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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