…and also with You.

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There is a small subway stop near the southern tip of Manhattan. The cast iron stairs were cold and slick as we made our way upwards, into the grey winter light. It wasn’t raining so much as the air was heavy with mist, just barely above freezing. It’s a bit surprising to find oneself rising from the subway tunnels into a church yard. If you jaunt half a block to the left, you are on Wall Street, the hustling, busy financial capital of the West, and if you reach your hand out to the right, you can touch a 300 year-old tombstone in a very old American graveyard. The dissonance of place and time is startling.

For the fourth Sunday in Advent, I found myself in New York City with some friends. Even though all of us are Mormon, we decided to go to services at Trinity, an Episcopal church founded in 1697. It also happens to have become something of a pilgrimage site, since not only are Alexander Hamilton and his wife Eliza buried in the churchyard, but so are Angelica Schuyler, Hercules Mulligan, and Phillip Hamilton, who are all super famous now thanks to a certain Broadway musical.

We gingerly picked our way through the mud of the churchyard to visit the famous graves before heading towards the heavy chapel doors. I had been to Trinity before, but never for Sunday services; I knew the chapel was beautiful, I expected incense and candles and a choir and Christmas hymns. But the low-church Mormon in me just wasn’t at all prepared for an Anglican Advent.

We were late, but as we pulled open the heavy doors, a wall of music hit us- angelic choral music. Clear, bright and holy. The pews were full, but the usher quietly assured us we were welcome, and we stood near the back. The chapel was warm, decorated with pine boughs and candles, actual frankincense burned on the alter, and the winter light illuminated the brilliant stained glass up the nave and into the apse. The usher handed us a program containing the music, and we were invited to sing. I could not. I couldn’t move- I stood there holding my program, transfixed.

As the recessional began, the attendants moved the cross and candles from the altar and down the center aisle; standing in the back, my view was unobstructed. Holding the cross aloft and leading the recessional down the nave, in her robes of the holy priesthood of God, was a black woman. Her head was held high, her joy visible on her beautiful face, as her hands carried the symbol of her Savior. My Savior. Your Savior. Behind her walked the altar boys and girls. And girls… and girls… and girls. It echoed in my head…and girls.

I thought I was fine. My eyes started to swim and my breath caught in my throat. I didn’t know it mattered, but there before God, it mattered so much. It mattered more than anything I had ever felt, and the physical impact was a hammer to my chest. My hands were shaking and I gave up and let the tears roll indiscreetly down.

The service was over, the usher extended a hand, “Peace be with you.” I smooshed a kleenex over my face to clean up the emotional wreckage, and extended my hand, “And also with you” came out in a hoarse whisper, but it was sincere.

Representation matters. Seeing a woman take part fully in the devotional of her faith matters. Having space for women to be full disciples of Christ matters. I have never felt so keenly the lack of space for me in my chosen faith as I did in that chapel.

In Mormonism, women are invisible. We are the hands behind the scenes that make the smoothness of our religious lives possible. I don’t want to hear about Relief Society, or Ward Counsel, or Young Women. There is nowhere women may stand before the congregation, with power and authority, a full disciple of Christ. There is no amount spin, or cartwheels, or convolutions that will change this fact. We are absent. We are absent in our Sunday worship services, we are absent in our highest rituals in our temples. We are not there. Representation matters.

I do believe this will change someday. I do not believe God requires his daughters to be absent, invisible, silent. I also believe God allows humans to make their mistakes and learn from them- even in church. Even in our church. For me, that’s the hope of the Restoration- we have an open canon and the promise of revelation. It isn’t happening on my time, but the promise holds.

Every once in a while, I wish my heart wasn’t actually converted to Mormonism. I wish I could walk away and find another church, a church where I am not plagued by dissonance and even occasional fury at the absence, the injustice, the gaslighting, and the patronizing defense I find so often in our Sunday services and classes. No matter how I struggle around these very uncomfortable things, I circle back around to the core fact that this is my home, these are my people, for better or for worse.

But sometimes I get tired of hurting. I remember that beautiful, beaming face, so like my own, holding aloft the symbol of our Savior. And it helps.

Comments

  1. Amen.

  2. In the course of our friendship, you’ve helped me to see–and feel–the absence you write about here. It’s not pleasant, but it is true. The deacon at our local Episcopal church is an older woman, and I relished her powerful reading of the Gospel (aided by another woman) at the Christmas Eve service. I owe some of my ability to appreciate that to you, so thank you.

