On the Road on the Sabbath

An article from yesterday’s Mormon Times discusses attending church and otherwise observing the Sabbath while traveling or on vacation. This is an interesting topic to me because I’m pretty bad at observing the Sabbath while traveling, and I feel conflicted about it.

The article tells the stories of people who have been quite diligent in their church-going duties when traveling, and have been the better for it with enriching and interesting experiences. (I won’t recount them, but do check out the article.) The times when I’ve attended church while traveling have been positive for me as well.

A couple years ago I was in Philadelphia on a business trip, and my stay was over a Sunday. I looked up a nearby ward online and managed to not get lost. It seemed like a nice ward, and it was nice to see new faces than those I see each Sunday in my own ward. I remember Relief Society in particular, though. They invited visitors to introduce themselves, and there were about 5 or 6 of us. Aside from me, they were all investigators. Then they welcomed two people who had just been baptized. It was wonderful! I don’t remember the topic of the lesson, but I do remember the Spirit in that room, and I remember feeling uplifted by the events.

To be honest, that’s the only time when traveling alone (and I travel alone frequently) I’ve made it to church. Multiple times I’ve made plans and printed out directions and times, but chickened out at the last minute. I am terribly self-conscious, and visitors stand out and are noticed. The anxiety wins, and I don’t go. I always regret it. Hopping on a plane and flying across the ocean to spend 3 weeks traveling in a foreign country alone? Fun! But then step alone into a church building? The horror! Believe me, I recognize the incongruence and stupidity of it all. I’m working on it!

When traveling with family, I’ve been better. Last year we stopped for a couple days in Yellowstone on our way up to Canada. While we spend the Sabbath not really observing the Sabbath (though I can’t think of a more wonderful way to spend a Sunday than seeing being in such a beautiful place), we did attend an evening sacrament meeting, which ended up being wonderful. It was a testimony meeting, and an investigator got up to share his testimony (though he did not use that term). He spoke for at least 10 minutes, and every minute was worth it. I wish all testimonies could be that amazing.

One area where I feel particular regret is when traveling with friends. My friends tend to not be LDS, so if we’re traveling together, church doesn’t even get mentioned as we make our plans, and I don’t speak up. A couple times I’ve wished I said, “Hey, I want to go to this church on Sunday morning. You’re welcome to come with me, or we can meet up in the afternoon.” Or something like that. How painless. How simple.

I will do better.

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About Tanya Spackman

Tanya was born in Provo, Utah, on a warm July day. After escaping childhood with nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises (except for 5 stitches - oh, and that incident with the staple in the thumb), she graduated from BYU with a degree in molecular biology. Before graduation, she served a mission in Chicago. As graduation neared, she decided lab work really wasn't her thing, and she had no interest in research or teaching (but really, molecular biology is interesting), so she decided to attempt the world of technical writing. Thus, she now works as a technical writer/editor for the Navy in Washington, DC. She loves to read and travel.

18 thoughts on “On the Road on the Sabbath

  1. Great post, Tanya.

    Last Sunday I attended church with my sister-in-law for the blessing of her 6th child. Normally, on such an occasion, we would leave after Sacrament meeting and head home to enjoy family time. Instead, we stayed for the entire block and then headed to my sister-in-law’s house for a luncheon and family time.

    Overall, I am glad that we stayed for all of the meetings.

  2. I PREFER attending other wards, and seek them out when travel requires a Sunday stay. In my own ward, I am busy. I have a mental to-do list: keep track of, post the, remind her about, check on the, take care of that, calendar the other thing, pick up the, remember to, ask about the– on and on. When I’m a visitor, I’m completely free to simply sit and worship. I can enjoy the speakers without any prejudgement, because I know nothing about them. No risk of the hearing the same old tired stories, either. One of my three current callings is bulletin composer, so I always take one to compare and swipe ideas from. I enjoy visiting! Much more than being home some days.

  3. deb, you make a good point. I currently don’t have such a time-consuming calling (or family), so I hadn’t thought of the relaxing break visiting a ward can be.

  4. Tanya, I travel constantly, and I’ve attended church many different places, different countries, etc. It is fascinating to see the differences and similarities. I’ll never forget going to Sacrament one Sunday morning in Puerto Montt, Chile. First of all, it was fascinating to see that the Church was HUGE in southern Chile — there were chapels everywhere. Secondly, it was amazing to see the people huddling in their jackets (it was about 60 degrees in the building, but it was a penetrating cold). Thirdly, it was great to see how friendly they were and reverent and respectful.

    I always make it a point to at least go to Sacrament meeting wherever I am — and I don’t think I’ve missed a Sunday sacrament in several years. This could be a goal for you — at least attend Sacrament meeting — that way you don’t have to introduce yourself. :)

  5. I recall in high school, I attended Boys State (a mock state legislature run by the American Legion. There was a parallel Girls State run at about the same time). It took place over a Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

    Anyway, there were three Mormon kids there (out of 50 or so boys). I was the only one of the three who made sure I got to church that Sunday. The other two Mormon kids (who did not go to church) became the American Legion’s pick to go on to the very prestigious Boys Nation.

    I don’t think there’s any moral in that story, really. Your post reminded me of it is all.

  6. Your story reminds me of Hugh Nibley and his book Approaching Zion: are we looking for the glory of the world or the glory of God? will we follow the world or will we adhere to the covenants we have made? What matters most to us?

    (To me, Approaching Zion is a very discomforting book. Which, I suppose, means it’s effective.)

    I’m impressed you went to church. Good on you.

