The Missionary at Mass

March 12, 2008 | 49 comments
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My father used to point to the ceiling in our living room and claim he could still see a dent made by my head as I jumped up in excitement over discovering that my call was to the Switzerland Geneva Mission. I was nothing if not enthusiastic at the beginning of my mission, and I used the three months between receiving my call and going into the MTC to prepare in every way I could think of.

When I discovered that the mission, although headquartered in Switzerland, included an enormous piece of France, I realized I would most likely be working among French Catholics rather than Swiss Protestants. I knew next to nothing about Catholics.

To correct that gap, I hunted a parish where I could attend church. The first Saturday, I attended Mass in a very large, very ornate, very cold building. While I loved the surroundings, nobody spoke to me and I felt out of touch. The next Saturday, I visited a parish in a modern building, the uncomfortable kind where there are no right angles to the architecture. I was embarrassed when I slipped into a back pew and was immediately shooed away by a woman who told me that seat was reserved for the ushers.

The third week, I discovered St. Christopher’s in North Las Vegas. It was a worn, warm building. The congregation had a large Hispanic component, but enough Anglos that I didn’t feel out of place; the crowd was also large enough on a Saturday evening that I didn’t seem to be an intruder, but not so large that I felt invisible. Best of all, near the end of the service when the priest invited everyone to turn and greet his neighbor, I felt truly welcomed — the people on each side and in the pew ahead looked me full in the face, and shook my hand, and their smiles reached all the way to their eyes. I had found my parish, and I attended Mass there every Saturday evening until I went into the MTC.

I watched and listened, and tried to be a respectful visitor without pretending to be something I wasn’t. That is, I stood, knelt or sat along with the congregation, but I did not cross myself or genuflect before taking my seat. I contributed to the collection with what seemed to be the generally given amount. I certainly didn’t go up to take communion, but as I became familiar with the ritual, I responded when the response didn’t conflict with my belief.

That wasn’t enough, though; I wasn’t getting answers to the questions I had. I wanted to know what, in general, Catholics really believed — not with the goal of arguing with anyone, but to understand. I was savvy enough to know, for example, that despite what I had often heard, Catholics didn’t worship the statues of saints as idols, but I did not understand what the role of saints really was, or why Mary had such a prominent position, and whether typical Catholics took seriously the reports of seeing the image of Mary in various unlikely places. I wasn’t into deep theology, I only wanted to better understand the people I would be meeting, and not assume they believed something that really wasn’t so.

So I called around and found a Catholic instruction class that met on Thursday evenings. It was intended for Protestants who were engaged to Catholics and would be promising to raise their children as Catholics, and for Catholic adults who had drifted away from the Church but whose children were now preparing for First Communion, and for potential converts. The secretary I spoke to didn’t say anything about Mormon missionaries, but neither did she say anything that told me I wouldn’t be welcome. So I went.

It was interesting, and I learned a lot. I still didn’t get the answers to my questions, though, and the class was not designed for asking questions. Also, nobody ever asked me why I was there, so I could never easily explain who I was. After a few weeks, the class leader passed out a flyer giving the name and phone number of the parish priest, and invited anyone who wanted an interview to call for an appointment.

I did. And I went. And as I sat in the comfortable waiting room of a private residence, for the first time I got nervous. Very nervous. Almost too scared to run out the door nervous. But at last the priest came to the door and escorted me into his office, and seated me … and his first words were “So, why do you want to become a Catholic?” I wish I had a picture of his face when I told him that actually I wasn’t there to become a Catholic, that I was a Mormon going to serve a mission in France, and I had some questions, and even though I had gone to church and taken instruction, nobody had ever given me a chance to ask my questions, so I hoped he would talk to me, and I was sorry if I was doing anything wrong or disrespectful, because that really wasn’t my intention, because I thought it was important enough to want to get it right by asking somebody who really understood, and …

And when I finally reached the end of that interminable nervous introduction, he sat back, and smiled. He was a good man. He was startled, and maybe a little disappointed. He was not angry. He was patient. He let me ask everything that occurred to me, and explained without the slightest hint of condescension or disapproval. I tried not to overstay my welcome, and I thanked him sincerely. I wish I remembered his name, because he was certainly kind to a nervous young woman who, looking back at it now, I realize was asking some unintentionally impertinent questions.

When I did get to France, and on the relatively rare occasions when I could coax a companion out of spending P-days playing Frisbee with the elders, and talk her into visiting a church, or an art exhibit held in a decommissioned church, I was comfortable with what I saw. I could watch the largest Catholic congregation I ever saw filing into the church across from our Grenoble apartment on November 1 and understand why they went on that day. I could enjoy the Midnight Mass I insisted our district attend on Christmas Eve. I could be friendly and completely unselfconscious as I greeted the priest who lived around the corner, and who certainly knew who we were. And on those rarest of occasions when we could actually have a meaningful discussion with a serious investigator, I understood the thinking behind the questions and hesitations.

Please feel free to discuss your POSITIVE interactions with other religious faiths, especially Catholicism. And did I say the expectation is that comments will be POSITIVE?

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49 Responses to The Missionary at Mass

  1. Ray on March 12, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    I am in a hurry, so I will mention now only one experience:

    I co-hosted a Fellowship of Christian Students at the high school in AL where I taught. The other teacher who hosted with me was Baptist, and the students all were Protestant – except for one Catholic. It was a wonderful experience to sit in my classroom each day at lunch and read the NT as a group – and the other teacher was as “Christian” as it gets.

  2. bfwebster on March 12, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    Ardis:

    Thanks very much for that post. I was recently called as ward mission leader, and part of my ward mission plan is to attend all of the churches inside and just outside of our ward boundaries. I want to do this for a few reasons. First, as per your comments, I want to understand where our investigators are coming from (so to speak). I also want to be able to look at potential investigators and say, “Yes, I’ve attended your church before.” And I want to be able to do a better job of teaching the gospel essentials class. ..bruce..

  3. dangermom on March 12, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Yay! Great idea for a thread. My dad is a convert, and as a kid he liked to ride his bike around to every church he could get to. (He never bothered to go to the LDS chapel right on his corner, it was too close to be interesting.) He continued doing this when I was a kid, and he would sometimes take me to various meetings. I also got to go to Vacation Bible School and Missionette meetings–oh, how I wanted to be a Missionette, until I realized that it wasn’t Girl Scouts and they mostly handed out pamphlets, but my parents let me go. My best friend was Catholic and I went with her to Sunday School once or twice, but mostly we didn’t discuss religion (being 10) and now I wish we had.

