Mormons have a long history of supplementing their LDS worship with attendance at or participation in the services of other Christian denominations. In the 19th century, some Latter-day Saints in the American South would, in the sometimes lengthy periods between visits from traveling missionaries, attend Sunday services at the local Baptist or Methodist church. In the 21st century, Mormons are counted among mega-preacher Joel Osteen’s many listeners and viewers, tuning into his broadcasts on Sunday mornings while getting ready to attend their own meetings; others, acting as spiritual tourists, occasionally take in a Catholic or Anglican service while traveling.
Perhaps the most notable (and timely) example of Mormons supplementing their worship outside the confines of the Mormon chapel or temple, though, is the increasing number of Latter-day Saints who take part in some aspect of the traditional Christian liturgical calendar. Some attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve, others finding personal meaning and significance in Ash Wednesday. In perhaps the most striking example, a ward in Medford, Oregon collectively observed Palm Sunday last year, complete with palm fronds made by the primary children. Last year, I decided to observe the Lenten fast, giving up dessert/candy/sweets for the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I did so quietly, taking as my guide the excellent devotional readings by the good folks at By Common Consent as part of their ongoing Mormon Lectionary Project. It ended up being a wholly worthwhile experience, and this year I was eager to participate again. Yesterday at noon, I attended the Ash Wednesday service at the Williamsburg United Methodist Church, accompanied by another Mormon grad student.
I chose the United Methodist Church for several reasons, including proximity (it’s located across the street from campus), but also because my research focuses on early British and American Methodism and because some of my own ancestors were devout Methodists before converting to Mormonism in the 1840s. It was a wonderful experience and the perfect way to begin the Lentent fast. I learned later that afternoon that I am far from alone among Latter-day Saints interested in Lent. Popular online magazine LDS Living featured an article yesterday offering “6 Ways Mormons Can Enjoy the Spirit of Lent” (h/t: Jana Riess).
While there is several directions I could go with this topic, I found myself wondering last night about the origins of Mormon interest in and observance of Lent. Some Latter-day Saints seem to have been exposed to Lent in college or graduate school as the academic study of religion broadened their liturgical horizons; others appear to have returned to Lent as a way of reconnecting with the faith of their childhood and/or family; relatedly, others with parents, spouses, or children who are not LDS attend and observe Lent with their family members; and still others pick up the practice while living in countries with established churches, where observance of Ash Wednesday, Lent, and the like is widely observed by even decidedly non-church going citizens. Finally, the internet has surely played a role in introducing many Mormons to this part of the Christian liturgical calendar. If any or all of these anecdotal reasons are why Latter-day Saints are observing Lent to some degree or another, it seems to me that the practice is likely to increase, given the demographics of Mormonism today and the projected demographics moving forward.
This is where I open it up to you to share your experiences and weigh in:
Do you, as a Mormon, observe Lent?
If so, when did you begin to do so and why?
What does your observance include?
If you live in a nation with an established church (England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, El Salvador, Peru, Dominican Republic, Costa Rice, Poland, Paraguay, Greece, etc.), do any Latter-day Saints there observe Lent?