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Around the block

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Man, I'm a worthless sack of crap. I saw this post at FMH and just had to ask a question:

It seems like, for some of these people (often myself included), nobody's getting anything out of church. So, why go?

The best answers I'm hearing on this post are "it's for the kids". That's sensible and charitable, to a point. But I think it leaves the obvious question out. Why do the kids need to go? It's certainly possible that they'll get something in the future when you won't or aren't now, and we can't ignore that.

The question then morphs yet again: why go if you're not getting anything and you've got no other souls on your head?

The best thing that I can come up with is that it keeps you "in the system". You're going to church for three hours on Sunday, you've bought in. It's easier to resist temptation because being Mormon, with all the moral baggage that it brings, is part of your identity and it's just harder to sin because you'd make yourself feel terrible. It reinforces cognitive dissonance something fierce.

That said, I live in a dorm room that's almost right across the street from our institute building (where we have our Sunday meetings). It takes me about two minutes to walk home. So, sometimes I go to sacrament, go home for Sunday school and have a snack, and then go back over for priesthood. Sunday school at our ward is wretched, mostly because there are three options: Gospel Essentials (which is taught by the most annoying teacher in the world), Gospel Doctrine (which isn't that bad, but is boring and the room is jam packed with people), and Teacher Preparation (which is too small to be anonymous). Priesthood is no better, but there's a break if I skip SS and more people notice if you skip priesthood than Sunday School, especially if a motivation is being left alone.

Three hours is just a long time, particularly when I don't want to go anywhere most times early on a Sunday morning. Lately, I just don't want to be there for that long.

Thoughts? Does anyone have/want to suggest any coping strategies? Or do you just grin and bear it (or grin and love it)?

32 Responses to “Around the block”

  1. Blogger D-Train 

    I just also want to add that I don't mean "in the system" to be some kind of value-laden critique of the Church power structure. I mean that in a very nice way and I think it's good for people to be "in the system", provided that they understand what that means. I think, on the whole, I do better when I'm buying into the system.

  2. Anonymous Susan M 

    Well, the original question was about how to cope with small kids at church. My initial answer was, go for the kids' sake, not your own. Which I later expanded on, and said it's in doing for others that we get something out of it.

    I don't think we should be going to church with an attitude of "what do I get out of it." Rather, it should be, "What can I do for others?" That's what makes it worthwhile.

  3. Blogger D-Train 

    Yeah, I forgot to make clear in the initial post that most of the issues were with kids and that it reminded me of other stuff.

    Part of my problem is that I don't see how I can serve anyone at church. We're all basically sitting in the seats. I can't have a meaningful conversation, or move a TV, or perform an ordinance. All that has to happen outside of church. I don't have a calling that matters on Sundays, so that isn't an option either.

    Susan, I think you've got a great attitude. I just don't see how I can apply it to myself.

  4. Blogger Rusty 

    There is a really great perspective here for a different perspective to take while at church. It was very enlightening for me to read.

  5. Blogger Arwyn 

    I've been struggling with that question for about a year and a half now. Going to church makes my head hurt and makes me sleepy. For three years, I was the only woman under the age of 28 in my ward; the four or five boys my age are nice and all, but they've bonded among themselves and I've not been a part of that.

    Basically, I felt like I wasn't getting anything but sick out of it -- no edification, no uplifting, no information, nothing.

    So I talked to my brother, who I've always considered a fount of wisdom, and bitterly explained why I hated attending church. Is it important? Can't we just study on our own, and learn the same things -- and maybe learn them better, and not have to deal with the people and the headaches and the wasted time?

    His answer was that the church functions as a community for strengthening its members -- not just strength through 'getting something out of it', but strength through interacting with others and serving others, much like Susan M. said.

    But like D-Train, I've often asked "how do I serve?"

    And I don't really have an answer for that, except that when I attend with an attitude of "alright, Lord, help me find some service here today," something inveriably comes up, even if it's just smiling at people who look like they need smiles. Not a big thing -- but when I feel like I'm contributing something, it makes it all a little less tedious.

    Not to say I'm perfect at having that attitude, either -- it's definitely hit-and-miss on any given Sunday. But, progress, right?