    I want to continue doing this with my kids. So far they’ve been kind of young, but all this fuss has made me want to start in earnest. So I think we’ll be going to Mass again pretty soon–I took my 7yo several months ago to a Latin Mass (since we study Latin) and everyone was so thrilled to see us, I was really surprised. I mean, they were *really* excited to see us! We have also gone to a great VBS at the Episcopalian church where my friend goes for 2 or 3 summers now, and the kids love it. Last summer we took some Primary friends along too and it worked out very well. I should probably ask her to invite us to a service.

    I have always enjoyed reading Catholic books, especially about saints. I am quite fond of all the symbolism and art as well, and I really enjoy the folklore that has gathered around the stories for the past couple of thousand years. I know there wasn’t really a Saint Christopher who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders while ferrying the Christ Child across the stream, but it sure is a great story…

  4. Bob on March 12, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Ardis, I have nothing but respect for your story. I hope you understand, I am approached many times by people of other faiths, to talk to me about Mormonism. My rules are: it must be positive, I do not speak for the Church or against it), and my answers (as close as I can make them) will be as a faithful Mormon would give to them.

  5. Russell Arben Fox on March 12, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    I could enjoy the Midnight Mass I insisted our district attend on Christmas Eve.

    I am flabbergast. (Not that you enjoyed it, but that you could get your whole district to go, and at midnight too. Is that really what missionary life was like, once upon a time?)

    Melissa and I attend some Christian church every Christmas eve, because we feel a need to worship on that day, and unfortunately our own denomination does not provide such. We have attended several Midnight Masses, and have always be kindly received, though I think our basic take on Christian worship and doctrine, not to mention the Christmas story, fits better with what we’ve found during our visits to Methodist, Presbyterian, or Lutheran congregations.

    I attended a Catholic university–the Catholic University of America, in fact, the flagship pontifical institution in the U.S.–for my Ph.D. I was exposed for six years to students who had received a parochial education all their lives on the one hand, and to faculty who were, for the most part, dedicated yet critical, intellectually engaged Catholics on the other. Always, my faith was treated with respect and seriousness, including a seriousness in their challenges to it. I came to understand the similarities between Mormons’ humor about our own organizations, and Catholics’ humor about their own. I was the butt of more than a few jokes over the years, but never in a mean way. (When I learned, quite by accident, that my official university record listed my religious affiliation as “Protestant,” my advisor laughed: “You have to understand, Russell, that to us, you’re all Protestants.”) Some people leave graduate school unhappy or tired of the whole thing, but for me, I wouldn’t trade my time there or my Catholics friends for anything.

  6. queuno on March 12, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    DW’s grandfather was Irish Catholic. She used to attend mass with him at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in SLC frequently.

    On her mission to SoCal (Spanish), she and a companion went to midnight mass. Her comp started to giggle at one point and DW told her in no uncertain terms to shut up and stop being so disrespectful.

    I have fond childhood memories of attending graduation masses for the graduating med/nursing school classes at the public university that my dad taught at (they did their technical coursework at a Catholic hospital).

  7. Non-Arab Arab on March 12, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    I served in London, often in areas (the East End to start) which had lots of Muslims, primarily from South Asia, but also some Arabs and other areas. Coming from a mixed family with a lot of Muslims I didn’t have to immerse myself as you did ahead of time (kudos to you for doing that so honestly), as I had been at least partially immersed in Islam most of my life. Indeed, one of my fondest memories is of some close Pakistani family friends nervously presenting me with a Qur’an and fumbling over their words like an awkward church member trying to give his friend a Book of Mormon. I appreciated the sentiment because somehow it seemed so familiar to both sides of where I came from.

    Anyhow, the mission. So my trainer immediately told me we weren’t allowed to talk to Muslims and would skip over houses with the tell-tale Qur’anic calligraphy stickers or other signs. Greenie that I was this irked me, my companion insisting it was a mission rule and to do otherwise might put someone’s life at stake, while I thought the matter should be a case by case basis. Before long I brought it up with my mission president – an old school Utahn who I can’t tell you the amount of respect I have for – who in his southern Utah drawl informed me “heck, you know more about this stuff than I or anyone else here does, just use your common sense!”. An answer I loved.

    But lest I spew forth stories of how culturally sensitive I was and used it to convert oodles of my Pakistani family’s co-religionists to the church, the reality was quite different. While still in greenie mode one time I made the huge mistake of thinking I knew enough about Islam to Qur’an bash with some local religious youth outside a pickup cricket game (to this day I can’t figure the rules of cricket out and the Brits make it incedibly boring, but credit Pakistanis and Indians for actually making it look fun!). I pulled out some tidbit of Islamic religious history that I thought showed inconsistency, and this dude trashed me to bits with his superior knowledge of his own faith and me and my companion left with me having deeply insulted the local neighborhood watch. Sitting their in church that evening at an activity I realized I had to go find the guy and apologize. Comp thought I was nuts, but we did so, got lucky to find the guy on the street and all was well. That taught me a lesson about first intellectual arrogance, and second realizing it’s not about the doctrinal or historical minutiae per se but about how people feel about their faith and being respectful even where we differ.

    Later in the mission though I did have several encounters where my personal background did help even if not convert. There was the English convert to Islam who had married a real Salafi puritan Algerian. He was kind and hospitable if austere and invited us to his home to discuss religion. He did the things Muslims do (and have done tome often in my life as someone who they feel under patriarchal lineage Shariah rules “should” be Muslim) when they are trying to convince Christians that Islam is the truth. Ahmed Didat featured prominently in the discussion as I recall right (a Muslim preacher who actually studied the Bible and Christianity and often debated Christians), as did the story of a Christian who tried to create his own Qur’anic Sura (chapter) but acknowledged failing in his efforts (anyone see a parallel to a certain section of the D&C?). The kind of logical, trying to convince someone type of stuff I had long known from my Muslim family and friends, though which in my experience are more effective in re-assuring Muslims of the rightness of their own faith than convincing outsiders (Mormon faith promoting rumors parallels anyone?). Anyhow, his English Muslim wife took her new faith very seriously, enough so that she refused to be seen by men. But wanting to join the discussion, she sat around the corner and spoke to us unseen. Now that turned out to be a fascinating conversation – she had explored a lot of Christian faiths before becoming a Muslim and wanted to grill us on all the things which she had found wrong in Christianity in her searching. What resulted was a slightly Muslim-logic tweaked set of question-critiques of Christianity with us basically answering all her doubts about Christianity by pointing out LDS beliefs that agreed with her worries and “fixed” them. It was really interesting to hear her tone of voice as the conversation went on and having had her doubts answered she would then stop, pause and then give a standard Muslim reason why she thought her new faith made sense (“well I read the Qur’an and it’s just so obviously true” kind of thing) when she couldn’t find anything else to knock Christianity down on because we’d answered it. There was no conversion there (that I know of anyways) but a really fascinating experience that bridged my many worlds.

