A St. John’s Christmas

Wow, in looking over my last posts, it looks like I am jumping ship on Mormonism and joining the Catholic church. That is not the case, but why spoil a good pattern.

Christmas (non-)Traditions

The Mormon church is very efficient. Most new congregational buildings are uniform and optimized. Leadership practices are codified in handbooks. And, worship services are plain and simple.

In a church with lay clergy, Handbook 2: Administering the Church, is essential in providing instruction on basic leadership structure and responsibilities. It is easy to understand, clearly written, and defines duties that can be executed by nearly anyone.

The reliance on untrained members for all local church responsibilities combines with austere efficiency and familial emphasis to create a unique Sunday worship environment. Each congregation also differs in available skills, experience, and talent, leading to some disparity of Sabbath experience. Some wards are quiet and peaceful, while others, (like my current congregation) are filled with the sounds and chaos of small children.

The LDS church was also founded at a time of Protestant austerity and retains this today in many respects. (See The Mormon Cross).

Audience: “Yeah, we get all that. But, what does that have to do with traditions?”

Well, what all this means is that we, as a church, have very few institutionalized Christian holiday (holy day) traditions. Specifically, we don’t have special Christmas or Easter (Paschal) services; we just combine any “special” programming into the regular Sunday worship.

I certainly grant that, depending on the local resources, this can be a wonderful program with beautiful music and inspiring sermons. But, it is nevertheless confined to the structure of a regular sacrament meeting. The only exception to this is the Frist Presidency Christmas Devotional.

In other words, while the rest of Christendom is recognizing a Christian holy day in their chapels, we are not. Or, at least we do not do so as a church body (but many families will have special family lessons and commemorative traditions).

Christmas Mass

Last year (2016), we attended a mid-night service at a local Bible church with a friend from that congregation. It was an interesting experience. It closed our Christmas eve with a devotional message and gave us an opportunity to reflect on the range of Christian worship expression.

For 2017, we considered repeating the Christmas eve event. At the recommendation of some other friends, we attended Christmas eve services at St. John’s Episcopal church, in Logan, UT. The formal services (as opposed to the family service) ran from 10:30 pm to just after midnight. My wife and I attended with two of our kids. A niece and sister-in-law heard that we were going and also joined us. Upon arrival, we found a former neighbor girl. Two other former neighbors were singing in the choir, and we recognized two other choir members. All combined that gave 11 Mormons (that we knew of) at the Episcopal mass that evening.

Audience: “So what did you think?”

There is always some discomfort when attending a different worship service. There are often a lot of cultural practices that can make the visitors stick. Fortunately, Rev. Sturgeon had ensured that the service was well documented in the program. Audience participation queues were printed, so we knew when to stand, sit, blow out our candles, sing, and so forth.

The choral and congregational music was familiar and enjoyable. St. John’s is a beautiful building with rich symbols and artwork that I would like to explore further. Rev. Sturgeon’s sermon presented a story exemplifying Christian love and values, not unlike you would hear in any Christian service.

For a low-church Mormon, the high-church liturgy was intriguing and I hope to learn more about the symbolism. I found the presentation of the Eucharist especially rich and I may speak more of this in another post. (here) All resulted in a wonderful experience that left us with much to think about and was a pleasant conclusion to our Sabbath day and Christmas eve.

Mormon Possibilities

The Mormon emphasis on families allows for—and even encourages—establishing home-based worship traditions. Arguably, this is the most powerfully effective environment for communicating meaningful spiritual truths and should not be neglected. Nevertheless, there is also a role and desire for community experience.

Handbooks 1 and 2 describe the administration of the church, but these are often seen as constraints rather than a foundation. In other words, we, as an LDS people, may feel that we are only allowed to do what is described within the handbooks or what a church leader has specifically assigned us. There is also a fear that any church activity outside of the regular programs might infringe on family time, which is understandable if it is not otherwise spent in front of the TV or PIG (Planar Image Generator).

So, my question:

Can an LDS congregation (or independently organized members) honor Christian holy days at the church building with a simple devotional on Christmas eve or Easter (attendance optional)?

Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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