Tag Archives: church leaders

Why I’m Mormon

By Guest Blogger Denia-Marie Ollerton

I grew up in a religious LDS household. My parents were and are hardworking, God-fearing, sacrificing people. But it wasn’t easy. We had our difficulties and challenges, and at the time I felt we had more problems than my seemingly-perfect Mormon neighbors.

Church was just a thing we did every week. My friends were there, but I didn’t feel much else pulling me besides them. I remember thinking that religion as taught in my church was for perfect people only. They’d talk about the virtues of being good, and of happy families. I didn’t feel that fit my experience. I thought that God was cold, mean, and punitive.

In my teens, I got into some trouble with school, friends, and had some close calls with the law. I wasn’t happy, but I was trying desperately hard to become so. I still felt that religion was too strict and family relationships too sterile. Around eighteen years old my parents loosened their grip, and I began to experience the reality of being all on my own. I had long since lost any close friends I had in high school. My interactions with my family were minimal, and my life consisted mostly of going to school, trying to stay out of everyone’s way, and going home to sit in my room. Yes, it was very lonely. I knew that the life I had lived and the choices I had made up to that point were not making me happy.

I noticed my siblings were good enough people, and they seemed happy. They were active churchgoers, and always talked about how great the church was. I decided that I’d try religion one time, and one time only. If it was true, if it did work to live by certain rules, then great. If not, I’d know and I could move on with life. At this time, a lot of teachings from my childhood started to come into mind. One principle that came to mind was repentance. Repentance as I understood it was supposed to be this thing where you told God (or your bishop) about all the bad things you’d done, and somehow that was supposed to make you feel better. Oh yeah, and you weren’t supposed to do it again.

I also remembered the teachings about Jesus. I didn’t have much of an opinion on him. I had heard about the crucifixion and the atonement, but those were just words to me. And yet, he did seem like the only forgiving person in the entire story of religion. I remember thinking, “Alright, if he really is merciful and kind, I’ll test it out. I’ll see if he can handle me and all I’ve done.”

I went to my bishop after thinking this over for some time. I expected some harsh words and punishment, but I was willing to go through the process to get to the other side whatever that was. I went in and just let everything out to him. I was surprised but grateful at how calmly and kindly he handled the situation. He just listened for a while, and then asked if we could meet again after church. I agreed. I went to sacrament meeting, and the speakers all spoke about repentance and the atonement. I cried. I felt like a spotlight had been shone on me, and God was finally noticing me. I went back and talked more with my bishop. All of his words were encouraging, hopeful, and healing.

I walked home that day and went to ponder all that had gone on. It was as if a heavy load had been lifted off my shoulders, and I didn’t even know I was carrying it until it was gone. I felt incredibly happy. I think it was joy. I can honestly say I hadn’t felt joyful or happy up until that point in my life. I had seen people cry “tears of joy” before, but I didn’t want to cry, I just wanted to smile. I went through the rest of that week with a huge grin on my face. I knew then that God lived, and that there was so much more to life than I had known. Who knew that because Jesus Christ died thousands of years ago, and went through the atonement, that I could find healing and happiness in life? I didn’t before, but I knew it then. And there was no way I was going back to the life I had lived before.

I became fascinated with religion. I realized that I had been surrounded all along by a wonderful road map to a successful and happy life! I felt that I was doing years of make up work, but also felt that I was given an increased ability to soak it all in. Everything was positive that I found out. My previous notion of a punitive God was erased in large, sweeping motions. I found out he really did care about me. He did answer my prayers, he listened to me, he talked to me, and he helped me connect with others in ways I never knew were possible.

By relying on the teachings of the gospel, I’ve overcome fear, judgment (mostly of myself), and discouragement and have instead found opportunity, growth, excitement, and love. I thought my past would weigh me down, but it has buoyed me up. It has taught me that if God can right the wrong in life, he can make the good even better. I can come to the Lord, imperfect and all, and ask him to change me. And he does!

I love living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not because it’s what I’m used to, or what I’ve known all my life, but because it makes me truly happy. And although I haven’t had a perfect life, I don’t hold myself to that perfect standard anymore, and I know God doesn’t either. He and I both know that I am powerful, and I have so much potential. And I’ll continue to draw on that potential, with his support, for the rest of my life.

