This past Sunday was the Christmas program at church. In my area, an apostle from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has hosted the hourlong Christmas program for the past 20-plus years. I’ve been attending for 10 years, in the back of the cultural hall on the hard, metal seats left for those who come late, meaning 10 minutes before the start.
This year, though, I was determined to be there earlier and get a seat where I could actually see the program. My oldest son is old enough now to help with administering the sacrament, and we needed to be there early for him to help with that anyway.
So on Sunday morning I rushed the kids through breakfast and showers and out to the car a whole hour before the meeting started. Of course I was worried about keeping them occupied on the seats for an hour, but first things first.
Which is why my spirit fell as I walked into the chapel to see almost the entire chapel cordoned off with white rope. A friend saw my dismay and explained that the chapel seats were being saved for the 80-plus members of the apostle’s family. We were welcome to take our seats in the cold, metal chairs lined up in the back.
The class structure apparent every General Conference as family members of the general authorities repeatedly enjoy the best seats in the Conference Center had now come home to my very own neighborhood chapel. And it stung.
Intent on witnessing this inequity for myself, I walked down the aisle, kids in tow, toward the front stand. And lo and behold, a Christmas miracle — the white rope failed to extend to cover the front row. Probably because no one ever sits in the front row.
I knew it was a loophole — that the row was likely part of the massive area saved for other lucky people who apparently didn’t need to get their kids ready as early as I did — but I used my legalistic mind to justify my decision and I sat my butt down on the soft, cushy bench.
I was nervous, but resolute. And then it happened. Twenty minutes before the program was supposed to start, and with the chapel and overflow mostly filled up, a kind but determined woman approached me on the bench.
“Hi. What’s your name?”
“What’s your last name?”
“Quist.” (I hesitated there — how much trouble was I getting myself into?)
“Oh, well these rows are saved for. …”
I didn’t even let her finish. I told her matter-of-factly that the white string wasn’t strung all the way to the front row, as it was on the side pews where the deacons sat, that it therefore wasn’t saved, that I was a single mom of seven (yes, I even pulled that card) who got up early to get my kids ready to worship God on this Christmas Sunday and that I wasn’t moving.
I mean, what can you say to that? She smiled, and turned away, exasperated and befuddled and honestly annoyed at my nerve. I tried to busy myself with the kids.
I told my father what happened and he said, “Michelle, only you would do that.” My mother said, “Dang right, that isn’t fair.” My daughter said, “Mom, I can’t sit in the front row, people will see me.”
And there I sat in nervous self-righteousness, just willing it all to turn out.
But as the congregation quieted and stood for the apostle entering the chapel and walking to the front, my heart sank and filled with dread. Michelle, what have you done? Now the apostle will spend the next hour wondering, just a few feet away and staring right at you, why you are in the section filled with his family.
Of course he probably wondered no such thing.
The meeting was beautiful and inspiring, with music that filled my soul as only music can. But I was distracted by my guilty conscience and crippling self-doubt. I realized that sometimes my sense of justice and fairness can become as ugly as the injustice itself.
And that is my New Year’s resolution. May we all strive to do what’s right, in the right way. Happy New Year.
Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.