    Other experiences included less missionary-work related items. Dragging a Scottish companion to eat the sharpest tasting Hummus I’d ever had on Edgeware Road where all the rich Gulf Arabs hang out. Several long conversations with Muslims who just wanted to talk faith for a while, watching companions get itchy at this apparent waste of time, but walking out having made a friend with whom mutual respect was shared even if agreement on faith wasn’t there. Commiserating with an Irish member who had been a Muslim and was divorced from an Iraqi man who had above all else given her a truly insane mother-in-law who wanted to Book of Mormon, Bible and Qur’an bash with the missionary who could speak some Arabic. Trying to convince this good sister that not all Arabs and Muslims were as nuts as her ex’s family and the sexist Arab nut jobs she’d spent so many years around was a piece of work as was dealing with her ex-in-laws who fulfilled just about every over the top stereotype one could think of. The British-Pakistani woman who loved Christian churches, attended them regularly, had the missionaries over regularly (even when her brother from Chicago who knew more about Mormons was visiting and gave us the evil stare when we came by), whose kids we translated the 1st discussion prayer formula into Urdu for and just about died of cuteness when they held the translated pamphlet in their hands like a little Qur’an and said a perfect Mormon Urdu prayer, and who would nod in agreement at everything we said except to say “No, Jesus no Son of God” after we had walked through the whole logical chain of why He must be and to which she had nodded yes to every step up to that. Cutest, nicest family in the world, no conversion and frankly we knew there never would be, but somehow I jst felt so at home with them and loved the time together especially with the kids. Or the time when I had more experience under my belt but got fed up tracting hundreds of Muslim homes and getting nothing but blank stares or quick “no thank you, we’re Muslims”, so I concocted a plan to use my…ahem… “knowledge” of how your typical Muslim would react to rile some folks up. I created a new door approach for Muslims where after saying who we were and the Muslim was just about to say no thanks I said “and we have a book that PROVES Jesus is the Son of God!”. Obviously this was not an approach designed to produce warm fuzzies, but on the flip side, I knew enough about the world view on the other side of the door mantle to know even if it aroused some anger, it would be curious anger, not offended anger. And indeed, that was the result – the standard response being “What!? What is this book, show me this book, give me this book!” [unspoken: "so I can debunk it"]. And it worked on one level, we gave away more Book of Mormons to Muslims that way than the whole rest of my mission. Not a convert or even a discussion along with them, but it was an experience that oddly bridged my worlds again. Note: I’m not necessarily advocating other missionaries do that, my name, color, and experiences helped me get away with it and know when I could press and when I needed to back off.

    Lots of stories and experiences, but if I try to sum it up I guess I’d say that I had always known to be respectful to my Muslim family and friends as with my LDS, but I deepened my understanding of why (and how to do so) as I had experiences where I needed to be defend one side to the other, to show both sides where they misconceived the other, and to see how similarly they behaved in many circumstances even if the cultural framework they lived their lives in appeared vey different on the surface. I guess a love of Hummus and Gosht will do that :)

  8. Julie M. Smith on March 12, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Thanks for this post, Ardis.

  9. DCL on March 12, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    My grandparents ran a catholic mortuary where I worked for a summer during high school, so most of the masses I’ve attended were funeral masses. I did have a chance to get to know the priests on a personal level, though, and I enjoyed being exposed to the liturgical tradition, especially when I could read through copies of the Office of the Hours and Office of the Dead.

    Most of my positive non-LDS religious experiences since then have been with Japanese buddhism, and one buddhist priest in particular with whom I have had a great deal of religious exchanges. In practical aspects, Japanese mahayana buddhism is strangely similar to catholicism.

  10. Kevinf on March 12, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    I have one of my basketball buddies that is a pretty hardcore Evangelical. Great family guy, good Christian, but he is in one of those aspiring mega-churches that really think we’re a cult. It doesn’t take long to figure out that I’m LDS, especially in the locker room after a game, so he would ask me pointed and leading questions from time to time, always friendly, but you could tell there was an ulterior motive.

    Anyway, the questions finally led to spending an hour one morning after hoops at a nearby Starbucks, where we each asked questions, and over the course of the hour, his questions softened in character, and became a little less confrontational. I regret that I didn’t ask more of the questions than he did, but we really did keep it at a positive level. At the end of the hour, he said something really interesting. He said, “you’re really not like most of the Mormons I talk to.” At first, I was pleased, but then wondered whether there was something wrong with me, or the other Mormons he spoke with? He’s since drifted away from our morning basketball games, but we occasionally run into each other and are still friendly.

    So now the question is, why am I different from all the other Mormons he spoke with? It’s not the Starbucks, as that’s pretty common around here, and I love their hot chocolate and Orange Cranberrry scones. :)

  11. Jason J on March 12, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Some of the most gracious and good people I’ve ever met on this earth were faithful Catholics in Southern Italy where I served my mission. I can’t say that I prepared myself as well as Ardis, but I gained a tremendous respect for Catholics during my mission. One family in particular taught me as much about Christlike service as I’ve learned from any member of my own church. We would frequently work alongside them in a local Catholic soup kitchen, where they volunteered every week. We frequently discussed shared doctrines and points of disagreement, but we really arrived at understanding and mutual respect by serving the downtrodden together. I grew to love the good sisters who ran that soup kitchen as I loved that dear family. I loved them for their Catholic faith which moved them to seek out and serve those in need.

  12. Jacob F on March 12, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    My first midnight mass as a missionary in Linz, Austria, was memorable. The service was held in a large cathedral. My companion and I sat on the second row. I took notes during the homily (and wondered — pridefully I admit — why it seemed I was the only one doing so). Near the end, a lone guitarist accompanied the congregation on Stille Nacht (something the Austrians ONLY sing on Christmas Eve). It was cold inside — my companion and I kept our coats on — but I had a warm feeling, gazing up at the pipe organ playing postlude as we left. I admire the respect Catholics show to Christmas, including the small but routine sacrifice made by staying up until midnight to go to a mass.

    Last year my wife and I had a few hours to burn in Paris, so we headed for the Notre Dame cathedral. We came out of the subway while the bells were pealing (a great way to see it for the first time, by the way). They were pealing for mass. We walked around the vestibule with all the other tourists, gazing at the relics while the ceremony was underway. At one time an usher stopped us while the procession passed, then allowed us to continue. Looking back, the access the Catholics gave us as outsiders — even during mass — is pretty amazing. I respect them for that. Looking back, I wish I had acted differently. The next time I visit a cathedral to admire the interior and a mass is taking place, I think I’ll either take a seat in a pew or wait outside until the ceremony is over.

