Every Sunday

One Friday, a year or two ago, we got food poisoning. We had gone out to eat at a Chinese buffet next to the dollar theatre, and before the final credits were rolling, we had one kid clutching an empty popcorn box like his life depended on it. He didn’t keep it close enough though, and by the time we got home, the back of our car was like the inside of a carnival ride. Cleaning that out turned my stomach, but I refused to succumb to the siren song of the porcelain bowl until 2 in the morning.

That Saturday, 3 out of 5 of us were miserably sick (the other 2 had eaten nothing but pizza at the buffet, so I guess if you’re going to choose cheap Chinese, pizza is the way to go). We called in sick and got substitutes to fill in for our church callings. At that point, we weren’t entirely sure that it was food poisoning and not something more contagious.

But by the time Sunday came around, we were feeling better. We were weak, to be sure, but that day spent relaxing, cooking, and reading together was fantastic. We were well enough to enjoy not being at church. And so my husband had the idea that we should have a “sabbath of the sabbaths” in which we would just take off every 7th Sunday, and make it a day a rest that we can actually enjoy together with our family. But as much as he liked the idea, we have never actually tried to implement it.

Shortly after we got shifted out of our ward through a boundary change, we had a month of very spotty church attendance. Because there was stake conference, a temple dedication, and general conference we didn’t meet with our congregation every Sunday. Looking ahead to that month, I thought it would be a nice break our regular Sunday calling church work, but I was wrong. It turns out that not going to church doesn’t make you appreciate church when you go back; it only makes you not want to go to church.

Our Sunday of recovery from food poisoning was delightful because it was a one time surprise. We were happy to go back the next week. But missing a couple of Sundays with our new ward family only made me feel less inclined to get back in the saddle.

So what have I learned?

1. No matter how tired I feel, or how much I’d like a break, I’d rather be at church than not. Because if I don’t go, it feels that much harder to go the next Sunday. And I want to go because I am committed to being an active participant in this church. I want to work to make this community I am in a part of Zion on earth.

2. I have great admiration for those saints who cannot attend church regularly and yet are still committed to the gospel. It must be much harder to feel a part of the ward family when work or health keep you from worshipping and working together with your fellow saints.

3. I am impressed by those who have taken a break from church and decided to reengage. I am a little afraid that I am so weak that if I stop going for a while, I would stop going forever, and so I both commit to attending consistently myself and applaud those who have greater strength of character than myself that allows them to return.

And I have learned to never, ever eat at cheap Chinese buffets. Never again.

30 comments for “Every Sunday

  1. No offense to you with kids, but if I have to sit through one more primary program I’m going to visit the Catholic church on that Sunday.

  2. I’ve often wanted more elaboration on the notion that G*d “rested” on the seventh day. Did he, in fact, rest? Or is that just a translation error, a misinterpretation, a slip of the tongue repeated over hundreds of centuries, a tradition that’s not entirely accurate but an nice embellishment to the story, or what? Because in so far as I can observe in this church there is very little restful about our Sundays. I like the notion of a seventh Sunday being truly dedicated to rest :)

  3. Oh, Don, you’re hitting on one of the great beauties of the primary program: on that Sunday, parents do not have to sit with their children and attempt to keep them quiet. On that Sunday, the children are out of their parents’ hands, for good or bad, and both visible to and cared for by the entire congregation. Of course, if you are serving in the primary and have children, you get no break either way (and there were some Sundays when I desperately wanted to go to the Catholic church where I could worship without being responsible for children or a church calling). And I can guarantee you, it is far worse for those kids suffering through all of those program practices than it is for the congregation sitting through the one Sunday program.

  4. I used to resent being at Church, but then got stuck in a job where I work every third or fourth Sundays. That changed my opinion. It’s not that Church has improved, as much as I appreciate it more and am much more aware of my state when I haven’t been.

