This morning was one of those typical Seattle mornings. It was kind of dark and very overcast and cool. Not cold, but not really warm either. The clouds overhead looked like they could rain, but probably wouldn’t be bothered to put in the effort.
For all that people complain about Seattle weather, I kind of like it. This kind of weather is perfect for long walks because you don’t get overheated.
My walk to the Mormon church was around two and a half miles, a little less than an hour’s walk at my pace.
I got there earlier than I had originally planned, because the Unitarians weren’t doing their normal thing this morning, and so my schedule was off a bit. I got to the church and went inside.
It really doesn’t look like a typical church inside. It’s more of a community center kind of place. There’s a chapel off to one side, and lots of meeting rooms, offices, and the like. I went into “confused visitor mode,” which I often do when I go to a new church, and wandered around looking lost. I wandered upstairs, where there were offices for church officials, classrooms, and some kind of prayer meeting going on, and some guy asked me if he could help me.
I told him I was new, had no idea what I was doing or where I was going, and I was waiting for the 11:00 am service to start, so I was just wandering around. Turns out he was the president of something or other (of the Washington Park Ward maybe? Mormons have a lot of presidents of things), and he introduced me to the Washington Park Ward’s former bishop and two very young missionaries who held the title of “elder.”
Now, in other churches, a bishop is a very high ranking official who might make you kiss his ring or genuflect or some such, but in the LDS church, a bishop is just a volunteer who serves as a sort of guide for the ward. A ward is a group of people who meet together in prayer. This church has three wards that meet in it. A collection of wards is called a stake. A stake is kind of like a district.
One of the missionaries sat with me during the service, and since I was so early, we were able to have a nice chat beforehand, and I learned quite a bit about the dogma and ritual of the LDS church. I’m not going to go into it here, because this blog isn’t about dogma and ritual, but he was a really nice guy and I’m glad I had the chat with him. It was a little weird to refer to someone who was half my age as “elder.”
The interior of the chapel was pretty spartan. No crosses, or any other religious paraphernalia anywhere to be seen. Very much like the Jehova’s Witness Kingdom Hall I had been in earlier. And like the Witnesses, the Mormons got down to business without much fanfare or ritual.
We sang a hymn, had a quick prayer, a few announcements about church business, and then another hymn before the first speaker. Followed by another song, another speaker, a closing hymn, and then a prayer to go home. At one point there was communion, which they called sacrament, in which the flesh and blood of Christ were brought to the congregation.
Mormon Jesus’ flesh tastes like Wonder Bread, and His blood tastes like over-chlorinated tap water. Mars Hill Jesus tasted way better. Now, if I had a church, my Jesus would taste like nachos and salsa. Just sayin.
But what I really want to talk about here is the message of the sermons. To my pleasant surprise, they were actually quite good and had much that a secular humanist like me would appreciate.
The speakers aren’t trained clergy. As far as I could tell, nobody there was trained clergy. Nobody had a divinity degree or even a degree in philosophy. They were members of the church, who decided to get up in front of everyone and preach. I’m not sure how they’re picked, I didn’t think to ask about that, but I can imagine the Ward President probably has some say in the matter.
The first speaker was a woman who talked a bit about thanks giving. Not the holiday, but actually giving thanks. Most of her theme was about giving thanks to the Lord, but she also said something that hit on one of my criteria: Showing appreciation is a nice reward that reinforces good behavior in society.
Encouraging people to do good things is worth a point.
The second speaker talked about service. Specifically, he talked about serving your family, serving your church, and serving your community. The serving your church part didn’t really qualify for my criteria, but the other two points did. Being present and good to your family is a good message. Going out and doing good things in your community is exactly what I’m looking for, and so far I haven’t heard this message from any other place, with the exception of Beth Shalom, where the Rabbi encouraged folks to donate blood.
Except the Rabbi spoke exactly one sentence that made my criteria. Of the entire morning at Beth Shalom, nearly two hours of singing and chanting and whatnot, and that one five second mention gave her a point. This guy spent over fifteen minutes talking, most of which counted for points. He talked about charity, and volunteerism, and told anecdotes from his personal experiences.
I had gone to the Mormon church with a lot of preconceived notions about what they would be all about. Nobody is more surprised than I am that I found something compelling in their message. I was expecting something more like my experience with the Jehovah’s Witnesses: all about converting, glory to God, and end of times prophecies. And to be sure, those things are a particular focus of their dogma. But what they actually preach in their church has some real honest-to-goodness humanist values in it.
I’m glad to be wrong about them, and I wish more churches had similar messages.
This is going to sound rather unkind of me, but if I was a Mormon, I’d try to find a Ward to join that had fewer young children in it, if that’s possible. They take pride in having their kids right there in the pews with them, but Holy Confucius they made a lot of noise. It was sometimes hard to concentrate on the message.
So the score:
Being good to your fellow human: 2 (appreciation, charity)
Help your community: 2 (volunteerism, more charity)
Be good to yourself: 0 (no mention)
Good and timely advice: 0 (no mention)
Beats the Catholics by 1. As of today, the new score to beat.
Noisy Kids (-2)
Parents who won’t take noisy kids out of the room and strangle them (-2)
Honorary point total -4
* not part of the actual point total.