a little east of reality

Sunday, September 13, 2009

officially mormon no more

I didn't make an appointment to see the bishop when I went to hand in my resignation letter. I'd had it sitting in my bag some time, not because I was hesitant, but because my writing group, which used to meet every second Sunday right across the street from the chapel, is now meeting elsewhere and I'm never in the area. Somehow today it felt necessary to have this decision, made a long time ago, finally actioned.

But he was in a meeting, and so I waited. Two wards meet in that chapel. I chatted with friends before they left for home and then sat alone for a while before new people started filtering in to attend the afternoon session. Just before the meeting started, one of my ex-seminary students came through with his family. Six** is a funny and deep-thinking kid (technically now a man, but young enough to be my kid, so whatever). I always wish I knew him better ~ he's just good value. He was probably surprised to see me there, given that he knew I had stopped attending back in January. He has his own issues and doesn't necessarily attend by choice. It's something we talked about a long time ago, when my mind was thick with doubt, but I wasn't yet talking to anyone else about it. I always felt bad for not telling him exactly how I felt at the time because I thought maybe he needed to hear that not being part of the church was a valid option, a choice he had a right to if he wanted it, and I don't know if I said it out loud to him like I should have. I think he knew I supported him no matter what, but I don't like not being open, especially when I trust the person I'm talking to.

I wanted the chance to talk to him and explain why I was there today, but the meeting was starting and he had to go inside. The ward was having their Primary presentation, an annual event where the Sacrament meeting ~ the music and talks, etc ~ are provided by the children in the ward under twelve. It was a little surreal. There I was, waiting just outside the chapel area where the meeting was happening, knowing that I was there to end my membership, all the while listening the children sing about eternal families and sharing the Gospel, etc. One talk featured a story about (ironically my favourite of the presidents of the church) Spencer Kimball telling a man whose many children were all active in the church and had all married in the temple (a special thing in the LDS church, with eternal blessings attached to it) that his was the greatest success story he had ever heard. Part of me felt sad because I taught in Primary for so many years and I still miss the kids I taught last year. But another part of me was responding to the memorised quotes and talks and songs by reflecting on how young the kids start learning that these things are truths and wondering what Six was thinking as he listened. Maybe he still had his headphones on and missed it all.

Finally the bishop was free. I explained why I was there, gave him my letter, and apologised for what I felt was probably an awkward meeting for him. I could tell he was holding in his emotions when he asked if this was a step I really wanted to take. I explained that I had made the decision over a long period of time and was sure it was what I wanted. I didn't explain much more, because I knew that everything I felt I needed to say was in the letter. Talking to him about it then would have put him on the spot; probably make him feel like he had to find the magic words that would fix my broken belief. He's a good guy; I didn't need to put him through that. He started to explain 'the process from here', but I stopped him to explain that actually the only part of the process that involved me was that they would send a letter later to confirm I was no longer considered a member and I was cool with that. Then I wished him and his family well and that was that.

It was so strange, driving away. In some ways this was such a small thing ~ a piece of paperwork to tie off a loose end that's been dangling for months. But in some ways it's huge. The LDS church is part of the culture I grew up in, has always been a massive part of my social network, and was a major influence in the forming of my core values. It took me a long time to stop attending, even after I felt I should (it's uncomfortable to be a non-believer in amongst all that certainty ~ I didn't realise how often it's stated/reinforced/implied/sung until I no longer felt the same) because I needed the time to say goodbye to it. I did do that, which is why I'm calm today. Way back when I first realised that I no longer believed Joseph Smith (founder) to be who he claimed to be, and knew immediately (because my mind always plays things out to their logical conclusion) that this would end with me leaving, I think I cried for about two weeks straight.

I got lucky on the way home. There was Six walking along and I offered him a ride. He didn't seem particularly surprised by my news, but then his mind was full of more pressing things. Actually I was glad to just leave it behind and focus on my conversation with him as we drove. He leads a busy life and I'm not sure how long it'll be before I catch up with him again.

To those who read this blog who are members, let me state for the record that I adore you and will still be happy to read about your church adventures and milestones and will never think you are silly to be LDS. This decision is not about me rejecting everything I ever learned at church. Maybe I would feel differently if my church experience had been more negative (and I acknowledge that for some there is a lot to be bitter about) but I was actually pretty lucky in the people I knew and worked with at church. I had amazing teachers who loved me unconditionally back when I was (I'm fairly sure) a complete snot. I still have wonderful church friends, some of whom I've known since my early teens.

I was actually warned that my family and friends might disown me if I left the church (by someone it happened to). My mother (the only active member in my family) and every friend I've told so far all reacted the same way ~ they were surprised/shocked, they told me that they would respect the decision (even if they felt it was a sad thing) and then we moved on. I'm sure at some point someone will react poorly and tell me it's a huge mistake or that I'm going to hell or something, but as long as my close friends and family are cool about it, I don't really care what anyone else says. I even had a few friends respond by telling me that they were also not attending church, or were experiencing serious doubts or, in one case, were also planning to leave. That was a surprise, but interesting.

And life travels on.

**(0:48-0:53 a reference Six will understand if I end up sending him a link to this post. :))

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