Taking My Two Month Church Sabbatical


Last Sunday I returned to church for the first time in two months after having Baby E. I had decided late in my pregnancy, when virtually no clothes fit and I was huge and uncomfortable, that going to church when one is nine months pregnant was not a priority. And then after I had the baby, the doctor was surprisingly firm about not taking the baby to church until he was six weeks old. Thus my two month sabbatical from church was born.

During those two months of Sundays, I generally stayed at home to take care of baby, while Mike was gone from 8 AM until the afternoon. (Side note: Sundays suck when one’s spouse goes to up to seven hours of meetings and leaves one home alone to cope with crying infant.) Towards the end of that two months, however, I had begun to miss worship services, and for some reason I wasn’t feeling up to going to my own ward, so I decided I’d attend my local favorite non-LDS church, the United Church of Christ.

I love it there. I love the thoughtful, academic sermons the pastor gives. I love the upbeat energetic hymns and choir performances led by a local professor of choral music. I LOVE it when that same professor/music leader would lead the congregation in meditative singing, as he sings the cantor part. That part always gives me chills of joy. I love the infant quiet room, which is encased in glass and right in the midst of the congregation. I love the fact that women often conduct the meetings and that sometimes female guest pastors come to lead the service. Above all, I love its inclusive Christian message of loving and inviting all people to worship.

Every time I go to this church, I become more strongly determined to live a thoughtful Christian life. I become interested in praying again. It is wholly a positive experience.

I’ve felt similarly inspired and uplifted by attending other religions’ services. It makes me happy to see so many people thoughtfully communing with God in diverse and beautiful ways, and it inspires me to try to connect with God in new ways as well.

Because of these uplifting experiences I have had attending various worship sessions, and because I sometimes become frustrated, bored, and depressed by the status quo in my own faith tradition, I have become convinced that taking sabbaticals from my ward and attending other churches occasionally – particularly churches whose message personally resonates – is healthy for me. Doing this nourishes my spirit. It reconnects me with God. It fills me with joy to see people finding their paths to Him and Her. It even gives me strength to renew my relationship with God within my own religion.

What have been your experiences with taking sabbaticals from Church, positive or negative? Does anyone else reach points when they also need a spiritual boost from other faith traditions? And is it wrong, from an LDS perspective, to skip out on Sacrament Meeting occasionally to attend other services? What’s a good balance of maintaining active Church attendance but also enjoying other services?

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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  1. Peter says:

    I would say that from an LDS perspective, skipping out on sacrament meeting in search of a spiritual boost displays a less than full understanding of the sacrament.

    A renewal of the covenants made with God is, after all, the reason for the meeting in the first place. And what could be more spiritually boosting than strengthening that relationship? Energetic singing? Intellectual discourse? Enjoying nature? Maybe, but if other activities provide a greater boost than the actual sacrament, which from the LDS perspective is the weekly opportunity for such an event to take place, perhaps it’s more a reflection of an individual’s spiritual condition rather than a failing of the worship service itself.

    Sunday school or relief society/priesthood meetings on the other hand…

  2. Michael says:

    I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be personal, but do you have a testimony of the restored gospel? Is it growing or is it declining?

    While I am a convert and understand gaining inspiration from other faiths, they do not rejoice in sharing the deep and wonderful truths of the Lord’s true gospel.

  3. Phouchg says:

    I see once again the testimony police are out in force. Michael’s implication is that because somebody does something that is not the norm, that their loyalty is suspect.

    Everybody approaches the church in different ways – but all roads lead to Rome.

  4. Tam says:

    Given the vast numbers of unique personalities in the world, there are also vast numbers of ways to express love and appreciation to God. LDS sacrament meetings certainly are a sweet way to worship God and partaking of the sacrament with the Saints to renew ones covenants with God can be a deep and profound spiritual experience. And there are other ways to have similar deep and profound spiritual experiences. To think that they should be avoided because of a rigid “must partake of the sacrament every single week” attitude seems to miss the mark. It’s moving into the realms of pharisaical, letter-of-the-law type thinking, such as not exceeding a prescribed number of footsteps on the Sabbath.

    Caroline, I’m glad you have found a variety of avenues to worship God. Your ability to sincerely worship with others in their different spheres of Godly devotion is a good thing. I wish that we could all be so tolerant and non-judgmental.

