Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Mormon Rhythms: Part II of II... Our Liturgical Year

Author's Note: This is the second in a three-part series. Please be sure to read all three!

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First a little house-cleaning: when I was discussing Mormon piety, I left off two very important points... So let's talk about Kyle a little bit more.

The first Sunday of every month (but April and October — read more about it below) is a fast Sunday. Kyle begins his fast Saturday at dinner, where he prays that the food he is about to eat will sustain him during his fast. He's careful not to eat more at dinner than he would normally, as it would be unseemly. The fast then begins in earnest after dinner when he can steal away for a private prayer, where he consecrates his fast for a specific purpose. He's been thinking about this for the last few days, and this fast is going to be dedicated to his nephew, who's gone astray. Every once in a great while, members will be asked to fast for a pressing need: a bishop may ask the ward to fast for a sick ward member, regional authorities may ask the stakes they serve to fast for the end of a drought, the Prophet may ask the church to fast for an end to some conflict or other. The fast lasts 24 hours, during which Kyle abstains from drinking and eating anything. The fast is then ended with a late supper. Often a few families will get together to break-fast together.

As part of the fast, Kyle makes a fast offering — roughly the money he would have spent on the two meals he skipped. When he can, he'll make a larger donation. The fast offering goes to help the needy in his ward — members and non-members alike, though the call for help from non-members is pretty rare. In the envelope with his fast offering, he includes a few dollars for the Church's missionary program, a few dollars for one of the Church's several humanitarian efforts, and finally his tithe. Like most faithful members, Kyle sets aside 10% of his income as a tithe. Kyle does his best to pay his tithe with his first 10%. When he deposits his paycheck, he draws a cashiers check for the 10% right away, and stows the check away until Fast Sunday, when he'll give it to the Bishop. He doubts that anyone else does it this way, but he'd be surprised. Tithes support the Kingdom — paying for buildings (500 a year are built around the world), supplies ... everything that the Church needs. He takes this all very seriously... and at the end of the year, when he's called before the Bishop to give a reckoning of his tithes and offerings, he solemnly declares that he's a full tithe payer — before the Bishop and the Lord.

So that's the house-cleaning.

Our liturgical year is not as busy as many faiths', but it's there... and it is the silent metronome of the Mormon diaspora.

For convenience, let's start with the first Sunday in January. It's a Fast Sunday... and it's the day of changes: in ward building where more than one ward meets, it's when everyone swaps meeting times. In Kevins ward building, he was attending church at 10am, he now attends at noon... the people who attended at noon, now attend at 8am, and those who had services at 8am are now coming to church at 10. It's also the time in these ward buildings, when responsibility for building maintenance is passed to a new ward... who, for the next year, will put up chairs, weed the flower beds, and handle other light maintenance not done by the custodian or landscapers.

This is also the Sunday when the Church's correlated Sunday curriculum switches topics. In the Church — the world over — classes are all taught from standardized manuals, and each year is dedicated, throughout the church, to one of four broad areas of study: The Book of Mormon, The Old Testament, The New Testament, and the book of Doctrine and Covenants. Classes for the adults, for pre-schoolers, for high school students... even articles in the Church magazines, are focused on the year's area of study. In Relief Society and Priesthood classes (the gender-specific classes I mentioned in the first part), a part of their curriculum is to study the lives and teaching of our modern prophets, and this is the Sunday when they begin with a new prophet.

The next major event is the first Sunday of April: General Conference. For a few weeks, now, leaders from around the world have been converging on Salt Lake City for the conference... meeting with their superiors and each other, attending training and communing with the saints. They don't all come every year, but they come as often as possible... with the advent of inexpensive satellite technology, a lot of the meetings are conducted remotely. General Conference actually starts a little while before the First Sunday in April, when church leaders address the women of the church via satellite, radio, tv, and internet broadcasts. The First Sunday in April, and the day before are special, though... on these two days, there are a series of five two-hour sessions. Around the world, members do their best to listen/view/attend the sessions, and for 48 hours the church is very much one body. Here are the April 2005 Conference proceedings, for your reference. For members in the Western US, it's pretty simple to catch the proceedings on cable television, so for many, these 48 hours are spent with family and friends... at home, and with a lot of food... chatting, eating, and listening to conference. For me, the most solemn part of the conference is the sustaining, when a member of the First Presidency (which is comprised of the Prophet and his counselors) stands and recites the names and callings of the global leadership of the church, and then asks for us to raise our arm to the square and either sustain (which is a promise to support them and heed their guidance) them, or dissent. Where ever I am, I pause and raise my arm to the square and sustain.

April General Conference often happens during the Easter season. Easter is an important time for church members, but it is largely celebrated quietly. We do not commemorate Holy Week, and in church services, talks are largely given that focus on the Lord's resurrection.

Mother's Day is on a Sunday in the US, and talks are largely focused on motherhood and the blessings of women... there is often a musical number by the children, and there are often flowers for the women in attendance.

Finally, Spring is also the tide during which many commemorations are had for the Restoration of the Priesthood.

June and July are pageant season... and theatric productions are held all over the place, often in close proximity to a temple. These pageants are religious in nature. They are amateur productions, but are noteworthy for the pluck of their organizers, if nothing else.

July is when the church remembers its pioneer heritage (both 19th century and modern), as it readies to celebrate the arrival in Salt Lake Valley of the pioneers on July 24th. In the US, this is often part-and-parcel a celebration of patriotic fervor.

In the northern hemisphere, school starts in September (or thereabouts), and with the start of school, the start of roadshow season begins, with stakes all over the church planning and staging various plays, musicals, and skit collections. It's a social activity aimed mostly at the youth of the church... and it's a blast. I was in stake productions Fiddler on the Roof and Oklahoma when I was growing up, and they were wonderful wonderful chances for me to bond with my fellow saints (not to mention get out of the house).

