Thursday, July 18, 2013

Will we be a family of two church communities and love both?

So the Spirit must be hearing my thoughts, I think.   We attended a Stake presentation of the Youth Trek, a recent activity taken by the young people in the Stake (compilation of several Wards).  Along with their more mature Ma's and Pa's, volunteers who help organize the trek and see to the needs of the participants, once again technology helped to show a precious history.  A dvd showing the highlights of the trek was presented at the Stake building with attendance by mostly young people, and some Ma's and Pa's.  Of course, we attended, because the history of the treks is important to us.  We were gifted a dvd to take home, even though the copies of the dvds that were made available after the presentation were to go to the participating young and their Ma's and Pa's.  It was an exciting presentation and I so appreciate owning the dvd that we might share it with others.

Attending our second Sunday services at our new Ward, and I think the Relief Society sisters just sparkle.   Already two have stopped by our abode to present a welcome gift and info flyer as well as their delightful company.   It was an unexpected, unannounced visit, and in recognition that I was preparing our dinner meal, intended to just drop off the gift and say welcome.  I prevailed upon them to stay and visit, very pleasant young ladies.  And of course, at the end of the visit, the question of would I be interested in doing Visiting Teaching.  Yes, of course.  Meeting different people in different walks of life continues to be interesting, sometimes challenging and sometimes I'm still incredulous.

Last week the Bishop had made arrangements to come by for a visit, and since other priorities for him came up, he needed to postpone the visit to tonight.  We look forward to his visit this evening.

Listening to BYU forum, and was particularly pleased to see Elaine Pagels in the lineup of speakers.  Watched the episode of her presentation, which corresponds to the bible study we are doing at St John's Cathedral on the Gospel of Thomas, and Gnostic influences over the history of church development.  

This morning I found a beautiful piece at Exponent, Relief Society Lesson 13;  Relief Society True Charity and Pure Religion.   Linked as it is well worth the read.  As the lessons are from Lorenzo Snow, this lesson is of particular interest to me and the development of the lesson, sharing history from the origins of Relief Society to today corresponds with my potent feeling about the potential of Relief Society.  It also harkens back to the subject of a talk I was invited to share in Sacrament meeting, taken primarily from then R.S. Julie Beck and the manual Daughters of My Kingdom.  

The grandchildren will be coming soon and will be looking for what we have planned for their afternoon.  I have recently approached their mother, asking if we might take them to what we call for their benefit the 3-hour church as our way of distinguishing it from the 1 hour church (St John's Episcopal Cathedral which is actually about a 2 hour period).  It's a lot to say to youngsters The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints in their first exposure to the Church, so it was easier to make the distinction between the two churches with the Cathedral as one and the 3 hour church as the other.  I may have jumped the gun a bit in asking their mother (my daughter) to talk with their father about having the children baptized.  Might be better for me to work with the Lord's timetable for these two children.

I'm eager for grandson (7 years old) to find the mix that will hold his attention and interest.   Also, I am thinking he may come to appreciate that he would have a rich role in the Priesthood while at the same time I'm not as anxious for granddaughter to settle for the role laid out for her by the Church.  Her ability to serve as an Acolyte at St John's Cathedral would seem to imply more opportunity for her gender role in her long term goal setting beyond the role of marriage and having children, while the long term goal for grandson has more potential, I believe, in the LDS setting.  

Not sure how this will work, having our feet in two churches, however, I am confident that we have the Lord's ear on the matter, and direction will show itself in due time.  I am so pleased to be including the LDS church along with the Episcopal church, having felt the absence of it in these months of our attendance at St John's Episcopal Cathedral.  Somehow what is taught at one church overlaps nicely one with the other and I strongly feel the small voice guiding us in perhaps a non-traditional role in either church, but one that seems to call out to us nonetheless.   