  5. sarah says:

    Oh please, skipping Sac. meeting on occassion is hardly a dark road to apostacy. I skip Sac. mtg at least once a month to attend the Unitarian church down the street. I love the sermons — very enlightening and thought provoking; I love the testimony/candle lighting at the end of each service; I love that the church is led by a husband/wife team who alternate sermons; I love that the congregation is active in social justice and environmental issues that impact the world; I love the children’s moment when all the kids are invited to sit on the floor in front and have a mini-sermon directed at them, and are then sent to Sunday School so the adults can really listen and pay attention to the main sermon; and I love the social hour afterwards that is accompanied by an art show. I feel spiritually enriched by the meetings and that they enhance my LDS experience by offering new perspective and a vision of what a church with gender equality in leadership is like. It helps me deal with my LDS questions and issues. I also occassionally attend African American Baptist services because I am a musician/singer, and the devotion and praise of gospel music moves me much more deeply than LDS hymns. For the same reason, I adore Catholic mass. I could never be Catholic, but the mass leaves me with a transcendent feeling — the music, the pomp and ceremony, the acknowlegement of God’s grandeur, the kneeling — it all helps remind me that God is all powerful, and it humbles me in a way LDS services do not.

    And hey, even if all my church visiting does make people question my spiritual condition — I really could care less. I know the nature of my relationship with God and I know it is strengthened with diversity of worship, exposure to other means of expressing love and devotion to God, and the opportunity to hear a beautifully prepared and delivered sermon that makes me think all week about ways to change my life.

    I cherish the opportunity to take the sacrament and renew my covenants with God, but quite frankly, the rest of the meeting usually puts me to sleep.

  6. AmyB says:

    tam and sarah’s thoughts really resonated with me.

    President Hinckley’s statement to those of other faiths to “come let us add to your good” is coming to mind, although I think it should be a two way street. There are many beautiful and meaningful ways of worshiping, and I certainly feel in my own life that I benefit from experiencing them and letting them add to the good I already have in the LDS faith. It is enriching and helps me see people of all faiths as part of my “we” rather than “them”.

  7. John says:

    I participated in a wonderful panel at the Summer 2006 Sunstone called Join None of Them, for They are All Wrong in which the panelists describe their spiritual experiences in other churches. Two of them talked about gaining a better understanding and testimony of Christ in their wanderings out of and then returning to the LDS church, renewed (I talk about my experiences at the Irvine UCC, among others).

    I’m pretty heterodox, but I’d say that mainstream American LDS could learn a lot about spirituality and compassion and even Jesus from their religious neighbors of other faiths.

  8. Paula says:

    Did you see the comments by the Amish grandfather, about the man who killed those little girls? Standing by her coffin, he was telling other children that they must not hate the shooter. And when the Amish were organizing help for the families of the victims, they were also organizing help for the shooter’s family. Seems to me that we can learn a lot about Christlike love and forgiveness from them.

  9. Caroline says:

    Peter, I suppose that is one of my questions. When I attend the UCC, they often have a sacrament. So I am taking that moment to remember Christ and strengthen my relationship with him, much like I do when I’m in my own ward. I am still in the process of figuring out why another faith’s sacrament isn’t as effective as the LDS one, when the end result is the same: communion with Christ. Sure, there’s that whole idea the we LDS have the only valid authority to bless the bread and water, but again, I am trying to figure out how important that is when I actually feel closer to Christ after the UCC sacrament than I do with the LDS.

    Michael, I think we’re coming from different planets on this one. I don’t see a testimony as monolithic thing that one either has or doesn’t have.

    Phouchg,
    Yes, I too think all roads (or at least a good number of roads) lead to Rome.

    Thanks,Tam. I agree that different personalities have different religious needs. I think lots of people’s spiritual lives could be enriched by exploring new ways to worship.

    Sarah,
    I’ve never tried the Unitarian, but I really want to. I’ve heard great things about them. What you said about the thoughtful sermons you encounter there really resonates with me. A part of me loves the LDS way of doing things -non-professionals with no religious training who get up and give talks. But perhaps an even bigger part of me loves the thoughtful, educated, professional sermons I hear from people who have theology training. It often stretches me and makes me think in ways that LDS sacrament meeting talks do not.

    AmyB, I absolutely agree that Hinckley’s statement should go both ways. We LDS could add to their good, but they could also certainly add to ours.

    John, do you have a CD of that session? I would LOVE to borrow it.

