With all of the heavy conversations we’ve been having about the Old Testament and ordination and Otterson, I needed a little break. So now it’s time for something completely different…
A few years ago, I was the primary president, my husband was the first counselor in the bishopric, and my youngest son was 3 years old. For a couple of years then, that little guy spent a lot of his time naked. You see, he felt very strongly that in order to go to the bathroom, one must take off all of one’s clothes. He could not even stand to have socks on while attending to his business. The result of this was that I spent a lot of time in the public bathrooms of libraries, parks, and restaurants holding a little bundle of clothes and shoes, waiting and waiting for the leisurely little guy to move it on along so I could get him dressed and get back to whatever it was we were doing.
So this particular Sunday was the day the primary presidency was speaking. My first counselor was giving her talk, and then the children were singing, and then it was my turn. But during her talk, the little guy suddenly announced that he “had to go to the bathroom right now!” Remember, this is a small person who has no sense of getting things done quickly. I wasn’t sure for how much longer my counselor would be speaking, and then the kids were going to sing, and I was assisting the chorister, and really, the song was short. So I did the best I could: I sent the 10 year old to the bathroom with him, with firm instructions to “make sure he gets all of his clothes back on.”
They headed off. I tried to listen to the rest of the talk, but honestly, I was watching the clock and wondering how long it would be until they made it back, or if they would even be back before I got up to speak.
A few minutes later, my 10 year old huffed back into the pew and thrust a bundle of clothes and shoes at me. “He wouldn’t put them back on!” I leaned into the aisle and looked to the back of the chapel. You see, we were sitting in the second row, right up at the front, so I wouldn’t have to go far from the kids when I got up to speak. And all the way at the back of the room, I saw him strolling down the aisle, wearing nothing but a Curious George t-shirt and his glory be.
He loved Curious George at this phase in his life, and wanted to wear one of his three George shirts all the time. And like most small boys, he abhorred church clothes. Looking back, I realize it was a tender mercy that I didn’t push the clothing issue that morning before church and allowed him to keep the Curious George shirt on with his church clothes. Had I done so, we may well have crossed that line between having a child walking half naked in front of the entire congregation and striding fully buff before the Lord.
And I exaggerate. The entire congregation didn’t see him. Just half of it. And by another bit of grace, my counselor who was speaking at the time didn’t notice a thing. Completely oblivious, she attributed to stirring of the congregation to an unexpected level of engagement and attention to her talk.
In the meantime, the kid is walking along, taking his sweet time. I glanced up to the stand to see if I could look to my husband for any help. That was a vain thought. He and the bishop were doing everything they could to not break and laugh out loud. Both were red in the face, covering their mouths with their hands, trying to duck down behind the podium to hide their shaking bodies. I think there may have been tears.
There are moments in time where you ought to be mortified and painfully embarrassed, but because there isn’t a thing you can do about it, you just go ahead and let yourself enjoy the ridiculousness of the situation. This has happened to me at church before. It was a few months after we moved to our branch on Long Island and the older two kids were singing in the primary program. My husband had been conscripted to play the piano, so I was sitting alone in the congregation, watching the program. The kids had practiced singing Follow The Prophet or Book of Mormon Stories, or one of those songs with a million verses. Each kid was to sing one verse, with all of them singing the chorus. But they hadn’t practiced with the microphone, so when my daughter’s verse ended, she wasn’t prepared to give up the mike for the chorus. My son was to sing the next verse, and he wanted that microphone in his hot little hands as soon as possible. They ended up facing off, hands around each other’s throats, glaring murder into each other eyes, microphone forgotten. And there wasn’t a thing I could do about it but shrug my shoulders and laugh.
The little guy finally arrived. As soon as he was within reach, I whipped him into the pew as fast as I could and started stuffing him into his clothes. The talk ended, the children sang, and then I had to stand up and speak.
I’ve often heard that imagining your audience naked is a good way to ease the nerves of an anxious public speaker. I’ve never remembered to try that strategy, but I can tell you that actually seeing your child parade half naked in front of the audience is not an effective nerve calming strategy. It is, however, a fantastic ice breaker, and after thanking my primary teachers, especially the Sunbeam teachers who loved my little handful of a kid every single Sunday, I was able to settle into my previously planned remarks.
So there you have it. A Sunday from almost 4 years ago that my son mercifully cannot remember, but one that my congregation will never forget. Stories like this get repeated at ward parties for years, become part of the collective lore. The telling and retelling for our community identity, bind us together in humor and commiseration and friendship.
