Gathering Together

As a missionary in Hungary in the late 1990s, my companions and I were often asked, “Why do I need to attend church? I believe in God, I worship him in my heart–why isn’t that enough?”

Of course, we trotted out answers, including Moroni 6:5-6, about early church members meeting together to fast and pray for the welfare of others, or the need to meet together to renew our covenants through the sacrament. But mostly these ideas seemed nebulous to these would-be investigators and rarely satisfied them.

This question–why do we need to attend church?–has stayed with me in the years since coming home,  especially on days (like yesterday) when I spend half of sacrament meeting in the hallways following my toddler and only intermittently catching the drift of the talks.

But this past weekend I had an opportunity that has clarified some of these reason for me. I attended the LDStorymakers conference, and I came away energized and inspired to dive into my writing. (Too bad I have finals to grade first). As I’ve reflected on my conference experience, I realized there are lots of parallels between what happens at a writing conference and what (ideally) happens when we attend church.

Living a Christ-centered life, much like living a writing life, can be a lonely profession. We are not always surrounded by people who value what we do, or believe, or aspire to. Gathering together–whether as members or as writers (or as any other group united by a shared interest)–reminds us that we are not alone. We all need the strength and encouragement we get from one another.

While the atonement is very individual-centric (Christ atoned for each of us individually, and each of us must apply the atonement in our own lives), I believe that the process to get there is very much about community. Part of the way we work out our salvation is through service in a community–service at home, service at church, service in the wider community. One of the things I found so inspiring about this recent conference is the wide variety of mentoring I saw–a form of service among writers where more advanced writers gave advice, feedback, and support to writers all along the spectrum.  I think we all benefit when we’re plugged into these kinds of service-oriented communities.

And of course, we learn. At church we learn from one another; at the writing conference I attended several inspiring and informative classes (this time, I even taught a class). I’ve found that the best insights often come from other people–and when I open myself up to learning, I give the Spirit more room to work in my life as well.

Yesterday, in my Mia Maid class, I taught the girls about the restoration of the priesthood. But what astounded me–as it does every time I’m humble enough to admit I don’t yet know everything–was how much I learned from the girls in my class. They didn’t know much about the facts of the restoration, but their testimonies of how the priesthood blesses their lives brought the Spirit into the room in a way all of my factual knowledge hadn’t.

This isn’t to say that our communities (religious, writing, or otherwise) are perfect or that we always agree with one another (you just have to follow #storymakers14 on Twitter for the Friday night keynote to see that). But even beyond the necessary sacraments at church, being part of a community reminds me on a regular basis of the kind of person (and writer) that I’m aspiring to be.

What about you? What (beyond the sacrament) motivates you to attend church on a regular basis? Are you part of any other community (hobby, athletic, etc.) that helps motivate you?

About Rosalyn

(Prose Board) currently lives in Southern Utah with her husband and three small children, where she teaches writing part-time at the local university. She has a BA in English from BYU, and an MA and PhD (also in English) from Penn State. She served a mission in the Hungary Budapest mission. In her spare time (what's that?) she likes to read, write, try new recipes (as long as she doesn't have to clean up), watch movies with her husband (British period drama is her favorite), go for walks, and generally avoid anything that resembles housework.

21 thoughts on “Gathering Together

  1. I have been thinking about this question lately too, and I came to the same answers as you: it’s about community. Besides the Sacrament, few of us would grow to be the people we need to be without our callings, that’s for sure. Investigators and new converts need a place to see the gospel in action. And we all do need reminders of things we “know” (but perhaps don’t apply well) and the inspiration that comes from being in a place with the Spirit. There’s power in gathering together… even if it’s in the pre-nursery corner of the back hallway :)

  2. I faced the same question on my mission in Brazil! I appreciate your thoughts on this subject. I think I have always felt to attend church out of a sense of duty and that is what we do – I have also served in weaker areas where a very small percentage are doing the bulk of the work and that is draining. In those situations I have come to understand gathering together differently. When we gather we help carry the load. Lately I feel that the act of gathering refocuses me each week and centers me.