  10. Mary B says:

    I understand the spiritual uplift from other religious services and have enjoyed that. They can feel like a refuge and rest to the soul. However, I find that I prefer participating in those in addition to my attendance at our church services, rather than instead of our church services.

    Thinking about it, I realize that this is not only because of the gospel doctrines of the restored gospel that sing to my soul, but also because one way that I express my consecration of all I have to the Lord and my determination to assist in the building up of his kingdom on the earth is through my efforts and my prayers offered in my worship and service among my local community of saints.

    Worship for me is not only drawing closer in thought and emotion to God, but also consecrating my heartfelt, stretched out service to God as I interact with brothers and sisters in that worship service. My sacrament meetings not only allow me to thoughtfully renew my covenants through the sacrament and ponder my Saviors role in my life, drawing closer to him as I do so, but they also give me opportunity to pray mightily for struggling, inarticulate speakers. And the Sunday school class I attend is a venue for me to pour my thought, prayers, insights, work, encouragement and love into a connection with God and with my brothers and sisters when it’s going well, and an opportunity to pray mightily for the class members and teacher and try to work to make things better when it’s not. When I have a teaching or leadership calling it’s even more so. So my worship is a strong mix of spiritual lift from God and consecrated effort and work on my part.

    So, when I am in a situation where the only worship services I attend are of another denomination, though I find them uplifting to my soul, I not only miss the insights of the restored gospel, but I also hugely feel the lack of my opportunity to express my worship through consecrated service to others during those hours. And for me, service on behalf of others is one of the essential dimensions of expression of love and devotion and worship of God.

    Perhaps it would be different if I were attending a large ward where my services were not really needed and I had developed few connections which gave me opportunities to serve. But I have spent most of my life in small wards and branches where Sunday worship has provided many opportunities for prayers and service for others on my part when I have been open to them. And that has richly blessed my worship experience.

    So, yes, I have enjoyed the spiritual uplift of other religious services. They are restful and elevating in godly ways in a way similar to the way my time in the scriptures is. But, as tiring as it can sometimes be, I need that consecrated work and service aspect of worship that is also found in LDS worship services for my worship to be more whole, I think. It is an interesting mixture of rest, elevation and difficult work.

  11. courtney says:

    This makes me think of something my former stake president said. I was in a temple prep class he was teaching and he was talking about other religions and one student made a comment about going to another Christian religious service and he said, “you just couldn’t feel the Spirit there.” To which my stake president replied, “YOU couldn’t feel the Spirit.”
    I loved it! That’s actually a really good idea, I think– to supplement my own worship by learning from the ways other religions grow closer to Christ.

    Also Paula, I was thinking along the same lines when I read that about the Amish people. I mean, wow. They have to be so close to God and so firm in their faith to be able to forgive so quickly. I wish I were that close to Christ. It made me contemplate becoming Amish (not seriously, but I did think about that a little).

  12. Caroline says:

    Paula, Amen.

    MaryB, Thanks for your eloquent explanations of how you approach going to church and the sacrament. I like how you think of church attendance as not only what you get from it but also what you can give to others. It’s true that when I go to UCC, i am a pure consumer enjoying my relationship with God. Other people don’t really factor in.

    Courtney, what a great stake president!

  13. Mary B says:

    Caroline,
    You are very kind.
    Reading between the lines of your post it sounds like you are at one of those places in life where one feels a little overwhelmed and solo at times; that the expectations placed upon yourself by yourself and others exceeds by a bit, at the moment, the the amount of support needed to fulfil those expectations.
    Is it so?

  14. Caroline says:

    Mary B,
    Interesting question. I had to think about that for a minute. But I think I am less overwhelmed by expectations than I am concerned/bothered about some of the expectations in the first place. I question the premise of those expectations. But as for feeling solo, that’s true. My husband and I are on very different wavelengths when it comes to the church.

    Ultimately I am drawn to the idea that different people require different things spiritually, and I would love that idea to be validated more among LDS.

  15. Mary B says:

    you wrote: “Ultimately I am drawn to the idea that different people require different things spiritually, and I would love that idea to be validated more among LDS.”

    Looking around at my brothers and sisters in our branch yesterday, I would say that definitely you have hit upon a truth: different people definitely do require different things spiritually. There’s a wide and disparate variety in that regard in our congregation.

