I’m wearing pants to church.
Some of my friends, neighbors, and family are angry. They say I should know better. They say church is no place to make a statement. They say this is silly and juvenile. But they never knew Phyllis.
I could not agree more with the sincere and heartfelt reasons hundreds of LDS women have for participating in the Second Annual Wear Pants to Church Day. But for me, it boils down to Phyllis and my sisters like her everywhere.
She and I became unlikely friends when, despite my loud voice and lack of tailored blazers, I was called as a relief society president.
On the surface we had little, if anything, in common.
She adored animals and generally disliked people. I had hearty social skills.
She lived rough and had been treated roughly. I fast-forwarded through Maleficent.
She was alone. I came from and had a warm and loving family.
She recoiled at touch. I, as a young mother, implemented Snuggle-Fest.
She wore jeans and flannel to church. I didn’t. I should have.
One day, with kids in tow, I popped into the church to retrieve something from the relief society supply cupboard.
Phyllis (who was the janitor) came around the corner and ran up to the four of us with great news.
A spiritual epiphany had led her to decide that attending the LDS Temple was right for her. Phyllis was as close to giddy as she could get.
Then she became very serious. She asked if she would have to wear a dress. Her seriousness turned to dread as she said she could not emotionally, not psychologically, not ever wear a dress.
I emphatically stated that I didn’t think God cared what she wore, only about what was in her heart.
But talk is cheap and talk is easy.
What if the next Sunday I had just shown up in pants? What if that simple gesture had been enough to make her feel less like the odd one out? What if just one person, dressed similarly to her, dispelled the ubiquitous visual that practically screamed, “You’re here, we’ll be cordial, but you are different. Your best might be your best, but our best is better.”
Church should have been one place she felt she belonged. Church should be one place we all feel we belong, even if the obstacles or outsiderness we face aren’t exactly like the ones Phyllis wrestled with.
But instead we cling to a dress code that is neither policy nor doctrine, a dress code that efficiently designates the newcomers from the veterans with one quick glance. A dress code that implies the sign reading “Visitors Welcome” has an asterisk.
If my wearing pants can make one person feel like her soul matters more that what she looks like, then I’m in. If wearing pants makes sitting on the floor telling Jesus stories to Sunbeams easier, that’s an extra perk.
So to my friends, neighbors, family, and strangers, I say they are right. I should know better. I should know that we have brothers and sisters who no longer feel like they belong. I should know better than to pretend that we are not turning away good people. I should know better than to look the other way.
I say that they are wrong. I can think of no better place than where we pledge to act as Christ toward the disenfranchised to make a statement of acceptance and invitation.
I say wearing pants might be a simple gesture, but its inclusive purpose is certainly not juvenile nor is it silly.
And I hope that I will see Phyllis again so I can apologize for not truly bearing her burdens alongside her.
In unity. In sisterhood. In pants.
Doree Ashcraft is a Logan mother of three grown children and a life-long and active Mormon, currently serving as young women’s president over a 15-stake LDS mutual program for special-needs adults.