  3. There is something very powerfully uniting, bonding, and strengthening about shared spiritual experiences. There is buoyancy and dynamism in the give-and-take in a congregation of people that are continually trading places between rough times and relatively smooth times, knowing that while you may have peace and firmness of faith to share today, tomorrow you may be borrowing someone else’s fortitude and stability just to try to remain on feeble knees. There is security and vitality in being able to look around a congregation (including even those who irritate, annoy, or are just plain kooky) and recall spiritual experiences you have shared with different people and the charity that binds a ward of so many different people together into a body with a shared purpose and goal, despite differing personalities and individual goals.

  4. I agree that the community aspect is a very important reason for church attendance. During a period of inactivity several years ago, I also realized another important aspect of attendance: self-evaluation and quiet pondering. At the time of my inactivity I lived alone, and I considered myself a contemplative, self-aware person, but I realized that without the weekly three hours of quietness I was missing that growth, understanding, and spirituality that comes during talks or lessons that encourage me to look for areas of weakness and opportunities for growth in my life. My life in many ways was so much easier without the “burden” of weekly attendance, but I had become stagnant. Now, even as I chase toddlers around during Sacrament, I get less of the quietness and contemplation, but I still get some, and it forces me to weekly re-evaluate how I am doing as a mother, a wife, and a daughter of God.

  5. @K34–I agree that our callings definitely force us to stretch in good (if sometimes uncomfortable ways).

    @Robin–I’ve also been in smaller branches where it felt that way (carrying part of the load). But I love the idea of centering too. As much as I may complain about the effort of getting small children ready for (and then through) church, my week feels off if I don’t go.

    @Strollerblader–I love the give and take you describe here. Yes–we need each other both to lift and be lifted.

    @Amy–I hadn’t thought about the quietness and self-evaluation. I think you’re right. I find I often think I will make time for evaluation, but it doesn’t come until I’m forced to slow down for a bit.

  6. Thanks, Rosalyn, this was lovely and ever-timely. (It also makes me think I need to carve out some time to get some mentoring from YOU on writing!)

  7. I’ll be honest–all I could focus on is that you served a mission to Hungary. THAT IS WHERE MY SON IS SERVING RIGHT NOW!!!! :) (He has been there since March.)

  8. We can’t become a Celestial person without others. Service to others is vital.

  9. When my children were small, I felt that it was important to attend church every Sunday to set an example for them and to be faithful in fulfilling my callings, but now, as an empty-nester and Seminary teacher with no Sunday responsibilities and whose husband is often away, I find it too easy to find an excuse not to attend church (despite the example aspect for my students.) I am coming to realize though, that church attendance is – first and foremost – about worship. I need to attend to show the Lord that I put him first. This thought more than anything else now motivates my regular church attendance, and I try to keep that attitude with me as I listen to talks and lessons that might be just a bit dull. President Kimball said he never attended a boring Sacrament meeting, and I’m trying to approach my meetings in the same way, (with sometimes spotty success).

  10. Hi Rosalyn,

    I appreciated your lovely prose here about community and service as they relate to church attendance.

    I cannot speak for others, but this is why I go to church:

    Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, loved me enough to personally come to the earth to save me through an Atonement that I am just beginning to understand and appreciate. Everything I do and say should be in his name because without him no good deed could count. All service and church community has its genesis in his sacrifice. I attend church to spend a few precious minutes each week reviewing my actions of that week as they apply to the kind of person I am becoming. I attend to bow my head in silent prayers of contrition and gratitude, as commanded by the Savior, as a token that I remember him. I attend to express my willingness to take upon me his name so that I may, for another week, have his Spirit to be with me.

    If our investigators and our members do not understand this reason, I believe that they miss the essence of our religion.

