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Christmas and Easter Mormons

By Shelah Miner

Growing up, my favorite church service of the entire year was the Christmas Eve service. Our minister would tell the story of Christ’s birth and we’d sing all of the carols. When the service was nearly over, we’d sing “Silent Night” and the lights would go dim as we lit our candles from the light of the person standing next to us. Afterwards, there would be lots of hugging and exchanges of “Merry Christmas” among old friends.

The really great thing about the Christmas Eve service was that so many people showed up, that the minister had to do the whole thing twice– once for young families at seven, and once for everyone else at eleven. There were no greetings of “long time, no see,” or guilty looks given to people who made a point to come for Christmas Eve but who didn’t often come on Sunday. There was no shame in being a “Christmas and Easter Congregationalist.”

It surprised me when my family became Mormon that weekly attendance (even on vacation?!!!) was considered compulsory. What if we didn’t feel like going one Sunday? What if we had something else we wanted to do? We quickly learned that boredom, bad talks, even worse lessons, distance and bad weather were not considered good enough excuses for the Mormons. My parents were quickly given responsibilities in Young Women and Sunday School that necessitated their attendance every Sunday. We fell in line, and even though I grumble about 1pm church every time it’s our assigned year to have it, I’ve been an all-in, active participant (except on vacation, because I still think that’s weird) practically every Sunday for almost thirty years.

I feel nourished by the ritual of taking the sacrament. I respect the fact that going to church forces me to do something that isn’t always comfortable but is usually good for me in one way or another. I love being part of a strong community, and weekly attendance reinforces that community for me. Being fully invested works for me, and if you’re reading this blog, it probably works for you too.

But it doesn’t work for everyone. I have a friend who loves baptisms and missionary farewells and the rituals she grew up with, but who has serious issues with some Mormon doctrines and weekly attendance feels disingenuous. I know someone else whose guilt over having to occasionally work on Sundays sometimes makes her not want to go to church on the Sundays when she doesn’t have to work. I know lots of parents of young kids who duck out of church early to give their kids naps, and even more who wish they had the guts to follow them out the door. There are so many Mormons for whom weekly activity is an impossibility or a burden, and sometimes I wonder if our “all or nothing” attitude makes more people chose nothing. Isn’t there a way that we can help the people who would be “Christmas and Easter Mormons” or “Baptisms and Farewells Mormons” feel like they belong among the community of Mormons and not inactive pariahs? Or better yet, can we get rid of the qualifiers altogether? Can’t we get rid of the titles of “less active” or “nonpracticing” and just be Mormons?

My family, sightseeing at London's Hyde Park chapel on Easter this year.
My family, sightseeing at London’s Hyde Park chapel on Easter this year.

I’m the Primary President in my ward right now, and we spent the first six months we were in the calling dutifully taking attendance every Sunday until the clerk asked us why. “As long as a kid is here once each quarter, it counts,” he said. This makes me feel like the institutional church gets something that the rest of us might not: sometimes good enough really is good enough. Coming sometimes is better than not coming at all.

And while we’re at it, can’t we give callings to people based on how active they want to be? If someone finds it difficult to come to church each Sunday, a calling leading the Activity Day girls once or twice a month might make a lot more sense than teaching Primary every Sunday. I know this is a lot easier in the big Utah ward I live in now than it is in other places, and I recognize that giving people a calling that’s a stretch for them is really motivating sometimes, but I think that more often it’s best to meet people where they are and use their talents in a way that they feel comfortable sharing them.

I know this is a touchy subject. As active Mormons, we feel that two parts of the three-fold mission of the church is tied up in concerning ourselves with the level of activity of our fellow ward members, and honestly I think this is usually motivated much more out of love and concern than it is out of trying to keep tabs or outdo the neighbors, but it often doesn’t feel that way to the people who are on the receiving end of outreach.

On the one hand, there are things I really miss about my old church. In the summer, Sunday School was cancelled and attendance dwindled to a trickle, which made sleeping in feel like a good alternative to showing up on Sunday. But then, once a summer, we’d have church on the beach, with chairs set up on the bluff overlooking the ocean. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt closer to God. On the other hand, I loved the strength of the community when I became a Mormon. I knew who I was, where I’d come from, and where I was expected to be on Sunday. And I know it’s hard to have both flexibility and strength, but we come from a people who know to do hard things. Why can’t the Mormon chapel be a place of genuine welcome for all Mormons, not just for those who wear calf-length floral skirts and come to church every Sunday but also those who wear tank tops and tats and who really dig coming once a year for the Primary Program?

About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

10 thoughts on “Christmas and Easter Mormons”

  1. I love this post so much, and it resonates on different levels for me. My dad was inactive for most of his life, partly because he was a coffee drinker. He didn't feel comfortable going to church AND drinking coffee. But why isn't there room for coffee drinkers? Same with people who want to come to church just sometimes, without guilt trips or being turned into projects. Everyone should be comfortable in Jesus's church. Thanks for an excellent post.

  2. All the yeses from me. I've dropped the active/inactive concept and it's freed me to see both needs and strengths I had missed before. Great post.