    A question I would have is this: If you have discovered that truth, what are your reasons for wishing it were validated more among latter-day saints? I can think of many reasons why one might wish so.
    Because you aren’t quite sure it’s a legitimate truth, and validations would be reassuring? Because someone you love thinks it’s not a truth and an official or general validation would help you help him understand that it is? Because someone important to you feels insecure about his/her own spiritual standing before God and needs you to conform to or at least fully support his/her understanding in order to feel reassured about him/herself? Because you happen to be in one of those large congregations where it’s hard to connect with individuals so everyone seems the same except you, and noone seems to understand what in the world you are talking about?
    All reasonable reasons. Which one is yours? Or is your reason for wanting that validation something else?

    I hope you don’t mind my asking questions. Your posts are thoughtful and make me think.

  16. AmyB says:

    mary b, you have interesting quesions. I don’t know Caroline’s answer to why she wishes that would be validated more in the church, but I’ll give you some of my own thoughts.

    In church discussions, I generally hear the same ideas over and over(fast, pray, read scriptures, go to church). I think that spirituality and spiritual journeys can take us many places. Some gain a lot from visiting and learning about other churches. Communing with nature might be another spiritual expression. Jubilant singing and dancing yet another. Alternative ideas just aren’t talked about, at least they haven’t been in any unit I’ve ever been in. In addition, speaking about nonconventional spiritual practices seems threatening to many lds, as evidenced by the first few responses to Caroline’s original post.

    I, too, would love recognition of the truth that there are many ways to seek the spirit and touch it moment to moment in our lives.

  17. Janna says:

    I live next to a Lutheran Church in NYC. On Sunday mornings, the doors are open to the street. The organ music and singing drifts down the sidewalk. I wish our chapels were so welcoming to passersby.

    I love, love, love the Mormon church – and always will. But, I learn a lot from watching this congregation live and work the Gospel right next door.

  18. Anonymous says:

    This is such an odd posting, to me! As a convert, I’ve spent plenty of time in other churches and while their services can be uplifting and fun, they don’t in any way compare to the truths I feel the LDS Church has. I still regularly attend other denominations with family and friends, but never as a substitute for what I feel is lacking in my own relationship with God.

    The other bizarre part is being left home alone with an infant while husband is in church meetings. Does your husband not work outside of the home? My husband is gone for work, never mind church obligations, twelve hours a day, five days a week. He is in a line of work that obligates him to work Sundays. I am left to truck all of the kids, including the newest infant, to church alone, even if my postpartum body doesn’t feel up to it. A Sabbath spent alone with a new baby sounds like heaven! Enjoy your babymoon!

  19. Caroline says:

    Mary B, I feel much the same as Amy. (Well said, Amy.) I suppose I’d like more validation for a diversity of ways to connect with God because then that diversity could be reflected more in our LDS meetings. And IMO, having a range of ways within church to celebrate one’s relationship with God would only a)enrich people’s spiritual lives who may be in a bit of a rut, and b) appeal to diverse people who don’t connect with the way we do it currently.

    For instance, I would LOVE for us to get some different music into sacrament meeting once in a while. Slow hymn singing is great for lots of people, but others would really appreciate something joyful and spirited. I think incorporating some of this occassionally would benefit a lot of long time members and investigators.

    Janna,
    I love that you learn a lot from other non LDS who are also seeking God and Christ.

    Anonymous,
    I’m so glad the LDS church fulfills your needs so well. I guess I’ve been a member so long that I don’t get the same thrill when I hear about living prophets, restored gospel, and other uniquely mormon things. I’ve just heard about them so many times before (and in the exact same rhetoric) that I often thirst for new ways of approaching God and Christ.

    As for the new baby comment, my husband and I equal parent. I work outside the house for up to 5 hours in the middle of the day, and he comes home for those hours to take the baby. So being stuck alone with the infant for 7 hours at a stretch really is a long time for me. (Of course the baby is 8 weeks old now, so I’m getting the hang of it more and it’s not as scary.) I just didn’t like Mike being gone that long on a day that is supposed to be about family togetherness. Hats off to you for dealing so well with your husband’s absence on Sundays.

  20. Melanie says:

    Caroline,

    I think it’s wonderful that you see so much that is good and beautiful in all churches. The LDS Church certainly does not have a monopoly on truth, and I think it is valuable for us to hear (or sing) about the gospel in new ways–either because it snaps us out of a complacent comfort zone, or, as it seems is the case for you, because it is often more comfortable for us than the worship we experience in Mormon services.

