LAURA: I listened to Saturday morning’s session of General Conference with interest. There were rumors in online Mormonland that this change to a 2-hour block was coming and so I wasn’t entirely surprised by it. I was surprised by the way it jumbled my feelings though.
As Pres. Nelson shared the story of a family who held church in their home, I felt grief and frustration. He shared how the husband was more careful about his language and tone in their home, knowing that it was under that roof he would bless the sacrament. Four years ago, I had friends who were excommunicated for doing the same. Although the surrounding circumstances were different, it was a painful reminder that the church is not the same wherever you go.
It has been almost four years since I regularly attended church. When I first began my sabbatical, I’d intended on it being temporary. My heart needed time to heal from the spiritual abuses endured by loved ones and the damage of fear-driven self-censorship. In the interim, the Policy of Exclusion was leaked and then safety concerns for my family have made the break semi-permanent.
However, as I listened to Elder Cook outline the new meeting block, my first thoughts were for my children and our relationship with churched Mormonism. I considered if this announcement would make space for us to return to church. Unfortunately, I was disappointed that these changes to the structure of the church weren’t accompanied with others – particularly training and background checks for Primary and youth leaders – and a General Conference-backed announcement regarding the invitation to parents to attend interviews with their children. I quickly realized that, although the church has cut down the risk to children simply by reducing the minutes they spend in Primary/youth classes, they are still at risk. I’m not willing to take that chance with my babies.
While Elder Cook talked about the “home-centered, church-supported” model, I thought back to my own faith journey. I wonder if the church is ready for the unintended consequences. It has not been that long since I sat with my stake president, scriptures open, asking him if the scriptures say this, why does the church that. Unfortunately, there are no answers for those kinds of questions.
If members actually take the charge to create a “home-centered, church-supported” faith, what will it mean for the Church? How many more members of the Church will find their experience with churched Mormonism unsupported by the scriptures? Is the Church ready to really support us as we study the essays and dig into the texts, see similarities between the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time and some of our own corporate-like leaders? Or will this program simply result in more unresolvable pain and more members leaving?
While the idea of a “home-centered and church-supported” and “adapted for individual circumstances” version of Mormonism is beautiful, I wonder what the limits are. History has shown me that church leaders often interpret devotion to the organization as an indicator of individual faith and a relationship with God. I tend to think a home-supported church is more likely than a church-supported home.
Along with this announcement came another, quieter one: the end of the formal Monday night-specific Family Home Evening. However, in exchange, church leaders, through Elder Cook, suggested that members use Sunday night for a home evening of scripture study and reserve Monday night as an activity night. Despite the caveat that this time should “be scheduled according to…individual circumstances,” I’ve heard of some overzealous leaders who are already pushing for exact implementation of suggested guidelines.
In my home growing up, it was my mom who organized and ensured Family Home Evening happened weekly, who initiated family scripture study, and who developed a culture of family prayer. I know this is true in many households and the emphasis for success of the “home-centered and church-supported” model of religious observance has already been placed at the feet of the mothers of the church and they feel it.
I’ve pondered about the announcement that church would be trimmed by an hour, but not the hour toughest on parents. I wondered about the moms whose only chance for a break of any kind was that one hour and 50 minutes each week. What will the cost be to them as that break will now be cut to a single hour?
I’ve also thought about how much relief other women might be feeling, particularly those with young kids who are also serving in Primary. For these women, church is not a break but instead another weight to their child-centered lives. I don’t know if church leaders see how much is carried by Mormon women in the care of our children.
I’ve wondered as well about the impact this will have on the single adults and childless couples within the church. I worry in the family-fixated church culture, they will be further forgotten. Despite encouragement that study groups are wholly appropriate, there is added workload to creating them for those who want them. While this kind of grassroots organization happens in churches all over Christendom, the peculiarities of Mormonism’s family-centric faith may create more isolation and loneliness for members whose “families” don’t fit the mold.
Finally, while I’ve pondered this change, I’ve thought again about my own family. The three-hour block has been incredibly hard on us as unchurched Mormons. Nearly every family visit includes an awkward three hours where we aren’t at church with our extended family and they aren’t at home with us. It is a welcome change to know that that’s been reduced by a third.
I’m sure I’m not the only Mormon who has complicated feelings about the change. I hope the church is prepared for the unintended consequences of the “home-centered and church-supported” Mormonism. I think it is far more reaching than we may realize right now.
Sisters Quorum exists to give voice to those who are not being heard and is seeking submissions. If you have a story to tell, SQ invites you to visit our submission page for guidelines.