    Also, I’m not a fan of the primary program (no kids). But on the upside, I feel no guilt at pulling out my ipad and reading during the entirety of it.

  5. Maybe I am “weird”, but I love to people-watch the Primary kids during their program and enjoy their singing.

  6. Primary programs, missionary parent’s report, new couple introduces their family, Goodbye to senior missionary couples are more community building experiences than worshipful sacred gathering. Visiting another church service seems like a good idea some times but these events are part of our “tribal” identity for now. I do wish that leadership in the Primary understood that those mass practices for the program are not useful. Just give a few key adults the scripts and practice the music well in Primary Go over each speakers part a few times in classes. What is the actual purpose of the Primary children’s program anyway?

  7. Sunday has rarely been much of a day of rest for me. As a kid, my dad was in the Spanish Branch Presidency, so we went to church for six hours. Every week. Now that I’m a grown-up, between getting the kids ready for church in the morning, responsibilities at church, and meetings after church, there’s barely time for a breath before it’s time to go to bed to get an early start on Monday.

    Last Sunday my daughter had the stomach flu, so my husband and I took stock of whose church responsibilities were easier to transfer on the spur of the moment. I won (lost?), since I was playing the organ/piano for two out of three hours. As I walked out the door with my son, I felt a stab of jealousy that my husband got to stay home, and then a stab of guilt that I wasn’t more excited to go to church.

    Being a practicing Mormon can be exhausting.

  8. I was in a bad car accident in September 2011. Just prior to that, my liver shut down. Between the two, its been nearly 18 months since I have been able to attend all 3 church meetings. To some degree, it was nice. As a divorced father, church began to feel more and more like a place I went out of duty to partake of the sacrament rather than a Zion community where I was wanted – or at least not unwanted. But I never stopped yearning and wishing I could be at church instead of stuck in a bed.

    Two weeks ago, I received a surge of strength and was able to make it to all three meetings. It was the most invigorating church experience I can recall.

    During my forced time away, I craved the unity in purpose church brings with it, even if unity as a community still awaited. I no longer cared about any of the negatives. I just soaked in the strength I felt from being able to attend. Singing the hymns together, smiling at some of the comments made in Priesthood meeting, and thinking about others made in Sunday School; realizing how the Holy Ghost helps add depth to correlated lessons when approached with a sincere desire to learn and gratitude for how the same recycled principles always have the potential to teach us about their varied dimensions. The cliche humor that once felt like wasteful distraction now felt like an inside culture joke I was proud to be a part of.

    And interestingly, while my ward would often bring me the sacrament in my home (something that when repeated long term made me feel decades older than 32), there was something awe inspiring about seeing it offered to and accepted by so many people in the same room. I took so much strength from that 3-hr block and came to a new understanding of how much we miss out on the gospel when we do not have the blessing of trying to worship together.

    I think I differ, Rachel, in that I’d much rather be in church than not, regardless of the often attendant challenges. I do agree wholeheartedly with the desire to make our little corners of the world into Zion. It’s strange: I thought I knew what I was doing without. Yet as time went on and my health only got worse, despite my best efforts to continue consecrating myself to the gospel, I became blind to just how severely some blessings disappeared after a while. It makes me realize just how easy it could be to fall away from the gospel without even realizing it if in conjunction with not being able to attend church for a long period of time, regardless the reason, we put a dagger in the heart of whatever sensitivity we had left by stopping as well our intake of spiritual nutrients such as scripture study, prayer, service, etc.

    I’m hopeful my health is returning to the point where I will soon be able to attend church regularly. And just to keep my odds as high as I can, I think I’ll staw away from Chinese food.