With that I would also like to link the two recent sermons by TVR Bill Ellis, Dean at St John's Cathedral.  In this one, he speaks of participatory observation, the familiar 'Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road'  and I love how he develops that theme, realistically.  In this one, he develops themes familiar to me in speaking to the norm of that time in which another learned (nomikos - loosely lawyer) asks of Jesus questions posed as a 'test' of what Jesus knows of the Law, the Torah.  Of course, it is designed to discredit Jesus, although another vein of thought for me is that it was a venue used at that time to demonstrate who did and did not have correct teachings of the Law and Torah.  The sermon goes on to speak to the two parables, The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son that speak to me powerfully as an overarching message of what it means to love your neighbor, and btw, just who is your neighbor?   Bill Ellis hits the mark every time, it seems to me with his open and curious mind in not teaching absolutes, rather potentially alternative ways to look at the same body of knowledge.  I would sorely miss his lectures and sermons. 

note to self; per email received from Q & A  (retired) Bishop John Shelby Spong, I want to look into respected theologian and nuclear physicist, Ian Barbour and book he authored When Science Meets Religion.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Owning my testimony, with personal pride in jubilant joy

Attending the Ward to which we are newly assigned.  Learning it is a Ward with a high turnover of members and visitors for that matter.  Young families, young people just starting out in family life live in the area temporarily for a couple of years as interns in new jobs, as college students, as military families assigned to a military base, and what other reasons that would bring people to a short term living arrangement for a long-term goal.

It seems to me that because of this dynamic, there is an effort on the part of the members in being extra friendly, warm and welcoming to new members, visitors, with the constant flux of people coming and going.  It has a familiarity to it that resonates with me for perhaps the very reason that I'm familiar with the lifestyle of having grown up in a military family that moved every two years or so, leaving friends behind, making new friends, and knowing that we would be on the move again within a couple of years.  Makes an indelible mark on the mind of this child, always knowing that there will be a next duty station, another new situation, meeting new people, a new school, making new friends (not easily I might add) leaving things and people behind.   But in this Church, that is not so much the situation, as relationships continue, irrespective of the comings and goings.  It's intriguing to me.

My husband, who knows more of a rooted lifestyle, having grown up in a small, rural town in Idaho, knowing everyone who lived there, has introduced me in our later years together to a similar lifestyle in what was to be our permanent living arrangement in a small, rural county with small rural towns.  I think I did fairly well adapting for the thirteen years we lived there, but truth be told, there were many times I yearned for a more urban lifestyle with the plethora of urban choices, while at other times I valued immeasurably the quiet and beauty of small town living in rural setting off the hyper busy beaten path.

This evening, we attended a Stake viewing of dvd that was created of their Stake Pioneer Trek with the young people pulling the handcarts, the Ma's and Pa's giving guidance and the jubilant joy throughout the filming of the dvd.  This will be my second time sharing in  a Ward's young people's experience of a pioneer handcart trek.  I delight, with emotional tears, in their experience and in a  deep yearning for myself for something that continues to elude my conscious thought.  

Tonight, it came to me that it was exactly that element that reached out to me from the very beginning of my relationship with my husband.   In reading the book he wrote, I was compelled to empathize with the hardships of the handcart pioneers, and more than that I found their deep faith in their great adversities to be a strong testimony of what I believe faith means.   Not as much the faith in the God as defined by their Church in that era (19th century) but for me, clearly a faith that was beyond anything I'd known to date.   I realized after twenty years with my husband who struggled through his own disenchantment with the church and the recent three years I've had as a convert to this church, struggling with owning a testimony of my own, that I DO, in fact,  have a testimony.

I'm proud that the young people are doing these pioneer handcart treks, as I think the depth of value in respecting what their ancestors went through all those years ago resonates with the young people more deeply than the lessons and the talks given in the church settings.  Experience somehow seems to trump inspirational stories but that would be my opinion, not church teachings.  Given that these are the tomorrow's members of the Church, they will have families and be bringing up their children, I love the concept that the younger members will have a deeper appreciation for their heritage because of their experiential knowing of the ancestors handcart experiences, and thus will be able to teach it to their children from a place of knowing, not as much a place of repeating stories.

It is not difficult to appreciate the wide array of choices facing today's young people.  It is equally not difficult for me, in my aging years, to appreciate that some of yesterday's ethics and values still carry weight in these harried times.  I like to think that taking a breath, harkening back in time to re-enact the courage, strength, faith of yesterday's pioneers can only help to strengthen the young people of today bringing to them some of those character traits they will need going forward in their lives.  I see it as a positive step the Church is taking in offering up opportunity for young people to bond in what could perhaps be called renewed old ways of the ancestors.

