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Vacay Church

By Sandra Clark

How Welcome is W
Just how welcome is “Visitors Welcome”?

That’s how they cool kids say it, right? Or maybe that was like five years ago. Not sure. The word vacay, the clipped, cutesy cool version of vacation is entirely unfamiliar in my mouth. I’m not really in touch. I would be fooling myself to say I ever have been. I’m no regular to the most popular vacation destinations, but I have taken in a few when others have done the planning. And so it is now, I’m with my husband’s family, on vacay in a popular summer destination.

The gathering spans over a weekend and so being the good (and) Mormon family that we are we all troop over to the local Mormon chapel to get our church on (do you say that? Is that cool or am I trying too hard here?) Roughly two hundred other non-natives are there to do the same. Our group shuffles in moments just before and after the meeting’s opening. The pews are packed, and rows upon rows of metal folding chairs clang against the wooden floors of the cultural hall, continuously being set up as more and more couples, families and family group sheets worth of people come in together through the back doors, realizing their chance at a cushy seat in such a popular, populous place passed twenty-five minutes ago. On vacation, when you are trying to find the church and get ready when a portion of the group failed to pack or ran out of room for a typical Sunday outfit component, and don’t have a calling or meeting that demands our particular arrival time, the result can be relaxed Sunday Casual in dress and arrival. Flip-flops with slacks finely disguise a visiting stake president. Forgive us all our sins, fashion and tardiness infractions.

After the sacrament is passed, with the inclusion of raised hands for the gluten-free tray (this sweet ward is doing their darndest to accommodate the vast variety descending on their Sunday services), the meeting is half over. There are a lot of people, chairs are going up on the stage now, the lobby is no longer a pass through. A few speakers, some hymns most of us know from memory since there aren’t enough enough books to go around, and we’re done. At least a lot of the crowd. Families cluster to take a group photo or two while everyone is still clean and nicely dressed. The window in which everyone has a clean shirt on is very slim.

The lineup of minivans and SUVs with plates from a two states radius lining the front of the building and side lots begins to thin, rapidly. Not everyone is staying to pass the second half of the three hour block. The building seems somehow relieved to not be so far past fire code. Our group decides to stay. We’ve been advised to do that when we can. Adults sit down in the chapel for Sunday School and a dozen kids head to Primary. It’s jammed.

This little ward doesn’t have the numbers to staff a full Primary, only a fraction of the kids there are regulars. Two teachers for nearly forty kids is rough odds. Afterwards the kids report they didn’t learn much, but they did have chocolate. Relief Society and the Priesthood meetings are overfilled. People open the door to come in, don’t see an empty chair and close the door.  Even with a reduced visitor load, it’s still more than the ward can carry through. The members are welcoming, but there are so many of us. What is the right way to attend their church and not overwhelm them? It’s hard to attend these wards and not feel like a freeloader. Hundreds of extra people show up each week, and take, requiring the accommodation and preparations of the small number of local members.

We all came in and set up extra chairs to squeeze ourselves into the gym, but who took those chairs down when so many took off after sacrament meeting? Who entertained and funneled chocolate to our primary kids for an hour and a half? Who were the blessed souls that wrangled a nursery full of strangers while we took off to other meetings? The more I thought about it, the guiltier I felt.

While visiting a similar vacation destination church, my dad spoke with a member who said,

We’re so lucky live in the sort of place most people only visit maybe once or twice in a lifetime, to be so surrounded with beauty, serving in a ward where we welcome others from all over each week isn’t a burden, it’s just an opportunity to serve.

I’m not sure everyone feels this way, I haven’t asked. It’s truly a beautiful gift to be able to gather with those who share in faith and worship each week, most any place I am. Whether it’s been in a familiar Mormon chapel or with a different denomination, I’ve felt of their spirit and been thankful for the opportunity to make my Sunday feel like a Sabbath. I just hope that my being there (and sometimes all two hundred plus of us extras) isn’t a burden detracting from some else’s Sabbath. I’d like to think some how I could contribute rather than just take. I’m not sure what church will be like where I next vacay, but next time I could put back hymn books, fold up some chairs, and if we send the kids off to primary, stick around to help see if they could use some help.

Do you say vacay? Or do you live in a vacation destination ward or branch, how do you feel about it? What is the best way to worship when you’re away from home?

About Sandra Clark

Sandra Clark Jergensen's writing (most often about food) has been published in Gastronomica, Apartment Therapy, The Exponent, and at Segullah, where she was once the Editor-in-Chief, and now as Features Editor. Sandra geeked out on food and writing as a master's student food studies at University of Texas, Arlington. She makes her home in California where she runs without shoes, foster parents, teaches cooking, develops recipes, and struggles to take pictures with her eyes open, and sometimes all at the same time. She is the owner and creator of thekitchennatural.com.