  3. Representation matters. Seeing a woman take part fully in the devotional of her faith matters. Having space for women to be full disciples of Christ matters. I have never felt so keenly the lack of space for me in my chosen faith as I did in that chapel.

    Yes to all of this. I felt similarly attending an Episcopalian service a couple of weeks ago. Thank you.

  4. Last April my oldest daughter and I spent an amazing week together.

    We attended the temple for her own endowment. From there we traveled to Boston to tour. Our first Sunday there we attended church at the famous Old North Church. Tucked in the historic pews, I was too busy looking at the walls and ceiling to notice the service being prepared. As the service began I turned to the alter and realized three women and one man were conducting the service. The man only read some scripture verse. The rest of the service was carried by women in robes and stoles. My heart ached. Days earlier my daughter had received the endowment for herself. Not for a mission, or marriage, but for the discipleship you speak of. Like you, the facts of our religion fully crashed over me in the Old North Church. Her discipleship, as well as mine, yours and all other women’s will not be fully realized in our corridors for a very long time.

    You said it better than I could in this beautiful piece. Thank you. Amen.

  5. I find myself sobbing for this same reason every time I attend Episcopal services. It is a fresh and almost unexpected blow every time.

  6. very powerful — I can relate as I experience some of these same thoughts and feelings when I visit Anglican services.

  7. Amen to this. Every word.

    Peace be with you.

  8. And I love the title of this. Not only because The Peace is the part of Anglican and Episcopal churches that most chokes me up every time, though there is that. But because the “also” speaks so subtly and so well to the need for women to be included “also.” Beautifully crafted.

  9. Amen and amen to every single word (except I am male).

  10. When we were confirmed members of the church we heard these words, “Receive the Holy Ghost”. Those church members who have fulfilled this command do not bemoan their status in the church.

  11. That is incorrect and not doctrinal, Jared. Both women and men in the Church are perfectly within their rights and their faithfulness to want and expect women to be able to do more in their discipleship, to have a voice, to lead, and to bless. I am confident this would happen if Church leaders were actively imploring God about this issue, wearying him with petitions about women’s ordination, or, failing that, wearying him about the “priesthood creep” that culturally invaded the Church with Correlation, subsuming many women’s leadership roles and activities under the umbrella of priesthood administration. Do *you* think they are asking? They haven’t said they are. But Elder Oaks addressed the issue in a recent-ish conference talk, telling us women’s ordination to the priesthood is impossible and will never happen, that it is a doctrine that will never change (that doctrine cannot change — what?). He did not say that God told him this after years of earnest prayer and supplication on the matter. Instead, he presented it as his interpretation, his reasoning, concerning the situation on the ground: women simply can never hold the priesthood. It’s just impossible. (Compare Luke 1:36.)

  12. Also, Jared, you clearly are falling short on the command to mourn with those who mourn, to carry the burdens of your brothers and sisters, even if you do not understand them personally. It’s not just one commandment, and what you see as my failings might be comfortable for you to piously point out, but you’re in the wrong for doing so.

  13. Thank you Tracy. Trinity Chapel was a highlight of my family’s visit to NYC a few years back. We were there midweek around noon. There was a choir performance that made my day. Even better than climbing lady liberty that afternoon.

    Jared, thankfully Christ is the judge of who’s received the spirit, not you. Please don’t try to usurp his role. As for me, priesthood office is service, not status. I’m grateful for a church that gives real authority to my boys. I’ve seen first hand the effect of their embracing their office. They become more like the savior. I pray for the day when my daughters have equal opportunity to officiate in His ordinances. I’m confident the effect will be the same for them.

  14. I’m confident the effect will be the same for them.

    Amen.

  15. John f. I puzzled over elder oaks talk for a long time, but finally made my peace. The key was reading the church’s essay on priesthood and women. The essay does not support elder oaks views. In fact, it does not support any of the folklore reasons that have been built over the years to explain the ban. Rather, as with the essay on the racial priesthood ban, the essay simply situates the restriction in the cultural environment at the time of the restoration. Members are left to their own to decide if the gender restriction is justified. Hopefully as more evidence is seen, and more reports are made of the blessings of women’s ordination (such as this post), members hearts will change just as the did with the racial ban. Only after most members are ready will the revelation be sought by our leaders.

  16. I’m not interested in hurting anyone’s feelings. But I wonder why anyone would spend their days troubled by the idea that “women are invisible”. Men and women can acquire the gift of the Holy Ghost with the attending gifts of the Spirit when they diligently seek this gift.There is no greater thing a women or a man can receive in this life than receiving the Holy Ghost.

    The priesthood without the gift of the Holy Ghost is useless.

