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