The meetinghouse

This story seems to keep circling death like a vulture. Is mortality ultimately what religion is about? Imagining elaborate solutions to save us from our creaturely fates? In a sense, I welcome any evidence that a fear I have experienced so intensely and privately, that has made me feel terrified and alone, is shared by so many. People gather to indulge in identities that will live on and on forever. We think up ways around death and disease, giving ourselves unspoiled bodies or spotless souls endlessly, which, in a sense, is to acquire the characteristics of God.

Because what is God if not flawless and eternal? It seems most believers, regardless of what shape their almighty takes, can agree on at least those two characteristics.

Although stating plainly this underlying desire for humans to achieve God-like qualities seems to be frowned upon, making the clarity with which it is expressed in Mormon theology almost a relief. Joseph Smith, the founder of Latter-day Saints, made no bones about it: man is on an epic quest to become a god. He was equally clear about the flip side of this equation: God, the Heavenly Father of this world, was once an ordinary man.

Technically, the building I’m visiting this morning is not called a “church.” Mormons refer to their places of worship as “meetinghouses.” In many larger metropolitan areas, Mormons also have “temples.” These are usually big, elaborate buildings on a hill with smooth stone surfaces and tall otherworldly spires. Sometimes they’re lit at night so that you can see them from faraway, like the headquarters for some fantastical Oz. If you look closely, you might see a figure at the tippy top of the tallest spire. This is the angel Moroni, who visited Joseph Smith Jr. and led him to the golden tablets from which he translated the Book of Mormon. A lot of times the statue is gold and holds a bugle.

The temples are the sites of special ceremonies and baptisms, not ordinary Sunday services. Every region has access to a temple even if you have to go a ways. The closest one to me is about an hour and half drive. But regular weekly services take place in the meetinghouses, which often look like regular churches.

One day I drove past a newly constructed Mormon “meetinghouse” about eight miles from my house. The fancy-looking church building seems to have sprung up overnight behind an Office Depot. I was curious so I pulled into the expansive parking lot and got close enough to read the simple stone placard: The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. Then and there, I made up my mind: this is where I wanted to attend Mormon services. It was so pretty and new. The only task was to determine what time to show up on Sunday.

I discover Mormonism doesn’t work like that. Unlike other denominations where you can decide where you worship based on a whim, where and what time on Sunday you attend Mormon services is tied strictly to the location of your home. Online at the official Mormon website, I type in my street address and zip code and up pops the identity of my small geographical zone, or “ward.” From this I can find out which meetinghouse to attend and at what time. The bad news is I’m not assigned to the one behind Office Depot, but to a much older place closer to my house. The good news is my meeting time is not until 1 o’clock. I can sleep in.

Maybe I can have my brunch and be a Mormon too!

11 thoughts on “The meetinghouse

  1. Some Mahayana Buddhist traditions claim their Buddhas and Bodhisattvas began as unenlightened beings, and through their current state of enlightenment, they have developed purelands (heavens, if you will) for humans to achieve various levels of mental states. Sounds similar to the God idea in LDS, except in Buddhism, not even a pureland may be a permanent place.

  2. Funny….and for shame, lol! You sound like my daughter. She has lupus and has the upside down circadian rhythm that often goes with an immune disorder. She is best at night and sleeps best at day. She frequently complains that she would be happy to be habitual at church if they would just have regular church at 11pm!

    There is a fatally rude part of me that cannot help but laugh when someone brings up the Angel Moroni. Because I come from the era that had the Little Richard recording of Bony Moronie:

    Well, I got a girl named Bony Maronie,
    she’s as skinny as a stick of macaroni.

    I am sure that I would be told that they are pronounced differently, but alas….the damage is done.

    I have also tried to read the Book of Mormon. And it reads like someone doing an extremely bad imitation of the King James version of the Old Testament.

    The odd thing is that I have known many Mormons through my life, and their work ethic is extraordinary, as is their level of personal morality. Which makes it even more difficult to for me to understand why there had to be ’embroirdaries’, if you will on an already perfect theme….namely, the Bible.

