4—Being LDS in France and in the closet
4—One year after my baptism the Church had become the most important thing in my life. This is about LDS members back home AND what the meetings were like.
France, Sunday 11 August ’96—When the alarm went off this morning, the radio played that new song. I love how Mormon the lyrics of One of Us are. And I love that I can understand all the words—a proof that my English is improving. I gave a talk. I felt the Spirit when I prepared it and looked up Scriptures to quote. I was ready but I don’t like being at the pulpit on the podium.
One year ago we were a ‘branch’ meeting in a big apartment in town. Now we’ve grown to be a ‘ward’ and moved to our own red-brick meetinghouse that still smells of new carpet. I saw it being built as it’s walking distance from home. Our brand new meetinghouse was dedicated in January. I offered ‘the closing prayer’. Regional leaders were sitting behind me on the podium and a journalist was in the room. So, I was honoured but nervous and I spoke too fast. Members smiled as I returned to my seat—like relatives would—but I wondered if the journalist would mention anything in his article.
I was sure they didn’t have journalists when a new meetinghouse opened in America. But this is France. The people next door got their hands on the blueprints during the construction. I befriended their son and one day they showed me that ‘Room’ had been translated Chambre (‘Bedroom’). So, for months the whole street imagined a whole compound of our cult would be moving in. One of our Articles of Faith states: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” I’ll say blueprints ought to be translated correctly as well.
The people next door are now reassured. And my friends are reassured that I didn’t become whatever they imagined I’d become. I stopped drinking alcohol and bow my head before meals to pray silently. And I dress up on Sunday mornings to go to church instead of having a lie in. Like today—a nice warm morning and I walked to the meetinghouse. If I invited a couple of friends to church, and if I believe in and talk about Mormonism, nothing else has changed and what I believe in doesn’t impact our friendship.
The Church gave me the structure I craved and the support I needed.
I went over my talk one last time. Each Sunday, the Bishop—akin to an unpaid minister with a day job and called to look after the temporal order and well-being of a ward—asks three members (male or female) to prepare a talk for the following Sabbath. Priesthood holders blessed and passed the Sacrament—the Mormon communion, consisting of bread (torn in small pieces while the rest of us sang a hymn) and individual plastic cups filled with water.
When my turn came my heart sped up. Shawn would have said, “Look at their white socks with their suits and the bed hair!” to help me feel more comfortable standing in front of them all. Some members cannot make good talks and that’s the drawback of LDS worship. At least I was a student and was used to writing essays. It went well: Elder French liked it—and he never listens to talks. Jeanine (the eccentric sister in charge of the music) asked if I’d copied it from The Ensign (the Church magazine) and if Karen MacKenzie was the spouse of a General Authority. “No, I wrote it myself and Karen is a character on Knots Landing.” She was taken aback. I like peppering serious talks with references a few members get.
The Bishop told me I’d now be in charge of Family Home Evening for single members. Those takw place on Monday evenings while families share a spiritual message and hold fun activities at home. I was sustained (by all the members raising their right hand) and after the meetings concluded set apart (by the laying of hands). I’m already Assistant Librarian, Stake Missionary and Teacher of Young People.
My mother complains I’m spending too much time in church. I guess I do. On Sundays we have the Quorum of the Priesthood (which I often find edifying) followed by Sunday School and then Sacrament Meeting. We’re there from 9 a.m. to 12 noon (and often up to 2 p.m. because of our various callings and desire to socialise). Monday’s Family Home Evening and the rest of the week I go with the missionaries to investigators’ or to teach Lessons for New Members.
Sometimes the men—’the Priesthood’—help members move house on Saturdays—and some people move every six months! I enjoy the camaraderie and driving with Stéphane—who was baptised one month after me—listening to his cool tapes of live versions of the Cranberries or K’s Choice.
I like Family Home Evening at Stéphane’s. I love his apartment. He lives in the highest building in town and on the top floor too. His duplex apartment has a big balcony with a view. It’s always fun and we eat pizza. Family Home Evening at Jeanine’s (the eccentric in charge of the music who was much older than the rest of us) aren’t as fun. She also serves disgusting macrobiotic food. Missionaries flush it down the toilet. One night Shawn went on the balcony and tilted his plate over the edge. Too close to the edge—the lentils fell all over the neighbour’s balcony. He came up, banged on Jeanine’s door shouting. She apologised profusely and asked Shawn to go clean the mess. She was taken aback.
I like Elder Jefferson. One night I failed to prepare the message for Family Home Evening and he came to my rescue and improvised: “When you see Christ you may be seeing a man that’s so good and pure that he cannot accept you. I see a man who’s ready to die for you and wants you as you are.” As usual, we all felt half-embarrassed and half-amused when Teresa started to cry and gave some ridiculous ‘example’ from her mission at Temple Square—from which she’s never truly returned. But all I cared about was the wink and the big smile he gave me. I like the faces he makes when he talks: determined in a dramatic kind of way, like a stage soldier. He often writes inspirational Scriptures on pieces of paper that he gives me with a smile. I love doing missionary work with him.
I was in a permanent state of panic at the thought that people could guess I was gay.
Another thing I love—because we’re still a small ward church is like a friends club: Last Sunday Elder French—now a best friend—did the Priesthood lesson, my new friend Sarah—returned from her mission in the Pacific—taught Sunday School and I blessed the Sacrament with Stéphane. That afternoon we all ate in my garden—as my mother was away. After the missionaries left the rest of us chilled in the shade.
I was thankful for it and I’m grateful for the Spirit that has been guiding me in my decisions for the last twelve months. In other religions most people talk to God but never take time to listen. He reveals things to me as I pray. And when I do missionary work or read Church books the Spirit is so strong. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything better in my whole life! Over the course of the year, like the new meetinghouse, I’ve laid foundations and built my religious life. I’m learning and progressing and helping others along the way.
Britain, September ’18—Looking back on those journal entries I can see that I spent most of my time with people from church. I understand how some people may consider that the sign of the Church being cultish. But we were a small ward in a country where Mormons were far in between and considered “weird”. Our circumstances created strong bonds. Besides, many of us didn’t have families, or families that were members of the Church, so we created our own.
It is obvious that the Church had become the most important thing in my life. Whether the Church is Christian or not is debatable. It depends on one’s definition of Christianity. I’ll deal with doctrinal points later, but Mormons made me a Christian—someone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God who came to Earth to minister as he was called to, and who atoned for our sins as the Law required of the Only Begotten Son of God. I believe He is the Way to the Father.
Apart from being the school that taught me about God, the Church gave me the structure I’d craved for and the support I needed and never found at home. After all I have heard, read and said, and after all the pain and delusion I subsequently went through in the Church and in my personal life, those fond memories remains.
Yet I was in a permanent state of panic at the thought that people could guess I was gay. I could not even bring myself to talk about it in my private journal! I ignored it. I was “a golden member”, like Elder Jefferson put it. Now I’m now an ex-LDS. And as much as I don’t need to be LDS anymore I must admit that I do miss the fellowship a lot.
¹ Some names have been changed when authorisation was not or could not be granted.