Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Washington Park Ward

This morning was one of those typical Seattle mornings.  It was kind of dark and very overcast and cool. 0609131011 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)

Total: 4

Beats the Catholics by 1.  As of today, the new score to beat.

Honorary Points*:
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.


Update July 2014:  Hi guys.  This page gets a lot of views, thanks to being mentioned several times in LDS Living Magazine.  Most of the folks who see this particular page don’t look at the other pages.  I invite you to do this.  I have also visited other Christian, Buddhist, Baha’i, Muslim, Jewish, Scientologist, Saint Jermaine, and OTO places of worship, and you might find those interesting as well.  Check out the tag cloud on the upper right, and click on something that looks interesting to you.  Thanks!



332 thoughts on “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Washington Park Ward

  1. I loved this post and I am going to read more of your blog. I am LDS but I am very interested in other religions and would LOVE, LOVE LOVE to go to other services, masses, etc and see what things are like. You might have inspired me to just take the plunge and check things out. I have been thinking of going to a Jewish service. So, I might check that post in your blog.

  2. I’m 62, born and raised LDS. Your comment about the noisy children echoes my feelings each week.

    Would that we better heeded Brigham Young’s counsel,
    “Good intentions and crying babies should be carried out immediately.”

  3. I am a Latter day saint…Mormon and enjoyed this article:) I agree…people with small children( i used to have them before they grew up:) SHOULD take them out of the meeting. We ( as leaders…i am RS president right now…remind people at regular intervals to do this.
    As far as children in the meeting? the Lord has no problem with children in the meeting “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not” He said, They should have quiet activities to keep them occupied and help them focus on the point of the meeting, But YES noisy ones should be taken out.

  4. Awesome. Go visit again and you just may hear stuff about the topics you say weren’t mentioned. As far as the kids thing, I personally love it. The kids, while noisy yes, learn to worship and learn to be quiet and reverent by watching the adults. Sure it may take some time, but we need to teach them by example! Glad you had a good experience. As I said, give it another shot and maybe you’ll hear the other topics. =)

  5. Hadn’t heard of you, or your article, but enjoyed it a lot and laughed a few times. I converted 47 years ago, am 66, have 2 kids of my own, grown, and I agreed with you,even when mine were little. I DID take them out, but just try my best to concentrate with other’s kids around. It was the best decision I ever made and I think I’ve made a few others, too. Every foster child I had seemed to love it in the time we had them, as well.

  6. It’s interesting to hear an atheist’s point of view towards the Lds church. I am an atheist in large part because of the time I lived in Utah and experienced the culture of the Salt Lake Valley. I’ve even been to Temple Square a few times and a few of their churches. I would say as a group the Mormons are a very kind and caring group but being on the outside looking in led me to disagree with many of their beliefs and ideologies. I liked your review of your visit to an lds church but I would say one visit to their church is nothing like living in Salt Lake City with them all around you and being able to see three of their temples from your backyard.

  7. My husband would totally agree with you about the kids. He was always in charge of reverence with our toddlers. (I had the babies, because usually they just needed to be nursed, and that was my job.)

  8. Loved it. I’m a lifelong member who advocates for service outside of our own wards in order to help those in need and to gain perspective on other faiths and people with no faith. It’s a big world and we need to come together to rally support for serving each other and those less fortunate. Thanks for coming and giving your unbiased opinion. Come back and find out when the ward campout or other party is, so you can see how much fun Mormons can have without alcohol!

  9. I’m an ex-mormon atheist, and I do tend to prefer some LDS doctrine over other Christain denominations’. However, I don’t think this article is an entirely correct representation of the LDS church, more so I think it’s a representation of the particular speakers you listened to. There are many different kinds of Mormons, and the talks in church can range from good secular morals, to even homophobic, and close minded principles. I guess what I’m trying to say is even within the LDS faith, there are many different kinds of Mormons, and I don’t think it’s because (or at least not largely because) of their faith that some of them carry common secular morals.

    • Axe to grind much? Yeah, people are different, but those who are homophobic aren’t listening particularly well. If you were LDS for five minutes, you’d know about General Conference. You know, big ol’ meeting where a bunch of old guys tell us what they claim is God’s message for members of the church. Take Mark’s scorecard into any one of those talks, and I guarantee you’ll be getting ticks all over the shop.