  17. Jared, perhaps you didn’t mean to, but can you see how telling someone— someone who is a sister in the Gospel with you—that if she would just accept her convenants, she wouldn’t “bemoan her place” is neither kind or empathetic? I am a member in good standing, and I have a testimony, but I *hate* that people feel entitled to judge me or ask me to bear that testimony in order to validate my experiences. I agree that I can be (and am) a disciple of Christ; but I must carve that space out for myself in my life, as there isn’t one afforded to me within the power structure of my Church. That’s hard and sometimes painful- In our tradition, I would not be “worthy” to hold the cross and a position of reverence or authority in any of our ceremonies. Not anywhere. Women are not allowed to do so. That’s what I mean. And it’s painful.

    That doesn’t have anything to do with my relationship with God— I believe I am acceptable to Him and that he loves me, and that he doesn’t require his daughters to inhabit the small space allotted to them in the current incarnation of the church. I believe this is a construct of men, and that further light and knowledge will someday allow his daughters more room to fully embrace their birthrights as his children.

  18. Jared, when somebody tells you that they feel excluded or invisible in a community that you share with them, one of the best responses is, “tell me more about why you feel that way.” Also appropriate is, “Tell me the things that I might have contributed to to contribute to these feelings so that I can improve my own behavior.” Or you could just go with, “Thank you for trusting me enough to share your feelings with me.” Or you might decide that no response is necessary and that you need to just listen and not say anything the way that Job’s friends did for seven full days before they opened their mouths and started talking. All of these are broadly compatible with the injunction to “mourn with those who mourn.”

    Telling them how they should feel, telling them why they are wrong to feel the way that they feel, or publicly wondering why they fell the way that they feel when they are so obviously wrong all count as “not mourning with those who mourn.”

    I think that this is a very important distinction to make given the nature of the baptismal covenant that we all make.

  19. When the subject is men holding the priesthood, the priesthood is an awesome privilege and responsibility, the power and authority to act on God’s behalf.

    When the subject is women holding the priesthood, the priesthood is unnecessary and unimportant. Only your faith and the Holy Ghost matter.

    I’ve had much less priesthood-related angst since I started taking the second message to heart. Unfortunately, that means I find priesthood ordinances much less meaningful than I used to. I hope that doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s just my own experience.

  20. I’m afraid I don’t share the hope that this will change in the church. Until the leadership contains sufficient numbers of men who are concerned about this (and other) issues, who see women’s lack of representation as a problem, it will not change. As the current leadership makes policy that drive out many who hope for the changes expressed in this post, I see consolidation of power by those who do NOT want these changes made. There is an active attempt to drive out those who refuse to simply toe the line. They are playing the long game, and are trying to ensure the upcoming leadership pipeline is filled with those who think like them, who feel that, like Elder Oaks, that these things MUST never change. Truly a sad situation.

  21. Thanks for this, Tracy. My family and I were having similar (albeit Presbyterian) Christmas experiences uptown. It’s quiet uptown. You’d like it uptown.

  22. Next time, Kyle, let’s meet up.

  23. I appreciate each persons perspective and take on what I said. I understand what I wrote can be seen in a harsh light.

    The doctrine of Christ as taught in the Book of Mormon contains the answers to all of the concerns, problems, and difficulties we deal with in mortality. Period.

    To some this will be too simplistic and will be rejected. I’m sorry for that, however, I know it is true. I’ve been active in the gospel for 50 years and tested the Doctrine of Christ in all kinds of situations: military combat, health challenges, temptations, finding a wife, marriage, raising a large family, church callings, missionary work, employment, death, crisis of various kinds, and so forth.

    I have been able to apply the Doctrine of Christ and have found the promise that the Lord will support His followers in their trails, troubles, and afflictions a reality. The Lord has answered some of my prayers in very powerful ways: dreams, visions, ministering angels, for example.

    With this explanation, I hope those who have followed this post and comments will understand where I am coming from when I wrote above–when we were confirmed members of the church we heard these words, “Receive the Holy Ghost”. Those church members who have fulfilled this command do not bemoan their status in the church.

    Those who spend their days in any degree of complaining, agitating, and finding fault move themselves away from the influence of the Holy Ghost.

    Nephi referred to church members like this when he wrote:

    2 But behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught.

    (Book of Mormon | 2 Nephi 33:2)

  24. And here I thought we were making some progress on understanding…

    Jared, I have felt nearly all of those things, too. I am not a child- I am a woman of 44, I have lost a spouse to death, have remarried, merged families, am raising five children, and have a complex and diverse pool of life experience. Not everything is solved by platitudes. And my testimony is okay with that fact. I reject your desire to paint me, and my concerns, as hard-hearted. You have no place to make that call.