    Needless to say, as a Trinitarian Christian, I do not accept their theology. And again, as I said of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I can also see that they absolutely do not deny Jesus. So, theologically I leave them to a Higher Judgement and simply say, I cannot believe as they believe.

    What you say about death is interesting. I have Wiccan friends and Atheist friends who say that they will simply cease to exist. That there is nothing after death. Nothing AT ALL. Oddly enough, I would find that relatively comfortable, although I would miss the comfort I will find in the company of those I have loved. But always in the back of my mind is Shakespeare’s extraordinarily pointed comment from Hamlet. Dreaming IS the rub. And it is that about which you might ‘dream’ that leads people to ponder death in light of faith and hope. Dreams can also be nightmares. And hell would be a nightmare from which you cannot wake.

    I hope for the promise of Heaven in faith. And somehow, I cannot conceive of a Heaven created by someone who was once a Man.such as I. Have an interesting time at your meetinghouse.

    Yours in Christ

  3. ah, so i guess it would be considered a sin if you fudge a little bit on that address thang’ and go to the Office Depot one?….lol

    and as far as that death thang’ – when a generation or so of people have died AND come back to tell me personally what the next step is after my body gives up using photos, maps, videos and the occasionally object from beyond to convince me, then ill believe what they are serving. Guess that kind of sounds like a zombie religion LOL

    IMO my main question for a while has been – if each religion already knows the story of what happens for all eternity, why are people who follow the religion compelled to preach, insist, pray for, force others to believe their religion? Why does religion require the choice of adherence, or youll be damned-missing out-non balanced-lonely-outsider etc…? Kind of like the meetinghouse – why is it such a big deal to make sure you are in the right zip code? Does this mean Mormonism cant exist without the Postal Service???


  4. I was privileged to visit a newly built temple in San Diego, Ca. It is Mormon custom before the temple is dedicated to member use only, to open it for a public viewing. It was a pleasant walk with a docent who explained the use of the baptism pool and the various rooms and halls we were walking through. The baptismal pool was very ornate. There were paintings on the walls of various biblical scenes. Baptism is an important rite since it is believed that you can be baptized as a stand-in for your dead ancestors so a Mormon can be baptized many times in behalf of someone who has died. It is one of the reasons they keep such wonderful genealogy records from around the world and their libraries are often used by anyone interested in genealogy. You don’t have to be a Mormon to gain access to the records. Much of what’s on the internet today is due to the work of the Mormon’s. I admire the fact that among evangelical Christians they are the only ones who will send a representative to the monthly interfaith meetings that go on in communities of any size. It would be a rare sight to find anyone from a place like Calvary Chapel or so called non-denominational Christians or Jehovah’s Witnesses to show up at an interfaith meeting. They want nothing to do with them.

  5. We refer to our meetinghouse as a “church” all the time, as do our fellow ward members. If you are just visiting you may go to any building you choose. Since we go to our church a lot for various reasons, members feel the closer the ward building (another commonly used term for the meetinhouse) the better. Welcome.

    • Hi Ann, Thank you for your comments. I’m glad you’re here and I hope you’ll stick around–it’s good to have an “insider” point of view. Actually, I think going to church based on your address is sort of brilliant–it forces you to get to know your neighbors. When I went, I ended up recognizing a lot of the people there because they live around me. I had no idea they were Mormon. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of the keys to the success of the denomination.

      • I have been here from the beginning, I have found your Odyssey to be fascinating and can’t wait to see how it ends. Our way of basing attendance on address works well in high population areas, but in our present ward in Eastern WA some of our members drive an hour to get to church, there is no ward building closer. It takes real dedication on their part. We have learned to choose our home in part by how close it is to the building.

  6. Every time I drive on the capital beltway and see the temple, right around that big curve where everyone hits their brakes, I marvel at how the Mormons get permission to build that Disney land castle there. It is so odd, that I can’t even say wether it is beautiful or an eyesore.

  7. Perhaps you’ll get to this, Corinna. My question would be: If God started off as a man, where did he come from, and who created the world? (I suppose that’s a new take on the old question about where God came from…) 🙂

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