Easter’s Celebration

Easter is around the corner and my wife and I discussed what traditions we might start as a new family.  As a kid we decorated Easter eggs and hunted for candy baskets.  My mother also prepared a special dinner.  We regularly attended church on Sundays and Easter meetings, though not much different from other Sunday services, often focused on the Resurrection of the Savior, a doctrine that Mormons affirm to be of prime importance.  This Easter the Church leadership has commissioned a special Easter video focusing on the death and resurrection of the Savior.  The video is well done and depicts events as recorded in the New Testament of the Bible.  Easter is a great reminder of the reason of the hope that is in us.

My wife and I will probably still do Easter baskets this year because we like chocolate, but the real celebration will be the quiet reflection on the gift of God, even his son Jesus Christ. I’m grateful for the knowledge of God’s eternal plan for the world because it provides an anchor for me and gives me courage and hope that impacts my life in so many ways.

Instant Community

A few weeks ago, I was driving home from running Saturday morning errands when I started to feel some abdominal pain. Over the course of the twenty minute drive, I went from, “I’ll just go home and rest,” to, “PAIN! HURTS! SWEATING PROFUSELY! NAUSEA!”

Long story short, I drove straight to the ER, where the doctors diagnosed me with appendicitis. Arriving to the ER at 10:30 a.m., I was in surgery by 3:00 p.m. An appendectomy is not exactly what the 6th day of Christmas ordered, and I was pretty nervous and frustrated about the flights and days of work I would surely miss over the next week.

Between my arrival and the surgery, I could have been very alone and scared were it not for several church members who showed up at the hospital. Turns out, my mother in Texas had called my friend from church in Boston, who called the relief society president, who called the bishop, who called my home teachers, all of whom came to wish me well before the surgery*.

(*relief society president = leader of women in each congregation. bishop = leader of the congregation. home teachers = each person or family has two individuals assigned to check up on them and visit them at least once a month)

One purpose of the visits was to receive a priesthood blessing of comfort and health, a common practice in the Mormon church. We closed the curtain of my ER room while my bishop and home teachers laid their hands upon my head and gave me a priesthood blessing that I would be healthy, calm, and safe. There, in a dreary hospital room, these men called upon the power of God to give one of His daughters much-needed peace.

During the terrible night after the surgery, more church members showed up and kept me company as the effects of anesthesia took an uncomfortable hold. The next day, even more church members came to visit me in the hospital. I never once felt alone. Rather, I was reminded of how much church members deeply care for one another.

The nurses and doctors kept commenting on the continuous stream of visitors, saying things like, “wow, you are really popular,” and, “where are all these people coming from?” This phenomenon isn’t new to me. Growing up, my mom always visited church members in hospitals and cooked meals for families who needed support. My dad was always ready to give priesthood blessings, and many times would do so at all hours of the night.

The sense of love and community is one of the many things I treasure as a Mormon. From Cairo to London to Boston, members in my congregations cared for and supported one another with sincere Christian love. The Mormon ward (or congregation) system is truly inspired. The community is not just a social structure, but also an instant family where members strive (we’re all human after all) to selflessly serve one another.

Do you run this Church?

I was pleased when my post on General Conference led to a conversation with a good friend who gave me a fresh perspective on my own church leadership.  Among other things, she kindly observed that it was nice that our leaders were able to speak to us in a televised fashion every six months.  It had never occurred to me that this was unusual until my friend pointed this out, and I was led to ponder on some of the other ways that the church leadership is unique.  One of these differences is that of a lay ministry, which is not very common today, and moreover, it parallels the one that Christ had set up when he was here on the earth about two thousand years ago.

When Jesus walked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he saw fishermen working on their boats and he called out to them. His simple words, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew. 4:19) were taken seriously by his apostles, and they dropped what they were doing and followed him.  These men walked with Jesus, taught with Jesus, and administered with Jesus.   They never asked how much such a living would gain or if there were any health or dental benefits included.  I assume that they did it because they felt that it was the right thing to do.  It was not an easy, luxurious lifestyle they led, but they were often the first to witness miracles performed by Jesus, and to come to know personally that he was the Savior of all mankind.