What are your unforgettable church stories? What tales do you swap around the potluck table?
Years ago a catholic friend of ours was visiting and he accepted an invitation to go to church with us. One of the youth speakers was a neighbor boy who was speaking on avoiding profanity. We suspect he had been given that topic because he needed help in such avoidance. At some point in his talk he lost his place in his pages of notes and began shuffling through them almost frantically trying to find the next thing he was supposed to read. In frustration he said under his breath, “Oh shi_.” Unfortunately his mouth was about an inch from the microphone and he may as well have shouted that mild profanity. The congregation, including our friend could not muffle their laughter. The experience is priceless as a family story, probably in many other families besides our own. The visit did not serve as any impetus toward conversion for our catholic friend but I suspect that had nohing to do with the youth speaker’s mishap.
About 7 years ago my family was at an outlet mall. I took my two oldest sons to the restroom. They were 6 and 4 years old. The younger son had developed a phobia of “magic toilets” (ie, autoflush) because sometimes while sitting he would shift his position, trip the sensor, and flush the toilet, which scared him. This day, the only available stall was autoflush. I sat him down and he timidly asked, “dad, is this a magic toilet?” Needing to also use the facilities, I lied, “no, you’ll be fine.” I watched him for a few seconds until I was comfortable that he would not change positions. Then I left to use the urinal. My oldest son had already finished and was waiting at the door (this being a public restroom the door was jammed open).
As you can expect, no lie goes unpunished. Just as I was in a position that I could not myself leave the urinal, I hear the autoflush engage, followed by my youngest son yelling “YOU LIED!!!!!” and running stark naked out of the stall, through the restroom, and out the front door. In a panic I called to my oldest son for help. With a straight face he said, “sorry dad, you’re on your own for this one.”
“Oh crap” isn’t quite the same as “Oh shi_,” but at least one member of my family has accidentally let that slip out over the pulpit.
And those autoflush toilets are the worst! Especially the really loud, powerful ones. We finally learned to drape a bit of toilet paper over the sensor so it wouldn’t flush until the little guy was ready. And I have to say, your older son handled that perfectly.
The lady who was converted to the church by a talking hummingbird, and who told us so in testimony meeting.
The guy who started quoting Brigham Young’s most famous racist remark in testimony meeting and was shut down by our shy bishop (to our surprise).
A nervous youth speaker whose talk heavily featured the word “Gentiles” but who instead pronounced it “genitals” every single time. To the ward’s credit, there was no audible laughter and the speaker didn’t know until years later what she’d done. Because I told her. Because I’m a jerk.
I’ve heard tell of a funeral speaker uttering a loud profanity over the pulpit and then pulling out a camera to capture the reaction.
The youth speaker who was giving a talk about the ten commandments, but obviously hadn’t read all ten carefully in advance, who started reeling off the list of things we shouldn’t covet until he stopped short right after “nor his ox”–then shrugged his shoulders, said, “oh, well, that’s what it says here” and proceeded to “nor his ass.”
Wife and I in testimony meeting. Woman gets up and tells how they had to decide between paying tithing or some bill. They paid the tithing. The very next day she and her husband stop on the side of the road for a car that is pulled over. Turns out it is abandoned with nobody around. But there on the seat is an envelope with the exact amount of money they needed for the bill. She knows paying tithing brings blessings. I look at my wife and ask, “did she just admit to stealing money from a broken down car?” Through a stifled laugh she answers, “Yes, yes she did!”
Wife always tells how her dad was falling asleep on the stand as part of the bishopric one day. Mom wanted to help wake him up and sent her little sister (6 at the time) to sit on his lap which would wake him. Sister gets half-way there and shouts, “WAKE UP DAD!!” and turns and walks back to mom.
I was in a Bishopric many years ago and my wife decided during that period of time, the rest of the family would sit in the front row, directly in front of me. I guess she thought I could send the evil eye look to whichever of the 5 kids was acting up and that person would straighten up. One day, one of the young teenage girls was acting up. I sent the usual message in a look her way. In return, I received a cocked head, twisted lips sort of smile that shouts “I’m the queen here and anyway, what exactly can you even do about it now, Bishopric member”? I leaned over to the Bishop and said something to the effect of “Bishop, I try to avoid what I now have to do but I can’t let this one slide.” He just nodded and I came down off the stand and turned left to exit the nearest door. Once in the hall, I cracked open the door ever so slightly, waited until she was looking at me, and gave her the ‘come here’ finger motion. Unfortunately, at that precise moment, the wife of the ward clerk, who was seated in the same line of sight, also saw me and pointed to herself and mouthed the word “me”? Then I had to motion “no”, hoping she wasn’t at that time questioning what sort of person I really was. Finally, I did manage to get the daughter into the hallway and read her the riot act. Fortunately for me, the stressful moment was not on display to the vast majority of the congregation. If only the rest of you were so lucky.