      Members are still free to listen or not, but the whole idea of our faith is aligning ourselves with what apostles both ancient and modern teach. Hence, the positive experience Mark had here can absolutely be directly tied to the influence of our church and its doctrine..

      • I’m not sure if you’re inferring that I wasn’t LDS, but I can assure you I was. I still go to their meetings since I still live under my parents roof. I’ve listened to general conference on several occasions, where I hear many homophobic comments. There are also some talks which hold decent advice. The individual decides what parts of conference he likes most (albeit subconsciously), and teaches those parts, and tries to live in accordance to the parts that stuck out to him.

  10. Years ago, I took three of my sons to Utah to visit the family. The ward we attended while there was a very young ward. A lot of young couples with kids. There were only about 20 teenagers in the ward, but about 150 kids between the ages of 3 and 8 and about thirty kids under the age of 2. Like I said, a very young ward.

    The sacrament was bedlam. It was noisy, kids crying and even one or two escaping from mom and dad and running up the aisle.

    After sacrament, the bishop expressed his gratitude on how the ward had been working on being more reverent during the sacrament. The oldest son, who was about 18 at the time, looked at me and said “This wasn’t reverent at all. Why didn’t the parents take the kids out in the foyer/hallway?”

    After the meeting was over, I answered his question. “Marcus, if all the parents with noisy kids had taken the child out in the hallway, how many would have been left in here during the sacrament?”


    We both laughed at that.

    I agree with Dale Wright’s Brigham Young’s quote about good intentions and little children. Never heard that quote before, it’s a keeper, but sometimes leaving the meeting can be more disruptive than just staying there and I am the father, with ADHD, of five boys who took his kids out every chance he got and I didn’t hesitate to volunteer to take other people’s noisy children out also. With ADHD, it was, and still is, hard for me to sit in one place for a long time and most of the parents of the kids I volunteered to take out, wanted to stay in the meeting, usually because of there being more of their kids there, and had no problem with my taking the kid out. I’d bring the child back in after he/she had quieted down and was behaving better.

  11. Thank you for your nice article. I am a life long member- BUT- my husband is an atheist. We respect each others view points and values, and surprisingly they are very similar aside from the believing in God and religion. I totally agree that religion can take on an unsavory flavor, but I believe that is man’s doing. Man sometimes corrupts and perverts celestial wisdom for his own gain while claiming it to be God’s will. Unfortunately, this can happen in any religion. But I do believe as Mormons, we strive to find the truth in all things and if it doesn’t ring true- to take the issue straight to the source, God. With an atheist, I can understand the dilemma there, but as my husband has said many times- If he did believe in God, he would join the Mormon church. He finds our values on family, service and good works to be most in keeping with his views of what is right. I am happy that you are taking the time to look at each religion- how can you make an informed decision without being informed from the horse’s mouth so to speak? Any I totally agree on the nachos and salsa, but the symbolism is more important that then taste. 🙂

  12. I came here through the LDSLiving article you mentioned at the bottom, and I just wanted to say thanks for your post. I feel like you were very fair in your assessment of the Church. (Though I also believe that, were you to go to additional services, that the score you gave would likely be higher in certain areas, though in all fairness, other areas might also have lower scores.)

    I really appreciated your treatment of the LDS Church (of which I’m a member), and I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog to see the same perspective on other churches. I feel like since you were so fair towards us, you’ll likely give them the same courtesy. I’m glad you appreciated the meeting you went to!

  13. Thank you for such a great and unbiased approach to your assessment. I was raised in the LDS church, fell away for a number of years, investigated many other churches/religions and recently came back. Although I agree with taking unruly children out, rewarding them by taking them out when they misbehave is not really the way to teach them about church. But if you leave out the God portion, I’ve found the Mormons ave the community standards that every community aspires to. Self reliance, serving others, and working together as a community. Again, thank you for you blog.

    • When my children were very small, I told them that they could play quietly in the chapel, or they could go out and sit. They were not permitted to have fun if I had to take them out of the sacrament meeting.

  14. Pingback: Opinião de um Ateu ao Visitar Uma Capela Mórmon

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