Last year in a post here at JI, I explored the worship patterns of Latter-day Saints living in the American South at the turn of the twentieth century. I suggested that often times these ungathered Mormons, left to wade the waters of Mormonism on their own, without an ordained priesthood holder and consequently any real semblance of standard church organization and a regular meeting schedule, would often “supplement their Mormon worship by attending other denominations’ worship meetings in between visits from the itinerant elders.” Some Mormons thus attended Methodist camp meetings and Baptist church services on any given Sunday, though they retained their belief in the Mormon message and their membership as Latter-day Saints.
At the time, I considered this practice a historical rarity in the Mormon tradition, one Latter-day Saints located in geographically peripheral regions like the American South outgrew as the institutional church shifted away from its practice of physically gathering to a central locale and congregations in these areas became more established.
And then my wife called me this morning. Work has taken her out of town to Charleston, South Carolina. She excitedly told me that she had attended a Methodist worship service. When I enquired as to the reason why, she explained that she awoke this morning unsure what her schedule would look like, and when her employer (who is well aware of our religious affiliation and activity) suggested she take the morning off to attend church, my wife took advantage. But being in an unknown place with limited transportation options (and even more limited time), my wife decided that instead of trying to locate the local Mormon meetinghouse, she would walk down the street to the United Methodist Church and sit in on their service. This is in part, I think, because I study Methodists, and my wife has heard enough of their history and theology that she felt some level of comfort (or at least an amount of intrigue). But my wife did not just attend the service as an interested observer. She worshipped with the Methodists there this morning, singing hymns, repeating aloud the Apostle’s Creed, and attentively listening to the sermon. (She did not, I should note, partake of the Lord’s Supper, nor did she donate to the collection plate being passed around (though she wanted to do the latter but carried no cash on her)).
As I reflected on her telling me of her experience, two questions emerged in my mind. First, I wondered to what extent those Latter-day Saints of yesteryear who attended other services participated. Did they partake of the Lord’s Supper at Baptist meetings? Donate funds supporting interdenominational camp meetings? And if so (or if not), what does that say about this “supplemental worship”?
The second question I considered was to what extent Latter-day Saints today do indeed supplement their Mormon worship with that of other religions. I have, on occasion, attended another denomination’s Sunday services. Sometimes this is at the invitation of a friend, and other times it has been more of a cultural act, as when Stan, Matt B., and I attended mass at a beautiful Catholic cathedral in Montreal two years ago while there for a conference. I have not, to my knowledge, ever attended with the express intent to stand in for or supplement my weekly worship in Mormon chapels. But I do know of Latter-day Saints who have done so when faced with situations similar to that of my wife today. Similarly, there are Mormons who take advantage of worship services offered during Holy Week and around Christmas at nearby Christian churches because they feel Mormonism largely ignores what they see as important days and events on the liturgical calendar. And I have still other Mormon friends who intentionally attend another service every other month or so in an effort to expose their children to a variety of religious communities and worship styles and because they fundamentally believe that truth can (and is) found in religious traditions outside their own.
But I don’t know how widespread any of this is. And while recognizing that the bloggernacle is not necessarily representative of the larger Mormon population, I’m interested in anyone’s personal stories and feelings in an effort to flesh out some of these ideas in my mind.