitly. To ask an individual to just deal with it or to take personal responsibilty for these institutional features is, it seems to me, both callous and short-sighted. We, together, have a responsibility to invite all to come unto Christ. We can’t do that by telling people who don’t feel warmly invited, “You’re doing it wrong.”
I don’t “want to take one off the list.” That one isn’t working as it should or as it used to (at other times and in other contexts). That’s a very different issue.
You should definitely consider attending another church once or twice a month if that’s possible. I was actually raised evangelical and when I started finding that tradition to be dull, I started attending an episcopal church which totally revitalized my faith. Lots of churches will have services on saturday night or some kind of prayer service in the middle of the week. I’ve always believed that if God is boring or church is boring, we’re just “doing it wrong” and need to take in the breadth of ways that are available to experience God, community, and spirituality.
Thanks for the suggestion. I occasionally do attend other churches with my family, and they’re fine as far as that goes. We used to attend one that I liked very much. But since my own faith is distinctly Mormon, I find it difficult to look beyond those absences in the theology.