The first Sunday in October is the nexus of October General Conference, when April's proceeding are laid to rest and the meetings and whatnot are had all over. Of course, the church is found of such meetings, so wards have annual conferences, and stakes have biannual conferences, which each (in their way) play a similar role for wards and stakes that General Conference does for the church.

In December, there is the First Presidency's Annual Christmas Devotional, which is broadcast live by satellite. A talk or two is given, and Christmas carols are sung.

Finally, Christmas (like Easter) is celebrated largely in homes, but appropriate topics are chosen for Sacrament talks during December... and Christmas carols are sung during worship services. There are even some LDS carols that are available. You can view our entire hymnal online in the Church Music area of LDS.org.

So there you go... a brief overview of our liturgical year. I'm sure I've left something out... so please be sure leave any corrections or comments in the comments.

Editor's Note:

And, thanks to Bryan's wonderful comment (inside), I've decided to expand the series: Please check out the third (and final) installment: Mormon Rhythms: Part III of II... Lifeposts.

3 comments:

Bryan said...

Reading your summary invokes a lifetime of memories inside this liturgical year. This kind of interfaith dialogue is important in dispelling the misunderstandings that abound in the religous community with regards to mormonism and its precepts. I think this applies particularly to missionary work.

While not part of the lifetime liturgical calendar as described above, this ubiquitous aspect of mormonism has been left out of this description. I may not be the best person to frame this discussion since I am not familiar with the missionary vernacular of other faiths.
Instead of continuing Kyle's narrative, since that's not my place, I will relate my own experience with serving a mission.

Young men are taught in the church that at the age of 19 they should volunteer to serve a two year mission. This is on a volunteer basis and a self-funded affair. For those in special circumstances who may not be able to afford the expense, local church members pitch in their financial support to help them be able to serve. I had always assumed that I would go since not doing so would seem selfish. Although youth are taught that 19 is the ideal age to serve (21 for women), they can choose to go up until the age of 27. I originally planned on going to school for a year and going when I was 20, but since most of my friends were older and had already left when I turned 19, I changed my plans and went soon after my birthday.

My field of service was in St. Louis, Missouri. Most of my time was spent in small towns in the Missouri and Southern Illinois countryside knocking on doors and presenting free copies of the bible, book of mormon, and other church videos that people had ordered off television.

For me, the most important aspect of being a missionary was to spread happiness and joy to those I interacted with. We were there to teach people about the teachings of the church, and there were some who had an interest in what we had to say. These were the people who joined the church. Some say that this was the main goal of being a missionary. I am of the opinion that the true calling of a missionary, mormon or any faith, is to bring others closer to Christ. If for some that meant bringing them into the fold of mormon orthodoxy, then so be it. But for a far greater number, it meant sharing a message of peace and hope about Jesus Christ. I considered that if my presentation of modern prophets and continuing revelation motivated someone to become a more faithful member of their own church, I was successful. Happiness and joy are the reasons we are here in life. As my mother always said when I was growing up, mormons don't have a monopoly on happiness or truth. Those things are everywhere and for everyone. The mormon view is just one among many and for me, spending two years of my life completely removed from the usual routines: television, music, dating, and devoted solely to the Glory of God, was a far more life-changing experience than anything I could have done with those two years living in the world. It is from the rigorous study and teaching of scripture by missionaries that the strength and success of the Mormon system of lay clergy is based. It is with the immersion in scripture, both Biblical and Mormon, that the missionary becomes intimately familiar with Mormon theology. Those missionaries who devote themselves to this work are those who lead the church when they return.

For my entire mission, I never taught anyone who didn't want to learn. Those without interest said so, and those who saught Christ but knew not where to look were most changed by our message.

Christian said...

Hey Silus, thanks for posting. Sorry I have been so slow in responding (work, family, and ministry commitments are pressing right now).

3 follow up questions:

1) Silus - you mentioned Easter and said that "talks are largely given that focus on the Lord's resurrection" - from a Mormon's perspective, what is the significance of a) Christ's death, b) his resurrection. I'd like to hear you flesh that out a little.

2) Bryan - you mentioned "happiness and joy" - can you tell me where you find that in your missionary message? ie. What is it that brings "happiness"?

3) Bryan - you mentioned that "the mormon view is just one among many for me" - is that consistent with the official Mormon stance? how would you reconcile it with Jesus claiming to be the only way to the father?

Thanks guys...

Silus Grok said...

What is the significance of a) Christ's death, b) his resurrection? I'd like to hear you flesh that out a little.

Adam and Eve's choices in the Garden got them excluded from God's personal presence and introduced man to physical death... so the Garden represents a spiritual death (cutting off from... ) and a physical (albeit delayed) death.

Christ atoned for our sins and spiritual death in the Garden of Gethsemene, and his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection endowed him with power over death and made way for mankind's own return to live with the Father.

We believe that the gift of resurrection is a universal one — that _all_ will rise clothed in flesh after the day of judgment (well, that's not entirely true... some mormons believe that those we call "Sons of Perdition" will not be clothed in flesh... but that's not orthodox). And we believe that by accepting Christ's advocacy (through learning, accepting, and living his laws) we are eligible for the miracle of the atonement.

To borrow an earthly analogy: a client and a lawyer are set to go before the judge. The lawyer tells the client that he will take the case as long as the client does what the lawyer tells him to do... it's a weak analogy and horribly flawed, but it is of some worth here.

Anyway, that's my 10 minute response.

: )