A Tale of Two Churches
A few weeks ago, on Easter, I attended an Episcopalian church service with my boyfriend and his family. It was a very High service with lots of reciting, standing, kneeling, standing, and sitting. The priest sang almost all the prayers. The chapel was very ornate with high, decorative ceilings and stained glass windows. The altar at the front of the church was beautifully decorated with lilies and daffodils. The priest and deacons wore white and gold robes. There was a (I’m pretty sure) professional organist who played beautifully; the organ itself was set in one corner of the church. The building was probably 200 years old so it was a pipe organ, beautifully carved. When it was played you could feel the air vibrate. There was incense and candles.
It was basically the opposite of what Sunday services are like in my small YSA branch. We meet in a renovated post office on folding chairs. The only prayer that is the same every week is the blessing on the sacrament. Services are much more relaxed and much less liturgical. My branch president generally wears dark suits; they are nice suits, don’t get me wrong, but they are not embroidered with gold thread. I am the pianist (we don’t have an organ), and between you and me, I fake my way through most of the songs. We don’t even have a real piano; it is an electric keyboard.
Though these two church experiences were very different, there are different lessons to be learned from each.
There is a lot to be said about Mormons’ simple, straightforward presentation. What you see is what you get. There is no fuss. The homey atmosphere lends itself to feelings of belonging and community. The knowledge required by the church of a lay clergy and by pulling speakers from the general congregation fosters thought and study and insight. In addition, having a lay clergy means that each member has a sense of responsibility for making the church work on a day-to-day basis. The flexibility of prayers and sermons, and lack of ceremony allows services to be tailored to the needs of those attending. Perhaps most importantly it provides a context to think about God and Christ, and what they mean.
There is a lot to be said about formal, liturgical services, too. There is a richness of symbolism and history. Things are taken seriously and treated respectfully. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer with 50 other people lends itself to feelings of togetherness and oneness in Christ. In order to understand the ceremonies being presented, insight and knowledge and thought are required; additionally, each time you hear the words recited, new layers of meaning can be revealed, much like learning something new every time you read a familiar parable. Having a full time, professional minister to tend to the flock creates a sense of continuity, stability, and care. The tradition and grandeur are awe-inspiring, and point to the power and glory of God. Perhaps most importantly it provides a context to think about God and Christ, and what they mean.
Maybe they are not so different after all.