Supplemental Worship

By August 29, 2010

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.

Article filed under Cultural History Reflective Posts Ritual


  1. My story relates to your first question. My Alabama family at the turn of the 19th to 20th century was as you describe — isolated except for occasional missionary visits. They attended Protestant camp meetings whenever they were near. I know they sang, but they made it a point not to participate in any activity that would have marked belonging or loyalty to anything but the LDS church.

    But one meeting — it would have to have been in 1909 or 1910 — was apparently very moving to my 11- or 12-year-old grandmother, and when the call to come up and be saved went out, she was swept up in the moment and went to the front with a lot of others before her mother could grab her arm and keep her seated. The family laughed and teased her for days afterward, telling her she was no longer a Mormon. She really worried about that day and night, until her mother told her that they were only teasing, that she was in fact still a Latter-day Saint.

    From that I can draw a fairly clear line between what they did and what they did not do when they worshiped with others.

    As for your second question, I’ve attended a number of other churches, especially when I have the chance to go with someone to something a little bit exotic. But I’m afraid it has always been out of curiosity, more voyeuristic than intentionally to worship with others.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 29, 2010 @ 7:59 pm

  2. My companions and I used to attend mass often on Saturday nights when I was a missionary, because no one wanted to meet with us then and we had nothing to do. We enjoyed the choir and the homily.

    Comment by E — August 29, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  3. My wife and I have attended Midnight Mass, and other denominations’ Christmas Eve observances. In that same vein, we have frequently taken advantage of the local services some churchs offer that the LDS Church does not – after school care, bible camp, even enrichment classes, and concerts – though I don’t think of these as a replacement of my LDS worship, but in addition to.

    Plus I did the voyeuristic thing for several churchs, even Sikhs and Bhudists, as well as the Lutherans and Methodists.

    One aspect you might not have thought would be included is the non denominational services at a place like a Boy Scout Camp or in the military. They certainly replaced my normal LDS worship sometimes for months at a time.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — August 29, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

  4. I used to frequently take time during graduate school to spend time in Beck Chapel on the IU campus. It was a nice place to get in tune, although I never attended services there. I remember very vividly finding peace there on September 11, 2001.

    Comment by SC Taysom — August 29, 2010 @ 10:14 pm

  5. I often have trouble feeling truly worshipful during sacrament meeting, although there are rare moments. I occasionally attend compline at an Anglo-Catholic church and find the experience to be sublime. Incense cloud, candle-lit darkness, and sung prayers create a state of meditativeness and a feeling of holiness that I feel is akin to being in the temple. Even though the atmosphere is different from the temple, compline cocoons me within sacred space.

    Comment by Elizabeth — August 30, 2010 @ 12:00 am

  6. Oh, and I really like your post, Chris, and your story, Ardis.

    Comment by Elizabeth — August 30, 2010 @ 12:10 am

  7. While in Edinburgh, I would often attend the weekly worship service for the Divinity School on thursdays. It was great because a faculty member was usually the one officiating, and it was always full of students. It was a great bonding experience. However, while I took part in the singing and recitations, I never took part in the Lord’s Supper, and I could never really figure out why.

    Thanks for the post.

    Comment by Ben — August 30, 2010 @ 8:38 am

  8. Thanks, everyone.

    Ardis, I think you’ve told me that story before, and I remember liking it then almost as much as I like it now.

    E, now that you mention it my father did the same thing for the same reasons during his time as a missionary in Ireland. Interesting.

    Thanks, Bruce. The voyeuristic aspect you and Ardis mention is especially intriguing to me. And I hadn’t even considered the non-denominational services you mention–thanks for bringing that up. To what extent did you participate, if you don’t mind sharing?

    I imagine several LDS grad students studying religion in some aspect have taken advantage of on-campus chapels and services like Taysom, Elizabeth, and Ben all mention. That might be an interesting point to explore further, though.

    Liz, what do you mean by “worshipful”?

    Comment by Christopher — August 30, 2010 @ 9:20 am

  9. I started singing in other churches’ choirs in college (mostly for mercenary reasons :)) and always loved it. I also sang in the choir for the morning prayer service every day in college and I found those services among the most spiritually nourishing experiences of my life–I still long to begin my days with responsive reading of the psalms and hymn-singing and a snatch of ancient polyphony.

    Now I sing for an Evensong service at an Episcopal church once a month and occasionally for Sunday services during Advent or Holy Week. I say the prayers and (obviously) sing, but I never take communion, although I frequently want to.

    Comment by Kristine — August 30, 2010 @ 9:33 am

  10. My wife and I visit other churches on stake conference Sundays. We love visiting the other churches and simultaneously maintain our unflagging commitment to the LDS Church.

