I realize that I should probably be sending this dilemma to “Ask a Methodist Girl” or “Ask a Protestant Girl”, but please do the best you can with me, under the circumstances.
I grew up in the Methodist church, and have taken a few spiritual detours along the way, but have always been steadfast in my belief in God. I have always been curious about the LDS church, and have attended church services, a baptism and more recently have met with the missionaries. I also attend a United Methodist Church, one whose membership includes many people that knew me as a child. There is comfort there. I am a single mother of two daughters, and attend church with my 12-year-old (my 20-year-old daughter is on a spiritual quest of her own…). We have attended both churches together, and while my daughter liked the LDS service (she thought Primary was great!), she has expressed that she feels more comfortable attending church where she knows people, and where people know her…I can understand that, so we are trying to become more active in our UM church.
My problem, if it is a problem, is this: I think about the LDS church all the time. I’d love to say I felt the spirit in the sacrament service, but I really felt it during Sunday School and especially during Relief Society. I miss that! The women in that ward are wonderful, and while I thought I would feel a little out of place (since unlike most members of the ward, I am not married or caucasian), I really did not.
So I have this dilemma. On the one hand, I want to foster my daughter’s spiritual growth, and I think the best way to do this is by going to a church where she feels at home. On the other hand, I wish to grow spiritually as well, but without excluding (or confusing) my daughter. I do not wish to convert at this time, but is there a middle place?
There is a wonderful sense of openness, awareness, respect, and spiritual sensitivity that emanates from your letter. And that, my dear, is precisely what it takes to craft a middle place or a middle path for a family like yours in a complicated religious situation.
So your daughter feels more comfortable in the UMC congregation that has been your spiritual home since you were a child, while your own ongoing adult spiritual path is leading you into the precincts of Mormonism. How to meet her needs and your own at the same time?
Of course, I’m rooting for you to join the LDS Church because, ahem, (among other more elevated reasons) I want you to move to my ward and hang out with me in Relief Society! But for now I’ll put down my pom-poms, because it sounds to me like you’re doing the right thing by listening to your daughter and getting active in your UMC congregation.
My daughters are not yet twelve, but already I look forward to that tender, important, confusing age with a great deal of trepidation. How fantastic that your daughter feels connected to a church community to support her (and you) through these crucial formative years! I think it’s worth celebrating that your daughter wants to attend church at all!
What I also gathered from your letter is that race may be a factor in your situation. No doubt, that may also be on your daughter’s mind. For people of color in the US, churches have historically served as a crucial spiritual safe harbor for working out how to survive and carry oneself with dignity and grace in the face of a sometimes hostile majority white society. If your UMC congregation offers a stable, intergenerational local community that can offer your daughter additional role models and sources of strength in this area of her personal and spiritual development, by all means, keep taking her there. Mormonism is terrific, and we’ve come a long way on race, but even well-thinking Mormons coming from a traditionally Anglo-dominant culture may just not be aware of some of the dimensions of experience your daughter and you face as nonwhites in the US. And it’s not your daughter’s job at age twelve to teach them.
Even as you support your daughter by attending UMC, I do think you should continue to feed and support the part of you that enjoys Mormonism. And even if most Mormons take an all or nothing approach to Church attendance, that doesn’t mean this approach will be the right fit for you. Continue to sneak in Sunday School and Relief Society if you can. Bargain with your daughter to do three weeks with the UMC and one with the LDS. See if you can exploit the scheduling of Sunday meetings to your advantages—sometimes the times of LDS ward meeting times shift from year, and some wards due to building-sharing needs meet in the afternoons. And let your Relief Society president and bishop know what’s going on. I don’t know if they’d assign you a visiting teacher before baptism, but they might—and I get the feeling you’d enjoy that. Get and stay on the ward email list. Attend activities. Subscribe to the Ensign. Read good books about Mormonism. Keep feeding yourself, and in a year or two, reevaluate.
One thing I’ve learned living in an interfaith family is that if I put the needs of the family as a family first, the whole interfaith thing will iron itself somehow, over time, with the help of God.
Readers, what additional advice or support can you offer Anne? How do you negotiate between the different spiritual needs of members in your family?
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