Over the last year, our ward leadership has made several calls for increased reverence. I admit that I am a repeat offender. I am not one to stay in a row where planted. I do understand the value of quiet devotion. One of my favorite psalms admonishes me to “Be still and know that I am God.” When I actually unplug from the world around me and train my attention towards that which transcends my household chores, I do feel an otherworldly peace.
Sometimes this happens by design during the passing of the sacrament or during a talk from the pulpit. But I also believe that small, unscripted moments at church have power to transform lives. While at the church building, I delight in observing my brothers and sisters connect meaningfully with each other in the halls and stalls.
As I walk through the halls on Sunday, I overhear snippets of conversation: “Yes, I can take your daughter to piano so that you can go visiting teaching.” “I have hand-me-down clothes for your son.” “Can I borrow the novel we’re reading next in book club?” Many of these conversations look mundane, but these small acts of support help build relationships so that ward members might accept more ethereal gifts from one another.
I am especially warmed by those saints who make an effort to talk with people who are a little less visible, a little less networked. It may cause a little flurry of activity for someone to cross the chapel during the prelude music to greet a brother who hasn’t attended for months or years, but waiting to find him in the hall afterward might be too late. He might leave the chapel quickly even before “Amen” fully resonates through the room.
Sometimes the best sermons delivered on Sunday are those that happen in the foyer, in empty classrooms, in parked cars, or in low-traffic corners of the building. Sometime in January two women talk in the foyer during Gospel Doctrine. A woman wearing slacks talks about her struggles to go to school and raise children while her husband’s back injury prevents him from working. She talks about the volunteer work that she and her children performed during the holiday season. They donated their time delivering meals to people with health problems. This accidental meeting in the foyer gave her the opportunity to demonstrate her faith and industry when the formal meetings give her little opportunity to talk. Just based on appearances, many sisters misperceive her as having more trials than strengths.
About a year ago, I left Relief Society in order to address my allergy symptoms. When I entered the bathroom, I found one sister in the ward comforting another in the oversized stall for the handicapped. The lesson that day was on parenting. The woman in tears was upset about her teenaged daughter’s depressive symptoms, which had recently worsened. This caring mother was worried that her own choices were affecting her daughter’s life, a fear that was fueled unwittingly by the discussion in the Relief Society room. As I stood around the corner near the changing table, I heard the voice of the other sister offering her comfort. She spoke in soothing tones that echoed off the tiled walls of the bathroom like a hymn.
Because I am hypoglycemic, I frequently dash out to the parking lot between meetings to eat a granola bar. On a number of occasions, I have been part of parking lot sermons where “two or three are gathered” in His name, conversations that contain these snippets: “Yes, I have faith that through the atonement we can forgive those who have physically abused us.” “I am strengthened by observing the faith in eternal families that you and your husband demonstrate as his cancer continues to spread.” “I admire the fortitude you show as your family strives to help a family member caught up in addiction.”
These conversations could not take place in more public venues, and the people involved were not connected through auxiliary service or visiting teaching or by geographic proximity as neighbors. They happened to connect as their paths crossed at church, and God-filled moments happened – off script, out of bounds, on accident.
Reverence is important. But defining reverence as behaving oneself and adopting strictly prescribed behaviors can erase some opportunities for cross pollination of hearts and souls. As I watch the conversations that happen in the borderlands beyond formal services, I rejoice. This impromptu activity supports the values and principles established by formal sacrament talks, by auxiliary and quorum lessons and by highly correlated service projects. Thank heavens for these little acts of misbehavior.
Have you observed informal sermons in the halls and stalls of your church building? How do you define reverence? Have you noticed how some of the more reserved saints occupy the borderlands of formal worship?