10 thoughts on “Vacay Church”

  1. If its any consolation, ward funding is based on sacrament attendance and you do get to count visitors towards your totals, so destination wards get a little more in their budget to help things along.

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  2. As 1 who does live in a part of the country that attracts a few million visitors each summer (yes, million is the correct word), and serving as a gospel doctrine teacher, I truly appreciate the visitors who come and share experiences, insights and testimonies in our discussions. We are all the better for it.
    2 weeks ago as our chapel and cultural hall were filled to overflowing because of visitors, and because my lesson that day included the Day of Pentecost, so that's where my thoughts and ponderings were centered, I looked around at all the brothers and sisters I didn't know and thought – "each one of these have been touched by the Holy Ghost or they wouldn't be gathering here with us". And I tested up.
    Whatever the circumstances or locations, it is "always good for all of us to be here" in the Savior's church on His day.
    I have such admiration for those that are committed to find us and be with us on that sacred day.
    I don't live in the south, but I can sincerely say "ya'll come!". You are all most welcome and you bless my life when you do. (Offering to help in the primary or nursery when you come is so Christlike)

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  3. I've never lived in a vacation destination (and I can't bring myself to even type the abbreviated "v" word") nor have we visited one very often, but we have been to church in a lot of different places. Most recently this has included a lot of different wards all over central and southern Mexico and we are nearly always the only visitors, and certainly always the only non-Latino people there, except for maybe one missionary. I love going to church in Mexico because everyone comes over to welcome us.

    That being said, we don't always stay all three hours when we're in another ward. My teenagers really don't like to and I can understand that. But if we just have my youngest with me, he'll go to Primary now that he knows Spanish and just about always has a great time.

    Staffing Primary in a vacation destination ward would be really hard. You can't ask for volunteers to teach the classes because that's not a particularly safe idea, but 40 kids for two adults to deal with isn't reasonable either. And I can't even imagine what nursery would be like. That's probably where I'd get annoyed with the whole thing if I lived in a ward like that.

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  4. I've lived in a destination ward and, at least in our case, the surge was only for a short while and dependent upon which block we had; we rarely saw visitors the years we were switched to the afternoon block.
    It was always amusing to me when someone LDS and famous would sneak in the back and leave just before the closing prayer. Generally, my wife would have to explain to me who they were.

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  5. My family's vacation involved two weekends this summer. We went to different wards for both sundays. We pitched in as much as possible, including offering my sons to help with the sacrament. One note on the sacrament. Bishops are supposed to ensure that YM are ordained and worthy to help with the sacrament – something they don't have time to do if they're meeting you just before sacrament meeting. However, if your boys have temple recommends with them most bishops will accept that evidence and gladly welcome their assistance.

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  6. If we're visiting family or friends who plan on attending church, we generally join them, but often just for sacrament meeting. If we're just on vacation, we generally don't go, often because we travel on Sundays or because we just want to spend time being together.

    I was mildly horrified by your story–I'm sure the ward loved having visitors, but I find it rather thoughtless that everyone dumped their kids in the woefully understaffed Primary without a few parents staying to help. Perhaps some parents offered but were refused? In such a ward, it might be a good idea for the bishopric to make an announcement after sacrament meeting that visitors are welcome to stay, but that help would be appreciated in staffing primary and taking down chairs.

    For an interesting insight into how vacationing saints attended church (or not, as it turns out) while vacationing or living abroad many years ago, check out this article: http://www.keepapitchinin.org/2015/07/23/university-sunday-school/

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  7. I live in an area close to the mountains where there are many seasonal cabins and campers. We receive no where near the kind of influx mentioned in the above article, but we do have visitors most Sundays in the summer months. I honestly enjoy meeting our visitors. I have often been impressed with their comments and gospel insights.

    I think it would be entirely appropriate, generous and kind to ask the primary/ nursery if they would like help, even in our ward they might take you up on the offer.

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  8. Though it hasn't been our habit in the past, this summer we made a conscious effort to attend all three meetings while on vacation. In one ward we visited there were signs posted outside of nursery and primary, "Our ward can only accommodate children who are members of this ward." I felt both relieved and shocked. Relieved we were given a perfectly legimate excuse to leave after sacrament meeting. Shocked by what could be an indelicate rejection of the "visitors welcome" idea. However, I totally get that a small ward has limits to its resources.

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