In this excercise we were asked to go and explore a culture unlike our own, I decided to go and visit a Mormon Church.
From the very first interaction, I felt welcomed by the church community. I was greeted as a friend during the first interactions, both through email, as well as when I entered their church. I decided to go to an event called Friday Forum, an event where members of the community have an opportunity to share their thoughts on a topic they have been asked to prepare a small talk on by one of the elders. Afterwards the church serves a community lunch, which offered a great opportunity to talk to some of the members of the church.
When I entered the church on the 29th of September it felt very homely and inviting. As soon as Avery and I walked into the room we were welcomed and a group of individuals introduced themselves to us. We introduced ourselves and explained the project that we were working on. We then joined two girls and walked over to the room, in which the forum was to be held. The room was set up in a classroom fashion, with rows of desks and a podium in front of them. The forum started with a prayer and song, something that I am not hugely unfamiliar with as I grew up attending a Lutheran church. The sermon then continued with an elder stepping up to the podium inviting a couple to speak on a talk given previously that year. The talk was on how to keep the religious values alive in your family. They spoke about this from an emotional standpoint, being new parents themselves and wanting to raise their son in the faith. After this we moved over to the room where we originally started our conversation as lunch was being served.
Avery and I were invited to stay for the lunch and one of the girls we originally spoke to invited us to sit and talk to her over the course of the meal. It was very interesting to hear from a Sister who was doing her mission trip. She had been assigned Oklahoma as her area. She was very open about her experiences and I felt like all my questions were very welcome. As she was on her mission trip I got curious about how they were planned and executed. One of the things that came up in our discussion was the difference between the female and male mission trips. The women’s trips are 1.5 years long, 6 moths shorter than the men’s. This was not the only difference, during community events, such as Sunday service, men and women were separated into two groups. This allows them to speak of matters important to each of the groups, perhaps things they are not comfortable speaking to in front of the other group. Honestly, this is not something I personally agree with; equality is extremely important in my mind, so I would not be comfortable with this arrangement. However, I can understand and appreciate how this can be beneficial to the community.
I have to say that a lot of things surprised me about the event. I had a lot of prejudice against the community. Not in the manner that I acted on them but rather a set of ideals that had at some point or another heard about the religious community and I believed they followed. Some of them were related to clothing, others were related to grooming. People were less conservatively dressed than I expected and some of the men had long hair and were more androgynously dressed than I had perceived would be seen as appropriate by the community.
This was an eye-opening experience for me. At this event I saw many similarities to my very liberal church upbringing back in Iceland, an experience very different from the one I thought I would have. The community was very welcoming and accepting of views different from theirs and willing to discuss topics, rather than shutting down conversations they might find uncomfortable.