Thinking about checking out a Mormon Church next Sunday? 10 Helpful hints for the first timer

A friend asked me what would happen if he just popped in to a Mormon Church next Sunday. He wondered if it would be possible to go un-noticed. I gave it some thought and here’s a few hints and helps for the first timer:

1. Find some elderly people to sit beside. People will assume you’re a family member. Less noticeable, maybe. You’ll probably just start feeling successfully ninja, and the missionaries will sit down behind you and pat you on the back to say hello.

2. Find a Chapel, not a Temple. Temples are closed on Sunday. Click here for more about temples. The people who will be in the Chapel building with you are all of the church members who live in a certain area. Area’s are called wards. New boundaries are determined as the church membership gets too large for the building. Wards are divided and new boundaries are communicated. Here’s a link on how to find your local meeting time and location.

3. The people sitting around you consider themselves a ward family. Just like any family, we’re all learning and growing in our abilities and character. We call one another Brother (Last name) and Sister (Last name). It used to make me feel like a nun in blue jeans, but now I like it. It helps me remember that we were all brothers and sisters in Heaven. It helps me remember what the Savior taught about brotherly love and loving our neighbors.

4. The people sitting up at the front include the piano/organ player, the Music Conductor, the Bishop (Father of the ward) his two counselors and the 3-4 people who have been invited to speak. Members of the ward family are invited, with time to prepare, to study and share their feelings in a “TALK” on a gospel topic. Anyone over the age of 12 is in the pool of potential speakers.

5. There will likely be some ward business conducted. The Bishop prayerfully seeks inspiration on who to call to what job in the ward organization. Other leaders also pray to know who to ask to serve as teachers, young men and young women leaders, and even ward house librarian. (I’ve been asked to do that and it was more fun than I thought it would be). On Sunday the names of those who have served will be read and a vote of thanks will be offered by everyone raising their right hand. Then the new people called will have their names and callings presented for a sustaining vote. When we sustain someone we’re basically saying, “You may have no experience or no confidence to do what the Bishop has felt inspiration from God to ask you to do, but either way, we thank you for being willing. We’ll support you as you learn and grow within this role.” No one is paid to do their job. Which still amazes me, especially as I know the Bishop, who has a full time job earning a living elsewhere, then holds meetings with members in the evening and on Sunday’s to help them repent of sins and listen to their problems and provide council. (If you get a chance to shake his hand, I hope you will do so sincerely).

6. Wondering what to wear? Church members strive to wear their sunday best. Ladies and girls in dresses or a skirt/top combo. Men are usually in a suit or slacks or kaki pants with a shirt and tie. You won’t be turned away for wearing casual clothing, you will be loved. We dress our best because it helps set the reverent tone for a peaceful meeting.

7. Speaking of peaceful, it’s not always. Lots of kids make for an interesting lull of background noise. We’ve grown to ignore it, and do our part to help pick up toys or bags of cheerios for the toddler in the row ahead of us should they drop between the crack in the church bench. They are our dear little bro’s and sisters, so we love and serve them too!

8. The first Sunday of the Month is a really cool one. It’s called fast and testimony meeting. This is two great things combined. First, fasting. Members, who feel so inclined, give up food for 24 hours and donate the money they would have spent as fast offerings for the Bishop to distribute to help those in need. Then, during the time where there would have been talks, members are invited to come to the pulpit, as prompted, and take a minute or two to share experiences or testimony of what they believe to be true. I have never been to two of these that were exactly the same. It’s awesome to hear conversion stories, and I’ve learned a lot about faith as I’ve heard people share their personal witnesses of Jesus Christ’s love in their lives.

9. Twice a year no one show’s up. Church is on TV. Broadcast live from temple square, all of the members of the church virtually or physically gather to hear from the Prophet and the apostles, and other leaders speak to the church as a whole. This meeting is available in over a hundred languages. Timely topics are addressed, and members are provided with guidance on how to stay strong in following God’s commandments. Here’s a quick glance directory of last Aprils topics and talks.

10. Are you wondering about the time commitment? There are three meetings combined into the 3 hour block of services. The first hour and a bit is called Sacrament Meeting. We Sing an opening hymn, Someone prays, Ward Business. Then we sing a Sacrament Hymn, (don’t worry the words are in the hymnal and you can lip sync or just read along silently. The bread and water are blessed and passed around and each member takes a piece of bread and then a tiny cup of water to remember the Savior and all he has done for us. I encourage my kids to say a silent prayer to thank the savior for his sacrifice, and I reflect on my sins and weaknesses of that week and trust that I’ve been forgiven, but pray for strength to do better. Then it’s talk or testimony time, and then a closing song and prayer. After that it’s Sunday School. And the last hour is used for the women to meet with the Relief Society and the men to meet together as Priesthood holders. The little ones attend jr. Sunday school and Primary.

Here’s a bonus #11 for your gee whiz file: Everyone in this Church organization, no matter where they live, are on the same Sunday School lesson schedule. That means, for the most part, we will all be having the same Sunday school lesson this Sunday. You, me, people all over the world. All taught in different ways and languages by different teachers (remember to be gentle to possibly nervous new teachers), but all with the same reference manual and lesson objectives. This year, all the Mormons in the world are studying the Old Testament in Sunday School, all 15 million of us.

Good luck going under the radar. It’s a family, and they’ll likely notice a new face. However, they won’t want you to feel uncomfortable. I hope you receive a warm welcome and find yourself enjoying sitting with your neighborhood mormon family. A family full of people striving to be faithful and to love and serve one another, everyone should feel welcome in a place like that. Do you have more questions? Keep asking me, answer the door when the Mormon Missionaries knock (like my parents did), or click here to learn more about requesting a visit.

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