  11. This used to be true for me, however my young teenaged dd was abused and molested at church – for a period of nearly 4 years. By another teen. The bishop didn’t believe us; the ward treats my dd and me like we’ve done the wrong thing … by trying to speak up. Going to church is HARD.

    1. Going to church is hard, especially when you are treated poorly. My sister and her family went to another ward, in a different stake, to get away from the terrible bullying her child endured. She was told she could not get a temple recommend as she was not “active”. She told them her child was more important and if they would not protect her she would. I hope things work out for you and your family.

  12. “They didn’t know much about the facts of the restoration” of the priesthood. Of course they didn’t. Even the Church knows rather little about the restoration of the priesthood. We do know, however, that what was restored wasn’t the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood as we know them today. Those terms first appeared in 1835 and were applied retroactively to accounts of the angelic visitations. What was restored exactly? Good question. I suggest reading Greg Prince’s book on priesthood and Bill Smith’s recent article in Dialogue on early priesthood revelations.

    1. Lew, your comments are not those of someone interested in “speak[ing] one with another concerning the welfare of [our] souls.” Neither does it “nourish [with] the good word of God.” And I think you know it.

      Anyone interested in the restoration of the priesthood and the gospel should read about the life of the man whom God called to restore it, Joseph Smith. The definitive biography of his life and work, by any standard, is Richard Lyman Bushman’s New York Times bestseller, “Rough Stone Rolling.” (2005)

      1835 was 15 years after the First Vision and nine years before Joseph Smith’s death. As Bushman points out, the historical evidence is clear (from all available sources) that Joseph experienced his revelations as we all do–line upon line. He had his marvelous experiences, and angelic visitations, in their moments, but it was only with hindsight that he came to understand just what he had experienced.

      It was completely in his right, authority, and simple life experience to go back and re-evaluate those experiences before he died. As for editing the revelations: They were his to edit, and in his day on the frontier there wasn’t the worry about historical documents there is today.

      This is all common knowledge among historians both in and out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I believe, by your references, you know better. Shame on you for looking to shake the faith of the believers who have come here for comforting words.

  13. My heart aches for the sad experience of the molested girl and family. There is still so much ignorance and misunderstanding of sexual abuse. Speaking up was of course the correct thing to do. Without knowing all the facts of this event, it is impossible for me to really judge this or the after effects. I hope healing is occurring, even if the outcomes were unjust. Seek qualified counselors to help you all–maybe LDS social services? They could help with issues regarding fellow members and how to respond. I wish you all the best!

    1. LDS Social Services isn’t available here. The counselors we have seen just say “find another church!” but of course that’s not so easy. But we plod along.

  14. Jan and MG, my heart aches for your experiences. I’ve been lucky to be in wards where caring is the norm, but I know that’s not always the case. I do believe we are blessed for doing the right thing even when it’s hard, but I hope things work out for you in ways beyond just enduring.

  15. I don’t think I can support this in the scriptures, but I have long felt that a good rule of thumb is that the Celestial Kingdom is for those who love God with all their heart, might, mind, and strength and their neighbor as themselves. The Terrestrial Kingdom is for those who love their neighbor as themselves. The Telestial Kingdom is for those who love themselves. If all you want is the Telestial Kingdom then going to church is probably not necessary. If you want to love your neighbor as yourself, church is a good place to learn to do it. If you want to learn to love God, you need to keep His commandments, one of which is to worship Him in sacrament meeting.

  16. Two of my sons are less active and for some time Church meetings in general and Sacrament meeting in particular became emotionally painful for several years. One day I sat in Sacrament and it all started up again in the usual way and then something in me snapped and I just said to myself: I am over this and am not going to let it affect my Sacrament meetings anymore. I don’t claim to not be affected by their choices but I will not let those choices control my happiness anymore. Interestingly when I got home and related this to my wife she looked at me and said she had experienced almost the exact same process that day.
    I have friends who are single and whose children have all gone less active or left the Church. I admire their fortitude in attending regularly — despite the pain and disappointment they very often feel.

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