A number of years ago, my husband and I were having dinner with a friend when she started telling us about some drama that had unfolded during a sacrament meeting.
“A woman in my ward in the 1980s confessed to having an affair with a man sitting on the second row during a fast and testimony meeting to the surprise of everyone and people ended up screaming at each other in the pews. I don’t know if this makes me a bad person,” she said, “but that might have been the most entertaining day of church from my entire life.”
My husband, unfamiliar with many Latter-day Saint terms, cocked his head and asked, “What’s . . . fast meeting?”
“You ever been to open-mic night at a coffee shop?” I responded. “It’s like that, except a good portion of the participants are children whose parents are whispering what to say into their ears and you frequently hear a full recounting of your neighbors’ recent vacations to Disneyland or Nauvoo, Illinois.”
“That sounds lovely,” my husband said in sincerity. “Such an efficient way to catch up with everyone on the block.”
I shook my head at him and explained further.
Mostly these meetings in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints include quiet personal sermons, certainly meaningful and perhaps even therapeutic to those participating, but nothing he’d find particularly interesting unless he was prepared to engage in a substantial number of sincere life and philosophical changes.
Even the most devout Latter-day Saint would concede, if they were being honest, that these meetings rarely feel like a party. The excitement — certainly to the extent of that shared by our friend over dinner — was the exception, not the norm. But anyone who has attended a good number of these has definitely seen some things.
The Spirit is burning?
There was a time while I was serving a mission in Ukraine, where we had to pause church services when a man attempted an object lesson from the pulpit that went awry, set off smoke alarms and caused at least one asthmatic attack. I don’t remember the point he was trying to make, but he had brought with him a large box of matches to demonstrate what happens when you light all the matches at once. Other congregants who had been victims of his past presentations yelled at him, in vain, to stop as he pulled out the first match. The following Sunday, branch leadership reread a prior statement, printed on a tattered piece of paper, prohibiting the use of fire in the building. I made a mental note to seek out a local to find out more of the history on this. I don’t remember whether I ever got any answers.
An uncle of mine called once, in amazement, to tell me about an elderly woman in his Salt Lake City ward who had “borrowed” a number of the orange flags placed at crosswalks for pedestrians to use to make themselves more obvious and visible to traffic. “These flags saved me, just like Jesus,” she said, waving two of them high in the air and managing to preach a religious sermon and provide a public service announcement simultaneously.
“I can honestly say I’m more likely to use the flags now, thanks to her endorsement,” my uncle added.
“But church leadership really does try to discourage this sort of excitement,” I told my husband after recounting a number of these stories, explaining that I regularly heard reminders from headquarters about appropriate content for these meetings back when I was still a member.
He shook his head in polite disagreement. “That’s the wrong move. If I was in charge, I’d tell people to get as creative as they want for these meetings.”
This is typical for him — to suggest some constructive criticism about ways to liven up the religion a bit when he learns some new fact about it. He came up with a plan last year that he swears he’ll execute one day: He wants to put down a red carpet in front of a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse on a Sunday morning, dress in drag, and stand near the door with a fake microphone so he can ask people as they enter the building, doing his best impression of Joan Rivers, “Who are you wearing this morning?”
“Don’t you think people would love that?” he asked. “It would be so funny.”
I didn’t know how to answer his question, and I’m still not sure whether to discourage him or to encourage him to have someone film it if he ever gets up the nerve. I tried to explain that I didn’t think churchgoers would have nearly the sense of humor he was expecting if he ever did get around to doing this. But what do I know?
An ‘amazing’ baptism
A few years ago, a friend invited us to attend her daughter’s baptism. When we arrived, my husband greeted the family and asked how baptisms work. After someone explained the basic mechanics, he shouted, “How fun! I love swimming!” prompting laughter from those within earshot.
He brought a card and a small gift for the child, and as we sat with the other attendees waiting for the program to begin, he started jotting down on the card: “You were having an AMAZING hair day. Such a shame you had to get it wet.”
“You can’t write that,” I whispered. “People take these things seriously — you might offend them!”
He waved me away with his hand and added both of our names to the card before sealing it in an envelope.
Later that afternoon, at an open house, the parents of the child read the card out loud, prompting sustained laughter from the rest of the crowd.
The child’s grandmother clasped one of my husband’s hands with both of hers, wheezing, and telling him, “You are just a riot!”
He beamed — a smart aleck who had found his audience.
Maybe they should put him in charge.
Eli McCann is an attorney, writer and podcaster in Salt Lake City, where he lives with his husband and their two naughty (yet worshipped) dogs. You can find Eli on Twitter at @EliMcCann or at his personal website, www.itjustgetsstranger.com, where he tries to keep the swearing to a minimum so as not to upset his mother.
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