Posts Tagged ‘ Mormon ’

Passage of the Day, 10/3

Today’s passage comes from Helaman 4:9 in the Book of Mormon, one of the four primary texts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormons.  Like most of the rest of that text, today’s passage concerns the story of the Nephites, whom Mormon texts describes as the descendants of 6th Century BCE Israelites who fled their original homeland, built ships, and apparently sailed to the New World under divine guidance.

Once there the refugees separated into two peoples, the Nephites and Lamanites.  The Nephites are the people of the Book of Mormon who kept true to the prophecies of their founder Nephi.  In today’s passage we read of how, after a bitter conflict with the Lamanites in which the Nephites were weakened by pride and internal divisions, they rallied together under their church and retook most of their losses from the Lamanites, whom Mormon texts characterize as sinful and hard-hearted portion of its Israeli settlers of North America.  It is only later, when they too abandon their faith, that the Nephites are destroyed once and for all.

Mormon scholars do not have a firm consensus on where exactly in the Americas the events of the Book of Mormon are set.  Some point to Illinois, where the Mormon prophet and founder Joseph Smith alleged to have found the golden plates from which he copied the text that became the Book of Mormon, and associate the civilizations described in Mormon texts with the Mississippian mound-builder cultures.  Other scholars believe that the Nephites and Lamanites built their settlements in southern Mexico, and that their works eventually informed the high urban civilizations of the Mayans and Aztecs in the same region.

No archaeological evidence has yet been found to corroborate either theory.  Mormon missionaries I’ve spoken to on behalf of Churchspotting responded to this lack of evidence by declaring that their faith called on them to trust the text, as it is the word of God in their tradition, and that they held to it regardless of outside influences.

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Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, York Ward – Visited on 9/11/11

Alexander Love Highway snakes between SC 321 and Rock Hill, a river of asphalt lined by orange cones, its shoulders stripped to the bare red clay by construction teams, fenced on either side by dark stands of pine.  If you ask employees at the shops, gas stations and fast food joints along the road, they will tell you that they’ve never heard of a Mormon church in their vicinity.  The nearest, they’re certain, is away in the city of Rock Hill.  In this they are mistaken.

Without its high steeple the York branch of the Latter-day Saints would be difficult to distinguish from a suburban bank or office building.  Unlike most churches in South Carolina, it lacks a broad sign by the highway to alert travelers to its presence and hours of worship.  It is hard to see the inscription on the church’s road-facing wall that announces its name and affiliation.  Yet this building, shaded by the tall pines, is the center of the Mormon faith in York County.

I was first apprised of a LDS presence in the area when two missionaries, in their customary white collared shirts and black ties, rang the doorbell and offered me the good word.  After a fairly pleasant conversation on theology, history and this blog I learned the location of their church and pledged to visit it in time.  When the time came it was a thoroughly disheveled writer, too long at wine and cards the night before, who drove past twice before finding the place at last.

The York LDS Church begins its devotions at 9:00 AM with an hour-long joint worship service, followed by an hour in study groups, followed by another hour of classes divided by gender: the “Priesthood,” for men, and the “Relief Society,” for women.  All are held in the York LDS Church, a relatively new red-brick building built with a large central chapel ringed by office and classroom space.

I attended the first two of the three sessions that Sunday morning.  The convocation was held in the chapel, an unadorned room filled by two columns of long pews, with a raised dais set before them where the church leadership took their seats facing the greater mass of the congregation.  There is no choir loft, or a designated choir, though the congregation spends much of this first hour singing hymns.

Two traditions of the LDS stood out to me during that service.  First, at the start of worship a quick round of voting took place where the congregation ratified the elevation of one of their own to a church office by a show of hands, in a procedure called “manifesting.”  Second, most of the latter half of the service was filled with speeches given by three members of the congregation: one teenage girl and two adult women, whose topics were faith, hope and charity respectively.

After the service I sat in on a youth study group chaired by a rotation of adult members of the congregation—that weekend the duty fell to Michael Fear, the Bishop of York Ward and head of the LDS church in the area.  It was a small affair attended by less than a dozen of the church’s young people, based on scripture drawn from the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, both of which are primary texts of LDS worship.

After that study group concluded I conducted a brief interview with Bishop Fear.  The bishop is a local high school teacher, a native of California, and has held his post for less than a year.  He informed me that the LDS church makes no distinctions between priests or pastors and the lay congregation—all Mormons are in effect lay members of the faith, by his description, and political offices are held for limited periods.  The average term of Bishop is somewhere between five and seven years.  Unlike the other leaders interviewed by Churchspotting, Bishop Fear has no degree in Divinity or theology—the LDS church does not view such accreditation as necessary for church office.

I learned a great deal about the history and organization of the LDS in York County from the bishop.  The York Ward, roughly equivalent to a parish and like districts in other faiths, was founded between 1999 and 2000.  It is just one ward associated with the Gastonia Stake of the LDS church, seated in the north, and claims approximately 400 adherents.  A stake is apparently a gathering of 6-10 LDS wards bound together by geography and population.

According to Bishop Fear the LDS holds itself as a restoration of lost Christian and Jewish traditions, and does not go out of its way to associate with those groups, though the York Ward has aided an AME Zion church in the town of Smyrna, SC, that needed structural repairs.

On the topic of good works in the community, Fear said that the LDS Church operates farms and ranches in the American West that donate their produce to the needy, that Mormon missionaries provide aid in the wake of natural disasters, and that Mormon communities donate alms to the needy during times of fasting.  He made no mention of specific initiatives within his ward.

Finally, I asked him for his thoughts on the proper relationship between Church and State.  Bishop Fear referred me to his church’s 12th Article of Faith, which enjoins all Mormons to offer due fealty to secular authorities.