Today, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, there are prophets, apostles and other church leaders who travel all over the world, from Boston to Kenya, from Alaska to Australia, teaching and administrating to everyone, not just members of the Church.  They receive no income from this work because they don’t see it as work.  At the local levels, individuals who are old enough are asked to serve in one capacity or another, whether as teachers, speakers, sacrament blessers and/or passers (the list goes on and on), and no one draws a salary.  So why do we do it? Why put in your time, money, efforts and talents towards something without remuneration?  I’d like to hope that everyone gains something, but perhaps not monetarily.

As the Bible teaches us, there are countless blessings in store for those who comes when Jesus beckons. It’s this idea that we are all helping each other, so that we can come closer to the Savior and become more like him.  Our lay clergy helps remind me that I don’t have to be a professional or divinity school graduate to help build the Kingdom. Who runs this church?  We all do!

Different Congregations

This past week we started attending a new congregation because we moved across town. Our congregations are set up a little differently than other Christian sects. Congregations are based purely on geographical area. You attend the congregation whose boarders you live within. This is significant for a few reasons.

First, a congregation is not a source of income for anyone, including the head clergyman, the bishop. There is really no monetary incentive or need for a clergyman to try and get as many congregation members as possible.  No one is trying to sell you on a certain congregation.

Second, the same thing is taught in each congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide. Members don’t visit different congregations and then decide which clergyman or congregation best fits their ideas because the Church is organized in such a way that all the same doctrines and principles are taught across the board. Each congregation does have its own flavor, customs, traditions, etc though as is natural for different cultures and areas. I’ve attended congregations in Jordan, Mexico, Guatemala, Virginia, Utah, Massachusetts, New York, California, South Carolina, North Carolina, Hawaii, Florida, and Arizona. Each congregation has definitely had its own style and culture  but what has been taught  is always the same, the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To be honest, I was sad to leave my old congregation because of the friends I had made there and the people I had worked with. It can be a hard transition.  But, everywhere we go we are needed. Each congregation has needs and roles that need to be filled and those needs and roles are dependent on the congregation members.  I’m excited to get involved and contribute and I’m excited to make new friends and to get to work with new people.

Regaining Patience and Sanity

Last week I road tripped to my brother’s house, 2-year-old in tow, to watch his 3 kids for him while he and his wife took a little weekend away. Hurricane Irene brought a few (more like a lot) of stresses to their home and so I offered to give them a break. I saw this as a great opportunity for my son to spend some time with his cousins as well as give me some practice with multiple children. I realized I need a lot more practice. I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly patient person but I’m not the most impatient person I know either. Last week I was the most impatient person I know. I really started to wonder if I would be able to handle multiple kids (a little late now!). I mean, what are you supposed to do when someone has a stinky diaper that is emitting toxic fumes, a 2-year-old is scaling the kitchen cabinets in search of marshmallows and the other 2 kids are wrestling to the death? All at the same time!  Fortunately for me though, Saturday night brought some much needed perspective.

Saturday there was a meeting held worldwide for the Relief Society, the women’s organization or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I watched this meeting via live stream on lds.org. There was one segment of one of the talks that really stuck out to me. The person who shared this message is an apostle of the Lord, just like the apostles of Jesus Christ in the New Testament times. I also have great respect for this man, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, because of his life story. As I’ve mentioned before, some people think that all Mormons are totally naive and closed off to the world. Not this man. He grew up in Soviet controlled East Germany. His family eventually had to flee to West Germany because it became too dangerous for them in East Germany due to his father’s differing political views from the Soviets. When this man talks about surviving hard times, keeping perspective, or hope I listen extra hard. He has experienced the worst of what the world has to offer. This particular message is about patience.

Dear sisters, many of you are endlessly compassionate and patient with the weaknesses of others. Please remember also to be compassionate and patient with yourself.

In the meantime, be thankful for all the small successes in your home, your family relationships, your education and livelihood, your Church participation and personal improvement. Like the forget-me-nots, these successes may seem tiny to you and they may go unnoticed by others, but God notices them and they are not small to Him. If you consider success to be only the most perfect rose or dazzling orchid, you may miss some of life’s sweetest experiences.

