Eric Russell, who was a frequent commenter to BCC before his deployment, wrote the following description of what it is like to go to Church in Iraq. I’m sharing his account here with his permission. –Kevin Barney
The Al Asad Group
The base has a pretty nice chapel building with nice pews, stained glass windows and everything. But we don’t meet there. Jews and Mormons meet in the chapel annex building in the back.
Church at Al Asad works exactly the way church is supposed to work: two optional one-hour meetings. The first is at 1:00 and the next is at 8:00 in the evening. We generally get about 20 people for the afternoon session and 10-15 for the evening one, with very little overlap. Each meeting is structured like a sacrament meeting all the way up until after sacrament, when we turn to lessons instead of talks. During one of the sessions we do the SS lesson and during the other we do the Priesthood/RS lesson. Sometimes we’ll just watch General Conference talks.
We’re a Group – the smaller form of a Branch – of the Manama Bahrain Stake. We have a Stake Representative for Anbar Province at another base and a Senior Stake Representative in Baghdad. All of the group leadership was leaving as I arrived and a new Group Leader was called. I was called as an Assistant Group Leader. We’re trying to get a second called right now. We have a few people called as instructors, but we’re trying to get a total of six so that everyone just teaches one session once a month. The problem is that there’s so much movement, it’s hard to find people who aren’t leaving in a couple of months. I suddenly feel sorry for the bishoprics of all my single’s wards.
A few odds and ends about the group:
- Two meetings can mess with our institutionalized language. During a closing prayer at the afternoon session someone said, “and please bless that those who could not make it this week will be able to attend next week . . . or this evening.”
- We wear uniforms to church, as we do everywhere, but we don’t really recognize rank, which is a little jarring. I still remember walking into church for the first time and a Lieutenant Colonel comes up and shakes my hand and says, “Hi, I’m Brother B–.”
- We also bring weapons to church, as we do everywhere. There’s a rifle rack on the wall for people who have rifles, but those of us with pistols just keep them on us. It was a little strange at first blessing the sacrament while armed.
- The Jews meet in a room right next to us. They have a sign by their door that says, “Congregation Brothers of Israel.” I am tempted, almost above that which I can bear, to put a sign by our door that says, “Congregation Elders of Israel.”