Throughout the winter of 2006-2006, we continued to meet with the missionaries in our home, but it was time to take the next step. And that step was to meet some real live Latter Day Saints in their natural environment. I had been invited to go to church several times, but I always politely declined. I’m not sure why, it certainly wasn’t scary. I guess I just didn’t want to move that fast towards my baptism just yet.
Then I found out the church was having a game night, I want to say it was bunko. This seemed like a good opportunity to meet people in a less formal setting. So for the first time I set foot in the Glens Falls Ward building. And right away, I started to recognize people I knew. My wife and I had been taking a ballroom dancing class at the YMCA in anticipation of our wedding, there was another couple in the class we were particularly friendly with, the Claysons, and they were also members of the church. My wife would later tell me she had a feeling that they were members. I also recognized one of the sisters as someone I had taken night classes with, and was a teacher down in Saratoga. And finally, one of my own co-workers was there as well. Bonnie Droddy worked at our elementary school, and we had gone to a conference some years ago. She’s the brother to Al Fredette, and aunt to Jimmer, a name people were just starting to talk about more and more. Her husband was also the Bishop of the Ward. I still think these social events are a great way to bring in new members, or even just to provide a way for members to bring their non-members friends into a low pressure environment, where we can just have a nice community event. Even if people have no interest in converting, it’s good for them to know something about who we are and what we stand for, and there are a lot of good secular lessons we teach as well.
I’ll say a few things about the organization of the Church. Our most local units are called “Wards” or if they are smaller, “Branches” They are led by a Bishop or Branch President. These are lay ministers who volunteer some 15-20 hours a week for a 5 year period. My Ward is the Glens Falls Ward, but we actually meet in Queensbury. It covers the area ranging from Warrensburgh in the northwest, over to the western part of Washington County in the north-east. And it goes as far south as South Glens Falls. We get about 125 people at church on a given Sunday. About a dozen of these local units make up a “Stake” Stakes have their own set of leaders, who watch over all the Wards and Branches in their area. We have a Stake President, who also is an unpaid volunteer, and he serves a 10 year term. Our Stake is the Albany NY Stake, and a few times a year we have meetings or activities as an entire Stake at our Stake Center, which is in Loudonville, just south of Siena College. The Stake Presidency answers to the General Authorities, who are headquartered in Salt Lake City.
So, my first experience in the building was a positive one, and it was enough to get me to go back on Sunday.
Not all Sunday’s are the same. 48 weeks a year we meet in our own building. 2 weeks a year we meet at our regional building in Albany. And twice a year the services originate in Salt Lake, and we watch from our own building, or even from our homes. Of the 48 weeks at home, most of the weeks the speakers are chosen from the congregation a few weeks in advance, and members are asked to give a 15-20 minute talk. But the first Sunday of each month is special, it’s the Fast and Testimony meeting.
All members and encouraged to fast at least once a month, although when you have something important to pray about, it’s pretty common to fast more. For Fast and Testimony meetings we are asked to skip two meals, and then we donate the money we would spend on those two meals to the Church. This money then goes to help those in need. The Church meeting comes during this fast, and after the Bishop or one of his Counselors gives their testimony, any member of the congregation can get up to talk about their recent testimony building experiences, and share their testimony with everyone else. Sometimes people bear their testimony about something specifically, such as the power of prayer, the love of Jesus Christ, or our thankfulness at having a Prophet today. Other times testimony is more general.
I guess the missionaries generally don’t bring potential members to a Fast and Testimony meeting for their first experience if they had a choice. It’s not our traditional service, and it is easy to get confused by all that’s being said, and the less organized structure of the meeting. But here I was. My fiance and I sat near the back, and the plan was to make a quick exit once the meeting was over. Our Church services run for three hours each Sunday, divided up into three meetings. The first meeting is the Sacrament Meeting, which is everyone in the whole Church meeting in the Chapel. The second hour is Sunday school, with people being split up primarily by age. And the third hour is for Priesthood and Relief Society meetings, where we are further split up by gender into even smaller groups. I wasn’t ready to commit to three hours just yet, but now I can’t imagine anything else.
My plans to fly under the radar didn’t last long. People recognized us from our appearance at the game night. And the Church loves new members. If I wasn’t noticed early in the meeting, that all changed once Sister Droddy got up to give her testimony. Despite being in a crowded Chapel, she spoke to me personally, tears in her eyes, bearing a heartfelt testimony. I felt the eyes of the entire congregation on me, and there were lots of people who were introducing themselves to me and chatting for a bit once the first meeting was over.
After that, it was a full court press. People stopped at our house to bring us cookies. More and more, the missionaries weren’t coming to visit us alone, but they were bringing members with them to help share the messages they had. Meetings at our home, or just stop bys were becoming more frequent. I was learning at a faster and faster pace, and I was loving it.