    Comment by anon — August 30, 2010 @ 11:27 am

  11. When I served in Italy we opened a city with no members. With only two of us, Sundays meant the daily scripture study, followed by us giving ourselves the Sacrament. Eventually, I suggested we attend a local Baptist church (it was a very small church in very Catholic Italy). At first the pastor was reluctant to accept us, but after a couple of weeks, he recognized, as well as a few other members, that we just wanted to worship in a community. We would attend their services, then go home and prepare the Sacrament for ourselves. This lasted a couple of months until a member moved into the area (1 hour away) and we started to go to her house for services.

    All in all it was a positive experience and it made a difference to have a community to sing and praise God with.

    Comment by Gilgamesh — August 30, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

  12. Somehow I want what I feel to match the gravity of the ceremony taking place. I want to feel as though I have tapped into something transcendent. Or, if I have been sinful, I want to feel penitent and a greater resolve to change my life. Overall, an inward posture of submission to God and to God’s will, a feeling of overwhelming gratitude for God’s grace. I want to feel different than I feel during the rest of church, which is mostly very pedestrian but punctuated with moments of insight. How would you define worshipful?

    Comment by Elizabeth — August 30, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

  13. I’ve come across accounts in various diaries of people attending local services. For example, James Henry Martineau went back East in the 1870s to do some family history and he talks about hitting various worship services. He was pretty scathing in his critiques, though; so, I’m not sure if he was in a worshipful mode.

    I haven’t read a lot of diaries of ungathered folks. I’m trying to remember Effie Carmack’s early diary, but nothing is coming to mind.

    Ardis has written some interesting things on B.H. Roberts as war Chaplain, that I think relate to the post as well.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 30, 2010 @ 3:30 pm

  14. I haven’t really found examples of this in the Philadelphia area. Missionaries in the 1870s would visit other churches but more out of curiosity.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — August 31, 2010 @ 10:07 am

  15. Great responses, everyone. So Kristine, do you participate in other choirs because of a perceived shortcoming in that area in Mormon worship?

    Gilgamesh, your comment speaks to one of reasons Latter-day Saints in the late 19th century south apparently attended other worship services–the sense of community.

    Liz, thanks for explaining. I’m not sure how I would define “worshipful” (I haven’t given it much thought, to be honest) but I wonder how widely spread your own feelings are and what they might reveal about the nature of Mormon worship.

    Yeah, the diaries I’ve looked at from missionaries in the Southern States are similar in the scathing critiques of much protestant (esp. evangelical) worship, J. And thanks for reminding of Ardis’s posts on Roberts as chaplain. I’ll have to revisit those.

    That’s interesting, Steve, and important to consider. I imagine any number of factors would affect decisions like these—the number of LDS in the area, the organizational structure in place (branch vs. Sunday school vs. no formal organization unless Elders are passing through town), the religious backgrounds of the converts, etc. I wonder what insights we could gain from a comparative approach to several peripheral communities in the 19th century? I

    Comment by Christopher — August 31, 2010 @ 11:00 am

  16. I’m also curious about the apparently unanimous agreement (at least in action) that LDS should not/do not participate in the communion services of other churches they attend. Is there a church policy on this? Do Mormon understandings of “the sacrament,” with their emphasis on a renewal of covenants made at baptism (and thus intended, if not restricted, to baptized members) help explain the reluctance?

    Comment by Christopher — August 31, 2010 @ 11:04 am

  17. 16: For me, I can’t shake a feeling of “false priesthood” associated with communion elsewhere, as crass as that sounds. I mean, music is music, and prayer is prayer, and scripture is scripture, and preaching is preaching, and I enjoy joining in that. All of those are lay activities with us. But where something requires the priesthood with us, as is true of the sacrament, I get jittery at the idea of participating in the equivalent with anyone else, even if it were a church that specifically welcomed “strangers” to participate. I wouldn’t take communion any more than I would take baptism or anything else associated with an authority requirement chez nous.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 31, 2010 @ 11:20 am

  18. I have only participated in communion at other churches twice, and both times I was uncomfortable with it, but felt the alternative would be more awkward. Once I was a young child and was too shy to decline. The other time was when Lutheran friends of ours asked us to be their son’s godparents. I thought it would be too much to try and explain why the godparents who had just participated in the baptism would then the very next moment not participate in communion.

    As for my participation in nondenominational services, I was deeply involved in the services, though we did not include a communion of any kind. Homilies, recitative reading, prayers, songs, etc. We would try to have LDS services with sacrament and everything, but getting permission from the local bishop was just to much effort because of distance and sometimes he wouldn’t even grant permission, insisting we join the congregation at the church (an hour away).

    Comment by Bruce Crow — August 31, 2010 @ 11:42 am

  19. Many years ago, I attended a Shaker worship service at the University of Chicago?s Rockefeller Chapel. The service was led by the few remaining Shaker adherents living at their last outpost?Sabbathday Lake, Maine. They had given a delightful concert at the university the night before, and had stayed through Sunday to share their faith with people on campus. It was s simple meeting; people mostly meditated until someone broke into song.