    I don’t think there is a big problem with missing Church occasionally. But it’s one thing if you go to Notre Dame while in Paris or go hear your neighbor perform with her church choir, or attend a bat mitzvah, and so on. It’s a different proposition when another church is (at least semi-permanently) taking precedence in your life and emotional loyalty.

    I agree with you that a testimony is not a yes/no question. Testimony takes many forms, and we all have cycles of more or less belief. However, it seems to me that the implications of a testimony–any testimony–remain pretty much the same. If the Church is what it claims to be, then it is the place to be.

    The Church is not perfect, and never will be as long as the members and leaders are mortal. But while other churches have good but imperfect people doing their best to live Christian lives, the LDS Church has good but imperfect people doing their best to live Christian lives under the direction of Christ Himself! Seems like a no-brainer to me.

    And of course the list goes on–for example, the possibility of the constant companionship of the Spirit, contingent of course upon my personal worthiness, versus the discrete encounters with the Spirit offered by other churches.

    I sympathize with not feeling up to going to your ward, because I have felt that a lot, often for weeks or months at a time. But I always go, and I’m always glad afterward. So many of life’s really worthwhile pursuits are similar…there are any number of things that most of us wouldn’t always put at the top of our “preferred activities” list: exercise, cleaning the house, going to work, changing a diaper, offering a sincere apology–but it always feels good to do those things because they are pieces of a bigger puzzle that builds a joyous, challenging, beautiful life. So it is with Church: I may not be in the mood, and I may not like some of the talks or lessons, but I never regret going.

    One more thing: you suggested that the end result of the sacrament is communion with Christ. While I certainly agree that closeness with Him is a result, the sacrament is much more than that. The sacrament is a renewing of covenants between us and God, and while we often describe covenants as “two-way promises,” we are not in an equal standing with God. Covenants are sacred promises we make on His terms. For now, that’s in an LDS Church, with a sacrament blessed by authorized priesthood holders. I don’t doubt that other churches have an absolutely pure intent with their sacraments, and I know the Spirit can be felt in them, but pure intent is not enough without proper authority (see for example D&C 132:18).

    Sorry so long…thanks for writing such a thought-provoking post!

  21. Caroline says:

    Melanie, Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I enjoyed hearing your perspective.

    I think I may just ultimately approach things a bit differently than most LDS. I can’t help but feel that other religion’s leaders and members may indeed have true and strong connectins with Christ, and also with the Spirit.

    I’m glad you never regret going to church. I wish I felt like that, but often I come home so sad or frustrated that in the end I sometimes think it would have been better to not attend. I’m hoping to learn someday to not let things bother me as much as they sometimes do now.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Speaking of the hymns, is anyone here familar with Eddie Izzard? He does a bit comparing Lutheran hymns to gospel music… That the music born of slavery and oppression is far happier and soulful than that born of silver spoons.

  23. mary b says:

    Caroline said: “I think I may just ultimately approach things a bit differently than most LDS. I can’t help but feel that other religion’s leaders and members may indeed have true and strong connectins with Christ, and also with the Spirit.”

    Brigham Young said: “It is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church (Jesus, their Elder Brother, being at their head) to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, to mechanism of every kind, to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion.

    The people upon this earth have a great many errors, and they have also a great many truths. This statement is not only true of the nations termed civilized–those who profess to worship the true God, but is equally applicable to pagans of all countries, for in their religious rites and ceremonies may be found a great many truths which we will also gather home to Zion. All truth is for the salvation of the children of men–for their benefit and learning–for their furtherance in the principles of divine knowledge; and divine knowledge is any matter of fact–truth; and all truth pertains to divinity.”

    Journal of Discourses 7:283

    Moroni said: “wherefore every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.”

    Moroni 7:12

  24. mary b says:

    Caroline said: “I’m hoping to learn someday to not let things bother me as much as they sometimes do now.”

    Ahhh. There’s the real question. I know some LDS women who are serene in their sense of self and their faith in the Lord as well as serene about their less-common ways of personal spiritual connection with God and the fact that they are rarely mentioned or part of traditional LDS services. They are able to accept with charity the conventionality of others, unthreatened and undiscouraged and with great kindness and peace, unflustered, unbothered and full of love.

    Perhaps you know some of them to. The question is: How do _we_ get that way?

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