This evening I sang the Faure Requiem as part of the special 9/11 Evensong service at San Diego's Episcopal cathedral. I couldn't help but be struck by the contrast between how I felt as I stood in front of the altar and sang that beautiful music, and how I'd felt in countless Mormon sacrament meetings.
Much in Mormon tradition and leaders' preaching slams traditional Christianity as "apostate" and, as exemplified by Bruce McConkie, makes a huge and angry fuss over things like stained glass and incense and vestments and ceremony and all that. I guess it's supposed to be self-evident that all those things are evidence of Satanic corruption and confirmation of Whore of Babylon status or something.
Well show me chapter and verse in the Mormon scriptural canon that requires the type of Sunday services the Mormons use. Other than the sacrament prayer. Oh yeah, that's what I thought. It's nowhere in Mormon scriptures either. Where'd it come from, then? Most Mormon don't realize that it was Brigham Young who set the pattern for Mormon worship services still used today, and that those services represent Young's New England Congregationalist upbringing and preferences. Very basic, simple stuff. No liturgy, no high church trappings. That's what Brigham Young liked, so that's what the Mormons use.
But over the last 20 years or so, I've noticed something. And it's not just me, either, I'm seeing people all over the Bloggernacle remark about it. Mormon services have become unendurably boring. Bereft of spirit and inspiration. The spiritual sclerosis induced by Correlation made going to church a chore for me years before I actually left. And the kids would do nothing but read or sleep through sacrament meeting and eventually began begging me not to make them even do that. Finally I realized that my time was far better spent giving them attention than sitting with them and sharing boredom and drowsiness on a Mormon chapel's back bench every Sunday. So we stopped attending and haven't been back. And family life's far better.
So today, as I stood in front of the altar at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral and sang that ethereally beautiful music in memory of the victims of 9/11--who I'm sure barely warranted a mention in Mormon sacrament meetings today--I couldn't help but be struck by the contrast. The church I was raised in came to feel like a sterile, pointless collection of automatons who assembled each week in a plain boxy room to go through the same rote, boring business meeting punctuated by songs sung abysmally with minimum enthusiasm. Nobody new ever turned up. There were two convert baptisms in the 4+ years I attended that ward. It was like everybody was on autopilot. A little cocoon of robots, unconnected to the outside world, all dutifully repeating the same things week after week. Including the guilt for not doing better and not achieving more. The only time I saw anybody really worked up there was during the Prop 8 campaign when they all suddenly sprang to full, vitriolic, angry, rumor-mongering, homophobic life. The longer I was there, the more disconnected I felt.
But when I stood there today in front of the altar at St. Paul's, singing that beautiful music, I felt connected in so many ways that I never did in any Mormon setting. Connected to everyone around me who obviously understood and knew and appreciated this music just as I did. Connected to the greater liturgical tradition of the church in which I sang and to the literally centuries' worth of people who'd found meaning and purpose in that form of worship. Connected to those lost on 9/11 in whose memory we sang the Requiem as a memorial and prayer for God's mercy on them. Connected to every American who paused today to remember the victims and how the world changed ten years ago. I was part of something vast, that reached out across the country, that reached back centuries in time. It was awe-inspiring and gratifying in ways I can't imagine ever being possible in today's Mormon sacrament meetings.
After the services ended and the bishop pronounced the benediction, those of us in the choir--all dressed in black--filed slowly down the aisle of the cathedral as the waning day's sunlight streamed through the great rose window's stained glass and right into our eyes. And once again, I felt connected. Very much part of something larger, something that resonated in my heart and stirred me as deeply as anything has. For me, at least, there really is something to the symbolism of a celebrants' procession in and out of the cathedral. It tells everyone "Hey! Pay attention! Something special is about to happen!" or "Hey, be reverent! You've been taught and inspired, and now it's time to reflect as you leave." I was just one of many voices who'd all joined together in worship and memorial, singing music of the highest quality in a setting truly inspiring.
This was the kind of setting and atmosphere that really felt like home. Not some barely organized plain-jane routine mish-mash of apathetic songs and rote "talks" re-hashed from somebody else's re-hash of somebody else. For me, at least, it was real worship, real memorial, real connection to the wider world. In a beautiful setting, with truly inspiring music, and surrounded by people that I knew cared about me not because of my home teaching statistics or anything like that, but simply because I was there, sharing faith with them.
So Brigham Young and Bruce McConkie, you know what you can do with your criticisms of "apostate" Christianity. I'm finding a lot more inspiration there than I ever found in what you concocted and defended. By their fruits ye shall know them, remember?