It is my opinion that having some familiarity with various religious movements and worship services that differ significantly from one’s own is helpful in promoting inter-religious dialogue and understanding. To that end, I have visited several services of Christian and non-Christian sects, and have found the experiences very interesting. In this series, I offer a preview as to what to expect for the benefit of those who are considering doing likewise.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Mormon Sunday meetings take place in a “church” meetinghouse called either a “ward” or a “branch” depending on size – not a “temple.” A Mormon temple is for specific rituals and is open only to Mormons who have obtained a “temple recommend” from their Bishop. Churches are open to visitors.
Suits and formal wear are mostly what you will see on the men and even children. Women wear dresses or skirts. Modest clothes should be worn in any case. There is no childcare or separate nursery or Sunday School for kids – so if you bring them, they will sit with you.
There are three main parts to a Mormon service: The first major worship service is called “Sacrament Meeting” which lasts a bit over an hour. This is followed by “Sunday School” (divided by age) and then “Priesthood” class (for men) and “Relief Society” (for women). When you enter you’ll probably get a program of the service. Just go in and sit down in a pew. Children attend Sacrament Meeting with their parents, so keep that in mind if you bring yours.
The service is not very different externally than many Protestant services. Announcements are made, songs are sung out of hymn books, members say opening and closing prayers, and messages are delivered (but not by a “pastor” – see below). Services are a bit more casual (in action if not dress) than one might expect, however.
The church’s “Bishop” usually introduces the service and conducts some church business (baby blessings, position changes, etc.), but instead of a pastor giving a sermon, lay persons will speak on given topics and personal testimonies are often shared as well. Other than singing and saying “Amen” at the end of a talk, the sacrament meeting is quite passive (no clapping afterward!).
“Communion” takes the form of bread and water (wine was used originally, but following a later revelation to Joseph Smith recorded in D&C 76:2 and the 1833 Word of Wisdom, water replaced wine). Visitors are not expected to participate in this (nor should you if you are not LDS), so just pass the trays as they come by. Speaking of passing, there are, conveniently, no collection plates passed during the service.
After a closing hymn and prayer this part of the three-part service is over, and the large group breaks into Sunday School classes sorted by age / gender (keep that in mind if you bring a friend). At this point you may attend a class (“Gospel Essentials” is probably the best for visitors) or simply leave. For the full experience you may also attend either the family-oriented Priesthood (men) or Relief Society (women) classes afterward.
For more of what to expect in Mormon worship, try these helpful links:
- http://maps.lds.org (meetinghouse finder)