What was I expecting from the Mormon service? I guess after reading about Joseph Smith’s theology, I was worried it might be like a page ripped from a science fiction novel. Taking my seat, I scan fruitlessly for the cast of oddball characters; disappointingly, I spy not even one “homeboy” or biker dude, as suggested by the Mormon commercials.

No, the big room is filled with my best but most boring neighbors—the ones with meticulously-kept lawns and who never park their cars on the street. These are the foot soldiers of the garage-proud army who “accidentally” leave their automatic garage doors gaping to show off how well tamed they keep spaces so vulnerable to filth and chaos. As if a tidy garage is a reflection of the purity of the soul, a final step of getting right with God.

One of the Mormon settlements before Salt Lake City was called “Orderville,” which I thought sounded like a terrible name but now realize was a term of endearment given by these experts at organizing people and spaces. I understand why new converts might be inclined to join these individuals so skilled at taming the wildness of each new frontier.

The day’s proceedings are decidedly earth-bound. The program doesn’t include an official sermon, just regular congregants who give brief talks; it seems everyone is encouraged to commit to one of these from time to time to make up the bulk of every service.

Today, two teenage girls share the podium, each dedicating a few minutes to the topic of volunteer work. They are, like, totally into it. Next, a young man elaborates on the theme of righteous living. It is real, real important. None of the speakers demonstrates particularly stellar oratory skill; they are as awkward and bumbling as I would be up there.

Most of the remaining time is dedicated to an administrative matter: this ward is splitting in two. I can’t believe my luck to be here to witness the reproductive process this organism of a denomination has used to grow so mighty over the last 100 years.

Apparently the population of Mormons in the vicinity of my house has climbed steadily for the last decade and now the congregants who show up at this time slot are too numerous. The pews are not enough and the addition of several rows of folding chairs is no longer sufficient and often latecomers are left to stand at the back of the chapel. The Assistant Bishop whose domain includes several wards takes the podium to say a few words regarding this matter. Starting the following week, he explains, one portion of this ward will show up for the 1 o’clock service and the other will begin at the new 3 o’clock slot. Like everything else, the division is determined by the location of each family’s home.

He acknowledges how difficult this transition is, especially because the group has been worshipping together for many years and close ties may tempt some to choose one time over the other based on friendships rather than street addresses. He stresses the importance of abiding by the rules. He assures us that over time we will grow not only comfortable with, but even to love, our new ward mates and he hints that soon what began as this one ward may require a brand new meetinghouse. I sense chests welling with pride, and the seeds of determination silently sprouting. Slowly, taking cues from nature, one ward split at a time, the Mormon Church will expand. It’s all so rudimentary. Anyone who has ever participated in a campaign or community organizing effort will recognize the nuts and bolts of this discussion.

For the first time ever, I actually know the hymns. We sing Come All Ye Faithful and Joy to the World even though it is over a month until Christmas. Despite the inclusion of verses I had never heard, the familiarity is comforting.

Most of what unfolded that afternoon seemed as elementary as the water we drank in place of wine for communion.

10 thoughts on “Orderville

  1. Mormonism leaves me curious but uninspired. I’m amazed at it’s financial programs to take care of it’s own members in time of need, and their intense genealogical work to cover the globe with ancestral knowledge. The neatness and orderliness you speak of is similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses will often scrub down an entire stadium before and after one of their conventions. It may be true that cleanliness is next to Godliness but it is NOT the same as.

    • On our way through Southwestern Utah from Bryce Canyon to Zion Canyon during the guided tours I conduct, we pass through Orderville (current population about 600) before turning west on Hwy 9 to Zion National Park. On that tour we talk quite a lot about the many ‘oddities’ of Mormonism, including what I consider the unforgivable ‘sin’ of the Mormon policy of virtually demanding 10% of members income (tithing). Not voluntary, not based on what one can afford, but DEMANDING.

      For groups which don’t include small children, I also speak at length about the horrific Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857, which (if you use a reading device like the Kindle) is available to read about for next to nothing in its most excellent form, that of the author, adopted son of Brigham Young and later the Mormon Church’s scapegoat in that sad event, John D. Lee. Search for the title ‘The Mormon Menace” — specifically the one with an excellent preface by Alfred Henry Lewis — for John’s original text. It’s available for free from Amazon as well as from other digital book sources.

      I understand that for Corinna’s endeavor with this blog to be successful, it’s important that she not appear offensive to those who have yet to realize the value of ‘None-ism’, but I’d sure like to see some strategic pokes and jabs at the widespread insanity of most organizers of organized religion, especially as those many such stories relate to American History.

      One of my favorite guilty pleasures when those bicycling Mormon Missionaries knock on my door is to invite them in, offer them glasses of water, then suggest they begin their discussion with their most heartfelt explanation of the events at Mountain Meadow. They usually don’t stay long.

