Kirby: Mormon missionary farewells simpler, more frequent
Last Sunday was the missionary "farewell" for the daughter of friends Keith and LuAnn Adams. They had music, talks about missionary work and finally the farewell remarks from the soon-to-be gone Kylie.
Called to the North Carolina Charlotte mission, Kylie entered the Missionary Training Center Wednesday. Right about now she's learning to teach the gospel in a foreign dialect, namely "tidewater twang."
Note: Yes, people, North Carolina is a foreign-language mission. So too are Boston, Los Angeles, Dallas, Brooklyn and Panguitch.
It's true. Missionaries called to serve in rural Utah have to be able teach the gospel with glottal stops, as in "The prof-'uh wen' huh-in."
Missionary farewells have increased in LDS wards. Kylie is one of thousands of young Mormon women who answered the church's recent "equality call" to serve missions at approximately the same age (19) as young men (18).
Kylie's mission send-off was much different than my own in 1973. These gospel goodbyes used to be part farewell and part fundraiser. An open house immediately followed Sacrament meeting. People stopped by to give the departing elder cash or even a hat.
The earliest mission farewell I remember was in 1964, when my parents bought the newly ordained elder a fedora. He looked like an extra from "Dragnet."
When I found out he hadn't joined the police department, but was in fact required to look like a dork while preaching the gospel, I became the youngest atheist in my LDS ward. They still made me go to Primary, though.
The farewell programs stayed the same even after hats were discontinued. When I left for South America, the Sacrament meeting lineup was entirely up to me backup speakers, who prayed and even the music.
When I told my unhip bishop that I wanted the ward to sing "All Along the Watchtower" for the closing song, he said that could probably be arranged.
But when he found out the song was by a nonpriesthood-holding Jimi Hendrix, it wasn't.
My parents spoke. Mom cried a little. My father seized the opportunity to exhort all the other young men in the ward to serve missions, basically saying that if I could do it so could just about any primate.
Perhaps because of things like this, the church tightened its control over missionary farewells. No more roasting the departing, blatant requests for money or family-dominated meetings.
On Sunday, Kylie's farewell illustrated just how much things had changed. She was the only one in her family who sang, spoke or prayed. The rest of the program was the usual Sacrament meeting fare.
Family and friends still dominated part of the meeting. An hour before the meeting began, people showed up to make sure the best pews were reserved for visitors. Ward regulars were kicked to the side.
It's a Mormon thing. Seating correlation. Even though everyone is in the same room, hearing the same thing, with basically the same view and a program to follow along with it's essential that everyone sit together so nobody misses anything.
Except Kylie, of course. We'll miss her until we do this all over again in 18 months for a missionary homecoming.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.