  13. Stephanie on March 12, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    My son played basketball at a Baptist church in our town. The father of one of the boys on the team is the minister. Everyone was always very gracious to us. When I broke my ankle and was in a cast, on crutches for 6 weeks with 3 children under 5, NO ONE from my ward even called to ask how I was doing. (We had moved into the ward 3 months before. When the Compassionate Service leader met me after that, she said, “Oh, you are the woman who broke her ankle”. Yeah, thanks). Anyways, the wife of the minister brought a freezer meal to basketball practice one night because she thought I would be having a hard time. That was so sweet and thoughtful of her. Their family and their congregation are good Christian people. The principal of my children’s school goes to that church, and he is a wonderful man who sets a good example.

  14. Ray on March 12, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    My wife was raised in Orem. She loved growing up there in many ways, but she often says that the best thing that ever happened to her was moving away and seeing what wonderful people most other Christians are in MA, AL and OH. She recently cared for a wonderful husband and wife (parents of a member in the area); the man passed away, and watching how he and his wife handled it (their faith and love and peace and assurance) was an amazing blessing for her. She loves Carl & Agnes almost like her own parents.

  15. Lisa F. on March 12, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    I used to think that frozen casseroles and jello were strictly a Mormon thing, but when we were the only LDS family in a small Colorado town, the Methodists and Southern Baptists took care of us with many such meals when our baby was born. They befriended us in many ways, inviting us to their socials, babysitting coops, etc. We still attend a Christmas Eve service at the Methodist Church, which has become an important tradition for us. I can’t say enough about the power of the Spirit at work in many places, in the lives of many people who are of different faiths.

  16. Keri Brooks on March 12, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    I went to a Catholic university and I had a wonderful experience. It was great to be surrounded by people who take both faith and reason seriously. I wish I had taken the opportunity to go to mass at least once, but I kept putting it off, figuring that I had plenty of time to do it.

  17. Kevin Barney on March 12, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    Great post, Ardis. Before my mission, I don’t think I had ever set foot in another church. I remember one time I was in a debate class in high school, and being the good little Mormon missionary boy that I was, I invited my partner to go to church with me. She said fine, if I would go to church with her (she was Congregationalist). And I wouldn’t do it (I’ve kicked myself plenty over that). I think I just didn’t know a lot about other churches, and my knowledge of my own church was limited, and so I just didn’t have the confidence to set foot in another house of worship.

    That was actually a good thing about my mission; it taught me to loosen up about attending other services. I didn’t do it a whole lot, but I did do it from time to time. We became good friends with the Baptist minister whose church was near our apartment, and attended his services sometimes. In one area we lived near a church with a big neon cross, and we went there a couple of times. They had some ex-Mormons and would always trot them out to speak whenever we showed up. I especially enjoyed the combined Reform/Conservative Rosh Hashannah service we attended once.

    Since my mission I’ve visited lots of churches and different services. I regret that I was so spooked about it as a boy.

  18. Swisster on March 13, 2008 at 12:17 am

    As a 16-year-old zealot, I invited my friend to a YW broadcast. In turn, she invited me to a Saturday mass. We did our little exchange. I went to mass, but I had already decided I wouldn’t feel the spirit because I had nothing to learn there. I often thank God that she didn’t visit my church with my kind of closed-minded attitude. She went on to join our church, marry in the temple, have 6 kids, is still active, etc. I’ve since attended other masses, a mosque open house, etc. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I need to be as sincerely open to and interested in other people as I hope they are with me and my faith. It’s a two-way street. There is always something to learn, and I don’t mean superficial things like placement of water fountains; I mean holy envy, real respect and thirst for understanding.

  19. Brian Duffin on March 13, 2008 at 12:36 am

    Wonderful post, Ardis.

    My in-laws are faithful and devout Catholics. I have attended mass with them on many occasions, including midnight mass on Christmas Eve. My father-in-law and I have had many in-depth conversations on religion and I have come to respect his faith and he mine.

  20. tara on March 13, 2008 at 2:36 am

    This was wonderful to read. My sister who is 6 years younger than me is preparing to leave on her mission a week from today to Santiago Chile (reports to the MTC in a week) I think she will enjoy reading this. I hope one day to serve a mission with my husband. I think it would be a wonderful experience.Right now I am a mother of 3 young children and have enjoyed conversing with the Jehovah\’s witness who come to my door and other friends on the street.

    I think fondly on my childhood and experiences with other faiths. My best friends in junior high were both of different faiths. One was jewish, the other evangelical. My jewish friend never harrased me about whether or not i’d been “saved” (I guess I felt harassed by my other friend, being that I was all of 12 years old and didn’t feel I knew enough to debate about my religion with her or her kawana’s leader). I participated in a reading during my friends Bat Mitzvah and I went to Hebrew school with her a few times. That was very enjoyable and a great experience. The readings from the Torah are very lyrical, almost like singing, and I remember having one memorized from hearing it so often. I really wanted to do that one during her Bat Mitzvah, and she wanted me to as well, but I couldn\’t because I wasn\’t Jewish. That was understandable to me. Just like in the LDS faith, there are things that only temple recommend holding members can do, like go to the temple. I understood that, even at 12.

    I think I need to blog about this! I had wonderful religious experiences in my youth, outside of what I got in the church I\’m grateful my parents let me go and do those things with friends of other faiths. I have always had a strong testimony of the gospel, and still do, but those experiences have made me who I am today.

  21. Peter LLC on March 13, 2008 at 3:37 am

    My wife is an Austrian Catholic and I enjoy attending the Easter and Christmas services with her family in the 12th century church (dedicated to Mary, by the way) in her hometown. As a missionary in Europe, I thought Europeans were all bitter atheists, but I know better now.

  22. Peter LLC on March 13, 2008 at 3:39 am

    Jacob F, when were you in Linz? I was in the Stadtgemeinde in ’96.

  23. namakemono on March 13, 2008 at 7:45 am

    One of my best friends is Russian Orthodox, and we have great discussions, and learn a lot from each other, and I have had to learn more about LDS beliefs to answer some of her questions.

    Our local Baptist church used to have English Bible study class (I live in Japan) and I would go to that, but it stopped when the Pastor changed. The old Pastor used the Good News translation of the Bible as a tool for teaching English, which I thought was a great idea because it is written in simple, modern English. The class was open to anyone, so we had some non-Christians as well, and it was interesting to be looking at the Bible stories from their point of view of hearing them for the first time.

    Along the same line, I was asked to do some English classes in a local elementary school here this year teaching the children about (among other things) Christmas and Easter and why we celebrate them – the reactions of some of the kids in hearing those stories for the first time was priceless! (“What, you mean this guy got nailed on a cross, died, and then came alive again three days later?? Christians really believe that??” )

  24. Norbert on March 13, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Thanks for a great post and chance to share, Ardis.

