Sunday, November 22, 2009
Members speak for themselves at LDS
Although they frequently bring up the names of leaders at national and international level of their church, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS, also known as Mormons), most of the leadership of the worship experience was doled out to ordinary members. In some cases there was a show of nerves and of emotion, but they got their message across from a real people's perspective.
In the introductory post of this blog, I mentioned that part of the purpose of the blog is to respond to the documentary film Religulous, created by Bill Maher. The LDS took some of the hardest hits from that movie. For an outsider of a practical mindset to ask, as seems to be the implicit question that Maher pursues, "Do I believe in all of the statements and doctrines that this religious group makes?" is probably less relevant than asking, "Have they made life better for their members and for the world in general?" The latter question will lead to a more charitable, and probably more useful, answer.
My experience at the LDS Church showed little evidence of the the beliefs that Maher attacked and ridiculed most strongly. And, as I said, the worship experience sprang from the grass roots. The sacrament of communion happened near the beginning of the service and was served by a group of teenage and pre-teen boys. Then the longest part of the service consisted of talks by speakers Emilae Bonnaire and Jason Blanchard, members of the Ward (their term for what in other places would be called a congregation or parish).
The themes on which they spoke would appeal to many. They talked about the experiences of being within their church as tools for self-improvement and particularly talked about the home being a place of refuge--a place where good things happen in contrast to the outside world where bad things happen. I'm sure that this is not entirely the experience of many of us, and these speakers also acknowledged that this ideal is sometimes not reached. However, by repeating this theme, they may well have a good measure of success in bringing it into reality.
There was even an illustration taken from ancient Japanese parable, in which students ask a teacher for natural objects which he had described as vehicles for enlightenment. But the students see only their flaws, such as the thorn on the rose. So the teacher took back the rose and gave the student only the thorn, since that was what he concentrated on. See what you want to become and it will point you in the right direction.
Given this practice of having rank-and-file members do the speaking, I am tempted to throw out the word "worship" from what they do, and replace it with something more like "communicate." They brought wisdom from the pew to the pulpit. [I'm not sure whether they call it a pulpit, a lectern, a dais, or something else. But it was cool in that it had a control to quickly adjust the height of it.]
Finally, to the choir. Under the direction of Suzie Stein, this choir does some simple music, but does it well with a short amount of rehearsal. We met 45 minutes before the service, and were told that it was a small group today (it ended up being more than 20), and ran down the list of people who were missing and the reason. Warming up used solfege (syllables corresponding to pitches, such as the descending notes sol fa mi re do), something that doesn't figure prominently in my musical training. For this service, we did "For the Beauty of the Earth," arranged by Brent Jorgenson, accompanied by Karen Madsen on the piano and Carrie Woolley on the violin. Ms. Stein guided the choir through proper placement of consonants at the end of words, and corrected the phrasing as needed. One whisper that I overheard during the rehearsal was "What's a rallentando?" (For the uninitiated, it means to suddenly slow the tempo; ritardando is more of a gradual slowing). With the choir coming from the pews at the proper time and gathering in the chancel, this piece went well during the service. Other music that was in the binders was for the Christmas season, and would be familiar to many people. The other piece that we actually rehearsed was "The Star Carol" from the Alfred Burt Carols.
With each visit, it gets more and more interesting to see what other people do in worship, and this week was another enlightening experience.