I have often said to my husband that I have long had a testimony of faith, and if I lacked the language to express it well, nonetheless the testimony was not diminished because I lacked language of expression.  Even so, I yearned to have a language of faith expression.  When I read the book my husband wrote, I recognized the faith I so wanted to express.  The book he wrote is a fiction based on history of his own heritage as descendant of Martin Handcart Company survivor.   When I met my husband, he was in the throes of struggling in his own faith crisis, and I well remember my amateurish advice to him when he recounted his faith crisis to me.  Lacking the command of religious language as he might have and feeling quite shaky in offering any advice at all, the phrasing not to throw the baby out with the bathwater was the best I could come up with at the time.  He can speak and write circles around me using expressive faith language and I could feel the absence of knowing how to express myself in faith terms, wondering how I would carry on faith conversations with him.  I resolved that I would grow my own faith language in an effort to deepen the conversations we shared.

Over the years as he and I have explored so many avenues in exploring, seeking, deepening our own faith journeys, I was ever reluctant to fully embrace the LDS faith, fearing any number of things but primarily how I would be viewed both by people in the faith and people who saw the faith in a less favorable light.  I think I've written it before, and if I haven't written it, I've certainly shared it in conversations with my husband - my sense of logic fights with my sense of emotion. They do not share the same playing field at all, however it seems safer to remain in my head (logic) than to let go and let my emotions rule.  And given the trauma of my young child years, I was not easily given to the quivering lip, it had been beaten out of me, scared out of me, terrified out of me and strongly considered the wrong behavior to have according to my persecutor.  Tears were not permitted, or tolerated as acceptable to any situation, even though the situations called for more than tears, called for a howling of the soul.

  I have known Jesus since I was a small child.  There has never been a question in my mind of that - never!    Over the years, youth to teen to young adult, I looked for language to describe my sense of Jesus as defined by dominant faith practices, thinking religious people knew better than I how to define and express Jesus.  I wasn't raised 'churched' as the saying goes, so it was hit and miss for me often along the way, coupled with moving every two years and availing myself of whatever church or faith offered itself to me where we wound up living.  I think I can take solace in the recognition that I never stopped looking, and while I tired, I didn't stop.  In that regard, I like to borrow some of the phrasing I've heard describing putting one foot in front of another even when the circumstances look bleak.  I could empathize strongly with the handcart people pushing and pulling their handcarts in extremely bleak circumstances.

My eager young child enthusiasm would be fired up when a preacher called people to come down and be saved, be baptized, be born again, and down I would go, feeling the strength of my sense of Holy Spirit touching my heart.  Sadly, in retrospect, too many religious faiths were too eager to baptize new members, with little recognition or regard to what I was feeling, looking for, wanting, hungering and yearning for - the connection to the Jesus of my child years - the Jesus who comforted me, kept me safe, got me through some exceptionally tough and extreme situations.   I was disappointed more often than not, and knowing that my sense of Jesus was very real, willing to keep exploring, keep seeking till I found a match.  I'm not sure I ever did find a match, and it certainly gave me cause to do a lot of research over the years, digging, contemplating, praying, searching, yearning.

This very evening, taking personal delight in the dvd of the young people re-enacting the handcart experience, I realized in a round about way, in what might be called a personal revelation or a prompting that I Had already found a match, I had already found a people with faith, as deep and great as my sense of my own faith.   A recognition that I wasn't looking for definitions to define what I already knew, a revelation if you will, that what I had already found some twenty years ago with my husband was not so much borrowing from his heritage as much as it was owning my own testimony, owning aloud my own faith.  I was elated with feeling to realize I could stand alone even in his faith of birth, on my own in my own testimony, and elated to recognize that his ancestors didn't leave it only for him and his posterity, but she left it for me as well.