    My girlfriend in high school was Catholic, and both her parents were Swiss. She was the best person I ever knew, and she was an ‘apprentice’ (unpaid) organ player, and so I went with her to many of the non-Sunday masses for which she played. We never talked about doctrine, but she was devout in a way that I was not about Mormonism. So for me, Catholic mass has always had a sense of innocent intensity that I associated with her and I still associate with the nuns that live near our LDS meeting hall.

    I have my own experience with Catholicism on my mission in Belgium, but it’s long and complex enough for its own post.

  25. smb on March 13, 2008 at 8:43 am

    I love Catholicism. Several friends are former Jesuits, in England it provided a vaguely disloyal alternative to Anglicanism that spawned wonderfully intellectual converts back to belief, and it has a wonderful combination of tradition, sacramentalism, folk belief, and the broad flexibility born of many centuries of existence. Though I’m sympathetic to Protestantism and have great respect for a wide variety of mainline practitioners and thinkers, within mainstream traditional Christianity I find the Catholics the most interesting and compelling.

  26. lamonte on March 13, 2008 at 8:45 am

    Ardis – Thanks for presenting us with the opportunity to reflect positively on our experiences with those of other faiths. Two people come to mind for me.

    I work in an office in Washington DC and I guess you could say that I am the token Mormon in the group. My closest associates know that I am Mormon and they are mostly respectful of that (for instance when President Hinckley passed away they expressed condolences to me.) One of my co-workers always has a sarcastic remark related to my religion but then usually gets to a serious question he is curious about. But the person I’m thinking of is an Evangelical Christian. We work side by side and we often discuss issues related to our values and find that we share the same values. I know that he knows I am a Mormon but we never discuss that issue or the standard differences (or conflicts) between our respective faiths. We have a common bond because of our shared values and we try not to let our differences get in the way of strengthening that bond.

    The second person is a devout Catholic. All of his family members are LDS – a wife, three sons, and one daughter – and all have served a mission (well maybe not the wife) and been married in the temple. My friend has supported them every step of the way. He attends our church regularly and knows the standard works as well as anyone. But he also attends his own church regularly and serves as a volunteer in their ministry to the homeless. He is retired now and his children are all married with their own families so he donates almost all of his time to humanitarian efforts. He and his wife organize our ward’s angel tree project every Christmas (the past two years we have dedicated our efforts to the soldiers recuperating at Walter Reed hospital, many of whom are in poor financial condition and have great needs for simple things like clothing). Simply said, he is the best Christian I know. I think I knew this before I met him, but he is a constant reminder that good people reside everywhere and sometimes we are fortunate enough to share our lives with them.

  27. CraigH on March 13, 2008 at 9:56 am

    What a great idea Ardis, to actually go learn something about Catholicism before you started talking to Catholics. I spent my mission among Catholics and can’t say I reached your level of sympathy and understanding until I was actually home from a mission, alas. We spent most of the time moaning about that darn church, and never made the connection that a lot of the great people we met were great in large part because they were Catholic, not in spite of it. I suspect this is precisely the sort of attitude and blindness that causes missionaries to do irreverent and stupid things… If they’d all take a serious crash course, as you did, I’d suspect a lot of the foolishness toward other religions (though certainly not all foolishness) would stop.

  28. JM on March 13, 2008 at 10:23 am

    I think one of the best mission experiences I ever had was in Fallon, NV when my companion and I would attend other churches. We attended some protestant denomination (can’t recall which) and were treated very nicely by the members there. I recall how strange it was to sing hymns that I had never heard before. It gave me a new appreciation for how our investigators must feel their first time at a sacrament meeting.

    The best experience in Fallon was when we attended a Jehova’s Witness congregation. The look of complete shock on the faces of the congregation was absolutely priceless. The son of one of our investigators was dating a JW girl and we attended with her and her family. After the initial shock wore off, they were kind, respectful, and yet totally on guard. It appeared that a few of their leaders were assigned to sit on each side of us as ‘friendshippers’. We were handed copies of the lesson materials, the same as what they hand out when they go door to door. Someone started to give a reading and at certain points in the reading, would ask a question from the congregation. It looked like the respondents were just giving the answer that was written in the booklet.

    I remember that as the lesson went on, I though to myself that for that particular subject, I didn’t disagree with anything they were saying. It was interesting to see how close our doctrines were on this particular subject.

    I remember a question being asked, and that I had just read the answer to it that morning in out companion scripture study. And, the answer was in an old testament verse. So, I put up my hand to offer an answer.

    Again, shock on the face of the person giving the reading. I remember she looked to someone as if to ask, “what do I do now?”. After a moment, she asked for my answer. I pulled out my Quad and flipped to the verse. I prefixed my answer by saying that a scripture in the old testament answered that question and that I’d like to share the verse, even though my reading would be from the king James version. She nodded in approval.

    I gave some background on the verse, read it, and then explained how I thought it answered the question. She thanked me for my answer and with a look of relief on her face, she contuned on.

    Afterwards, they opened up a sort of booth in the wall, like the roll-up partition that would separate the kitchen from the hall or multi-purpose room in one of our chapels. There, members of the congregation could PURCHASE proselyting materials to give out. That completely astonished me! I had never realized that they personally bought the materials they gave out door to door. I suddenly felt bad for all of those pamphlets I took to ‘just be nice’ and then threw in the garbage after they left. I had always assumed that they would just get free supplies like our missionaries get. I’ve never taken anything from them since that I never intended to read.

    It was a good experience. They became much less suspicious of us in their community and we gained a new appreciation and understanding for them.

  29. Steve Jones on March 13, 2008 at 11:40 am

    our former bishop in Sacramento, Richard Montgomery, was the regional public relations director and in that capacity joined the ecumenical counsel and was president several times. He spoke to our stake a few weeks before the Sacramento Temple was dedicated and told of many experiences he had in that capacity. He said he attended the meetings of practically every religion in the Sacramento area including Islam and Jewish. He said that of numerous occasions he was asked to pray at their services.
    When time came to get the Sacramento Temple approved by the two counties, there was considerable opposition by political types. Bro. Montgomery said that representatives from most of thes local churches of all denominations came to the zoning planning meetings and spoke on behalf of the church.

  30. Sarah A. on March 13, 2008 at 11:54 am

    I also appreciated this post very much. I often go to midnight mass at Christmas, and am godmother to a friend’s oldest son. One of my favorite memories from teenage days… almost every Sunday afternoon after church, my family would take a walk up to the monastery close to our home and walk the stations of the cross.