  25. Tracy, I wish you the best. In my extended family I have many loved ones who feel as you do. Your perspective is important. I really believe that. Heavenly Father gave us agency. I wouldn’t do anything to prevent you from exercising your agency. Please allow me the same.

  26. Jared, you accused me of having a hard heart with no place for the Holy Spirit. How am I disallowing you anything?

  27. Tracy, I don’t know you other than by what you’ve written.

    I’ve learned by my own experience, and the scripture testify that as followers of Christ we can follow him up close or at a distance. The choice is ours. Many years ago, I decided to follow Him up close. The results have been miraculous. I hope to pass what I’ve learned on to others. That is what I have tried to do here.

    I hope you, or someone else might believe me and make the decision to move closer to the Lord than they are currently.

  28. Dang dude.

  29. Jared, you seem to believe that “moving closer to the Lord” is exactly the same as “accepting everything that happens in the Church without ever expressing frustration or anger or the hope that things may be different.” This has never been my experience. The Church is a human organization that has done many marvelous things and has, by their own admission, made some mistakes that have hurt a lot of people. “Obey the Lord” and “be loyal to the Church and never complain” are not the same thing. The Holy Ghost is not institutional perk.

    No matter how you phrase your responses here, or how you backtrack and reword the same sentiments, you are questioning Tracy’s spiritual fitness because she has expressed that she, as a woman, feels excluded in a Church setting. You are saying that her relationship to God cannot be separated from her relationship to the Church. And you are saying that we other (and, let’s face it, male) members of the Church, who have never felt the kind of exclusion that she is talking about, do not have to even consider the possibility that we are responsible for causing people (and, let’s face it, women) to feel this way because, if they were closer to the Lord (like we are), they would not feel this way.

    I have been an active Latter-day Saint for all of my 50 years. I love the Church and the Gospel, and I have seen up close what it can do for people. But I have also seen up close how the Church as an institution, and we as the Body of Christ, can hurt people deeply because it is easier to allow them to be hurt than to admit that we are wrong. And it is easier to try to tell them why they should not be hurt than to change anything about an institution and a community that means so much to us.

    This is exactly the problem with Job’s comforters in the Book of Job. After seven days of mourning with him (as was appropriate), they began to speak, to tell him why he was wrong to complain about God’s treatment of him, to tell him it was his fault and not God’s fault. They felt it necessary to defend God and, in the process, they added unnecessarily to Job’s suffering.

    And the most interesting part of the story is that, when God did come down to speak to Job from the storm, to explain (through a series of rhetorical questions) how Job had misunderstood Him, he flatly rejected the comforters who had spent the whole book trying to defend Him. He held them responsible, not for failing to defend Him, but for failing to listen to Job.

    I have not felt the exclusion that Tracy speaks of because, as a man, I have always taken for granted that exercising the priesthood was part of my calling as a disciple. But Tracy is also one of the most spiritually mature followers of Christ that I have ever known. Her testimony of the Gospel is profound, and when she tells me that she, as a woman and disciple feels excluded by things that happen in our church, and spiritually fed by what happens in another religious ceremony, those feelings command my respect and attention. All I can ask at this point is, “Lord is it I?” Do I bear any responsibility for making her, and so many other women who have earned my respect and who therefore have a legitimate claim on my attention, feel excluded? It is not a good time to try to prove to her that she shouldn’t be feeling the way she feels.

  30. “Those who spend their days in any degree of complaining, agitating, and finding fault move themselves away from the influence of the Holy Ghost.”

    Though perhaps the difference lies in what is meant by “any degree of complaining, agitating [or] finding fault,” but my experience and observation in over 50 years of “health challenges, temptations, finding a wife, marriage, raising a … family, church callings, missionary work, employment, death, [and crises] of various kinds” is that the sentence quoted above is not true. There are a number of ways one can harden one’s heart, including judging others’ responsiveness to the Holy Spirit.

  31. Of the Spirit, Jesus said: “The wind blows where it lists.” Which is to say, it doesn’t always (or maybe even often) flow in the neat little channels we think it should. People experience it differently (as Paul’s discourse on spiritual gifts should lead us to expect). I read Tracy’s post as an articulation of her gift, a witness of her spirit. Hers may be a hard witness for a man to hear, but I think it’s an important one. Shall the eye say to the hand, “I have no need of you?”

    I need your witness, Tracy. I’m diminished without it.