After watching the dvd tonight with my husband, I pulled him aside out of the din of the jubilant noise of young people, to share with him what I believed to be personal revelation for me.   I can own a deep and abiding faith, the one I have always had, and in much the same way that I can deeply respect the St John's Episcopal Cathedral building in Spokane has application from the time it was built for the longevity of the generations that will come after, so can I deeply respect that Mary Jarvis and her children left a heritage for the generations that will come after, myself included.  Recognition that I don't have to borrow from my husband's heritage, I don't have to continue to feel extraneous or peripheral to the community because I wasn't born into the church, rather  a convert, therefore not of the heritage, somehow less authentic because I wasn't a lifetime member of the church, didn't have family in the LDS faith, didn't have the family relationships.  I think the Bishop of my home Ward tried to help me to see that some years back when I expressed to him how inauthentic I felt in my calling as a Relief Society teacher and he went down the list of members who were converts, not born in the church.

 Appreciation as of tonight in recognition of something that has been eluding me all these years;  Mary Jarvis gave her all that I might have this opportunity to own my faith as well as the language in which I choose to express my faith.  It's not a newly acquired faith, not even a conversion, more a recognition of what I have owned since my child years.  Jesus talked to me then and when I listen, I can still feel the presence, the depth of unshakable faith, Jesus gave it to me to own, the means, the venues in how that message is driven home to me is the gift Jesus gives - to us all.  Mary Jarvis was mirroring a message Jesus gave us long ago, and there was more than a kernel of truth for me to learn in recognizing a message coming to me through my husband's heritage.

 I don't have a testimony of this church as is popularly cited when members share their testimony as this being the one or only true church, but I do have a powerful testimony of this church for reasons I haven't fully allowed myself to entertain or own.  And with that, I can say I, in fact, did hear the oft quoted 'still small voice' talking to me this evening, wrapping up for me years and years of rigorous studies, rigorous research to find expression for the Jesus who came to me as a young child whispering in that small voice the words of comfort that I desperately needed.  He walks with me still, yet today, and I can own my sense of Him, no matter where I find myself.  That is, I believe, the truth of my testimony, that is what I believe Mary Jarvis gave of herself in her faith given the travails, the traumatic challenges she and her children along with the others of the handcart companies faced in their journey to Zion.    And quietly in the lyrics of one of my mother's favorite hymns, what she sang to us at bedtime when I was a child, even as I heard the lyrics the way I wanted to hear them -  'I come to the Garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and the sound I hear, coming on my ear, none other has ever heard.  He walks with me, He talks with me, he tells me I am His own -----------
                               and with that may I say Amen.

Monday, July 1, 2013

New Ward, Cathedral, Grandchildren

Last post shows as Aug 2012.  Now it is July 2013, with almost a year passing in which I have not posted to this blog. Which does not mean that my mind has been quiet over this past year.  Quick catch up;  continuing to attend LDS church, study of the Book of Mormon in the Sunday School class, appreciating the sense of community via Relief Society, and one on one participation with the members in various forms and callings.  Continuing as 3rd Sunday R.S. teacher which is intriguing challenge to me in teaching via the narrative while holding as true as I can to my own sense of the narrative.  Continuing R.S. visiting teaching, and sometimes finding the visits admirable, other times not so much.  Continuing preparing meals for the missionaries, visiting at homes of members in difficult circumstances, and enjoying the participation in the social activities as put on by the Ward.

In December 2012 my daughter asked for our help in watching her two little ones as she took on a promotion that would scramble her hours in a non-consistent work schedule manner.  The continued emphasis in R.S. on the grandparenting element of families gets to me in that I miss my own grandchildren who are scattered about living in different geographical locations.  It seems I have three sets of two; 2 granddaughters in colleges in different locations, 2 grandchildren who are now into their teens and tweens having grown up as children of military parent with father deployed three different times (Iraq twice, Afghanistan once) over the children's growing up years and they have lived in multiple military bases over the years, and lastly these 2 grandchildren who are young enough at 7 and 8 years for us to still have an investment in their growing up years.   My husband, supporting my wish to have more immediate connection and contact with grandchildren agreed to the arrangement to provide after school care for them.  It meant living across the state from our home and living for a time in my daughter's home.

