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The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Learning from the Mormons

Ann and I went to the local Ward last Sunday in Utah and heard one dreadful talk and one rather good one.  Each man spoke about twenty minutes with a musical selection between each. There were easily two hundred people and perhaps more, as I couldn’t see all the people from where we were sitting.
There was no nursery. Parents sat with their children of all ages.  Babies cried, children wandered, parents were in and out of the service with their yowlers. Occasionally, I missed a word or two because of the children’s noise.  It was quite nice to have us all together.
There were no readings, no prayers of the people.  They had the bread and water sacrament done reverently and efficiently. The bread was passed to everyone in the church.  Then the little shot glasses of water passed around.  It took about fifteen minutes and everyone was quite quiet and respectful except for noises from children.
I really liked the prayer over the sacrament.  It was short, reciting Jesus words of institution, not the whole story of sin, redemption and salvation like most of the wordy pieties of the Book of Common Prayer. The Mormon prayer was short and to the point.
We sat for everything, even hymns. After an hour and twenty minutes  my bottom was sore and my knees creaked more than ever when I finally got to stand up. The hymns were sentimental and pious songs of personal faith. I’d have liked at least one of the worship of God.
The first speaker was an official of the stake – Diocese - he used very good personal testimony on the power of prayer, two healing stories from his personal experience.  He interrupted his flow a number of times by referring to the book of Nephi, with quotes about the power of prayer.  It was very disconcerting as he went back and forth between he scripture and his interpretation.  It reminded me of Episcopal preachers who feel it necessary to refer to all four Biblical readings during the sermon.
That first sermon was superficial in that he never mentioned that God often does not answer our prayers in the way we want. He didn’t deal with the crushing reality that God says no many times to our most fervrent desires.
The second speaker was a young man recently returned from his mission In Ireland.  He told personal stories about how he saw the Holy Spirit of God working in the lives of the people he encountered and in his own life.  He was engaging charming and quite moving in his stories. He even quoted Episcopal Bishop Phillips Brooks, referring to him as “a man named Brooks.”
All too many Episcopal preachers give us ideas, concepts, doctrines and Biblical references with no personal stories or any stories or illustrations at all that refer to the real life of the listeners.
After an hour and twenty minutes in the worship service the whole group broke up into another hour of instructions for Adults, Youth, mid-schoolers and parents with very young children. 
The service started at 10:00 AM and was over by 11:20 AM and most everyone stayed for Sunday school for all. We’d be run out of town if we started such a regime and discipline of education in our churches. Episcopalians go to cocktails and brunch after church.
Of course the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is against homosexual sex, gay marriage, abortion, and women in leadership in the policy making of the church.  The people of Utah are largely Republican, support the wars, low taxes and have the laissez-faire attitudes of the Republicans in the Executive branch.
So none of these issues are mentioned much in the Mormon worship or talks. But that is also true of us Episcopalians.  Few sermons take a stand on the important social and political issues of our time.
I enjoyed the experience and we Episcopalians can learn much from Mormon worship. Whole families worshipping together, short Eucharistic prayer, no long boring Bible readings, (I personally would be OK with two but not four as in our liturgy.) No lengthy, theologically confusing Nicene Creed. I did miss the prayers of the people and the peace.
Time is a most important value in busy people’s lives today. Mormons use their worship and education time efficiently and smoothly. Their numbers are increasing and ours are on hold.  We have much to learn from our Mormon friends.
One of my wag friends will say, “Well if you like the Mormons so much, why don’t you join them and leave us alone?” I am not a Biblical literalist. The Book of Mormon contains stories and history with which I cannot in intellectual honesty agree. Their positions on sexual and social issues do not jibe with mine or those of the Episcopal Church. I like their emphasis on the importance of family, but it seems to undermine individual differences. Besides, I firmly hold that religious reality is based on the Bible, sacraments, tradition and reason. We Anglicans admire intellectual freedom, think within a tradition, and are expected to question everything. I do not think I would be very happy as a Mormon nor they with me.


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