Church is not boring

To correct one misconception, our Sunday meetings are not boring.

From where I sit, more towards the front than the back of the chapel, and without craning my neck, I can see multiple cancer survivors, cases of chronic illness, people with relationships or finances in distress, families who have lost children, and too many past or ongoing career crises to count. A paper airplane takes flight a few rows ahead of me that one distracted parent fails to notice; the other parent is at a distant medical clinic with a child who is undergoing treatment for a grave illness. As I count off the rows more methodically, it’s difficult to find anyone untouched by recent hardship or tragedy.

There are other details worth noting. One brother sports an American flag lapel pin, and another sports a peace sign. Both are troubled by the direction our country has taken. Three people I don’t recognize are sitting next to people I know.

There are gaps where people are missing. Some people have come without their spouses. Parents have come without children. Not all the young men administering the sacrament are brought to church by their parents. Some rows are empty where a family once sat who have now relocated out of economic necessity.

Experience and the law of averages suggest they will eventually be replaced by someone who will introduce themselves by saying, “We never planned to come here, but here we are,” and people in the audience will exchange faint smiles and knowing looks. We all have a story like that. No one ends up or passes through this smallish city in an underpopulated and ruthlessly flat state known for its horrific weather without the thought crossing your mind that somehow, somewhere, you have made a terrible mistake. This is not even an irregular stop on any lecture circuit. There are no masters of the universe here.

Every sustaining to a calling and every young person advancing to a new class or Aaronic priesthood office moves the plot forward in an ongoing story whose outcome is still unknown. Everyone who speaks from the pulpit reveals a bit more of the back story and hints at plot developments to come. A few mumbled verses from a teenager with a terror of public speaking, or the first talk from the pulpit by a new member, are moments of triumph. One of the most memorable talks I have ever heard was in this ward, given by a brother who used to rob banks. I’m fortunate to be permitted to enjoy the companionship of these people.

This is not a good place to stage a protest or scripted media event or make a statement. If you aim for subtlety, you probably won’t be noticed, as people have a lot on their minds. If you choose a noisier approach because your concerns take precedence over the solace-seeking of a hundred anguished or grieving people, you really need to rethink your priorities. But if you’re burdened with care, you could take a seat. You might be surprised by how well the people around you understand your situation. Just in the last month, and without craning my neck, I’ve seen my neighbors in the pews reaching out and ministering to people of all kinds.

A hundred people seeking solace is not boring, any more than Puccini is boring. It is overpoweringly beautiful. As there are no subtitles, however, it may require some time to familiarize yourself with the characters and plot arcs. When Mimi can’t stop coughing in the back row, it means something.

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