Skipping the challenges that all of us had over the period of time we did live in my daughter's home, we found it more comfortable to take on temporary situation of finding our own apartment, while keeping our home on the other side of the state.  We found relief in some of the challenges, the grandchildren more receptive to our focused attention on them specifically, the parents more relieved to focus on their own employment and parenting challenges.  This is their second go around in parenting as they have a daughter they already raised attending college.  I detect some degree of exhaustion in both parents, yet they persevere and that speaks well of them, imo.  These are energetic youngsters that keep us on our toes all the time!

In the interim, we felt blessed to take the grandchildren with us to our new Ward, and they seemed to take well to the 3 hour block.  A dramatic shift for them in very irregular church attendance to three hours all at once.  They seemed to adapt well.   I found the urban Ward setting considerably different from the rural Ward we attended in our small town on the other side of the state.  Younger people, younger families, energy abounding and I could be telling of my own insecurities yet it felt like these young people weren't sure what to do with us 'older people'.   I immediately missed my former Ward, the R.S. women I knew and loved and the people of the Ward whom I'd come to have great affection.

It occurs to me that the older people in my former Ward give us immediately something in common - our age, many of us retired, many of grandparents.  While there were some young families with children and they were respectful to those of us who had a longer lifeline, I realized that I had cut my teeth in a Ward with people who already had commonalities with me in living rural, retired, and reaching that period of life that is less busy with tending to children and growing family.  Now I found myself in a Ward that was abuzz with activities related to a younger mindset, growing their families, growing their careers and economic status.  I found myself feeling like I didn't really fit well here whereas the Ward I came from it was easy to become part of their community.

In short time we learned of a disturbing situation that had emerged in the new Ward.  There was a newly called Bishop, young man with family, capable and able. He was called because the Bishop called before him had resigned within a week of being called.  He and his wife were still members of the Ward. In fact, his wife is one of the Primary Teachers and was very warm, responsive in taking the initiative to get our grandchildren into their classes. However, the reason he had resigned was what was disturbing for me.  He held the position in former President Bush administration as the psychologist who developed interrogation techniques that amounted to torture, ie, waterboarding of detainees post 9/11.   (link to newpaper article reporting on the incident)

Given my years of advocacy against U.S. invasion of Iraq, therefore the abhorrent behaviors that followed the invasion, it was difficult to reconcile my own political, personal beliefs against what I learned about the calling of this Bishop in this Ward.  The Ward was new to me, yet my activities in the decade following 9/11 were not new to me.  I had much difficulty reconciling within myself, recognizing that my maturity would be invaluable aid to me, I couldn't reconcile having my young grandchildren in an exposed and vulnerable position, given that they were not familiar with the LDS church belief set.  It was an uncomfortable development.

 I had initially been pleased to introduce the youngsters to the LDS church setting, even having awareness that both my husband and I would take exception to some of the Church teachings.  We believed we could work with the children and their parents in finding a balance in how the children would assimilate the teachings.  However, we were less confident we could find a way to explain to the children the vast discrepancy between what we stood for over the past decade and therefore against, and a church calling that embraced what we had stood against in their calling of the man whose profession was an affront and insulting to our own values.  Appreciating that this is God's judgment to make, not mine, does not negate the reality of the very real human dilemma for us in dealing appropriately with the particular circumstance in which we found ourselves with regard to the grandchildren.

As we explored our new surroundings in the city to which we were living, we had occasion and frankly reason to visit what was a well known tourist visitation site, in St John Episcopal Cathedral situated on a well known hill location causing the Cathedral to overlook the city.   Built in gothic architectural tradition, we were fortunate on the day of our visit that there was to be a tour of the Cathedral, and we were the only two this particular day to be taking the tour, meaning we were given very much one on one attention to the details of the Cathedral building.

We were in awe of the sacred beauty of the Cathedral, in search of a safe, temporary spiritual home in the plight of our experience with our new Ward.  It made sense to us to attend a familiar worship service, given that we had spent several years in an Episcopal chapel environment in our home town before our time with the LDS Ward in the same town.   The Episcopal congregation was comprised of older people who had long history with their Parish, going back to the days before it was built, raising money to build it, and a lifetime of attendance and service from their congregational positions in their Episcopal Parish church.

