20 A Mormon in the Cheap Seats: Half a Church

I had a “half-a-church” moment the other day.  It was Christmas Eve and we were at an evening service at another church. I looked up and saw two young women–they were probably 12 or 13–helping to officiate in one of the rituals. I was startled by the image.

I thought of another image. I thought of my twelve-year-old daughter taking the sacrament from a twelve-year-old boy.  There he is, in white shirt and tie, doing his small part in the administration of an important ritual.  He’s experiencing something bigger than himself–something he doesn’t fully understand, but that’s swept him up in its current.  Passing the sacrament makes him, in a small way, a part of the infrastructure of the religion. Part of its scaffolding. This is an apprenticeship and it’s important because the door to authority stands open to him. He has things to learn. He has responsibilities now.

My daughter, who in other settings is stubborn and fearless, sits quietly in the pew and carefully takes the tray from the boy.  She doesn’t make eye contact.  She senses what all Mormon women, sooner or later, come to realize.  It is not her place to pass the sacrament, but to receive it.  Her place is to support and prop up, to encourage. Her husband will baptize her children.  She’ll stand in the background and watch, and then wrap them in a towel as they come up out of the font to keep them warm.  She’s not part of the framework of things, although she must find a way to attach herself to it.  There is no apprenticeship, no open door. She may carve out a space to contribute, but it will always be subject to review–always “under the direction of.”

I have brought my daughter, dressed up and nervous with anticipation, gift in hand, to a birthday party where the boys will decide what games to play and what the rules will be (and after the party is over, she’ll be expected to do the dishes).

In that moment, I see the church–our church–as half a church.

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