  6. Blogger Pris 

    Forgive me father...It's been almost seven months since I last went to church.

    For the most part, I actually like going. But I can easily understand how those of you that go every week could get a little burnt out. If I didn't like the people there, I wouldn't even consider going.

    So, it seems to me that the Church meetings fulfill two goals: (1) community building; (2) outward expression of faith/obedience. Expecting more than that will probably leave one dissapointed.

  7. Anonymous Susan M 

    One thing I've figured out over the years is there are a lot of people who don't want to go to church on Sunday mornings. Including me. But afterwards I always feel so much better.

    We've explained this to the kids whenever they complain about going and they're starting to recognize it too. That we do come home feeling happy.

    That blog post Rusty linked to is a good one. I mentioned in another post here how I have a brother and sister that died. I don't really have any hope that my remaining living siblings will ever join the church, at least in this life. When that was sort of bourne in on me a few years ago, I was really upset and depressed about it. I was sick of my messed up family and for the first time ever just wished they weren't my family at all. I prayed about it. I tend to get answers via the scriptures, and this time, my answer was the last few verses of Matt 12:

    47 Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.

    48 But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?

    49 And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!

    50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

    And I realized I had a family I was overlooking. Hokey as it sounds, I had a ward family, full of people who were striving to do what's right. Not necessarily always succeeding, but they were definitely making an effort. And I thought about the verses in the D&C that talk about angels rejoicing over those who bear their testimony, and those who repent. (Do a search for "the angels rejoice over you" at lds.org.) And I thought to myself, people in the church tend to put so much pressure on themselves and wallow in guilt for all they're not doing right, when I bet that just even them going to church is something that angels rejoice over. Every little good decision we make is cause for celebration. And you know what? For years now, I've looked around at people in church, and silently appreciated them and what they do and who they are. It's a great source of strength for me to see others just attending sacrament. Who knows who is watching you, and the example you set, and being comforted or strengthened by it?

    My husband was really wild as a teenager. Always in trouble, doing bad things. I remember when he started coming back to church, one day he wasn't feeling well, and people were asking the superficial "hi how are you" and not really noticing how he was feeling. Until one older lady asked, and she noticed how poorly he was feeling, and just her sincere inquiry made him feel accepted and loved. It's really amazing how something so little can mean a lot to someone. That's actually something he's never forgotten.

  8. Blogger Mike 

    It is wonderful to look at the ward as a family- and all people as family. It is something where I go back and forth.

    It becomes hard when you do try to do things to look at others there as family and you work to go out of your way to help specific people most in need- and then you start looking at it as an obligation as well. I was talking to D-Train and LJ about this- that even though it may be a clearly self imposed obligation- it still becomes hard to look at it as anything else.

  9. Blogger Rusty 

    Susan M,
    Thank you for that. I need to be reading Christ's own words more.

    In a perfect world, what would attending church be like? I'm not sure it would be much different (well, maybe there would be better architecture. Oh yeah, and better teachers/speakers). To expect to walk away from church uplifted/smarter every week seems like we're projecting false expectations on church attendance. Who said that was the purpose of church? Especially considering the lay leadership and teachers.

    What? No love for the Mormon Archipelago?

  10. Blogger Arwyn 

    And now, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other, that ye may know how to act and direct my church, how to act upon the points of my law and commandments, which I have given. (D&C 43:8)

    The instruction part of church comes out easily enough, but I've always interpreted this to mean that we should strive to edify one another as well -- to uplift and inspire, to enlighten and inform -- and that does seem to me like one of the main purposes of church meetings.

  11. Blogger D-Train 


    I do agree with your sentiment. Let's face it. It's three hours, assuming you stay for the whole thing. If your life can change in three hours every single week, you probably aren't that firmly anchored to anything.

    But, I do think that a lot of the time it's hard to serve and do the edifying that's necessary given the Church structure. To be fair, I can't imagine some other structure that would be perfect and that would allow for more, but basically you're just sitting in the chairs looking forward. You can comment in SS/EQ/RS, but most of the time (in my brief experience in our singles ward as a convert), commenting just takes people off on a tangent that doesn't get anyone anywhere. I guess you can be an example, but again, I don't know how to be an example at church, other than by being reverent and looking the part.