    Comment by Brandon — August 31, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

  20. Christopher, I think Ardis identified the primary reason for anxiety, but I can think of one other: sacramental wine. Even if the congregation you’re visiting uses something that’s kosher by current Mormon practice, the awkwardness of finding out for sure beforehand, coupled with the perception of committing a grievous sin if you guess wrong, could go a long way towards making participation untenable.

    Comment by Jonathan Green — August 31, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

  21. When we visit extended family in S.E. Iowa, we attend a Methodist Church, largely because my dad was the only member of my grandparents’ family to convert, way back in the 1960s. The chapel is the one built by great-grandparents, and where my grandparents and father were raised in the faith and learned their Sunday School lessons, and where my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried (but not my dad, because he was Mormon… he is buried in the “Mormon” section of the cemetery in town, instead) and not much has changed about it over the years that I can remember. When I was a tiny girl, my grandpa would play guitar and I would sing for the congregation during the service, including Teach me to Walk in the Light. This last summer, some forty years later, I was the one playing the guitar as my uncle, aunts, cousins, and siblings sang (but this time it was “One Day at at Time, Sweet Jesus”).

    Communion doesn’t seem to be part of the weekly Sunday service, so I’ve not had to encounter that decision. But I do put money in the collection bag (one year, when we were visiting, they had my daughter join her second cousin in helping with the long-handled collection bags, and doing the candle-snuffing; she was delighted to get to do this kind of thing) and have donated to buying hymnals (a cousin is involved in the music ministry).

    Comment by Coffinberry — August 31, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

  22. One definition of worship:

    ?What, then, are the responsibilities of the Arts to Worship (and the Church); and what are the responsibilities of the Church to the Arts?

    ?First?what is the Nature of Worship?

    ???From the Anglo-Saxon W-E-O-R-T-H plus S-C-I-P-E. . .
    ship: a suffix embodying a quality or state,
    preceded by worth: that quality of a thing
    rendering it valuable or useful;
    excellence, eminence, virtue.?
    Therefore: worship?the state or quality of worth.
    From that: the courtesy or reverence paid to that which is worthy.
    From that: divine worship?divine honor to divine worth.
    Under what conditions does Worship occur? When and where does it take place? What are the attitudes and states of being which allow it to happen?

    ?For me, its absolute minimum conditions are a sense of mystery and an admission of pain? (From Robert Shaw?s November 10, 1981 Lecture on ?Worship and the Arts,? Memorial Church, Harvard University, in The Robert Shaw Reader, ed. Robert Blocker [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004], 367).

    Thoughts later.

    Comment by Elizabeth — August 31, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  23. Giving divine honor to divine worth, as Shaw says, is what I was trying to get at when I said I didn’t feel worshipful. The accoutrement of compline–incense, dim lights, heavenly music–all contribute to that feeling. The starched white light and beauty of the temple also create a special atmosphere that produces such a feeling. Not much of that exists in sacrament meeting, except the silence. There are symbolic dimensions at work, but it is difficult for me to feel much depth in them(guilt or boredom or antsyness more often–most likely a failure of understanding on my part). But, according to Shaw, LDS services do achieve the minimum requirements of worship. The sacrament is mysterious and admits pain.

    As for your questions in #16, I think my own reservations about partaking of another eucharist come from a desire for authenticity. Partaking when my formulation of God and salvation does not match exactly the formulation of God and salvation being celebrated seems disingenuous or disrespectful.

    Comment by Elizabeth — August 31, 2010 @ 8:06 pm

  24. Christopher (15),

    I sing in other choirs not so much because of perceived shortcomings in our worship (I’m almost always the choir director, so any such shortcomings are my own fault!), but because my taste in music is just different than most Mormons’, and it’s not fair for me to impose my preferences in a way that is inconsiderate of what is uplifting for most of the congregation. Also, although I’m deeply committed to the idea of a lay church and a ward choir that is more about enthusiasm and participation than technical perfection, I’m just barely trained and snobby enough to find satisfaction in singing with a trained/auditioned/professional choir that I generally can’t find singing with Mormon choirs.

    So, mostly just different focus, I guess. I also love the Book of Common Prayer, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing 🙂

    Comment by Kristine — August 31, 2010 @ 8:40 pm

  25. Thanks, Liz, Bruce Crow, Coffinberry, and Kristine, for your thoughtful answers to my (pushy? prying?) questions. This is all quite fascinating to me, both as a student of religion and as a Latter-day Saint who appreciates the ritual of high church liturgy and the fervor of evangelical worship.

    Ardis (17) and Jonathan (20): I imagine you’re both right that an understood lack of authority on the part of Mormons is at the heart of the hesitancy to partake of Christian communion. Jonathan, you also make a good point about the emblems used, and Liz’s point about feeling dishonest or disrespectful is relevant, too.

    Brandon, that must’ve been a cool experience (and given the Shakers’ waning numbers, probably a once in a lifetime one).

    Comment by Christopher — August 31, 2010 @ 9:30 pm


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