Salt Lake City, UT - After an inspiring early Sunday morning march with Episcopal bishops and 1,000+ of their closest friends (Bishops against Gun Violence) it was time for church. Rather than be treated to yet another rich Episcopal Eucharistic celebration with our wonderful General Convention Family, I chose to take seriously this gathering’s call to mission. So I Googled and found, quite easily, the 9a Mormon Meeting at a ‘church’ nearby, (the Wilford Ward on Highland Avenue) and entered the sanctuary carrying a stone in each pocket, one called Humility the other, Curiosity. Here’s what I found inspiring and perhaps helpful to us Episcopalians who have come together to be sent out.
1. Liberate the Laity – Mormon ‘clergy’ are not only ‘regular’ folk, who are not formally trained at accredited seminaries, but appear to hold down secular jobs, are unpaid, and rotate regularly from leadership. During the 70-minute worship service the opening and closing prayers were led by lay people who walked up from the congregation and appeared to pray extemporaneously for the congregation. Ushers, preachers, and other participants engaged in a truly shared, ‘liturgy’ – aka work of the people. How might we re-think elements of our worship, usually reserved for paid clergy, to be shared with our wardens and other lay leaders?
2. Let the Children Lead – Not only were children ‘tolerated’ – they were noisy, squirmy, and abundant - but they distributed, in a very ritualistic manner, Communion (whole wheat Wonder Bread and water (!)), helped the ushers, and one was featured as the main speaker of the service (more on that later). How might Episcopalians re-think the presence and participation of children in our worship services as it relates to the roles we reserve for their elders?
3. It’s about Love and Connection – The message most repeated during the service was that God loves you. God is love. God loves you. Heavenly Father (their term) is gladdened by our own happiness. Families were routinely commended for their presence and participation. How might we include and communicate more clearly and often this central message of the Gospel – to remind people they are precious and loved?
4. It’s About Mission – The highlight of the service, and the activity which took the most time, was a 19-year-old’s tearful ‘testimony’ about his upcoming mission. He spoke about his apprehension about leaving family and friends as well as his fear of learning a new language (Japanese!) and communicating only by weekly letter to his beloved mother for the next two years. He was mature beyond his years and clearly connecting his theology with the daunting task ahead. His congregation had challenged him, and he was accepting the mantle with fear and trembling. How much and how well do we challenge our youth, and support them in their work?
5. Mission is about Converting You – Following the new missionary’s testimony, was an older gentleman’s sermon (maybe he was 28) in which he unpacked what the Mormon missionary endeavor was all about. ‘It’s clear that sending 19 year olds into the foreign mission field is probably not the most effective way Heavenly Father can go about mission. That’s why our mission trips are not about converting others, you probably won’t convert anyone; it’s about converting you, the missionary.’ Wow. How might mission be re-imagined through this lens - that conversion is mainly God’s business, God’s work through our hands? How might we be more attentive to what God is up to in our lives – and how we are being converted in the process?