We were among the youngest in attendance and we were already approaching our senior years.  We were 'hands-on' in many capacities within the church given that it was a small, rural church.  At the time, we sometimes felt we could not keep up of all that was asked of us, in addition to the timing of our own activism roles as military family in the protestation of the Iraq war.  We eventually devoted our time to the activism in hopes of contributing to being a part of bringing the Iraq war to a quick close before more lives, those of our own military men and women and those of Iraqi civilian men, women and children were lost in war.  

We saw this, felt this as a ministry we were called to at that time and place in history, more so than the hands on assistance in the liturgy services within the chapel that commanded our time on Sundays at the expense of sharing the news of a different kind of ministry given our role as military family opposed to the war in Iraq.  We were often invited to speak at large conventions and this often time meant weekend travel, precluding our presence at the Chapel on Sundays, also preparations that demanded a good deal of our time impeding the time we were able to give to the liturgy with the Parish congregation.

Providing this background material to show some of the reasoning as to our decision to attend services at St John's Episcopal Cathedral, giving us a bit of spiritual rest we badly needed at that time.  We took both grandchildren, and granddaughter immediately wanted to participate as an Acolyte, and she was quickly accommodated, thus began her walk as an Acolyte in the Liturgical procession and service within the realm of the Cathedral, itself a testimony to a long and cherished Christian tradition.  

We invited our daughter and son-in-law to visit a service, they did and my daughter had no difficulty in announcing to me she found the liturgy boring, that there wasn't much about it that resonated with her.  We attended the church service of an Evangelical Community Church they attend, complete coffee, comfortable chairs, a band and concert, a big screen projecting the talks/sermons, huge collection buckets, different buildings where the children attended children services, age-related.  I could definitely see the attraction for my daughter, given that the services seem completely arranged to be attractive to a younger set - a younger set that is abuzz with energy and it is indeed a lively service.   Perhaps more lively than my many years are accustomed in what has become my perspective of a 'sacred' worship service.

After the initial exchanges of visiting my church and I'll visit yours, I was pleased the parents permitted us to continue to take the children to worship services, first at the Ward, then to the Episcopal Cathedral, although grandson discontinued attending very shortly after those first visits.  Granddaughter continues with her Acolyte duties, be it carrying the cross, or the book from which the gospel is read, holding the thanksgiving plate, or helping lead the younger children into the Cathedral to be welcomed into the Communion.

Since we have moved into our apartment, and the situation has settled down some with continuing to watch our grandchildren, only in our own setting, not in their home, giving us some license to interact with them on our terms, respectful of their parents' wishes.  It is a reciprocal relationship in that their parents trust their children in our care and find it desirous even that we can offer them different forms of exposure and stimulation, reinforce values and standards as contributed by their parents, adding a few 'old fashioned' type values and standards of our own and we trust the parents in their care of their children, even as some of their values and standards differ from ours.

We are blessed in the Episcopal setting to have a Dean so willing to share abundantly not only his seminary training with us in his teachings, sermons, but as well giving a strong sense of the directions the Church is taking in shaking loose some of it's older, traditional viewpoints to embrace this time in history as many churches of many denominations, including LDS, struggle in attempt to read the barometers of what it means to be Christian in these times.  Of recent climatic change for the LDS Church to take on is the ruling of the Supreme Court on the issue of gay marriage and their new rights to federal level benefits just those of heterosexual marriages.

We are also blessed in the Episcopal setting to attend services within the Cathedral which is not typical of the Episcopal arrangement.  Typically congregational parish activities take place in a Parish chapel, not the Diocesan Cathedral.  This Cathedral is different in that regard in that it absorbed 3 of the city parishes when it was being built and continues to offer the building for services that would otherwise be performed in a chapel setting, as well as the multitude of services, performances, concerts that happen in Cathedral setting.  We are privileged to be able to take advantage of attendance to any and all activities held at the Cathedral, as is the public at large welcomed.  There is not a requirement that one be an Episcopal or baptized Episcopal.  All baptisms are honored as legitimate.  One can be confirmed to the Episcopal Church by their baptism be that baptism be within the Episcopal belief set or another belief set.