  9. I think I must attend church about 75% of the time, and my wife and I no longer attend Sunday School; we do our own instead. Since I am a liberal uncorrelated Mormon, I find it hard to always appreciate lessons, talks, and comments, and often find myself getting very riled up and having to suppress the urge to offer up unkempt rebuttals. Personally I find that if I don’t attend as much that I like church more. If I try to attend all of the time, I like it less. Also since my wife and I are having trouble having kids, church has been very hard to go to for her. She asked to be released from her calling and we ended up missing church for a few months to take a break. Last primary presentation, my wife and I took the sacrament and left right after. Also since last fast and testimony meeting was absolutely unbearable for her, we’re planning on doing just that every first Sunday as well.

  10. I could go with the “skip fast sunday” gig since it has been a LONG while since I heard anything approaching a testimony from someone other than a child or the branch presidency. A testimony, whether in church or a courtroom, are the things we know to be true… children get up easily and say, “I know ______ is true” and many different things. But despite repeated GC talks, SC talks, and Ensign articles outlining what a testimony is and should sound like, the long line of “thank-a-monies” and travel-logs continues ad nauseam.

    I could skip the other Sundays most of the time too, since they very rarely ever actually talk about Christ and the gospel. Most of them try hard but end up expounding ethics more than spirituality.

    I could handle skipping Sunday School too; since I’ve heard the exact same lesson repeated every four years since I was old enough to listen to them. Couldn’t we please get some discussion where the answers aren’t always “go to church”, “read the Scriptures”, etc. ???

    And priesthood would be fine if most of the class wasn’t trying to talk about firearms, sports, cars, fishing…. I could skip that too!

    Or, at least I could skip all those if it weren’t for the fact that I feel empty and dead inside of I don’t go and participate. I could skip, but I notice the absence of the Holy Ghost during the week if I’m not there.

    I could skip, except that I’ve convenanted to be there. And my covenant extends to trying to make those meetings better by participating in them, not by-passing them. And I’m also supposed to engage in efforts to help perfect the saints I could do that by helping them understand testimonies rather than just criticizing, by asking pertinent thought provoking questions in class, by teaching priesthood responsibilities instead of zoning out, and by trying to encourage others to go to church every week, instead of just thinking they don’t understand their duties.

  11. Insightful. I had 5 rowdy boys and when my husband did a 1 year remote tour to Korea that meant I had to get those little boys (ages 1 yr, 2 yr, 2 yr, 4yr, 5 yr) to church every Sunday by myself. And I did it without missing a Sunday knowing full well if I did miss I would not go back until my husband returned home! It is now 25 years later and due to very poor health I am rarely able to attend church. Moral of the story: attend church when you can because you never know when you might not be able to. Being able to share in friendships and testimonies while attending meetings is a gift to be cherished.

  12. Great insights Rachel. Some of these comments deserve serious empathy, but they are also disappointing to me in some ways. Church isn’t just about what you get. It’s about what you give. And you get most when you give, even when it’s tiring.

    If incorrect ideas are being perpetuated in Sunday School, it is our duty as participants to correct them with the Spirit and the scriptures.

    If non-testimonies are being perpetuated, it is your duty to share an appropriate one and possibly suggest that leadership reminds the ward what a testimony is.

    And finally, props to Rachel for the juxtaposed phrase ‘dollar theatre’ with British spelling!

  13. I wholeheartedly agree with Cameron. Many of these comments were borderline depressing. God has given us everything and promised us worlds without end. I think that we can be at church every Sunday soaking up a little of those blessings now. I love being at church every Sunday. If ever I have to miss to stay home with a sick kid I MISS it. If you want to hate it and find it difficult and distracting, it will be. If you want to see God’s power in everything, you will. And I complement Rachel. This would have been a difficult experience to write about and post on a site such as this but she did it with honestly and integrity and learned I think precisely what God would have us learn from such an experience.

  14. I find a bit odd that some people empathize with those who don’t particularly like church for various reasons, but then feel the need to put to shame any suggestion that one entertain the idea of skipping church from time to time.