    I think we should also ask the question that Rusty implicitly asks: what is the purpose of church, if not to instruct and edify (or if that isn't the sole purpose) I guess we're building a community of faith, et cetera, but that isn't striking me as adequate. Maybe it is and I just don't care about building that community as I should.

    So, then, another question: if the purpose or a main purpose of the Church is what Arwyn cites in scripture, what concrete things can we be doing to move that along?

  12. Anonymous Pandora 

    Cool blog ......very open.

  13. Blogger Arwyn 

    We'll give the MA some love if you'll count us as a volcano, Rusty. ;)

    And glad you like the blog, Pandora!

    Back to the question at hand: I don't think you can go to church expecting to have a life-changing experience every week. But I think you can realistically expect to find some edification. If you don't, then there's something wrong either with the meeting itself or with your attitude toward it. I frequently find the latter to be the problem, in my own case, especially if I'm feeling particularly critical on any given Sunday.

  14. Anonymous Fraser Redmond 

    Just on a more practical, less philosophical note:

    If you're not happy at church, then talk to your Bishop about it. Maybe nothing will come of it, but maybe he's looking for someone for a new calling and you're it! (Though, there goes your anonymity)

    He can't help you if he doesn't know your problems/concerns.

  15. Anonymous another 

    Raised mormon, my entire life I have hated going to church. This attitude came to a head a few years ago when my wife and I realized that the Sabbath was truly delightful when we stayed home, quietly read, talked, wrote letters and so forth.

    Our solution is in line with what others have said. We don't go to church for "us" anymore; we try to view church attendance as service to others in the ward. We try to participate in SS and RS/EQ in ways that will improve the lesson; this entails work-- it's nearly impossible to save the awfulness of EQ lessons in my ward.

    And that's the whole reason going to church is so awful for almost everyone. Most everyone wants to relax and coast through the experience. Few people, instructors included, really do the work necessary to get something out of church. In the secular world if you don't do your homework you won't get as much out of school; the possible exception is when you have an outstanding, charismatic orator for a teacher.

    I think a renewed and continued emphasis on the importance of good teaching, the importance of student preparation, and a two hour service would go a long way to making church attendance and uplifting experience.

    I also think it's important, as others have mentioned, to truly view the church as a family.

  16. Blogger Arwyn 


    You know, that's not something I had ever considered doing, but it really makes sense.

    I'm set to move here in a month, so it'd be silly to do it now, but in the future -- that's a suggestion I'll keep in mind.

  17. Anonymous Susan M 

    Another just reminded me of a previous ward I lived in, where the meetings were so boring. Every Sunday my husband and I would come home and complain to each other about how boring it was. And every Sunday we'd realize, if it's boring, it's just as much our fault as anyone else's. We realized we needed to be contributing and helping to make things interesting.

    Suburban wards suck. Haha.

  18. Blogger D-Train 


    You do make a terrific point - why not ask the guy in charge if there's something I can do? Here's the issue that I have. If you let the people at the ward know that you don't enjoy it, it seems that they'll be likely to just unleash the fellowshipping dogs. While well intentioned, that's not what I need.

    Susan - I'm happy that you were able to overcome some of these issues. What things were you able to do to make your church experience a lot better? It sounds like you had some of the same problems that I and a couple other friends have.

  19. Anonymous Susan M 

    Well this may sound silly...I have a hard time listening to people speak. I actually just discovered it's an auditory processing disorder. But I can really have problems taking in what people are saying, especially if it's boring and my thoughts wander. So I started taking notes in Sacrament meeting every Sunday. Whenever someone said something that impressed me, or I really felt the Spirit strongly, I'd put stars next to it. I usually had at least one star every Sunday. Which was sad, because I'd been in other wards where there would've been several stars every Sunday! But it did help me focus and realize there were good things going on at church.