  32. Yes, I had also thought Tracy’s post was inspired by the Spirit, giving voice to a message the Spirit wants us to hear and consider. To be sure, it’s not a “correlated” message. Go figure. It’s no less true.

  33. Michael Austin, if you take the book of Job, and use its teachings as you have, to evaluate the teachings of Alma or the Savior, or any other Book of Mormon figure, it doesn’t apply. For example, the church members in the city of Zarahemla (Alma 5). Alma was inviting them to move closer to the Savior. There is not Job type connection.

    Tracy portrays herself as a mourner. A true mourner, like Job, lost something. What has Tracy lost? Nothing has been taken from her. She wants something that no woman has ever been given based on thousands of years of sacred history.

    My message to Tracy isn’t one of condemnation. I’m encouraging her to seek after something far more valuable, the greater manifestations of the Holy Ghost.

  34. Jared,

    I’m sure that your intentions are extremely nice, and I’m sorry that you are not able to glean any clues from all the smart and kind people who are trying to give you one. But if you don’t get one soon, and insist on continuing this level of cluelessly self-righteous commenting, we are going to have to put your comments in moderation because you’re derailing the conversation.

  35. Tracy what a beautiful and thoughtful post. Let me add my ‘Amen’ to your sentiments.

  36. Jared, in the Book of Genesis an angel comes to Jacob and wrestles with him and leaves him lame. When Lazarus dies in the gospel of John Mary and Martha weep, and Christ wept to see their pain.

    The Christianity you are describing does not recognize what it seems to me is the greatest lesson of the Atonement: that the redemption Christ promises comes through the anguish of the cross. Tracy is suffering. God was present in her suffering. Christ did not tell Mary and Martha that they would stop mourning if they understood the resurrection correctly. Rather, Christ mourned with them and then showed them how their mourning made possible truth.

    I recognize that your intention is to show how the gospel can heal pain, and that’s certainly true. It’s also true that everything in scripture shows us that pain can bring revelation, and to deny that is to say that all is well in Zion.

  37. So incredibly powerful. Thank you for sharing.

    “Every once in a while, I wish my heart wasn’t actually converted to Mormonism…” +1.

  38. Thank you for a beautiful post. I echo your sentiments. I enjoy going to Mass for Christmas and feel the joy and hope of the Savior’s birth so much more in other churches than in our own. A service at Trinity is now on my bucket list.

  39. emilyhgeddes says:

    It’s somewhat of a hobby of mine to attend services of other faiths and I have had similar experiences to what you describe at many of those services, watching women officiate in rituals and lead the congregation. Truth can be found in many places and the Spirit can manifest truth in many ways. Thank you for sharing.

  40. I agree with Jared that the priesthood is useless without the gift of the holy ghost. I also agree with Rebecca that taking that seriously can both be comforting and at the same time result in a sense of loss as we lose the simplistic view of the spirit as something that can be controlled by ritual. But I don’t believe in the least that a woman who honestly yearns for men and women holding authority on equal terms is therefore somehow failing to appreciate the gospel or failing to move closer to Christ than someone who doesn’t.

    I don’t know the answer to this issue or where the restoration will take us. But I do know that the restoration isn’t over, and I believe there is room in the church for more than one opinion on this.

    I also appreciate and learn from the worship services and rituals of other brothers and sisters in Christ, which not only does not weaken my testimony of the restoration, but affirmatively strengthens it.

    Thanks for sharing this, Tracy.

  41. Beautiful Post Tracy. Thank you for sharing!

  42. “I’ve had much less priesthood-related angst since I started taking the second message to heart. Unfortunately, that means I find priesthood ordinances much less meaningful than I used to.” +1. Honestly, I am to the point that I don’t understand or care one whit about priesthood because it’s so utterly irrelevant to me. That makes a lot of church (the human institution) completely beside the point for me. I continually conclude that I’m simply not the target audience. Maybe that means women don’t really need the church (because obviously the reverse is true).

    But then again, as I read Tracy’s post, and thought about it, regardless of a woman officiating, what struck me as I read it was that our services just aren’t very worshipful or joyful. There’s no example of a woman exultantly honoring a symbol of her savior because our meetings are so low church. There is seldom anything as moving as evensong in our services. There’s no artwork or symbolism. Even our sacrament symbols are stripped down to white bread and water. Sometimes the singing comes close to worship, although that varies greatly from ward to ward.

    We have a very secular religion.