    I find that many of the reasons that I don’t particularly find church to be enjoyable stem from the administration, and not necessarily the church culture. People often parrot what they hear in conference and from church manuals in Sunday School comments. And I believe that we have correlation to thank for that. Also, as Cameron N suggests, I went through a period in which I tried to make my contributions to improve the environment. Yet there is only so much one can do, and in the end you just can’t fight the machine. Major changes need to be made from the top down, it isn’t so much of a bottom-up thing. And Larry, many people who don’t like church have valid, legitimate reasons, it isn’t just a “bad attitude.”

    But if you like church, that is great. If you don’t always like church but feel an obligation to be there every Sunday, also great. But the guilt-tripping and the moral high ground that you play (which some of you may be doing inadvertently) on those who simply don’t find church particularly appealing and choose not to attend as frequently is not at all an effective tactic in trying to persuade people to attend church more frequently. Quite the opposite, it makes church even less attractive.

    For those of you who criticize those who only occasionally show up, would you rather have them come to church from time to time, or not come at all?

  15. “If incorrect ideas are being perpetuated in Sunday School, it is our duty as participants to correct them with the Spirit and the scriptures.”

    I could see that backfiring and introducing divisions among the flock more than a spirit of unity. You have to tread carefully in “correcting” someone’s beliefs and approach.

  16. I don’t know where you live, but it sounds like a place where it is easy to take church for granted. I have an entirely different feeling about church than you do. I live where members travel 40-50 miles to
    a small branch. Twenty or thirty of us gather every Sunday to teach, learn, share testimonies and be with people who believe as we do-something we don’t get much of elsewhere. We would love to have what you have. I grew up in a difficult household where there was no gospel. I loved going to church every Sunday. I loved being there-feeling the spirit, being cared about, and being taught a better way of life. I am, to this day, thankful for people who were there and gave those gifts to me even though it might not have been fun for them. I’m not passing judgement on you. I just think you might be missing something.

  17. I never come openly against a person when I hear bad doctrine. I will usually say something like, “Well, I think we need to be careful about embracing (bad doctrine here). The scriptures and prophets have also said (quote or scripture). So while (bad doctrine) may sound right, I think that we should also consider (correction) when making opions or statements.” And because I don’t get confrontational, and because everyone at church is pre-wired to be agreeable, everyone will shake their head and say, “yeah, that’s a good point too.” And hopefully the correct doctrine will win the day upon their further reflection.

  18. Carol, that’s terrific that you enjoy church. But you have to realize that church is a voluntary organization and not everyone needs to find the same things appealing or have the same beliefs for there to exist harmony in society, let alone the broader church body. There are many “middle path” members like me, who have somewhat of a cultural connection to church, but don’t share the same worldview as most of the members; hence they find church a bit hard to attend all of the time. But why get defensive if somebody doesn’t like church? Why can’t we just treat it like a preference for a field of study. Some people really like studying biology while others really like studying literature. Perhaps the literature aficionado dabbles in a little biology but isn’t terribly passionate about it. Maybe the biology department at a university wants to attract this person to study biology more. I can assure you that the biology department isn’t going to win this person’s affections by shaming them for not liking biology enough. They do so by touting the merits of studying biology and sharing their personal stories. Some will join and others won’t. So what.

  19. I can empathize Steve. How must the Lord feel when he has to endure such shortcomings since the dawn of time? I can’t even fathom that…I apologize if I came across as aggressive or guilt-tripping Steve. I’m sure the church will eventually be perfect, but until then, it appears that the Lord is directing us in baby steps. Until then, there are many reasons to keep coming.

    To be honest, I think for many active members they don’t find church particularly fun. They just go to keep covenants, serve, and be served.

    I hate biology, but luckily the gospel is universal, even if most weren’t meant to receive the fulness in mortality. I just don’t know how someone with a testimony of the gospel can have a different worldview. I could disagree comfortably about nearly any political, scientific, social, historical or professional topic with a fellow saint, and if we share that same testimony, then that’s enough for me.

