This blog originally appeared on Exponent II. Click here to view the original post.
“Those in favour, please show by a raise of hands.”
Counting, recounting, recording.
“Those opposed, please show by a raise of hands.”
Counting, recounting, recording.
“The yeses take it.”
I breathed a sigh of relief–not because my preference was passed but because despite the strong words shared on both sides of the issue being voted on, everyone seemed to be okay. No one stormed out. No one was called unfaithful. The vote was noted, we closed the meeting, put the chairs away and gave one another hugs over doughnuts and over-cooled coffee.
After years of raising my hand to sustain new callings, church officers and to show a vote of thanks, I’ll admit that my first experience voting in a church business meeting was exciting and unnerving. To this point in my religious life, voting in church had largely been a point of formality. The bishop, stake president or general authority read a name and we sustained them. I never saw a contrary vote in my 30 years of attending LDS meetings. I know they exist but they’re certainly rare.
But right here, right now, voting carried some weight. I was putting my own opinions and judgement out in the open. As a member of less than a year, my vote mattered as much as everyone else’s—old, young, convert and lifetime member. And I’ll admit that the thought of conflict seemed suddenly scary. I didn’t want anyone to be hurt and I didn’t want to be wrong.
It was watching this process one year ago that fueled my excitement about being part of a church again. I realized that I didn’t just want to attend, I wanted to have a bit of skin in the game. As I watched my fellow congregants raise their hands for or against motions regarding everything from the election of a pastor to the adoption of a budget, it was exciting and a bit overwhelming to realize that no one person had all the answers. No pastor, no bishop, not even a prophet, could do this alone. Revelation and the inspiration that prompted it was a communal act. Every member was entitled and empowered to a part in it. And I wanted to part of that.
I try to be careful to not draw too many comparisons between my experiences growing up in the LDS faith and my experiences now in Community of Christ. Both continue to teach me to draw deep from the well of faith, to aim for goodness and to practice mercy. But as I raised my hand and voice on a touchy and controversial matter, I wish I could have told my budding Mormon feminist self that there would come a day in my life when conflict and difference of opinion at church would be a sign of involvement rather than disobedience or hardheartedness. God has granted all of us a measure of the Spirit with hands and heart for building Zion. We are best served when we recognize the unique contributions, experiences and opinions of one another and not only dare to do right, but also dare to be vulnerable, mistaken, passionate and even gloriously wrong. We’ll be okay. And then we’ll end with hugs, doughnuts and over-cooled coffee.
Amy Isaksen Cartwright
Dear Amy (or Amy Lynne as some family will continue to call you for quite some time),
You made a big decision on the day that you chose to be baptized. You were excited and a little nervous. Your grandfather came and spoke of how his father journeyed from Denmark with your great-grandmother to join the saints out west. Your father performed the ordinance and the patriarchs of your family joined together to confirm you as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all the while sharing stories of faith and sacrifice. On that day you joined your story with theirs.
I remember how you wanted to be so sure that you were wearing all white that you were anxious the gold metal on your hair ties was not acceptable before God. This seemingly insignificant yet scrupulous concern would become a theme throughout your youth and young adult life. You would often feel that there was some inescapable reason that you were not worthy, never good enough. At some points, that little nagging feeling, though you never could place it, would become overwhelming.
You will have the best of friends from church as you grow up. Together you’ll go to dances, make music together and look up at the stars and talk about the wonders of creation. Your baptism day paved the way for you to have this near-idyllic childhood filled with mentors and friends. It won’t always be sunshine and rainbows but you’ll never lack for trustworthy people to lean on in times of need.
You will graduate university, marry in the temple and have children. (This isn’t the point of my letter but they’re beautiful. They will be your whole world and you theirs). You will make mistakes but your relationship with God will drive your life choices. When you feel scared or overwhelmed, you’ll lean on that faith to get through.
This is the harder part of the story—there will come a day when you question if you made the right choice on that baptism day. Your faith will change. A lot. The world will be bigger and brighter and full of more wonder and exciting mysteries, but it will also be less sure, less secure and the answers you once saw laid out before you will now come only one step at a time. It will be painful. It will also be beautiful. You will spend a lot of nights crying into the dark wondering if that God you were so sure was there can actually hear you. Your prayers will change. You will change.
Which is how we get to today. You see, today I took a bigger-than-normal step. I was confirmed into a different church. I know that probably hurts and at your young age, it seems inconceivable that you would ever leave this fold of westward pioneers and I Love to See the Temple. Your faith is so strong and your spirit unbreakable. These are your people and you simply wouldn’t leave them.
They are mine, too. But they are mine in a different way than they were before.
You see, I held on for a long time, wrestling with questions of faith and doubt. Some would say that I lost my faith but I don’t think that’s how faith works. You don’t just accidentally leave it someplace, unable to retrieve it. No, faith doesn’t get lost or die, it changes form. For some, that faith changes form into certainties about God’s (non)existence. For others, it leads them to new forms of spirituality, new religions, new churches or new understandings about their current faith. For me (us), that faith took me outside of walls of the LDS church. For a long time I wondered if it was even worth joining another church. Remember how I said that this new world is both glorious and kind of scary? But with time, I found a new spiritual home, one that I think you will like a lot.
When I joined this new church (it’s called Community of Christ though for your moment in life, it’s known as the RLDS church. Mom and Dad have mentioned it a few times), I was given the option to be rebaptized or confirmed as a new member. I used to think that perhaps you had chosen poorly, that an eight-year-old making eternal covenants to a God so much bigger than your understanding was perhaps a bit foolish. As such, I believed I would probably be rebaptized. But then I thought of you on your baptism day and I imagined this conversation we’re having now and wondered “What would eight-year-old Amy want me to do?”
And so, I chose to honour your choice of baptism as the day that I covenanted my heart to God and to our fellow humans. Today I simply changed which walls hold that heart and which community to align with as I mourn with those who mourn, stand with those who stand in need of comfort and stand as a witness of Christ.
Like great-grandpa Martin and our convert mother, I joined the ranks with those who made a choice to be a pioneer—to leave behind that which we once knew in search of something that beckons to the heart. Despite the love and pride our pioneer ancestors had in their new frontiers and homelands, there was and always will be a soft spot for the home we cannot return to.
Did I tell you that a woman performed this sacrament? It was an incredible feeling. Your children were there. Your husband and friends held your hands. You were fully embraced by this new community of yours. You are happy. You are at peace with God and your fellow humans.
As I bring this letter to a close I just want to tell you thank you for your courage, for your faith and for choosing to be baptized. You made a brave choice and it led us to wonderful people and experiences. The heartache that accompanied can only be expected for people who live with vulnerable hearts. There may be more twists and turns over time but as I’ve learned to trust you, and all the incarnations of you/me, I’ve learned to trust myself right now and perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned to trust the you/me of tomorrow. We will keep walking, one step into the dark at a time. What a lovely adventure awaits us.
Much love and compassion,
Calgary Spark is a collection of stories told by members and friends of the church alike. Each person's story is helping to shape our community in new ways.