By Marcia Horn Noyes
Even though I have friends who are Mormon and some that have even left the Mormon Church, I know very little about the LDS faith. It’s been a curiosity of mine for some time and is one of the churches that I would be least likely to visit, so thus…a stretch for me. That’s due in part to my perception that I’d somehow be bombarded with questions and future missionary knocks upon my door. In this blog, you may be surprised at how wrong my perceptions have been.
Sunday #2 – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Stone Oak Ward, 645 Knights Cross, San Antonio, TX 78260
Why This Church?
You can’t live near the Stone Oak area of San Antonio without marveling at the architectural wonder of the LDS Temple located at Stone Oak Parkway and Hardy Oak Boulevard. Built in 2005, the building sits on 5.5 acres and has a gold temple spire that shines brightly under the Texas sun. As LDS Temples go, this is not where regular Sunday church services are held.
In trying to get some sense of what to expect at an LDS service, I called a Mormon friend who told me I should dress in a skirt and blouse or something like that. I mentioned not knowing much about Mormons, only that much of what took place was veiled in secrecy. I was quickly corrected and told that it wasn’t secret; it was sacred. To me, anything that is not completely transparent to other individuals is secret, but I won’t quibble on that nuance. Instead, today I attended my first LDS church service at the Stone Oak Ward (apparently churches are divided into Wards versus parishes or something else).
Preconceived Notions About Mormon Churches
- People would be dressed more conservatively.
- I wouldn’t be let out of the building without handing over my name, email and phone number (I already had a plan for this. I’d only give out my address, because the subdivision I reside in is behind iron gates).
- The service would be rather austere.
- The congregation might be rather “white bread,” as a friend of mine calls those gatherings of people who are predominately Caucasian and stay to themselves.
Once again, I pushed the arrival time to the last minute. As I drove into the parking lot, I didn’t find the hoped for RESERVED FOR FIRST TIME GUESTS parking space. Oh well. The parking lot had many spaces still open though. When I parked, I looked down to find a Diet Coke sitting in the holder. That would surely earmark me as an outsider if anyone took a glance inside my teeny weeny Smart car. I’d first heard of the Mormons from learning more about the Osmond’s and at that time that they didn’t drink anything with caffeine – no coffee, no tea, no Coke, no TAB. I knew years ago I’d never become Mormon for that reason alone. If I gave up TAB, a whole Coca-Cola bottling plant would likely have to be shut down and that would cause hundreds to lose their jobs. I’m often told that I’m the only person that still drinks that stuff, so I’m keeping doors open by drinking TAB and not joining the Mormon faith.
Unlike last week, this LDS church had no sign-in table for first-time guests, Phewww. As I walked in and took a seat in the middle of the back pew, an organ played in the background, giving more the feeling of a funeral instead of church service. Those sounds coupled with the sight of men outfitted in suits and ties, women in skirts and dresses, and children dressed to the nines, ushered in great contrast to what I’d previously experienced last week. With no windows, a center pulpit and hymnals in the back of pews, this felt similar to the Baptist church I’d been raised in, versus what I perceived the LDS church to be like.
One thing I had previously been told certainly held true today – families sit together, all of them. The sanctuary was filled with children, from babies to teens. I expected extreme reverence in this service, but instead a dull background noise of childish chatter, from little “uh-ohs” to cries and wails permeated the place. A parent quickly silenced the louder wails by ushering the unhappy child from the service.
Hymns seemed to be the music of choice. I’d not heard any of them; I guess hymn composers arose from many different faiths back in the late 1800s and didn’t share those diddys between denominations.
From the pulpit, first-time visitors were welcomed with one uttered sentence. That’s it – no raised hand, form to fill out, stand up request or even a neighborly acknowledgement. As out-of-place as I felt, that was a welcomed treat.
After an invocation, announcements about Ward and State business filled a little time, and apparently everyone “manifests their approval by raising the right hand” to signify agreement of those young men going into the priesthood and also those individuals leaving their positions within the church.
Following that, a number of young boys got up in suits and ties and white starched shirts to pass around the Sacrament. (We call it The Lord’s Supper in the Baptist Church, and I believe also in Presbyterian services). The young men passed around freshly baked pieces of bread. Since I’m not Mormon, I didn’t know if I was supposed to partake, but since I currently eat a very low carb diet, I figured abstaining would be best. Once done, I contemplated what lie under the remaining white lace – grape juice or wine? What else could it be? Well, apparently neither grape juice nor wine; the LDS Church uses water to represent the blood of Christ – no Red Table Wine, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon!
Young women seemingly take their place in church by leading the music. The music leader today seemed very uninterested, and not into the hymns at all. As she missed the downbeat with her hand I wondered if the church cycles through the young girls performing this role. Perhaps this young lady just wasn’t a music lover, or maybe a lover of hymns at all.
After the Sacrament and music, a series of speakers, young and old took to the podium. We heard from local and state youth about the missionary work and then a High Council Speaker who quoted often from the D&C, which I had to look up to find that it meant the Doctrine and Covenants. I’m not sure that is the Book of Mormon or not, but the D&C does contain the revelations given to LDS Founder Joseph Smith. The High Council Speaker’s delivery was more read-out-of-the-book and less inspirational than what I expected, so I took to watching the members. Immediately, the extreme care and concern expressed between siblings struck me as sweet – school-aged boys holding pacifier-sucking baby brothers in their arms while young teens stroked the hair of younger girls in their families.
Post Service Commentary
For me, this sign of brotherly and sisterly love was worth seeing in person and well worth my time. Only one pulpit impression though: What do nursing home residents say when asked what they most regretted at the end of their lives. The answer: Not living up to their full potential. Impactful, powerful and something I think about often. As I slowly inch past that 50 year life mark, it’s something that comes to the surface more and more.
Most of my perceptions of the LDS Church were completely shattered today. Oddly enough, this church never had an offering passed. A church with no offering plate. Very odd! And even odder still, never once was I greeted, or introduced to anyone, going in or out of church. At this church, I walked in and out without one person shaking my hand or saying “hello.” So how does the LDS Church increase its growing San Antonio membership. My only guess is that those increases come from its well-known missionary outreach.
I take off my dress clothes, put on my boots and head to a Cowboy Church in Boerne. Thanks, Neal Barton for pointing me toward this church. Never knew Cowboy Churches existed. Neal tells me they baptize in a horse trough. That I gotta see! Cowboys must get up early; this service begins at 10:30. So, I’m going to saddle up and hope they have an up-front hitching post for first-time guests!