Church Hop: Community of Christ

CoCtemple

(This series of posts is by an anonymous couple who’ve decided to launch an experiment: a summer of church hopping. Every post will include the perspectives of each in a “she said/he said” format.)

She Said:

I’ll admit it—after just a few weeks of church hopping, I’m starting to feel exhausted. The anxiety of visiting a new church every week is taxing. I didn’t expect it to be this hard. There’s the worry that I’m getting people’s hopes up that we’ll actually come back; there’s the simple fear of the unknown, which I try to tackle with sheer curiosity; and there’s the social anxiety of meeting new people week after week. I begin to long for the familiar.

My kids have been longing for the familiar as well. “When are we going back to our normal church?” This is a question they’ve asked almost weekly, until last week. I finally had the guts to tell them that our normal church makes Mommy sad. Of course they asked why, and so I explained, as simply as I could, the LDS view on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, how those views affect their own grandma. “Well that’s not very nice!” was their ultimate conclusion. Since then, they haven’t asked when we’re going back to our normal church.

A Primary teacher approached my older daughter a few days ago at a park. My husband was a little ways off, but he assumes the Primary teacher asked her why she hadn’t been at church because he heard my daughter say, “We moved on from that church because girls can’t marry girls and boys can’t marry boys and that makes my mom sad.” How quickly kids absorb.CoCtemple2

Which brings me to this Sunday’s adventure. We had to drive quite a ways to find a Community of Christ meetinghouse, but it was a lovely drive through pastures of buttercups watched over by old barns. When we finally arrived at the church, my husband and I felt daunted by the small number of cars in the parking lot. We nearly lost our nerve.

Even though the Community of Christ is something of a distant LDS cousin, the service felt nothing at all like an LDS service. A female visiting seventy led us through hymn after hymn, none of which were familiar. I wasn’t expecting “Come, Come Ye Saints,” but maybe “The Spirit of God” would be sung? Not so. No mention was made of Joseph Smith. No mention of their current prophet, President Stephen M. Veazey, or his teachings. The focus was on God and Christ. Overall, it felt like a very Protestant service. The only thing that was vaguely Mormony was a reading from Doctrine & Covenants that mentioned the restoration.

After the service we were approached by just about every person in the chapel (there were only twenty or so folks there), all wanting to personally welcome us, invite us back, invite us over for lunch, invite us to ask questions, etc. There was a kind of bleak but kind desperation edging their voices. The bins full of activities for children attested to their hopefulness for an infusion of young blood, despite the fact that there were only four children present (half of which were ours). I felt pained that we would probably be letting these good people down, even though I felt uplifted by the service. CoCtemple3

He Said:

Imagine that you met up with a cousin that you hadn’t seen since childhood. When you were kids, you both had similar upbringings and interests, but your choices as adults have taken you on divergent paths, so it’s fun to catch up on things. It allows you to imagine what your life would have been like if you had done things a little differently.

Watching John Hamer’s video presentation on the history of the Community of Christ felt a lot like meeting up with that long-lost cousin. Both the “Brighamite” church that I grew up in and the Community of Christ have a shared origin, but their choices since the split have led them in sharply different directions. A side-by-side comparison of these choices doesn’t make the Utah church look good: they were way ahead of us on the rejection of polygamy and the extension of priesthood to blacks and women. While the LDS church continues to cling to an increasingly untenable insistence on the absolute veracity of the Book of Mormon, the C of C has adopted a more open view of scripture, as expressed here. These stances haven’t led the C of C to the type of power and wealth that Salt Lake controls, but they have made it, in my view, a good church.

The C of C’s choices have also made it more Protestant in appearance. All of the churches that we have visited so far this summer have come from the Protestant tradition in some way except this one, but none of their services have felt quite so Protestant as the C of C’s did today. Other than the fact that the guest minister was a Seventy, and that she read from Doctrine and Covenants 163 (not in the LDS edition!), there was nothing to really distinguish her sermon from what you would see in a Protestant service. I don’t think this is wrong, but it did correct the impression I had that it was going to be somewhat similar to LDS services. Cousins don’t always look alike!

I can’t help but think, though, that if C of C services had a more Mormon flavor, it could help increase their numbers by attracting those of us who grew up in the LDS church, but are drawn to the C of C’s more progressive policies. If the congregation we visited is any indication, the C of C is in trouble. I honestly thought we had wandered into a rest home, but it was actually a worship service. It just so happened that practically all of the twenty or so people there were in their 70s or 80s. They were very excited to see a younger family show up! They were dear, sweet people who made us feel very welcome. I went expecting to find long-lost cousins, and instead found long-lost grandaunts and uncles. Makes me wonder where my generation has gone.