**All names have been changed

The girls who live at the private school where I work are allowed to attend church on Sunday; surprisingly—or maybe not—-most enjoy this diversion and seem to be spiritually fed. I think they enjoy being with people who are warm and kind and able to hug them without the baggage of being their supervisor. (We’re not allowed to touch the girls, which is incredibly hard when they’re homesick or sad about something. However, I keep myself to a strict standard in this case because I don’t want to be accused of anything untoward).

I suppose their attitude is sort of like those who attend boot camp. They get a welcome rest and a chance to re-charge spiritual batteries. When they, like young Marine recruits, were back in the real world, they shunned their parents’ embraces and had no time to seek spirituality because they were (mostly) living selfish teenage lives and having a good time.

This tiny little town at the foothills of the mountains has several Mormon churches and one pretty small white church on Main Street, home now to a Methodist congregation. Many in town attend this church, no matter their avowed faith. The chapel is small, but cozy. There’s a rather large evangelical church on the other end of town that seems to have a large congregation, but no one at the school attends, so no one takes the girls there. Mostly, they attend the Methodist Church, where they are welcomed warmly and often, fed—a Sunday bonus all the girls look forward to! It’s real home cooking and they can pig out on brownies and fried chicken. (Our food is plentiful and nourishing, but it’s more institution food, IMHO).

There are, let me see—–there’s me, and Iris**and Kent**and Stephanie**I think us three are the only active Mormons in the crew who work at the school. There are some inactives and a lot of slightly (or not so slightly) resentful people of other faiths. Actually, some just drink and smoke and have a good time and don’t care about God one way or another, except to resent the one who’s made the Mormons of Parowan so damn judgemental and clique-y (and powerful in the way that majorities are).

Sarah**the former English teacher, used to take some girls to church at the Mormon Church, but she quit. I’d only begun to think that perhaps I should offer this opportunity to the girls when a new English came on-board who was active and offered to take girls who wanted to attend, to the Mormon Church.

I was pretty nervous for the girls. I knew, from attending so many other churches, that our meetings are different and I was concerned how they’d take us. But I was more concerned how we’d take them, how the girls would be treated. They have no Sunday clothes, they attend church in their levis and their school t-shirts; I was afraid those Mormon girls would be mean to them, as only Mormon teenage girls can be.

I worked the afternoon shift of the first Sunday they attended. The lone Mormon girl at our school had opted not to attend because of how badly she’d been treated in her home ward. So the teacher took a group of non-Mormon girls, in baggy levis, plastic clogs and wrinkled shirts to the three hour block of meetings. They wore no makeup, their hair up in ponytails, but they took with them their vast and varied intellectual and artistic ability; Mormon girls all prettied up have nothing on these girls when it comes to intellect or chutzpah.

The girls were largely quiet and non-committal when I asked about their experience. One said, “I liked it, everybody was nice and I thought it was fun.” The others said it was okay and everybody was nice to them—-perhaps because they sensed my maternal instincts would kick in and I’d have to go slap people around if anyone was rude.

However, one girl, Collin** said, “I thought it was weird.” When I asked her what she meant, she said, “I don’t know, people were nice, but it seemed more like a business meeting than church.”

I think I touched on this in an earlier comment this week, but I was so struck by her comment. When she said it, I laughed, and said, “Collin, you’ve hit the nail on the head! What a perfect description.”

I don’t think the early church meetings were business like in nature; I think the music and prayers and talks were heartfelt and inspiriational (although I wouldn’t, couldn’t sit through a four hour talk). I think there was an evangelical feel, a spiritual outpouring and uplifting that we lose in our modern day organized attempt to navigate through the Lord’s day.

Think about it. Compare, perhaps, church to a PTA meeting, or a city council meeting. What’s different? No songs. No sacrament. But that’s pretty much it. We operate more like a business than a spiritual institution intended to bring souls to Christ. We are embarrassed at the periodic messy displays of emotion and dismiss spiritual proclamations out of hand. I used to love the Relief Society testimony meetings because the women let their hair down and shared with each other and I felt the spirit.

But, now I question that. Is that the spirit or is it just a lot of womens’ emotions in one place? Is the spirit a business like feeling? If we feel that warmth in our heart, are we supposed to hide it like we’d hide an unwelcome emotion and carry on gracefully, with supreme calm and dignity, business-like, as we preach to one another about the importance of writing in our journal every day or about the blessings of paying our tithing or about how we should be ashamed of not having family home evening every single week?

Maybe that’s one thing people get out of handcart treks. I’ve eschewed those things because I hate hard work and exercise, but every single time people come back with stories of deeply spiritual experiences and tears and laughter shared. True testimonies, I believe, are born. Then again, what do I know of true testimony?

I would like to see more joyfulness in our meetings. We don’t have to yell and scream and wave our arms and roll in the aisles (or pass out, as I saw a woman do in a Pentacostal meeting once), but what would be the harm of some good guitar gospel music and a little clapping? What would be the harm of praising the Lord and instead of those agonizing labor pains of testimonies given amid sobs and sorrowing? What if we could give happy shouts of gratitude and acclamation? Are those experiences artificial?

No answers, I guess. But Collin had it right. We have business meetings. We don’t have church.