A Eulogy for My Membership in the Mormon Church
The LDS church is no longer part of my life. It seems like a good time to compile the good parts and put that chapter to bed.
I’ve been mostly Mormon for my whole life up until semi-recently (2020), where by “mostly Mormon”, I mean… I dunno. I usually (not always) went to church, only on occasion ignored the Word of Wisdom (usually on vacation), sometimes paid tithing, and often had a calling.
So, by most appearances, I’ve been Mormon most of my life. Some gaps, but: mostly Mormon. By most appearances. On the other hand, my heart and mind started leaving a long time ago. Still, it was, until very recently, usually convenient to stay in the church (or at least keep one foot in the chapel) — it felt safe, seemed like what my family and friends wanted me to do, and sometimes provided social connections. So I was mostly there (physically and by appearance), but also mostly not (by actual conviction).
Now, though, I’m trying to get to a place where I live exactly one authentic life and am not taking pains to hide parts of myself or keeping myself quiet for fear of being ostracized. That in mind, appearing to be at, in, and of church has been dishonest for a long time, and I need to move on from that so I can converge into one coherent self.
There are additional relevant thoughts that play into this, but I don’t want to get bogged down or negative. So here are some of the things about my relationship with the Mormon church that I’m glad were (are) part of my life.
- Getting to experience (eastern) Germany. My mission was depressing in many respects, but it’s hard to imagine my life now without my connection to Germany, particularly its glorious, still somewhat backward east.
- The whole Nauvoo thing, especially as it related to my Grandpa Kimball. I really like having that place in my heritage and having some royal LDS lineage. It always made me feel important, like I had a destiny, especially when I was a kid. There’s something validating about feeling like you’re next up in a long line of something.
- Heck, sure, pioneer heritage can be its own bullet point. I like having a double-heritage of this is stupid, we’re leaving, being both the descendent of immigrants to this continent (from Europe) and of 19th century Mormon pioneers who turned their backs on the establishment and headed west.
- Skipping Sunday school. Literally the best part of the at-church experience.
- The egalitarianism, at least to the extent that church services are allowed to be DIY and member-driven. That always seemed like a good thing, even if that meant that the content and delivery was rarely A+.
- Being a teacher and getting to eat all the leftover sacrament bread before going to Sunday School.
- Retiring with a perfect record on sacrament prayers — never had to repeat one due to an error.
- Celestial Rooms are pretty cool. They’re an unusual, peaceful escape from the rest of the world. All the clothes-changing required to get there was a little odd, but it was always a nice place to end up.
- That strong, otherly identity when living outside of Utah. Being perceived as an outlier has often suited me.
- The rare testimony meeting testimony from way, way out in left field. Thank you for your unexpected honesty, you tiny group of (mostly) strangers.
- The intellectual elder’s quorum meetings we had in Pittsburgh 7th ward — really enjoyed being able to talk to a bunch of smart guys about life and how it related to optimization functions and lighthouses.
- Being financial clerk in Pittsburgh. It felt good to be part of helping people, even if it was just a little of my time and almost none of my money that was helping them. Plus, I liked being in the inner circle there; it was a good circle.
- That one church basketball game against McKeesport Branch that was more hockey than basketball. Actual basketball should be that way.
- Trying to find the angles by which church doctrine fit well-enough with my life. For one, it was sometimes a fascinating, challenging act of mental gymnastics to rationalize church teachings to fit my perspective. Also, even if not often emphasized, church doctrine features some solid strains of concepts I think are important: life-as-experience, life-as-learning, process philosophy, accountability (not often emphasized…), self-determination, and (if you look hard enough) rebellion.
- Being in the Young Men’s presidency in River Heights. Not sure where/how else I could’ve had the opportunity to see what it was like being around 14- and 15-year-old kids and watching them have experiences and evolve. It was fascinating, and I really liked the kids — even the ones I didn’t like. Planning and eventually observing the kids across the two high adventures were fantastic experiences that I’m glad I had.
That said, the strongest memories are going to be those of the familiar. So: chapels with stain-proof carpet, Cheerios crushed into upholstery, prelude music, constant hand-shaking, acting happy to see people, the smell of church bathrooms, pioneer-era hymns, watching deacons start to panic when something goes awry while passing the sacrament, the smell of chlorine from the baptismal font, chaotic primary program sacrament meetings, picking up dropped toys for the toddler sitting in front of me, folding metal chairs, kids’ rites of passage, and the insider jokes and code words that sometimes made it feel like a community of which I was a part. I miss a lot of the familiar.
In life, we’re repeatedly exposed to things, and, over time, that exposure causes us to prefer those things. Then, later, we might come to realize that those things were nevertheless not what we actually needed or, going forward, what we’re likely to need. They can be the things that keep us from becoming who we were always meant to be.