  3. After an extreme bout of flu, pneumonia and severe sepsis necessitating weeks in the hospital and many months recovering I was finally able to attend church again but not three hours. I'm sad to say I know how lepers must feel. Because I fell ill shortly after being released as RS president many thought I had gone inactive. We kept it all private to avoid all the energy expended taking care of those wanting to take care of us. When one sister found out how truly sick I had been she said I owed them an apology because they loved me and worried I had gone inactive. What?

  4. I've always agreed with the concept that Father in Heaven loves us too much to leave us as we are. And I believe that the Atonement was wrought for the same purpose.
    And that's the purpose I see for the sacrifice and commitment that the Church and living the gospel demands – thank goodness and thanks be to God for that.
    Otherwise, I wouldn't be a a whole lot different than I was when I joined the Church.
    Better and best are always harder – but isn't the point?
    For what we can become?

  5. Cutting others some slack is kind, generous and charitable. Cutting yourself some slack is sometimes a very good idea and sometimes not a very good idea.

    My personal experience is that the former requires conscious determination to have a charitable heart. That is always a good thing.

    And it is also my experience that discerning the desirability or appropriateness of the latter requires honesty about my motives (not just my desires) and conversation with God if I wish to avoid having it backfire to my detriment.

  6. I love this, love your candor and honesty.
    Personally I don't like "labels", such as "convert", "Inactive", etc, etc. But (and here it comes) I am a convert and every time it is mentioned I feel like I should be at some meeting. I love the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS. I grew up Southern Baptist and I feel like Baptists are the Mormons de facto cousins . We went to church "Sunday all day". No time standard, usually from about 9am to 2ish. And on certain Sundays you left at 2 and came back at 4, had dinner and a sermon by 6. In the Baptist community it is a "sin" to be a clock watcher, so they took them off the walls. Choir rehearsal on Wed, prayer meeting on Tuesday, etc, just like Mormons. Looking back on all that "ritual", for almost half of my life, I realize that I loved the "doing" of it. It helped to shape me. Sadly when I left for college, and the Military and even life, no one came looking for me. No Visiting teachers, or missionary's, not even a pastor. I knew I was still on the "role books", I would get a flyer or something in the mail, but no one came looking for me.
    I joined the LDS Church with my husband, who was "inactive" at the time I met him. He was a one time coffee drinker, smoker, rebel with a cause. And then there was me, ex Baptist,yada yada yada. Even after baptism, patriarchal blessings, sealing, we struggled with our labels,
    But one day we decided that we were not our labels, we were still those same people, whom God obviously loved, because to quote the language of scripture he "called us out of the muck and mire of the world, placed our feet upon a more solid foundation and placed a new song in our mouths. I will forever sing his praises". All that we do and what is prescribed for us to do, is to help us rise strong, stand more solid and sing His praises. That is what we are here for, to do "our errands", to sing his praises. I have always supposed that if we can't do 3 hrs at Church once a week, then we may not like eternity. But then what do I know? I only know what I know. Love is love is love is love.

  7. I have wondered a lot about how better to minister to people where they are, and yet, it's stories like these:

    " No Visiting teachers, or missionary’s, not even a pastor. I knew I was still on the “role books”, I would get a flyer or something in the mail, but no one came looking for me."

    …or other stories I've heard about people who really needed someone to care about their lack of activity and invite them back…that leave me feeling like we need both. We need to know how to reach out and make space for those who really aren't sure at the moment what kind of relationship they want to have with the Church. But if we stop expecting the stuff that makes our Church what it is, we'll miss the mark, too — and miss people who really need and crave the structure and people who value it and invite them into it.

    I don't know where the balance is, but I think God meets us where we are as a community, too. We are always trying to figure this out, and it's messy and can be hard and even those who are on the benches every darn week sometimes really need some lovin' too (sometimes I think it's easy to assume that only those who struggle somehow with the Mormon Way need people to be aware of their needs that are assumed to be met just because they are at church every week).

    I think the only answer is to each seek to be guided by the Spirit in our spheres, to respond to our gifts (some of us are better at all-or-nothin' and some are better at a different approach, and sometimes that varies based on where we are…and each of us will probably be able to reach 'the one' in a way others may not).

  8. If I take the time to talk to people and listen to how they narrate their lives, everyone is doing the best that they can. It's not my job to push them down a path I think they should be walking. They may be expending an incredible amount of energy to run their lives in their current state. I know that I do not respond well to people challenging me and pushing me to meet goals they think I should be meeting. It makes me feel shame about myself and anger towards the pushy people. That being said, I could certainly do better about loving and accepting people where they are and trusting that their level of attendance is their business. (Nevertheless, I strive to project an inviting attitude without overly pushing people to attend. But if they think about attending, I would hope they would believe I'd be welcoming.)

  9. I must go to a different Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints than most of you. We welcome all to come and are grateful when they are there. I'll bet if you looked deeper, you would find most are like that. We all have different levels of commitment, in all things we do. I won't judge you, please don't judge me. Because I am one who goes to church on vacation and I grew up in an "inactive" family. It's just who I am.

  10. I read this and thought of your post, Shelah. If I were to summarize your post, I would say you are inviting us to learn how to hold space for people who don't fit the mold. As this article says, it's not something that necessarily comes naturally, but it is a skill that can be learned and practiced.



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