    The church is a community based on shared beliefs. Other communities are based on other qualifiers. Certainly we should be accepting and loving toward everyone in the world and within the spectrum of our congregations, but the church is something more, it is the kingdom of God on the earth, and an aspirational zion community where we try to help each other out, no matter how ignorant we are in our own unique ways.

    This may not be the case for everyone, but I suspect is is–I find that first I have to do ‘gospel things’ with a good attitude before I reap the blessings of contentment. IE I don’t feel like praying until I pray anyway, i don’t want to read scriptures unless I read them more often, I don’t want to trust inspired leadership until I seek to apply their counsel, etc. Kind of a trial of faith on a micro, daily level.

    President Kimball was once asked what to do if a meeting wasn’t edifying. He said to just read scriptures. I think there is something important about being present even if one isn’t participating in a sub-par meeting. We can respond to opportunities to serve that come up, get to know our brothers and sisters better, etc. I think the Lord blesses us for being in a meeting even if nothing pragmatically uplifting occurs.

    I try to be kind to all my friends who don’t come every Sunday. I think we should all aspire to President Monson’s level of kindness to all who participate at any level.

  20. Speaking of President Kimball, he was known on occasion to play hooky when it came to attending church. I think I’d probably be similarly tempted ever now and then if my church-related meetings and activities each week lasted longer than most full-time jobs. ;)

    I have noticed a theme come up here about the Sunday School lessons. Part of me used to be frustrated, but after giving it a good deal of thought, a few things settled my nerves.

    First, I think having relatively “safe” lessons might be close to a necessity as the church becomes more global, encompassing increasingly diverse languages and cultures, not to mention a constant influx of new members who are being introduced to the material for the first time. Even though I yearn sometimes for lessons that go a little deeper, the logistics alone give me a sincere appreciation for the conservative approach to our doctrine.

    Second, I remember hearing one of the Brethren say in General Conference once that the more we hear a doctrine or piece of counsel repeated, the more important it is for us at that particular time. Since then, whenever I feel tempted to embrace my frustration more than I ought, I ask myself what else I can learn. I have come to believe that some of the real “mysteries of the gospel” are not many of the exotic speculations we often hear, but rather things like what it really means to have faith, how to recognize the voice of the Spirit, etc.

    Third, I try to consciously come to class prepared, actively seeking, and worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. I have noticed that when I sincerely put effort into these things, I find myself receiving an awful lot by the way of revelation that goes beyond the printed material in a lesson manual. I am fascinated we have simple, repetitive manuals that meet the needs of so many different types of members, from the newly converted seeking basic instruction to the 80-year old veteran yearning for more understanding of the depth of the gospel.

    I don’t raise these observations to put anyone down who feels frustration; I have felt those frustrations myself in the past, but have found that, at least for me, my concerns about shortcomings have rotated 180 degrees. What at one time was just another Sunday of bland doctrinal manna has become an exhilarating opportunity to partake of a feast as grand and delicious as I am prepared to receive.

    Since the topic of the OP deals with church attendance and a common theme of frustration with lessons has emerged, I’m curious:

    Has anyone else has had experiences that have helped mitigate their frustrations and enrich their time in church?

  21. Cameron says: “I could disagree comfortably about nearly any political, scientific, social, historical or professional topic with a fellow saint, and if we share that same testimony, then that’s enough for me.”

    The problem is, we rarely share testimonies with each other. For whatever reason, though, we frequently share political, scientific, social, historical, or professional topics with fellow saints. That’s my experience, at least. So while I don’t disagree with what you say, the problem is what I hear on Sunday.

    I think a healthy day off from church from time to time can be of use, but it depends on what you do with that time off.

    Our family normally skips Stake Conf. This way, we get twice a year off, without feeling guilty over scrambling to get substitutes for our callings. We did however attend this last Stake Conf so go figure.

    I think it’s sad people don’t like SS. That’s my favorite class. I feel that, the way SS focuses on the scriptures, I’m bound to at least open them in class, or at least hear the name of Christ mentioned. There’s not guarantee of that in the other meetings, even though it seems like it should be.