  31. Bookslinger on March 13, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    As a teenager, I went to evangelical/pentecostal type churches for about a year. There is some strong overlap in beliefs between them and LDS doctrine. They use a different vocabulary, but the things I remember in common are a strong belief in personal revelation, and walking with the Spirit. Promptings, impressions, spiritual confirmations, literal answers to prayer, miracles, gifts of the Spirit, are things we have in common.

    You could also draw parallels between Mormonism and Catholicism or Mormonism and Judaism, but I think evangelical/pentecostal denominations are actually the closest branch of Christianity to Mormonism at a daily and practical level.

    This story, http://tylerpaul.wordpress.com/2008/02/11/the-good-bishop-walker/
    shows what happens when a devout evangelical type asks God to reveal more truth to him. The juicy part of the story starts with this gem:

    I was prayin’ one mornin’, and I said, “God, tell me how to draw as close to you as humanly possible.” And then into my mind came the words:

    “find the Mormons.”

    And I thought “what!? The Mormons!? …

  32. Josh Smith on March 13, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    My grandmother is Catholic and my grandfather was born a Methodist. When we would visit grandma’s house, she would usually offer grace over the food. At the close of the prayer, she would do the sign of the cross. Grandpa would peak up at us, take his index finger, and draw an “M” on his chest. It makes me laugh just writing about it. You’d probably have to be there and you’d probably have to know my grandpa.

    My other side of the family is Lutheran. Almost all of our big family events, tribal events, have taken place in either Catholic or Lutheran churches. I have good memories in those churches. Thanks for the post.

  33. Erin on March 13, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    I loved this post, Ardis. In high school, I’d periodically attend Southern Baptist services with a boy I dated and his family. I loved how engaged everyone was during the prayers. I was used to the zone-out-until-everyone-says-amen mindset, and I thought it was beautiful to hear people affirming what they heard, and rejoicing about God\’s blessings along with the individual praying. :) I still nod my head in agreement during public prayers when people say things that resonate with me.

  34. Jacob F on March 13, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Peter LLC in #22 – Linz Urfahr in ’98

  35. Peter LLC on March 13, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Well, well. Die Welt ist ein Dorf.

  36. camille on March 13, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    I was a very green missionary with a very outgoing companion when we were invited to a Christian Science church. One of those “we’ll visit your church if you visit ours” situations. I remember being so very nervous. I had not prepared myself as well as you and therefore had never been to another denomination. The meeting we went to was some kind of testimony meeting. The members stood up and told faith promoting experiences of being healed etc. Halfway through the meeting my companion elbowed me and motioned for me to get up and say something. At this point in my mission I was still very timid and still having somewhat of an identity crisis, but the spirit told me I needed to stand up. I tried as best I could to gather my thoughts, but my heart was pounding so loudly I couldn’t concentrate on those thoughts. Before I could change my mind, I stood up and introduced myself. I told the congregation who I was and why I was there, and then the spirit pretty much took over. I don’t remember all of what I said, but I knew it wasn’t from me. I told them that we had a lot in common and that I too knew how important faith was. I bore testimony to them that Jesus Christ lives and that miracles still happen. When I sat down I can’t describe the feeling I felt, it was like my whole body was on fire. When the meeting started wrapping up, I started feeling nervous again. Did I offend anyone? How would people respond? Was there a back door I could sneak out of? Much to my surprise many people stopped and spoke to us. They were all very kind and very curious about what we believed. We had some good discussions with them. I don’t know if what I said changed any of them, but I know it forever changed me.

  37. Alan L on March 13, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    I am a retired Canadian living in Mexico. Recently we got exposed to the charming custom of qinceanero, the 15th birthday for Mexican girls where they are recognized as becoming young women. Part of the festivities is going to Mass where they are recognized, honoured and instructed by the Priest. My Spanish is terrible but I understood enough to be impressed with the thoughtful and encouraging words of the Priest to the 5 young women being honoured. He spoke to them of the importance that the Church should be in their lives and that the teachings of Christ are as living water…very appropriate as we live in the desert. We also got exposed to the friendly custom of greeting our seatmates at the end of the service.

    We have a perpetual fronton (raquetball) game going at 7am at the local courts and 3 regulars are Priests from a nearby Cathedral. They are friendly, charming, great athletes and love to whip the “old Canadian Mormon”.

  38. tjk on March 13, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    my first year out of byu i worked at a small Catholic college in Denver, Colo. the sisters were very kind and helpful to me. several insisted that i go to grad school and got me to looking for a school that would accept me. well i found the school and got an m.s.
    they were such good and kind people.

  39. Raymond Takashi Swenson on March 13, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    My mother was raised as a Russian Orthodox member in Japan. My great-great-grandfather was a samurai who converted during the Meiji modernization of Japan. She met and married my Dad (in a ceremony by the Orthodox priest) when he was in the Air Force during the occupation of Japan, then was baptized. She didn’t talk about her previous church much, other than to mention that they were taught about theosis, that salvation consists of becoming like Christ.

    During my mission in Japan and a later assignment with the Air Force, I visited a number of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, though the only one where people were doing anything that looked like worship was at Zenkoji, in Nagano, Japan, the original of which was built around 500 AD, almost Book of Mormon times. One of the senior priests was president of the International Friendship Club, and he arranged to help us find a temporary home in a house loaned (for free) by a rich family that owned the local wholesale fish market.

    Growing up in Salt Lake, a lot of the Japanese community events were centered around the Buddhist Church downtown near the Salt Palace convention center that was dropped on top of what used to be Japan Town. We made it a regular practice to go down for the Bon Odori (dance of the dead) celebration, where you can dress up in a kimono and do folk dances in a big circle. A certain number of Japanese Americans in Utah have been LDS since before World War II. When Mike Masaoka of Salt Lake was president of the Japanese American Citizens League during the Internment, the Japanese in Utah were not uprooted, and Salt Lake became the headquarters for the JACL. He was testifying in Congress once, and a congressman started criticizing Buddhists; Mike pointed out he was Mormon.

    Over my years in the Air Force and living in Japan, Virginia, Maryland, Colorado, California, Washington and Idaho, we’ve had occasions to visit other churches, usually in connection with some kind of local Boy Scout activity or a funeral of a friend or their spouse. The quality of the experience varied quite a bit from place to place and denomination to denomination. On those occasions when we were instructed to greet those sitting next to us, I felt it was a little forced, more form than substance. I enjoy singing, so on those occasions when the congregation is allowed to sing, I have joined in. I noticed that most people in other churches are not any more into congregational singing than a lot of LDS. In Richland, Washington, our stake choir sang Messiah choruses for an interfaith Christmas program.