Fun post, Rachel. My grandparents lived in northern Idaho ranching country early in their marriage, and their little boys loved hanging around the cowboys, who would give them cigarette butts and teach them colorful language. Grandpa, not LDS at the time, had been raised by a strict Methodist mother and was quite straitlaced (more so than Grandma’s Mormon family). They decided it was time to move after an incident in church: when an uncle took the baby to carry him forward and bless him, the 5-year-old stood up on the bench and yelled, “You give my brother back, you son of a %$#!”
One day in Primary when my daughter was about 5, sharing time was on different members of our family and what they do. The leader doing Sharing Time asked “What do fathers do in families?” My daughter’s hand shot in the air and she blurted out “They have the sperm to make the babies!” All of the teachers simultaneously turned red and started trying not to laugh. Most of the kids were oblivious as far as I could tell.
In her last year of life my Grandma came to live with us. She was just developing the first signs of dementia and was constantly calling my brother Steve by the name of “Lester.” No one in our family knew a Lester.
Anyway, after a few months of attending Sacrament Meeting with us we decided we might have to revisit the idea, when, in the middle of a particularly long and tedious talk given by a shy and quiet fellow, my Grandmother blurted out loudly, calling to my father, “Joe! This man is boring! When is he going to be done?”
Waves of jerking shoulders cascaded through the congregation as most people were trying their best not to laugh out loud.
Meanwhile, at that moment in my life, I realized that being old with dementia has its upside—perfect, unobstructed honesty.
One testimony meeting, an elderly man who was just passing through the ward that day took the stand and began monologuing about his recent visit to the Holy Land. As his tour bus pulled up to the Israeli side of the River Jordan, of course, the tour leader mentioned that Jesus had been baptized there and that many tourists took the opportunity to be baptized themselves on site.
At this, the man raised his hand and announced he had the authority to baptize.
And he baptized the entire tour bus.
I grew up in a ward with several deaf families, so there was always an ASL interpreter stationed at the front of the chapel to sign for them. At age 12 I was assigned my first sacrament meeting talk and apparently spoke faster and faster as I grew more and more nervous. About 3/4 of the way through my talk, the interpreter snatched a tissue out of the box on the pulpit and waved it in the air as a flag of surrender until the bishop stood up and whispered to me that I needed to slow down. I moved away 15 years ago and still haven’t lived that one down.
After returning from her 5th mission my grandmother gave a talk about how women in the church these days are being wicked – mainly having children later in life than when she did, and being employed to some degree. But not only that, she starts out her talk by saying that in researching this topic she couldn’t find any scriptural references, manual quotes, or general conference talks to back up her talk; and yet she gave it anyway. When she was done the Bishop already had the Handbook of Instructions ready to go, and read a couple of choice sections that he thought the congregation needed to hear.
One would think that in between not having any references beyond what her father told her some 50+ years ago, and having the Bishop correct her that she’d realize that some of her principles might not line up with church teachings. But apparently not, because a few weeks later at four in the morning she emailed her talk out to her “wayward” granddaughter and granddaughter-in-laws.
These are fantastic stories, people. Every one of them makes my day a little better.
For 6 years, my husband had the much coveted calling of primary pianist. He loved that he could listen to all of the crazy and profound things the kids say, but had no responsibility for trying to force them to be reverent and learn something. One of his favorite moments was when a member of the primary presidency was trying to get one of the older smart alec kids to behave. “Is this how you would act if Jesus were here? He knows all of your thoughts and actions.” His rejoinder: “So why act?” My husband found that profound in an almost koan sort of way. The depth of the statement was lost on the nice member of the primary presidency.
I was in Elders’ Quorum shortly after the potty-training of our toddler had gotten well underway, when there was a knock at the door, which then opened to reveal the nursery leader with my toddler in tow, who diplomatically whispered to me that he had to go to the bathroom. Our son had other ideas about diplomacy, and announced with an exuberant smile and in his loudest voice possible, “Daddy! I have to POOP!”
Our other son once managed to climb under the pew and pull off his pants. When he stood back up and we saw that he had no pants, rather than let us put them back on him, he threw them onto the head of the brother in the pew in front of us, a shy brother who we had only talked to in passing.