    I’m now the Primary pianist and loving it! No guilt lists, no political agendas, and a very nice spirit in there most of the time.

  22. There is a strong assumption that church-goers are united in their central beliefs and that belief is the main motivating factor behind church attendance. I think that we need to acknowledge that there are a couple or three competing worldviews within not only the membership, but also the leadership. This has historically been the case. Brigham Young and Orson Pratt openly disagreed with each other on a number of central doctrinal points. Hugh B. Brown was at loggerheads with Harold B. Lee over blacks and the priesthood. I suspect that Boyd K. Packer and Dieter F. Uchtdorf have different worldviews as well. At the level of the membership worldview differences are even wider. A small minority of active LDS support gay marriage. Many LDS see the church institution as more temporal and less eternal.

    I would venture to say that people don’t share their testimonies with each other so much due to the fact that they hold different worldviews about what a testimony is supposed to be, how it is to be expressed, and the appropriate context in which to share it.

    In order to explain church attendance, I think we need to take into consideration social and cultural factors. Many attend because it is their source of friends or because they feel obligated to; they don’t want to offend people or sever relationships be not carrying out responsibilities. Many frequenters don’t necessarily share many core beliefs with the membership or even the leadership, and that difference sometimes makes it difficult to be there all of the time. And I really don’t think that less frequent attendance is solely attributable to a “bad attitude.” It certainly isn’t in my case. Rather, the prevailing ethos in the chapel just doesn’t resonate with many as much as it may others.

  23. I appreciate your latest coment Steve. I think maybe we have different definitions of the phrase ‘worldview.’ To me, a world view is the lens through which I filter everything in life. In that sense, I don’t think Hugh B Brown, Harold B Lee, President Uchtdorf or President Packer differ in their world views. They may have variations in their individual interpretations of the same world view, but that is different, in my humble opinion.

  24. This is a really helpful discussion. On offering “correction” or different points of view in SS, I have come around to seeing the need to do it more than I used to. That’s been highlighted by having a recently baptized member in the ward that really wants to understand the gospel. It’s been important to help him separate what, for example, the scriptures affirm from what is commonly taught on some lesser subjects. Does he have to believe this concept that is being taught as a matter of accepted Mormon belief, or not? Most of the time, unless what’s taught is just plainly wrong in terms of core doctrine, my comment will just be along the lines of “another way to think about that subject would be as described in [section whatever] . . . .” When he is not there (perhaps following some of the principles explained here), I find myself most often not making such comments because I’m not interested in putting the teacher on the spot on an issue that probably should not have come up in the first place. I respect people’s right to be just completely wrong, and have exercised that right on many occasions as well.

  25. Sometimes I don’t want to get out of bed and go to the gym. When I’m done however, I’m always glad I went.

  26. Cameron, I think we have the same definition of worldview. But I really do think that there is a difference in approach and interpretive framework among the church leadership; much like the Liahona/Iron Rod dichotomy that Richard D. Poll talks about.

  27. As for “correction” in Sunday School, I think that Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society are best understood as discussion forums where an exchange of ideas takes place (of course within the rubric of the rather narrow, but somewhat broadening, boundaries of correlation). Certainly some ideas are more cogent than others, but I reject the idea that someone can have the most “correct” understanding of the gospel. Different worldviews exist among members and I don’t think that one worldview is inherently superior to the other. It also doesn’t work just to cite scripture as a means of “correcting” people since the rank and file, and even the leadership, differ over how to understand the scriptures.

    My problem is that the “Iron Rod” Mormon worldview has tended to dominate the chapel and the “Liahona” worldview is consistently edged out. As a “Liahona” Mormon I find Sunday School, with its verse by verse approach to scripture, the most frustrating. Very literalist interpretations of scripture are often the norm there. PH/RS is better since it is more theme-based.

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