  43. Angela – You pretty much articulated my response as well.

    Jared’s comments were interesting to me because that nearness to Christ he spoke of is exactly what I seek and can’t find in the stripped-down, white-bread, bland, patriarchal Mormon church. I do see it in the people at times. But I also see it in nonMormons (and non religious). That he finds it in the church (as it is presently constituted) and I don’t shouldn’t be a reflection on either of our worthiness, but rather an acknowledgement that people are different and that we connect to deity differently. I crave a little more of the Episcopalian experience. The sounds and smells and visuals make a difference for me. If I want to stay in the Mormon church, I have to work that much harder to fullfill my relationship with God outside of the church. (Which is not a happy thought, but as I also want to stay in my marriage, I have no choice.)

  44. Tracy, as a gay man with a testimony, this resonates with me. I went to an Episcopalian service a few weeks ago and sat behind a gay couple. They were just two normal guys, who happened to be in love- there was nothing stereotypical gay about them. They seemed so happy. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that our loving Father condemns their union, love, or joy.

    As a committed Mormon, I have chosen a life of celibacy. However, I long for the day when I can attend church and serve alongside a person I love. Maybe next year, in Jerusalem.

  45. I agree that it varies from ward to ward, Angela. If we find a ward that has that celebratory spirit, it’s worth clinging to! If we don’t, in my experience it only takes a few people in a few callings (especially teaching and music callings) to change things up for the better.

  46. Tracy – I don’t know you at all but just wanted to say that I have found much of what you have written at BCC over the years very moving and it has helped to change my perspective (I think/hope for the better). I rarely comment; I’m just trying to listen.

  47. Thanks, Tracy. Sorry about the gaslighting.

  48. Mansplainer says:

    I guess I don’t really get the pain narratives when we live in a rich, vibrant, free marketplace of religions and spiritualities. It’s not like we’re in some state-enforced religious monopoly or sacred canopy where people can spiritually blackmail you with some doctrine or another. Nobody is making you experience this suffering.

    If you don’t believe the doctrine, then don’t believe it; institutionally if you’ve found something better for you, then move; heaven knows the liberal protestants certainly need the people in their pews. I know that some (certainly not me) feel ethnically, non-religiously drawn to Mormonism, but when there’s so much pain, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that shifting may lead to less overall pain, even if it may have some effect on whatever benefits are derived from ethnic Mormon self-identification.

    Hope things work out and you get to a good place one way or another.

  49. Mansplainer: It sounds like you are concluding what I said above: “Maybe that means women don’t really need the church (because obviously the reverse is true).” But that is of course a vote of no confidence in the church’s universal claim if so. It’s saying that the church really doesn’t apply to women, doesn’t bring them closer to Christ because they are irrelevant to the church. Women are either 1) naturally more Christlike and so they don’t need female role models or any authority or input on how church happens, or 2) so far below the transcendence of the church that they taint it. I guess pick one. As Tracy has pointed out, though, she has a testimony. What of the women and gay people and people of color who have testimonies but see that the church mostly couldn’t care less about their involvement or experience?

  50. Mansplainer, let me bloggernaclesplain something to you. There is nothing, nothing, nothing more sacred, holy and divine than a pain narrative. Pain narratives must stand unchallenged and cannot be subjected to the healing power of the atonement of Christ. To apply the healing power of the atonement to that pain is an overt act of methane ignition.

  51. Mansplainer says:

    I get that paint narratives have a particular function, and oftentimes it’s in bad taste to treat them as some invitation to challenge or argument; if I was bearing my soul in anguish, I wouldn’t want to be interrupted by somebody who didn’t share the premises that my anguish is based on.

    That’s one reason I was hesitant to tack my comment on at the end, but it’s been something I’ve thought about lately and this post just brought this to the surface.

    If somebody believes that the BoM is historical, that JS literally saw God, etc. but simultaneously believes that the church leadership is so far afield from God’s will that they are actively fighting against something God really cares about… to the point of making this fight one of the signature initiatives of the Church… then it may be better to move Mohammed to the mountain instead of trying to move the church in their direction; they’re just going to keep getting burned if anything less than a Brighamite version of the Community of Christ is going to lead to pain.

    None of this is to say that there aren’t places where the church could treat gender better, but sometimes the rhetoric and tone go way beyond changes that could/ should happen and into the beliefs described above.

  52. Every Angela C comment here FTW. And thank you, Tracy, for this moving account.

  53. It seems to me that we’re in the habit of thinking about Atonement in purely individualistic terms. God forbid we should need it collectively (even though both Paul’s writings and our own sealing theology suggest that we’re all in this together). Tracy’s pain narrative isn’t hers alone, to be handled by her own getting in better touch with the Spirit, or whatever. It’s all of ours, to work through with Jesus. Her particular pain is not mine, and yet it involves me, good disciple of Donne that I am.

