We all have our flaws and our inexcusable shortcomings– Mormons as well as non-Mormons. We sometimes offend or injure others, ignorantly or thoughtlessly or sometimes even maliciously. Mormons as well as non-Mormons. These failings can make religious fellowship difficult– painful rather than uplifting, as it should be. In recent discussions on this blog, people have shared painful experiences they have had in the church. It is impossible, I think, not to be moved by some of these experiences.
Sometimes a person will conclude that participation in church is more of a hindrance than a benefit, and that they would be better off just going their own way– nurturing their faith on their own, perhaps, trying to live a Christ-like life, but not subjecting themselves to the offense and pain they encounter in church settings.
Sometimes I’m of that mind myself. So I definitely can sympathize with that choice. I can’t say that it is necessarily wrong for everyone.
Even so, I think the scriptures are clear that this is not by and large what the Lord wants us to do. He wants us to gather together in twos and threes and more in His name, to worship and to strengthen each other. My own experience suggests that this is the preferred course. It demands patience, often, and humility. But flawed as we are, we need each other.
Sunday before last, I participated in an LDS worship service at Donovan State Prison. I had prepared a talk, and Brother Birch had prepared a lesson, but since it was the first Sunday of the month we decided to try starting off by inviting the brothers to share their testimonies if they wanted to. We never got to the talk or the lesson. Not everyone spoke (and some feel uncomfortable speaking in English), but those who did took up the entire two hours. And believe me, the talk and the lesson were not missed.
To my surprise, Brother Birch asked me to lead off. I hadn’t collected any thoughts and, to be honest, I haven’t been feeling especially strong in the faith lately; and I think that came across in what I said. One brother immediately followed by saying, very respectfully, that he understood but didn’t share in some of my doubts. He bore a strong testimony of the Gospel, and of the Book of Mormon in particular. Others followed, mostly in a similar spirit.
Several of the brothers had had no experience with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before coming to Donovan, but they have found a spiritual home in our services. One of these brothers shared, in more evangelical language, how a Protestant pastor had helped him “come to Christ” while in the prison, and how that commitment had changed his life and eventually led him to our services, where he feels he belongs. He expressed his gratitude for the Book of Mormon as well. When he gets out (and at this point, if I recall correctly, he is looking at something like 25 more years in prison), he hopes to become a member.
All of these people have undoubtedly caused suffering to others, and most have probably experienced more than their fair share of abuse and suffering. Some of that came out in the testimonies. Our surroundings were pretty dingy, even grim. And yet here, as we gathered together in Jesus’s name, the Lord’s spirit was almost palpably present in helping us to strengthen each other. My own faltering faith was reenforced and sustained.
My apologies for the didactic tone of this post. Nothing I’ve reported here will seem the least bit novel to any readers of this blog. I only hope that sharing or remembering experiences like this may help me and others to attempt what is needed to maintain our fellowship even despite the frequent and sometimes egregious human failings that we inevitably encounter.