In my own story, I have felt the spirit in different denominations that I attended as a young child, a teen, and young adult and walked down the aisle to affirm my belief in the Saviour, agreeing to be baptized and I have been several times in different denominations that insist that only their belief set is the correct authority, therefore rendering my previous baptisms void....and it was so for my baptism in the LDS Church, even though my explanation that I had been baptized in several denominations, confirmed in the Episcopal faith, and did not see the value in yet another baptism in the LDS Church.  However, the LDS belief that they are the 'true' and 'restored' church and that whatever holy spirit, holy ghost, connection to Jesus and God I had before exposure to the LDS Church was not in it's own right good enough, strong enough or however it was stated to me, although intended to be lovingly stated, underscored the arrogance I came to see as part of the narrative of the LDS membership that this is the only true church.

I did gain a testimony, still have a testimony, only it is of Joseph Smith and far from the traditional narrative that he was a prophet, establishing the restored church, therefore the true church, the authority of the priesthood and that only by the keys of this priesthood could one walk their journey of progression.  However, this is my logical and intellectual pursuits, it is not my emotional response to the church membership.  It is exactly that emotional reaction and response that is triggered for me in appreciating that the good the LDS Church has to offer is comparable to other denominations, however, I do believe the LDS Church has a corner on building community and fellowship that other denominations might well envy.  And I say that with a smile and love in my heart.

Two of the young missionaries called on us recently while we were attending to the grandchildren.  We invited them in, and I asked them to give a lesson to the grandchildren.  Gotta love those young missionaries who in all earnestness, with sincerity of heart and the brightness that young people have, gave my grandchildren a heartfelt lesson based on their beliefs in the narrative of the LDS Church.   The children were attentive and fascinated.    We are known to our new Ward and it is my wish to pay a visit to our newest Ward, experience once again an urban setting with young, growing families, a Ward abuzz with energy, prosperity and see what kind of fit it has for us.   We reference it to the grandchildren as the 3 hour church to differentiate it from the 1 hour Episcopal church.  It's not easy to get that title, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or LDS or Mormon explained easily to the grandchildren, without a bit more exposure to the teachings.  Maybe, the Lord willing, and with God's help, we will find a home in our new Ward that can be an extension of our home in the Episcopal Cathedral.  

At the bible studies at the Cathedral, we are able to share some of the beliefs of the LDS church in a productive manner that meets with respect among the people at the study.  One of the men there told a story of two young missionary women who came to his home and asked what they might do to be of service to him, how they might help him, what he might need help with, could they perhaps clean the area alongside his driveway for him.  He agreed, they worked and worked hard, he brought them some gloves to soften the potential of callouses on their hands.  He was impressed with the young women and their devotion.  He did not know they were Mormon, he didn't have preconceived ideas about what that might mean, he shared with the class his appreciation for what those young women did in sharing service with him.   We affirmed his story in the approach the LDS Church is taking in encouraging the young missionaries to offer services, less proselytizing at initial contact and demonstrating what service can mean.  I am pleased and impressed with his story, we are pleased to be able to share our own experiences of the LDS Church.

Somehow though, I rather don't think that if I were to share the experiences of the Episcopal Church in an LDS meeting that it would meet with as much receptiveness as was met in the sharing of our LDS experience at our Episcopal bible study in the Cathedral.  It's a wait and see experience.  Having already attempted many times to share the broader Christian experiences I've had when I was in the LDS meetings at my former Ward, it was met with awkward, uncomfortable silence, and a quick reaction by someone or several to correct and adjust my perspectives to alignment with the LDS narrative.  I would expect something similar were I to share such again at this new Ward, however, I am content to wait and see, and within the LDS language, respectfully share what have been my other experiences that also equate to the Christian message.  

I miss the community and fellowship, and while we have placed ourselves in a self-appointed exile from the Church, it has not been the position of the Church or the membership to exile us from fellowship as members of the community.  That is an emotional experience that does not have as much to do with exchanges about theology, beliefs, doctrine, dogma, as much as it has to do with genuine human connection, and via human companionship, connection, a connection to our Lord, to Heavenly Father and part of the human community of being Children of God.
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