Last Sunday was the first day of Religious Exploration classes for my kids. Everyone met in the sanctuary at the beginning for a few minutes, then the kids were taken out and divided into classes according to grade level.
I went with my son to his class, "Holidays and Holy Days." He's shy and anxious, and he was petrified to be in a brand new place with a bunch of strangers. He sat on my lap during most of the class and refused to even introduce himself and say what school he went to. The first activity was to write a "covenant," essentially a list of rules that the children came up with and all signed their name to.
Culture shock moment #1. "Covenant" is an extremely important word in the LDS church, and it is used quite differently and specifically. Covenants are what you make with God, not with other people. Making and keeping sacred covenants in conjunction with their related ordinances -- baptism, endowment, sealing -- is how you are saved. They're the ladder you climb to reach the Celestial Kingdom. It was strange to hear the word put to such an everyday use as describing a list of class rules.
After writing the covenant, the teacher talked about what the class will cover -- a variety of holidays from different religions, including some Hindu holidays that I'd never heard of before. She talked a little bit about what holidays have in common across religions, like gift giving, special foods, and light (Christmas lights, Hanukah candles, jack o'lanterns, fireworks, etc). My son asked me how much longer the class was and I told him it was almost over. He was shocked! It's so short! Only an hour or so. :)
At the end of class the kids stuck markers together until they reached the ceiling. This was the highlight, of course. My boy was perfectly happy for me to leave him then to go get his sister, then they played outside on the playground for about an hour.
Culture shock #2 -- they have a playground. At church. They do not have playgrounds at LDS churches. Playing on the playground is not an appropriate Sabbath day activity.
There were muffins and brownies (I don't know if this is a normal occurrence or if it was just because it was the first day, but yum!), and my son played with some of the kids from his class for a while. When I asked him what he thought, he seemed to be withholding judgment. He agreed that it would be worth it to come back a few times and see how it went. For him, this is huge! He never likes anything! Hey Mikey!
My daughter loved her class, which was as I expected. We've visited a few times in the past and she always enjoys it. Her class is called The Questing Year, and there were several quests they talked about, which she can't quite remember now. She thinks that some of them were a quest to learn about Unitarian Universalism, a quest to learn about herself, and a service quest. I realized that this is probably a good opportunity for her to learn about the LDS religion too, as part of learning about herself. After seven years of correlated lessons in Primary, I think it's safe to say that she knows nothing about her religious heritage and how our family fits into it.
So the kids played, and I watched the people.
Culture shock #3 -- Unitarian Universalists look a lot different than Mormons. Or at least the people in this congregation do. The dress was more casual, for the most part, some were even wearing shorts. Men's hair was longer, there were more beards and few ties. But I was surprised to discover that the women looked different too, especially the older ones. More women had a natural look -- hair that was not colored, and not carefully styled, many didn't wear make-up. And the odd thing was that I found that I had a slightly negative reaction to the way people looked, as if perhaps they were not as trustworthy as LDS church members. I realize this is probably a result of the emphasis in Mormonism in looking a certain way in order to promote the church's public image of wholesomeness. And it's something I need to get over.
The biggest difference between last Sunday and most Sundays was that when I got my kids up out of bed they got dressed and ready to go without a fight. Maybe it was just because it was something new and different. But it was sooooo lovely. We'll see if they're as happy to go this Sunday!