Dueling Sacraments

Bea’s Testimony Treasure

The Outdoor Chapel










Our ward council decided to plan a campout for Labor Day Weekend. The kids could play, the adults could chat, the teenagers could talk about how boring everything is. In short, it would be a bonding experience. We even had plans for a special Sunday service at camp.  If you’ve ever had sacrament meeting off the grid, you know how delightful it can be. Away from the trapping of the suits and trays and stands, there is something elemental and peaceful about renewing covenants while sitting on the grass.  It connects you to someone when they pour the sacrament water from a plastic pitcher into your Dixie cup and then you do the same for the next person.

But that’s not what happened. The local bishop where we camped got wind of our presence (a disturbance in the force?) and paid our bishop a visit. Bishop Local told our leadership that we HAD to attend their ward, bring support staff for nursery and primary, and could not never no way no how bless and pass our own sacrament. Our people tried to reason with him, but Bishop Local just had Stake President Local call to reinforce whatever statute it is in the handbook that gives the geographic authorities stewardship over any ordinances performed on their land.  Super lame.

This really irritated most of us. How dare this man hit us over the head with a Patriarchal stick when we just want to have Sunday services as a ward family. We knew our bishop was not happy about things and wondered what he would do. Would we grudgingly comply and mutter under our breaths during three hours? Or would we do sacrament at camp in defiance of the local authorities? Sunday morning over breakfast our bishop announced the following plan: we would have a 45 minute service at the campsite, and then those who desired would proceed to the local church, take the sacrament, and then leave. Right after the sacrament. I felt like this was a clever compromise. It satisfies the letter of the handbook while still allowing our ward to promote unity in holding our own meeting.

And our testimony meeting was very sweet.  We sat on log benches arranged in a circle around a fire pit. Next to the fire was pile of big sticks.  After people had shared their testimony, they were supposed to toss a stick onto the fire, symbolizing that the faith of the individual helps grow the faith of the group. You have never seen a testimony meeting were every boy from 3-11 INSISTED on getting up and talking. And my six-year old caught a salamander during the closing song. I think most of the kids would echo her statement that it was “the best church ever.”

But when it was over and we were supposed to head to the “real” church, I just couldn’t do it. I had all sorts of competing emotions. I have a touch of the ODD (oppositional defiance disorder) and did not want to give in to Bishop Local. I also felt weird going to take the sacrament when I was clearly feeling pissed off and resentful. But mostly the pleaser in me could not take how awkward it was going to be when 50 people stood up en masse to leave 20 minutes into their meeting.  We would not just be snubbing that bishop, but an entire congregation. So I sent my kids with my husband and curled back into my sleeping bag and fell asleep contemplating things like unrighteous dominion, bonfires of faith, and the proper way to make a s’more.

I’m curious to know how other people would have acted in this situation. Should we just have gone to their ward? Were we right to compromise? Or should we have smiled and nodded and just done sacrament on our own?

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21 Responses

  1. Libby says:

    I’m of the smiling, nodding, and going ahead and doing what you wanted to do anyway camp. “Sure, Bishop, you’re absolutely right.” And then just don’t show up.

    Our RS lesson last week (taught by the stake RS president!) was AWESOME. She used a talk from April conference and spent the entire time discussing unrighteous dominion. Even asked for people to give really bad examples of Church leaders exercising such. Which made a few people nervous, but did a lot to clear the air.

  2. I love your bishop’s compromise solution. It would have been much easier for him to capitulate to the “presiding authorities.” Instead, he gave ward members an opportunity to exercise their agency.

    Good for you for choosing what worked for you while husband took the kids to the second meeting.

  3. Rachel says:

    Maybe because I’ve participated in those campground/outside testimony and Sacrament meetings in the past, it seems quite inappropriate for someone who was not your (or your ward’s) bishop to interfere with what had already been planned. Your bishop is still your bishop when you are outside of your ward boundaries, and as such, especially in cases where he is present, and what is happening is something he is happy with, it is not someone else’s prerogative to step in.

    It would be just as silly if a bishop accompanied his youth to a temple outside of his ward’s boundaries (which is most people’s temple), and the bishop covering the temple area stepped in, and took charge of them because they were in his area. Or if mutual advisors took their youth waterskiing in a lake out of their ward boundaries, and mutual advisors from that ward said, “Sorry. They can’t waterski on OUR lake, or bless the refreshments in OUR park. As long as they are in our boundaries, they have to come to OUR meeting-house, and do OUR planned activity.”

    • stacer says:

      I completely agree. I’ve been on a ward campout like this—my Boston singles’ wards did a joint campout up in New Hampshire on the church-owned property up there—and we had an outdoor sacrament meeting that went off without a hitch (or a local bishop). Of course, we had two bishops between the two singles wards. Perhaps two bishops outweigh one? 🙂 I don’t know what they would have done if we were to have been required to go in to the local ward for sacrament, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have gone over well with the singles.

      • Rachel says:

        stacer, that is exactly where I have experienced them! I was formerly in LP 1 (2008-2010), and attended the cold, but beautiful New Hampshire campout both years I was there.

        It would have felt very foreign, and very strange were someone to tell us we couldn’t worship together there.

      • Diane says:

        I seem to remember something similar when I lived in a ward that was in Alexandria, The single ward had an annual camp out on some property next to Camp David.

  4. X2 Dora says:

    Ha! I’ve got a touch of ODD myself!

    I think it’s a real shame that Bishop Local got into such a huff over such a non-huff situation. I believe it’s narrow-minded thinking like that that keeps more people at arm’s distance from learning more about the gospel. Not that we want to be associated with sticky deaths, but hasn’t he ever heard the one about vinegar versus honey?