As a mother I feel like most of my successes go unnoticed or are considered tiny. I would imagine that people in other circumstances feel the same way also. After listening to this message I realized that the person I was most frustrated with was myself, it wasn’t the kids. I should have been able to go in there and be the super fun aunt/mom that everyone wanted to obey and knew how to take care of 4 kids with ease. When I realized I was losing control of the situation quickly and I had no idea what I was doing, I lost all patience with myself. But, when my sister-in-law came home she proclaimed with joy, “The house is still here and the kids are alive! Thank you!” That is a success I will take. I survived elementary school pick-up for the first time; a success I will take (and trust me, this is a big one). We didn’t go to the ER, not even once; a success I will take. All the children went to bed every night; a success  I will take.

I am grateful for apostles of the Lord that share inspired messages of hope. I know these men and the other leaders of The Church are called of God. I never feel so empowered and so filled with hope than when I listen to their words. There will be more messages shared by these men and women this Saturday and Sunday. If  you are interested in listening, you can do so here. I know their words will help you no matter your situation or circumstance. I know I’ll be listening.

Gay & Mormon

The congregation I grew up with in Chicago.

The Modern Mormon Men (MMM) blog has become a guilty pleasure of mine over the past couple of months. I feel there’s a good balance of entertainment and insight albeit at times with a frustratingly male perspective. 🙂 What was I expecting, right?  Point is – I think the blog is great.

Yesterday, blogger Scott Heff posted an interview with Mitch Mayne, an openly gay Mormon recently called to a church leadership position in San Francisco.  As Scott mentions, there’s been quite a bit of media attention around Mitch’s calling and understandably so given the church’s historical stance on homosexuality.

I suppose I’m a “straight ally” as Mitch calls them and I was struck by the love of his Bishop in San Francisco. Mitch says:

My Bishop’s direction is this: The doors of the church in San Francisco are open to any and all, regardless of where people are in their lives; partnered, single, monogamous, dating, celibate—there’s room for everyone in our congregation. Bishop Fletcher said the other day that he wants our biggest problem to be lack of seating in the chapel on Sunday, and a challenge in keeping people from talking to one another during Sacrament Meeting because they are so darned glad to see one another. What a great goal! How could I not want to be part of a team like that?

I agree. What a great goal!

I encourage you to read the full interview over at MMM and leave a few thoughts for discussion.

For you, my dear friends, the sky is the limit.

I was reading a post from our friends over at Mormon Perspectives about her take on the Business Week article: God’s MBAs: Why Mormon Missions Produce Leaders.  She focuses on the contrast the article points out between the accomplishments of some Mormon men with that of Mormon women.  I liked her thoughts and wanted to provide some additional supporting perspectives from a few other sources that provide the “Mormon model” I’m most likely to subscribe to in perhaps some contrast to the one presented in the Business week article: Firstly, from the “top position” of the Mormon church, former president Gordon B. Hinckley: “The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part . . . For you, my dear friends, the sky is the limit.”

Quoted from an address given in 2001: How Can I Become the Woman of Whom I Dream.

Secondly, from a few Mormons willing to share their day-in-the-life-of:

I’m a broadcaster and a mom. I’m a Mormon.

I’m a wife, a mother and a public health professional who has lived in 4 countries with her family. I’m a Mormon.

I have friends that lead similar lives.  They strive for their dreams and enjoy the blessings of family.  Things don’t always work out as planned, but such is life.  For Mormons the gospel provides a path to happiness and as they apply principles in their lives there are some wonderful outcomes.

Mormon Chapels

Mormon chapels are welcome to all. Sometimes there is some confusion about who can go into what Mormon buildings. Any person is welcome to attend worship meetings, activities or other various gatherings held in Mormon chapels. In fact, tonight my husband is taking some of his co-workers (none of which are of our faith) to our local chapel to play basketball because it’s raining and they had planned on playing basketball today. That’s another thing. A lot of Mormon chapels (in the U.S.) have indoor full-court basketball courts as well as kitchens, children’s play rooms, class rooms, and performance stages.