  54. That’s such an important reminder, Jason. We can’t dismiss our brothers and sisters with a careless “I have no need of thee” just because the questions they ask might trouble our tidy, self-contained ideas. We are truly all in this together.

  55. Tracy, this is beautiful. Thanks for sharing it!

  56. NewlyHappy says:

    Six months ago I, a lifetime LDs member attended my first Episcopal service. It was the most powerful spiritual experience of my life. I have not stepped back in an LDS chapel since.
    My children are delighted and every Sunday is a joy. I found a new home, and it didn’t hurt me constantly the way the old one did.

  57. Mansplainer, I think your comments suggest a really Protestant view of religion–that one ought to choose faith based on what accords most closely with one’s personal beliefs. I don’t think that’s really compatible with Mormon notions of truth and authority (even if it is extremely appealing and pragmatic).

    I also think it’s possible for God to care quite a lot about something–like, say, His church–and still leave it to us humans to figure out how to fix it. He seems by all (Mormon) accounts to be quite serious about human agency and perfectibility.

  58. beautiful response Kristine — really thought-provoking. thank you!

  59. “If we find a ward that has that celebratory spirit, it’s worth clinging to! If we don’t, in my experience it only takes a few people in a few callings (especially teaching and music callings) to change things up for the better.”

    I know it’s a bit off-topic, but the part that hit me with the biggest pang was the description of a joyful, beautifully decorated, music-filled service. We switched wards a little over a year ago, and our new one sees itself as “not very musical.” Which isn’t true, it has the same percentage of musicality as every other ward or branch I’ve been in, but that’s the narrative. I brought with me 30 years of experience with choirs and piano accompanying, and had to literally beg last year for someone – anyone! to ask me to accompany them during the Christmas season.

    This season I suggested to our bishopric that a piano-organ combo for hymns on Christmas day makes the singing more joyous… nope. Completely shot down. After assuring them that louder music makes people sing louder, I was told we didn’t want to “show off” at Christmastime. Our Sunday service had an hour and a half of singing (mumbling, really) pretty much every hymn out of the hymnbook far too slowly interspersed with teenage narrators who spoke so fast you couldn’t understand them. No poinsettias. No dimmed lights. I came home in tears.

    Your music and teaching people cannot change things up for the better if you have a bishopric who is absolutely unwilling to let go of control or consider . Am I ignored because I’m female? I don’t know. But right now the idea of a joyous Christmas service just breaks my heart.

  60. Kristine N says:

    Tracy, thank you for this beautiful essay.

  61. Old Church Musician says:

    Di, (a bit off topic), As an old, male LDS church musician I’ve had priesthood leaders with a wide variety of approaches to music in Church, including some like your current bishop. While it is possible that your suggestions are ignored because you are female, it is at least as likely that that is not the motivation. LDS bishops are generally overwhelmed. Some lack the vision or understanding to see that church music that rises out of the boring, monotonous, and commonly incompetent standard they are accustomed to does not mean that the musician is showing off. Many lack the time or energy to deal with music (or even sacrament meeting planning) in an effective way. Some have been taught by example and speech from general authorities to distrust musicians. Most are wholly unaware that their particular personal responses to music are not the [only] standard of what music is motivated by or conducive to the Spirit. Despite talk to the contrary, music is generally no more important in our church than Muzak in the mall. Measure its importance by the resources devoted to it in our congregations — it is last on the list for time and space in our buildings – for rehearsal, training or performance, and last on the list for any budget. I have been much happier in our mostly boring or offensive sacrament meetings since I “set my expectations at zero.” I expect uninspired and rambling talks and bad music badly, even painfully, done. (I suppose that means I really set my expectations at negative.) The result for me is that I can always find something that exceeds my expectations in a positive way and I spend less energy on negative reactions. I find spiritually uplifting music in my occasional visits to services at other churches, or, as a friend/professional musician/LDS priesthood leader taught me, by listening to recordings at home. I either make my own joyous Christmas or Easter services or I find them in selected other churches including the local Episcopal cathedral. It is rare for me to find such a service in my own church, but it has sometimes happened. I hope you find ways to experience joyous Christian worship despite the narrative of your current ward and without leaving that ward. I believe it can be done.

  62. Old Church Musician says:

    “No poinsettias.”

    I should have included the solution I’ve found to the visual poverty of our LDS Christmas and Easter services. On appropriate Saturdays I bring and place in the chapel the poinsettias (lilies, or other appropriate celebratory decor – primarily floral) myself. After the appropriate season I take them away. No one complains. There are rumors of people appreciating it. Few know who did it.