    All in all, I’m in favor of Big Tent Church. The gospel has such power to bring people and deity closer together. Why do we let church policies, culture, and handbooks get in the way? My response to diversional tactics (as in diverting people away from the gospel) depends on my energy level when I come across them, and how I perceive the chance of success. Sometimes I am able to speak up and present my case. Other times I do the nod-and-continue. And other times it’s strict avoidance.

  5. JM says:

    The conduct of Bishop Local and Stake President Local was very unfortunate and incomprehensible. Why did they feel the need to assert their power like that? What did they fear? Even if they took the position that your ward’s sacrament meeting was within their jurisdiction, why not just give their blessing over your outdoor meeting? Was it because they did not feel that was within their discretion?

    Your bishop came up with a good compromise in a difficult situation. However, if I had been in your bishop’s position, I probably would have encouraged the visitors to stay for the entire sacrament meeting because it seems rude to the congregation in general to leave en masse after the sacrament.

    That said, I wouldn’t have gone to the “real” church after the outdoor testimony meeting. (Even the Church acknowledges that we don’t have to have the sacrament every Sunday to have meaningful worship–look at General Conference, Stake Conference, and Regional Conference Sundays.)

  6. mr.mraynes says:

    Wow. This is simply reprehensible. Holding another congregation hostage like that with a Priesthood ordinance.

    Definitely hard to see the motivation for this stance, nor what ramifications could really come from defying the local leadership.

    Hearing of these experiences makes me sad. And tired.

  7. Fran says:

    I’m a fairly severe ODD case. 😉 I don’t know what I would have done. I think I would have enjoyed both the oppositional approach of showing up for sacrament and leaving right after as well as not showing at all.

    I think your bishop’s compromise was a good solution. But I just cannot wrap my mind around how power-trippy some people are. Why did that local bishop even care????? Does he not have anything better to do? It’s just unbelievable to me.

  8. Annie B. says:

    Wow, what an awkward situation that didn’t have to be. The outdoor service sounds really cool, I think I would have loved it.

    More and more lately I’ve been recognizing that church ceremonies are a representation–symbolic of the real thing. Reminders if you will. And the real thing is our life. So if we’re so hung up on getting the symbols and representations right that we conduct ourselves reprehensibly at the expense of those around us, and ourselves, then the symbols and ceremony have effectively become meaningless. If I had been in your situation, the local sacrament meeting would have felt superfluous.

  9. Zenaida says:

    I’ve heard that they’ve been cracking down on when/where/how the sacrament is administered. ie, when I was on a tour of Mexico with other members we had a small sacrament meeting on our own. That kind of thing is no longer aloud according to my understanding.

    (I’m not saying I agree, because what about the women who can’t do that for themselves anyway. Why should the men be allowed to do it for themselves while traveling, when the women can’t?)

  10. Emily U says:

    I like your bishop’s compromise a lot. It showed respect for the sacrament and a healthy amount of contempt for a completely contemptible position.

    I don’t think I could have gone to that ward’s sacrament meeting, either.

  11. PostScript says:

    OK, I’ll probably get hate mail for this, but …

    Did you hear the story about Bishop A, who tried to exercise unrighteous dominion over Bishop B by trying to usurp Bishop B’s authority by holding a competing Sacrament service in Bishop B’s ward boundaries?

    • X2 Dora says:

      Hmmm … I don’t understand how it can be viewed as a competing sacrament service. It’s not like Bishop A invited Bishop B’s congregation to skip out on regular services and attend the outside service. And it’s not as if the outside service was going to be held in the middle of town; it was held in a campground! While the whole ward was camping!

  12. Kalinin says:

    Issues like this are common when one leader is familiar with the Handbook, and another is not. The whole thing could have been a non issue if traveling bishop would have asked beforehand.
    The following comes from the handbook under Youth Conference, but it applies in this circumstance. There are several other sections which talk about the proper administration of the sacrament.
    “However, sacrament meetings are not to be held—and the sacrament is not to be administered—outside the boundaries of the ward or stake where the priesthood leaders preside. Any exceptions must be approved by a member of the Presidency of the Seventy or the Area Presidency.” (Handbook 2, 13.4)
    I’m an advocate for the Handbook since it can (if followed) prevent bizarro stuff from happening in the church, which drives many people away. Although, I will admit that a strict compliance to the Handbook can do the same. Many worthwhile variances are permitted if the question is asked. Otherwise, your priesthood leader should supply a sufficient explanation.

    • Emily U says:

      I get what you are saying, but if the Handbook says “Any exceptions must be approved by… the Area Presidency” wouldn’t that mean that a bishop or stake president has no say matters like this? If it has to be taken to the level of a Seventy or Area Presidency? It’s a bit like one sergeant correcting another sergeant, when in fact it’s the captain’s responsibility to correct the sergeant.

      Seems like the authoritarian bishop didn’t know the Handbook either.

  13. Ziff says:

    I would’ve gone to Bishop Local’s meeting. But I would’ve taken the sacrament with my left hand! That’d show ’em!

    No, seriously, I think Bishop Local is nuts. I would have been in favor of having your bishop smile and nod and do as he pleased. What would Bishop Local have done–sent sacrament interdiction commandos to bust in your meeting, and rush to knock the bread and water out of people’s hands (and mouths)?

  14. Jeff says:

    Apart from the sacrament jurisdiction issue, I’m more curious about what the non-campers in the ward did for their Sunday services back home?

  15. rs says:

    i wouldn’t have gone to the other ward either. control freaks like bishop local are the type of leaders that drive people away.

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