    I was going to mention talking to the Bishop but figured that was a given. :) I'm the type of person who tends to fall through the cracks at church. I lived in ward once where I went a whole year with no calling. I'm sure it was because right after we moved in the Bishop was released and the new Bishop had his hands full getting used to everything. After being in the ward a year, we were asked to speak--on service! Haha. So I mentioned in my talk that I found it kinda funny since I hadn't had a calling in a year. Of course, I had one the very next week.

    I still take notes in SM now. I've been doing it for over a year.

  20. Blogger Arwyn 

    A whole year? I've been in my ward three and a half, and still don't have a calling. I've talked to the bishop three times (not about having callings, but just in general, about other things), and every meeting was instigated by me -- he's never once asked to talk to me.

    I thought I could chalk up the having no calling bit to being a student in a family ward -- but the boys (five of them) and the other girls (three of them -- it used to be only me, but we got a freshman this year and two of the boys got married over the summer) all have callings.

    So...no explanation, really, except that I attend only about 60% of the time -- but you'd think they'd try to give me one to make me want to be more active and responsible?

    Maybe falling through the cracks so easily is one of the reasons I don't enjoy church -- I don't feel I have a stake in it. At the same time, with the workload I have at school, I've never really wanted to have a stake in it. Is that wrong?

  21. Anonymous Susan M 

    You'll enjoy church more if you're serving in a calling, I think. That ward where I didn't have a calling for a year--the bishop's wife was the YW president, and she called me to be the secretary. I was really happy about it until I found out they already had a secretary, and I'd be like an assistant. It was kinda ridiculous, considering there were only about 8 girls in YW total. I ended up thinking of it as a pity calling!

    Sometimes you've gotta put yourself out there though. Let people know your situation. One easy way is to bear your testimony.

    I don't think anyone's metioned prayer yet in this topic, when it's really the obvious answer.

    I recently moved to southern California from the Seattle area, and it's fun to come to an area where no one knows you. I immediately offered to start up a book club and got it rolling. I decided I wouldn't be my usual quiet sit-in-the-back self here. When I tell people I'm usually the type to slip through the cracks, they don't believe me.

  22. Blogger D-Train 

    I can't deny that I usually want to fall through the cracks (as the "fellowshipping dogs" remark likely made clear). I guess I want my cake and to eat it too, in wanting to be left alone at church and in wanting to be actively enjoying it and participating. Guess I'll have to choose.

    Susan, good ideas. Thanks for pitching in some great ways to move things forward.

  23. Blogger Mike 

    I'm with Susan on taking notes-
    but D-Train already knows that.

  24. Anonymous Steve (FSF) 

    "And every Sunday we'd realize, if it's boring, it's just as much our fault as anyone else's"

    LDS church services are a drag, no doubt about it. Attending an LDS worship service is probably like having sex with an orgasmically challenged woman (not that I have experienced the latter personally). We need some energetic preaching, use of power point and video, and revamp that hymn book entirely. Also need a modern gospel choir. I'll bring my tambourine to church if someone else will join me, but can the LDS church handle that kind of individual radicalism?

  25. Blogger D-Train 

    Ah, Church isn't that bad. It can be unproductive at times, but not every soccer game, movie, or music video produces all the time either. The challenge is to make it better.

    I think the Protestant churches I've been to that do a lot of the "gimmicky" things lose a ton of emphasis on the message and make it seem too much like a production. Like Gramsci said, there's no administrative production of meaning. The bells and whistles that one of the local Methodist churches bring to the table feel a lot like that.

  26. Anonymous Anonymous 

    I'm glad you think that the Gospel Doctrine class isn't that bad(I'm one of the teachers!) and you're right about it being too packed with people. Whenever I ask a somewhat probing question or throw out a sort of kind of unorthodox statement usually the response is scilence or what I call "The dumb cow" look. The whole class just kind of stares at you with their mouth hanging open like a dumb cow.
    Anyway, I'm glad I found you're guy's blog. I always thought it would be cool to have something like this in the singles ward, but I never mentioned anything in fear of being labled an apostate who is waivering in the faith.

  27. Blogger Brent 

    WWJD if He were attending a typical 3-hour block of meetings ?

  28. Anonymous Susan M 

    He'd hang out where I do--in the nursery.

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