      Here’s Wikipedia’s page on the Mountain Meadow Massacre – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Meadows_massacre

      Here’s Amazon’s link to The Mormon Menace, with preface by Alfred Henry Lewis –

      • Thanks for sharing your experiences, John. My experiences with the Mormons is almost nil so I can’t critique as much as I can re: Jehovah’s Witnesses but as I often say about so many of the cult-like and fundamentalist and evangelical conservative Christians they are all doing the same dance in a different dress. So much is about mind control under the guise of faith. It’s really quite sad. A current t.v. trailer advertising a program about ex Amish young folks has a nicely dressed young lady saying something to the effect that those who see her just see a pleasant young woman but inside she’s still Amish. It will sound offensive to some but to me it’s not too unlike the three girls who have been in the news as having been kidnapped and kept in seclusion for many years since they were teenagers. They are now young ladies who are coming out to a world having to relearn how to grow up. Their growth was stunted by captivity. I hear the same words from ex Mormons and ex Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who have left other fundamentalist groups they were born into or whose parents were converted to. I am actually in awe that they are able to survive. Those who come to me for counseling get an empathic ear and an encouragement to begin a process of self-discovery letting go of religious thoughts until they can figure out who they really are and what they really want in life. I encourage support groups and, if possible, returning to school for the completion of a good education and possible career. Don’t get me wrong. I have and can see the advantage of having the kind of spiritual life that others on this blog speak about with intensity and faith. I counsel the “ex” folks who come to me not to throw out the baby with the bathwater but wait awhile until they can get centered in their own life and experience the beauty of their own intuitive wisdom.

  2. What Frank says is very true. Personally I believe that the Shakers (in particular) and the Amish have come closest to translating in to physical form the beauty of order and symmetry that reflects the peace of God.

    Somehow, the Mormon approach seems to me to bear a bit more resemblance to a nice ant hill.

    Where was the worship of God, Corinna? Where was ‘hearing by the Word’ in scripture and lesson? So far everything seems a bit sterile. I look forward to you informing me that I am mistaken?

    As always, I look forward to your blog.

    Yours in Christ

    • Hi Patti, Perhaps God is somehow in the order and the organizing? I don’t know, that’s an interesting question. I do think on a day to day basis, the Mormons are not as mystical as, say Quakers who are attempting to commune directly with God in their services. However, the activities that take place in the temples–the special ceremonies and such–are supposedly a bit more of what me might think of as mystical. I’ll be mentioning this in the next post. Regardless, there’s no denying the effectiveness of the Mormon approach…they are a growing segment of the American population.

      Mormons–are you reading? Please chime in! We want to hear your thoughts. Thank you, Corinna

      • “Effectiveness of the Mormon’s approach?” This whole Mormon approach leaves me a bit speechless….although here I am commenting!….I guess if one is looking to have the greatest support system of any church I know about, it is effective. If you don’t want to have to make personal religious and spiritual decisions, it is effective. If you want a built in social life, it is effective. And probably that is not the end of their well-oiled organization. But frankly, it doesn’t leave me uninspired or curious…..it leaves me frightened. I believe that the citizens of this Nation need to be able to consider and think for themselves; this Church organization and others not only discourage free thinking….they demand their followers’ strict adherence to their single belief system. And they send out scouts door to door to gain more folks to come into their circle. I am not sure what they promise in return, but it seems to tap into people’s need for community and safety. I do understand that the broader world out here seems dangerous and chaotic….so to join others seeking a safe path has a mightily powerful draw.

        I was taken by Patti’s comparison of the Mormon’s to the ant hill. I spent much time as a child watching ant hills…they both fascinated and horrified me……they are very busy places. But they were all about maintaining the integrity of THAT ant hill, their own corner of the world. It was every ant’s business to do their part for that one goal.
        This is not the kind of world that I wish to inhabit…..not the kind of church that I choose to support….no matter how much good they do for their OWN people……no matter how many ancestral trees they uncover.

        I guess I wasn’t speechless after all.

        Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are mothers or who have been mothers in any other sense!

      • Possibly….in the order and the organizing. But it still puts me in mind of Martha instead of Mary. My main understanding of every Sunday’s service is, of course, an Anglican one: to listen to GOD’S word. To offer Him OUR worship. And to partake in communion of Jesus Christ with the saints present and the saints passed on.

        Anything else, such as the service you described, seems to be something we’d do in a Vestry meeting or Church Parish Council. Somewhat boring. NOT the Feast Day and celebration of the Eucharist that is every Sunday or communion service.

        When you say that they are a growing segment of the American population, I don’t doubt it. I am afraid that, for the most part, people have come to prefer a “Hi, let’s go have a cup of coffee with God” approach rather than the more liturgical or meditative approach. To me, that is a loss. I have MORE than enough of ‘everyday’….well………everyday! I find my hour of ‘mystical’ approach and submersion into the liturgy to be the energy source into which I can plug and restore my batteries. A trite observation, I know, but the most concrete one I can come up with in this case.

        I have also found, from many years of knowing many Mormons (some very, very closely) that their structure is superb for helping others. As long as those others are Mormons. The interest is much less for those not of the faith, or not to be brought into it. I am sure many will disagree, but that is MY personal experience and perception going back many many years. It can also, sad to say, be the case in other religions.

        It will be interesting to see what you have to say about the special ceremonies, as it is my understanding that ‘outsiders’ are not allowed to participate.

        Yours in Christ

  3. The Anthill analogy is apt. Utah still is the ‘Beehive State’, and the early term for the Utah Territory was Deseret, which is from the Book of Mormon. It means Honey Bee.

  4. One of the things that struck me, Corinna, was your comments about how they handle dividing up their group into two congregations. I must say by way of disclaimer that I am very much opposed to many of their beliefs. Saying that, one cannot but admire their plug and pioneer spirit. Their heritage has created a sense of unity that is often amazing, thought that is likely changing, along with everything else in our post-modern world. That they would divide thus so willingly is likely due to either of two things: one would be their sense of purpose and recognition that they each have their own role (a la anthill, or in more biblical metaphor, like a human body). The other would, I’m afraid, be more attributable to a sense of fear since they know this is what is required…..Likely, there is some sort of mixture, but I don’t really know. 😐

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