Q: “What do you do when you find yourself in a boring sacrament meeting?”
A (Pres. Spencer W. Kimball): “I don’t know. I’ve never been in one.” (See Donald L. Hallstrom, “Converted to His Gospel through His Church,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 15).
Really? Not once? Did you leave? Do you just never go to sacrament meeting? No?…well, I can’t say the same. And, pretty sure I’m not alone in feeling much differently than Pres. Kimball (I guess that’s why he was a prophet and I’m not…). Sometimes Church is just dreadfully dull. Painfully so, even. I mean, it seems practically inevitable if you go to Church for 3 hours every week, 52 weeks a year, for your entire life that at least a handful of those hours will be boring. So, since my experience seems to differ drastically from that of Pres. Kimball, what lies at the root of my boredom? What can I do to prevent boredom from tainting what should be a spiritually uplifting experience?
There are a few reasons that I can find Church boring. And here we go:
There’s a lot that I could say here. I think under prepared and poorly structured lessons are a plague killing potentially meaningful discussions all over the place. This is partially due to the manuals and correlation (damn you, you scourge of free-thinking!), but also to the realities of having a lay ministry. Beyond the problems of poor teaching, the lessons themselves are not designed for me (or maybe I’m just too proud to recognize how much I need them…it’s a toss-up). The focus is on simple, basic Gospel truths, which is perfectly understandable. But, I just can’t hear clichéd lessons about faith and seeds, where questions are asked that need to be answered with “scriptures! Prayer! Go to Church!” or heaven-forbid the footprints or starfish poem is read, without rolling my eyes and snarking off. That sort of discussion may be comforting and uplifting to some and I get that I’m in the minority, so I try to find value there as well, but I personally feel most spiritually edified when wrestling with the ambiguities and complexities of the scriptures (or Church history or doctrine), trying to reconcile things that seem at odds. Needless to say, Church rarely provides me with those opportunities, so I feel a bit bored.
Three hours is a long time. Especially when no one’s prepared, I’m in a bad mood, and all I can think about is the food I’m not eating. To be honest, I usually don’t notice how long Church is (benefits of going practically every Sunday for 24 years, I suppose), but when I do feel it, it’s bad. (You probably already know, or could guess, that I’m all for shortening Church. No sacred three-hour block in my eyes.)
There seems to be this idea that reverence necessitates silence (or at least quiet) and simple (read: boring) presentations. I don’t think this is the case. I fully believe that we can be reverent at all times and that the defining facet of reverence is doing things with God in mind.
Honestly, I can sometimes just have a terrible attitude that ruins the entire experience for me. That’s one-hundred percent on me. And it only exacerbates the other factors. Usually I can still find some value, but man, some Sundays it feels like the entire ward is conspiring against me.
Related to the problem of attitude, is when I have the expectation that everything should be done the way I would do it. I can be rather opinionated, so things are rarely done exactly as I would do them. This is most evident in my response to lessons and talks. I tend to disagree with things that people say/teach (just gotta be contrary, guys, give me a break…) and like I mentioned in the “Lessons” section, find value in ‘deep discussions.’ So if I expect Church to cater to ME, then I usually leave disappointed. I don’t really need Church to fill that need—I have my own personal scripture study and friends that I interact with that can fill that void. Church is meant to be a community fit for EVERYONE (at least as a believer in big-tent Mormonism, I sure-as-hell better advocate for a space that fits all people, not just my fellow ProgMo-Intellectual-ambiguity-loving peeps).
Now, what can I (or you if you’re with me in the Church-can-be-dreadful camp) do to improve my Church-going experience?
Like I wrote about General Conference, snark is my saving grace. This seems counter-intuitive and may not work for everyone, but when I let myself be snarky, I enjoy Church more and legitimately have more spiritual insights. I guess it’s just how I work. I’m not really a goofy person, but I think few things should be exempt from humor. I tend to laugh at all sorts of things (which can be quite awkward) and being snarky is simply how I live.
I started bringing fruit snacks to Church throughout winter semester and it drastically improved my experience. Sure everyone looked at me like I was a three-year old with Cheerios, but we all know that they were just jealous of my snacks. I haven’t found anything that’s ruined by bringing snacks along, so I’m a firm believer in having snack food for practically all activities. It’s the little things you know? I mean, if things get really bad I can just have my dinosaur (or shark) fruit snacks battle it out to distract me from the mind-numbing lesson that I should be paying attention to.
When I have a great day at Church I have usually been striving to understand the beliefs and perspectives of those around me. I’ve forgotten about myself and am seeking understanding. This makes Church an intellectual puzzle for me, which can be frustrating, but also delightful. If I’m going to complain about what other Mormons think/do/believe, then I figure I should do my best to understand where they‘re coming from and the points of divergence from my own understanding. This isn’t always on a macro level, since the diversity of opinion on an issue can be wide-ranging among more traditional Mormons as well as the more unorthodox.
If I can engage by providing a different perspective or sharing a personal insight then I usually feel better. I try not to dominate any given lesson (even if I have oodles to share), which usually isn’t hard, since I tend to stick to myself. But, trying to work in my thoughts in a constructive way that builds on the atmosphere that’s been established and provokes thought and introspection can be a challenge as well that allows me to feel like I’m doing something productive with my time at Church.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Eugene England’s essay “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel,” which was paradigm shifting for me. The main idea is that the Church is the perfect method for us to perfect ourselves by forcing contact and interaction with those that are different. So, since I am fairly spiritually independent, if I think about Church as a way for me to reach out to and serve others, rather than a place that’s meant to nourish MY spirit MY way, I can have a better experience.
Yeah, Church can be boring. Often is. But if I do my part, I may not be able to stop the boredom, but I can find value in it. I still love Mormonism and Church (usually). Maybe one day I’ll be able to say that it’s been years since I went to a boring Church meeting, but that day is not this day. This day I snark. With snacks.