Our chapels’ primary purpose is for worship on Sundays but the buildings are equipped and used for many different purposes. There are often social gatherings on weekends and during the week for the whole congregation, the women’s organization, the youth groups, the children’s organization, the missionaries, and the priesthood quorums. Sometimes the gatherings are spiritual by nature and sometimes they are just to help us get to know one another better and enjoy some fun time together. Wedding receptions, funerals and other like services are also held at our meeting houses frequently.

I have noticed a few things that are sometimes different about our meeting houses compared to other faiths. First, though we are Christian, we don’t use the cross as the symbol to mark our buildings. This is because, as our former prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley explained, our focus and message is that Christ still lives and although with his death he gave us so much, he was resurrected and continues his mission today.

Another thing that can be different is that our buildings are very simply (though beautifully) decorated. We try to keep the focus of our meetings on the spirit of the message rather than the grandeur of the building. (Other things that are different but not quite as significant are that there is sometimes carpet on the walls, more metal serving dishes than you could ever dream of in the kitchens and mother-baby rooms with super comfy plush rocking chairs. Got you curious enough to check out one of our chapels yet?)

If a friend invites you to an activity or something of the like that is held at one of our chapels, you now have a better idea of what to expect and we hope you feel welcome.

LDS Chapels – Longfellow Park, Cambridge, MA

More than two years ago I was at a church conference in Cambridge, MA one Sunday afternoon when the fire alarm went off.  I don’t think anyone really thought that this was the real deal.  But everyone exited calmly and without much incident.  It eventually involved some 5 or so firetrucks including those from neighboring towns to put the fire out.  Most of us watched in awe as the roof eventually gave way to the flames and the firefighters retreated a bit so as not to be overcome.  The water didn’t come on as quick as I thought it would, but I trusted the professionals knew what they were doing.  The picture included in my post was some time after the fire had been extinguished (at least from my vantage point) and the little cascade at the entrance continued for some time after.  I had only attended church at the building for about a year, but as expected, I felt a sense of loss.   The sense of loss would be keener if it were the chapel in Arvada, CO that I attended regularly growing up.

I have so many memories of the Arvada Stake Center as we referred to it.  Many nights playing basketball in a church league or just a regular pick-up game.  I remember a few plays that were put on in the same gymnasium that also had a stage on one side.  Mormons and non-Mormons alike that wanted to share their talents prepared for months for a production that would entertain all ages from that stage.  The grounds  was mostly parking lot, but there was grass around the entire building and a bit of a vacant lot in the back for football or soccer.  I remember several summers in warm Colorado weather with charcoal smoke in the air, hot-dog and hamburger buns on serving tables, potato chips and a couple of farm troughs full of iced sodas.  Mormons and friends gathered for a July 4th celebration or for no other reason than to come together for socializing.

I attended the chapel more frequently in high-school when I actually got up at 5 am every morning to go to scripture study class or seminary as we call it.  It was there that I was challenged to read through the old testament and new testament.  The classes were taught by members who were not especially compensated, but who nonetheless accepted an invitation to teach a bunch of sleepy teenagers.  There was one seminary teacher who went around to all the classrooms to serve chocolate pancakes with vanilla ice-cream with some frequency (one Friday a month) and he got his class to do all the cooking and serving.   Though it was tough on account of the schedule it was fun and the class motivated me to take up reading the scriptures which resulted in a significant change in my life.  I gained a greater consciousness of the impact we can have on others.  My resolve to do better in all areas of my life was strengthened.  Seminary wasn’t the only opportunity to grow and learn in not just a spiritual dimension.  There were firesides or special guest speakers who directed their talks to the youth or adults, to women or men.  These events helped me contemplate my life and our potential and capacity for good.  And of course there were Sunday services and much more.

For some who had spent a significant amount of time in Cambridge and who attended the Longfellow chapel, the initial reaction to the fire that occurred two years ago was understandably, for some, an emotional one.  Fortunately the exterior remained intact and the building has been restored to it’s former self with a few improvements.  Though completely different experiences will be had for regulars and visitors alike at the Longfellow chapel, I trust that most will have fond memories.