  7. Tanya, when I travel, and will be in one spot for a weekend, I call around ahead of time, to a Family History Center, and try to find a stake or ward singles rep. Looking at http://www.familysearch.org, you can find the schedule of that FHC and call when it’s open. Better chance of reaching someone than calling the hall phone or bishop’s office’s phone. Then they can just look up people in the stake directory.

    That way, if they have anything going on on Friday or Saturday night, you can go there to meet people. Whereas if your first contact is Sunday, then you’ve already missed what happened the previous fri/sat.

    It may take a few phone calls back and forth between them or other people-in-the-know, while they try to get you in contact with the singles rep. But once, when I called ahead to a FHC in San Antonio Texas, and asked if they could look up the stake single rep, and give him/her my name & number for a call-back, they just handed the phone receiver to her. She was volunteering there when I called.

    I was able to attend their singles group dinner-out that Friday, went with them to see the temple all lit up that night (just after the open house and prior to the dedication) and I didn’t have to show up at church on Sunday not knowing anyone.

    I learned the trick on a trip to Colorado. I arrived mid-week, and dropped by the stake center just hoping for an odd chance of finding something going on. The only thing open was the FHC. They looked up a contact or two in the stake directory, and they had one person call me, then the next person I talked to was a singles rep, and then I had dinner with her that night, all within a few hours of arriving.

    I went with them to a neighboring stake’s singles game night that Friday, and a singles dinner/fireside that Sunday.

    Seek and indeed ye shall find.

  8. We always attend while on vacation. One of my best memories is attending church in Corpus Chrsitie TX. The ward was English speaking but almost everybody was Mexican. The spirit was really strong there that day. Also I normally am buried with callings related stuff and it is nice to just relax for a change.

  9. Bookslinger, your social courage astounds me. Bearing in mind that, as a ward singles rep, I would stare in terror at the phone number I’d been handed for over a week, and then be both ashamed and relieved when I realized that the visitor had already left. It takes every ounce of my self-confidence to do a Primary lesson in front of a highly sympathetic audience of 7/8-year olds that I’ve known for a long time… the idea of calling strangers actually makes me shudder, physically, with dread.

    Having said that, when I was a kid, I always made sure to attend church on Sunday — probably in part because it annoyed my non-member dad — and I still dislike the Sea Cadet officer (an adult) who told me during our leadership academy that “the US Navy doesn’t recognize Mormons as a religion” and had me go to the Catholic mass instead.

  10. When I travel I always try to attend Sacrament Meeting. I have some apprehension about going to priesthood after a bad experience in Orange County, CA. They didn’t recognize any visitors in priesthood opening exercises and it was the same in Elders Quorum. I couldn’t believe it; it was as if I was completely invisible. To add insult to injury, there was no lesson to speak of…only a bunch of sophomoric humor and golf stories. I was shocked and disappointed, and I’m one who thrives on humor. I debated whether to get up and walk out, but my non-confrontational nature won out and I stayed, hoping for some kind of redemption.

  11. Skaught: I’ve had similar disappointments when members didn’t live up to the expectations I had for them. After a long time of bitterness, I finally realized that there just aren’t enough perfect elders in the church to fill all the Elders’ Quorums. Just like there aren’t enough perfect (or even “good enough”) 19 year olds to send out on missions.

    There aren’t enough perfect (or even “good enough”) men to fill all the leadership slots in every single ward (though some wards can), including EQ Pres and EQ Instructor. It could be that the bishopric in that ward put the best men in charge of the youth program, and their EQ and their HPG had to get by with what was left over.

    The June 2008 Ensign has an article “Reaching Out to Belong”. There’s a good paragraph in that article about taking the lead. If others don’t reach out to you, you can be the first to smile, say hello, or extend a hand.

  12. I would have to agree with Bookslinger.

    When I decided to come back into full activity of the Church, I began to do so in the singles branch, to which I had to move my records. No one knew me, I knew no one (except for the branch president). After one Sunday of waiting to be socialized, I decided to reach out and socialize another brother, which I’m glad I did. He’s a good friend now and helps me tremendously in church (last Sunday, he taught me how to prepare the sacrament and the table, how to bless the sacrament, how to give the trays to the brothers passing it out, and so on – first time I had done these things!). So we have a good thing going, which would not have happened had I stuck to my usual modus operandi and waited to be socialized.

  13. We try to go to sacrament meeting.

    One item that I have not come to terms with, though, particularly toting around with a gaggle of small children, is whether we should really burden an unexpecting ward with our kids (good kids, but still kids) during the primary hours. We typically do not and try to find other activities to fill the day after the sacrament service.

  14. Rd, I’ve never taught primary, or had kids. If the ward you are visiting already has a primary class for the same age as your kids, why would it be a burden?

  15. I have traveled extensively in Latin America and have enjoyed attending sacrament meeting there. The ability to speak Spanish helps a lot, but I have attended with people who didn’t, and they still found the experience worthwhile. A couple times U.S. missionaries offered to translate the talks for the monolinguals among us, and in every case there’s always been one person around with enough English skills to at least greet all of us.

  16. I personally am not big on seeking out local wards when I’m on vacation. To me “vacation” means vacation, and I’d prefer to shelve ALL my normal proclivities whilst galavanting hither and yon. My wife, on the other hand, born and bred from good faithful stock, has already calendared the sac meeting into our itinerary before we left the house, and despite any petulant lip-drooping from me, we inevitably always go (does grudging sacrament-partaking diminish blessings?).

    The one time I was actually glad church pimpled my trip was when we went to a ward in Manhattan and I had a brunette Eve sighting.

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