    Within the military, I have had some contact with chaplains of various faiths. On some occasions it involved telling them they could not do things that they were used to doing with their own church facilities, such as opening a parochial school in the base chapel. Some chaplains semed to be afraid to get too close to the Mormon missionaries (one guy backed out of the room rather than come up and shake hands!). And the LDS branch at Yokota Air Base got pushed around on use of the base chapel, preempted with no notice, especially after the LDS base commander was transferred. On a few occasions I was involved in investigating thefts from the collection plate at the base chapels, and what I found interesting was how small the donations were. Mormons in the Air Force were much more involved in church meeting attendance than people of most other faiths.

    I subscribe to First Things and read a lot of Christianity Today online and get Charles Colson’s Breakfront email copy of his radio talks. I have written in to Richard John Neuhaus (mainly when he has written about Mormons) and gotten responses back, and got a very positive response to one lengthy comment on a Colson column, and I noticed that he made some corrections in a follow-on column. There are many people who are serious Christians who are concerned about the direction of society. The big divide is really between us and the militant secularists.

    Even people who are widely read and involved in ecumenical efforts (like Father Neuhaus) can still have blind spots when it comes to Mormons. He mentioned in his monthly column that someone sent him a copy of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (he spends part of his vacations reading up in Canada), but it is evident that he has never felt compelled to open it or concult it when he makes comments on LDS beliefs, such as his statement that Mormons aren’t Christian because we don’t accept the Apostles Creed (which does NOT contain any statements based on Greek philosophy, is based solely on the Bible, and so has nothing objectionable from an LDS viewpoint). He had given a glowing review to the Ostlings’ book, Mormon America, concluding with a statement that Mormons are not Christian, but he was taken aback by the many letters he received in response (probably including some of the contributors to this blog), so his statements have been a little more agnostic about the issue since then.

    I think that the Internet really does provide a lot of opportunities to improve general understanding between people of faith, even as it gives a forum to the whackos. The reasonableness of the LDS position stands out in contrast to the worst of the critics.

    For many years I’ve worked with people of a number of faiths. I’ve explained my beliefs at length and listened to them discuss theirs. Some have accepted copies of the Book of Mormon or other books from me. My experience has been that I got a good deal of respect because of the Church, and it has been an incentive to not be their first bad example. One of my closest associates is a convert to Catholicism who disagrees with some of his church’s practices (he doesn’t do confession) but is pretty knowledgeable in the Bible and St. Augustine, and who has read a number of books about Mormons (Brodie and Krakauer), so I gave him a copy of the Library of Congress symposium and Rough Stone Rolling. He was touched by the kind words President Hinckley and Orson Scott Card had at the passing of John Paul II, and he gave condolences when President Hinckley passed away. Here in Idaho Falls, about half the people are LDS, and he loves living here, because he can go to Saturday evening mass and then he has little competition for the golf course or ski slopes on Sunday.

    All of the people I know or know of who became LDS came from some prior faith community, Buddhist or Orthodox, Catholic or Methodist or Lutheran. Our missionary lessons assume that most people already know who Jesus is and the basics of what he taught and accomplished. (That is obviously not true in Japan, where the merchants used to celebrate the Christmas season by, for example, hanging little crosses, like tree ornaments, in the store window. In Japan, a cross is the same proportions as the Chinese character for the number 10, and the Japanese name for “cross” is “the character for 10,” so Japanese assume the cross refers to the Ten Commandments, a movie that played again in Japan while I was on my mission.) When we teach them the restored gospel, we are literally simply adding to what they already know, and in many cases giving form to things they had already thought or felt. Our missionary lessons assume that the people we teach already worship God and know about Christ and the story of his life. We depend on the other churches to prepare people to hear our message with comprehension, so we can recap the basics and move on to the Restoration. We LDS need to be sure our children and neighbors have a positive appreciation for how much the traditional churches have done to prepare people to hear and understand our message. They know something about what prophets and apostles are, so we don’t have to introduce that concept, and have been able to get away with some pretty succinct lessons. We assume most people know the Bible story well enough so they are not disoriented reading the Book of Mormon, with all of its quotations from Isaiah and Malachi and references to Babel and the revelation of John, and especially the resurrection of Christ. Our success in misisonary work depends on the religious literacy of the people we teach, for which we owe all churches a deep gratitude.

    Thanks to the Lutherans who prepared my Swedish great-grandfather, and my Danish great-grandmother, to hear the Mormon missionaries and understand their message. Thanks to the Russian Orthodox priests who persevered with their little flock in Japan, who married my parents, and readied my mother for the gospel.

  40. namakemono on March 14, 2008 at 7:01 am

    To Raymond Swenson in comment #39, my Russian Orthodox friend I mentioned in #23 is Japanese. I gather from her that the Russian Orthodox community in Japan is not big, so it is possible that they would know/know of each other (^-^) The rest of your comment was interesting too.

  41. Adam Greenwood on March 14, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Great stuff, Ardis P. I have had plenty of great experiences with evangelical protestants of various stripes (go Wheaton!) and with mainstream Protestant music. Notre Dame was great, especially our Catholic friends there. We would sometimes go to our complex’s mass on special occasions when it seemed like the community thing to do.

  42. Adam Greenwood on March 14, 2008 at 10:46 am

    But lest I spew forth stories of how culturally sensitive I was and used it to convert oodles of my Pakistani family’s co-religionists to the church, the reality was quite different

    Nice.

  43. Adam Greenwood on March 14, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Oh, and Holy Week in Spain was awesome and inspiring. Most of my fellow missionaries thought it was debased, and I could see their point of view and even shared it with respect to some types of popular religious observances and processionals in the area, but Holy Week itself was something else. Like the easter week processionals to Tome and Chimayo down here, I think there are some kinds of public devotion that even if you wouldn’t want to do yourself you can be moved to see others do them.

  44. gej on March 14, 2008 at 11:09 am

    I attended mass with my Catholic girl friend when in high school. My very devout Catholic neighbors were in the congregation and I can only wonder what they were thinking.

    Also attended midnight mass in Phoenix with my companion and DL’s. Both experiences where very positive.

  45. Jonovitch on March 17, 2008 at 12:46 am

    A girlfriend from high school was part of the local evangelical megachurch. Her dad loved me, until he found out I was a Mormon. I think he gave her the copy of that anti-Mormon movie she and I watched together that one time. (It was appalling — that’s all I can remember about it.) She dumped me, and I was crushed, and so was she. I didn’t understand it, and she gave me some lame high-school answer at the time. A couple years later, I asked her the real reason, and she said it was because her dad was her best friend — it was basically a choice between him and me. Ironically, a couple months later she moved on to a Jewish boyfriend, which her dad was apparently perfectly fine with (and she eventually married a different Jewish guy). Double ironically, and tragically, a few years later her dad ran off with another woman and left his family behind.