  63. Tracy, Thanks for articulating so well the nuances of a matter that’s troubled me for some time. When I sit in Sacrament and Priesthood Meetings, I sometimes look around and wonder who else is quietly hurting about policies/doctrines which marginalize people who could and would ignite and inspire those of us who are silently troubled.

  64. That is such a terrible situation, Di — really sorry that is your experience. I wish it weren’t the experience of many others as well in our Church, but, alas, it is, and I fear Church leaders see it as a feature, not a bug.

  65. Before I converted to become LDS, I was a very active Catholic. I was a child when they started allowing girls to be acolytes (“altar boys”) alongside our male classmates. Being able to help others celebrate and worship though simple acts of service during the Mass was pivotal in my faith journey. I felt like a part of the whole. When I was a teen, I was allowed to be a lector (a person who reads one of the three scriptures during the Mass) and put a lot of effort into reading with reverence and sincerity so that everyone could feel God’s love and truth through the Spirit (2 Nephi 33:1). After my confirmation at age 16 I was trained as a Eucharistic Minister, a person who is authorized to pass the Sacrament to the congregation.

    In every case, the priest was the one performing all the blessings and ordinances, but women and girls as young as 9 years old were given a place to participate in the processes of worship and praise. I miss immensely that feeling of being included openly and adding real value to my faith community. I don’t believe in all the tenets of Catholicism, but know that it was right for us to be included in worship services. I know that it changed how I felt about my worth in the Church and solidified my belief that God had great plans for me.

  66. Great perspective and experiences, Caitlin D. I wish more Mormons understood it was non-scriptural and entirely cultural that we designate preparing and passing the sacrament as a “priesthood” function. It simply isn’t and could be done by girls and boys together entirely consistently with scripture. So, at the present time, even completely without any new revelation or any desire to seek such new revelation on the part of Church leaders, girls could become integral to our weekly worship services by helping to prepare and pass the sacrament. But I guess that’s the key: Church leaders have to want that to happen even to change the current policy.

  67. it's a series of tubes says:

    I wish more Mormons understood it was non-scriptural and entirely cultural that we designate preparing and passing the sacrament as a “priesthood” function.

    Great point, John. Many of the issues we currently face are cultural ones of our own making. The “From Men to Boys” article was a real eye-opener for me in this regard.

  68. Thank you for that, Caitlin D. That’s a beautiful foundation.

    The key is, they don’t even see there is a problem, and those of us who try and speak up are smacked down and/or shushed by our own co-congregants for being unfaithful, even before our voices reach the ears of the apostles and leaders. Which further underscores the notion that we just don’t matter. No one in charge has even noticed we’re not there.

  69. Di – I skipped Christmas service at our church for that very reason. The ward I grew up in, did put up flowers. As a teenager i worked at a nearby florist and families in my ward took great care to come select flowers or poinsetta’s for the services. – My present ward bounces back and forth on the program event. Some years it’s a program with music, etc. Other times pretty normal stuff. I didn’t want to have my actual Christmas Day diminished if it was a lack luster year. I stayed home to not be hurt.

    I seriously believe the first presidency should send out a letter with Christmas and Easter “must have’s”. Things like programs, high church, holy decor (not bland normal). If we can send out press releases on everything else, we should be able to make a Joyful Noise and Decor for the Lord.

  70. Wow! The sheer number of comments leave me feeling “invisible”. My thoughts seem irrelevant. But I will say what I came to say: I, as a male also feel “invisible” in LDS matters. In our ward, with only a couple of Aaronic Priesthood boys, I am not asked to participate in sacerdotal acts. I am occasionally asked to give an opening or closing prayer, as are females. I am welcome to bare my testimony, just as are females.
    I feel hurt and invisible because we members of the ward are human. Few are friends. I am also a friend to few. I have my jealousies when someone I know is called to be Stake President or Bishop or Patriarch, or whatever else whets my longings. I would know if I was on the short list. I have never been on the short list for any calling other than a teacher or a scout leader. At times I wonder why? This conundrum answers itself.
    I go to church, I pray, I study scriptures, I try to live as I have been taught. To expect to be seen or put in a position of responsibility is to expect a reward. I have to humble myself and remind myself that the restored gospel and the inextricable church is not mine. My task is to learn, grow, and serve. Mine is NOT to seek position.
    PS. Being the restored church, the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS is simple, without high pomp. There’s not a lot there to which to aspire that is uniquely male.