    But, come on, Jon, isn’t this supposed to be positive comments only?! Yes, and here it is.

    My old girlfriend and I are still good friends, and I call her every year on her birthday to wish her well. She is married to a great guy and recently had a little boy. In high school, she was good friends with another guy who’s Mormon, and while he was on his mission, she read through the entire Book of Mormon.

    While I was at BYU, the Nauvoo Temple was open for the public, and having been to the city many times pre-temple, I wanted to go. About that same time, I had taken myself up on the challenge to pray for opportunities to share the gospel. Out of the blue, I called her old phone number, knowing her wonderful mom still lived there (despite her stupid dad having left). We had a great chat and she mentioned that her daughter lived in Iowa City. Since I’m rather thick-headed, it took the Spirit a good couple days for me to realize that is exactly North of Nauvoo — and the temple open house.

    I called up my old girlfriend in Iowa City, and told her of my plan to drive across the country with my wife to go to the Nauvoo Temple open house, and would she and her husband like to come with us, being that it’s no more than a couple hours exactly South of where they lived, and oh, by the way, can we sleep on your futon? :) She went for it, we drove across the country, slept on her futon, and me, my wife, and my old girlfriend (who had previously read the entire Book of Mormon) went to tour the temple. (Her husband couldn’t get off work.)

    (See, that’s nice and positive, right?)

    Every time I call her on her birthday, she has plenty to ask me about our Church. I don’t even have to bring it up most times. She told me once that when they moved from their apartment to a house in Iowa City, a nice, clean, young couple lived just down the street with a newborn baby, and while her husband thought they might have been Jehovah’s Witnesses, she was pretty sure she had them pegged as Mormons. She was right. At our 10-year high school reunion, we chatted for about an hour, all about the Church.

    She still hasn’t joined the Church, and she may never. But she has a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for our Church.

    As an epilogue, it turns out that one of the ladies on my home teaching list (who says she wants out of our Church) attends the same megachurch my old high-school girlfriend used to. When I called her a couple weeks ago (my home-teachee, that is) we had a great chat about Jesus Christ, grace and mercy, and salvation, all on terms that she could understand. She still wants out, but she’s not off my list yet, so I’m going to keep trying to have some of those great, good-old-fashioned Christian chats with her, thanks to the clout I’ve earned with my long relationship with an evangelical, high-school girlfriend.

    Thanks for the great post, Ardis, and thanks to everyone else for sharing their great stories.

    Jon

  46. Leonard on March 27, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    While a missionary in Avignon, France, the sisters in our district befriended a local rabbi who invited them (and the rest of us) to attend their sabbath services. In the end, 12 missionaries showed up (sadly, most left part way through the service, which I found profoundly disrespectful, but likely someone elses companion was willing to stay with me.

    Highlights included:
    The architecture of the synagogue – circular, with men on ground floor, women on second.

    Listening to them speak and sing in Hebrew.

    Coupled with a vain attempt to follow along the French on the other page, which nevertheless revealed some interesting bits about their hope for the messiah.

    They also stand frequently, which being ignorant, I didn’t do. No one said anything until they brought out the Torah scrolls. Then the elderly gentleman yelled at us (in French) “stand up! For respect of the stand up!” We stood. When time came to sit down, the man’s son (still older than us) apologized, saying it is very important to his father. To which I apologized again for my ignorance and told him his father had nothing to apoligize for.

    When they called up another elderly gentleman whose wife had recently died, stood in a circle around him, placed their hands on his head and prayed for him. At first, it was just the similarity to our own practice, but what struck me was the outpouring of love, support, and community that it represented – beyond ritual or ceremony, to an active, open, communal expression of concern for this man’s lose and grief.

  47. Leonard on March 27, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Later, while in Marseille, our disrtict attended Midnight Mass in the city’s beautiful Sacre-Couer cathedral (the biggest in the heart of the city, not the more famous one on the hill.)

    We all sat towards the back, but one of the priests saw us (we were in official garb after all).

    He invited us up to the dias the altar is on. They had a couple of rows of chairs on each side of the altar, and we sat on the back (of two, or maybe three) on one side. Most of the other people were Catholic clery.

    It was a beautiful ceremony, but I was also struck by the warm and honorable (and very visible to their congregation) reception that they accorded us.

  48. Jason J on March 30, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    On Friday I attended the Temple Ohabeim Shalom in Brookline, MA with a Jewish friend, and I had a marvelous experience. The Temple was magnificent, and the congregation was warm and welcoming. As I joined my voice in reciting their prayers to welcome in the Shabboth (somewhat clumsily, I must admit), I felt a thrill in my heart. The cantor had a clear and reverent voice, and the haunting Hebrew settings for the prayers reflected the greatness of the Almighty who must have heard the prayers. The reverence and ceremony reminded me a good deal of the Catholic Mass, but there was something else too. I felt privileged to sit among the descendants of Judah and worship our mutual God.

    My thoughts soon turned to an episode from the life of Joseph F. Smith:

    “L. John Nutall and I attended Confirmation Service at Temple of the Washington Congregation today, it being their “Shebuoth” or Pentecost, the 5648 of the Jewish Era. The ceremonies were most impressive and interesting. Fifteen children were confirmed, 13 girls and 2 boys. Short discourses were made by each of these children explanatory of their faith and of their ceremonies. Their subjects were God and Nature, The Sabbath, The Greatest Treasure, Pesach (or Passover), Shebuoth (Pentecost) Rosh Hashonah (New Year), God’s Providence, The Fifth Commandment, Purim (Feast of Esther), The Two Strangers, and Chanuckah (Feast of Dedication, and Prayer). Many tears of joy and hope were shed by strong men, boys, matrons and maidens. I saw, through my own tears, Brother Nuttall wiping his eyes, together with many others, as the children embraced their parents and received their blessing. It was too much to resist the sympathetic tear. The Ten Commandments were strictly enjoined, great stress being laid on the necessity of purity and chastity, and obedience to parents. I said in my heart, give me Judaism in preference to hollow mockery of modern Christianity. I saw some of the most beautiful children’s faces I ever beheld and all the proverbial characteristics of the modern Jew were lost to view in solemn thoughts of the seed of Abraham. Undying devotion to Judaism, and to faith in the One God, were pledged by the children in the most solemn manner. I felt it was a worthy example for my own children, and those of the Saints, who not only should embrace Judaism, but inseparably connected therewith, true Christianity. Christ was a Jew.” (The Life of Joseph F. Smith, at 291.)

    I am not only impressed that President Smith had the perspective and character to make these observations in 1888, not a friendly time for the Jews, but I am most impressed with how similar his sentiments were to mine on Friday night.

  49. JA Benson on March 30, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Jason J that was lovely- thank you

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