A life guided by God – and dress codes
Saturday at noon. The sun is shining, it’s the first day of spring. Inside a red brick building in the midst of a residential area south of central Århus, women of all ages are beginning to gather. Drowning in friendly small-talk you can hear the distant sound of young female voices practicing a hymn. It’s mother/daughter/leader-day in the Mormon church.
By Åsa Secher
The walls are white and the floors are covered with wall-to-wall broadloom. Just inside the entrance is a sign that says “Everyone is welcome – worldwide Mormon conference”. Today around 60 women and young girls from all over Jutland and Funen, have gathered not just to spend time together but also to listen to a broadcast from this year’s General Young Women Meeting taking place in Salt Lake City, US. The General Young Women Meeting is held once a year and includes members of the so called First Presidency and members of the Young Women general presidency delivering messages specifically for young women of the church.
The atmosphere in the entrance hall is that of a long awaited reunion. Some of the young girls are wearing Justin Bieber t-shirts, giggling with excitement as they tell their friends about last nights Tanya Køster speaking to the mothers and daughters concert. Slowly the crowd is moving into the church hall where the day starts off with prayer and singing.
Rikke Rosenkilde sits down with her 15-year-old daughter Laura in the back of the room. Rikke has been a Mormon her entire life, just like her parents. She has five kids, three sons and two daughters.
“My other daughter is too young to come, you have to be 12 years old for the UP-activities”, says Rikke. UP is short for “Unge Piger” and translates to young girls.
Laura and Rikke’s first activity today is the personal progress workshop in the church’s basement. Tables covered in black plastic are set up, scattered across the plastic are paint tubes in numerous colors. A woman in her thirties introduces the workshop. Her name is Tanya Køster, she’s head of UP in Jutland and Funen and one of the main organizers of today’s event.
When Mormon girls turn 12 years old they’re introduced to a six year long program called “Personal Progress”. The program is summarized in a little pink booklet given to all the young girls. The booklet includes assignments, projects, guidelines and requirements.
When Rikke was young she took part in the program and now she’s sharing the experience with her daughter. Today they’re assigned to paint a small canvas together on one of the program’s seven themes; faith, divinity, personal values, knowledge, choices and responsibility, good deeds and righteousness and virtue. Rikke and Laura can’t make up their minds about which theme to choose, so they decide to make their canvas represent all seven by using the colors representing each theme. While waiting for the paint to dry Laura is bombarding her mother with stories from last night’s Justin Bieber concert.
“I’m guessing it was the highlight of the year” Rikke says, turning to Laura.
“The highlight of my life!”, Laura corrects her with sparks in her eyes.
A one-way road to God
Upstairs a second workshop is taking place. Sally Hall from the congregation in Odense is standing in front of a blackboard filled with pictures. In the middle the guidelines for clothing and appearances are carefully handwritten on a white paper sheet. Every Mormon is expected to dress according to the guidelines. For women that means wearing clothes covering the shoulder, avoiding skirts and dresses ending above the knee, avoiding clothing that is low-cut in the front or the back or revealing in any other way.
“But I have nothing to wear!”, Sally cries out holding up a sign with the same words. The girls and the mothers in the audience are smiling of recognition. Sally speaks engagingly about the importance of following the guidelines, even if from time to time, it can be hard. Especially for young teenage girls desperately wanting to stay fashionable.
The mothers in the audience starts to share experiences and tips and tricks of how you can learn to sew clothes yourself, or how to easily alter the length of skirts that are too short.
As reminders of the importance of decent clothing, Sally has created paper traffic signs, relating to the guidelines.
“When you see this sign, I want you to think there is only one way to God, there is only one way to do it right”, she says and points to the paper traffic sign saying “One way”.
To teach the gospel of Jesus Christ
The entrance hall is empty apart from two young boys in black suits and tie, talking in a low voice. 21-year-old Skyler Hardy and 19-year-old Samuel Pfeil are Elders, which means they’re missionaries. Samuel and Skyler are Americans and they’re spending two years in Denmark to share the gospel. They’ve both been Mormons their entire lives, so have their families. Making the active choice to commit in their teens, promising to avoid alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea was an easy, but deciding to be a missionary for two years demanded a higher conviction.
“Off course you had doubts, two years is a long time and it’s an important decision. But everyone has doubts and having faith really helps. I turned to God and he answered me and said I was doing the right thing”, says Samuel.
The objective of the missionaries is to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to try and help people throughout the world improve their lives. For Samuel and Skyler it’s a way to show God their commitment to the church. Skyler, who’s been in Denmark longer than Samuel, has had the opportunity of experiencing three people convert to the Mormon church.
“To see how people change and start changing their lives to the better, it’s indescribable”, says Samuel smiling.
“It’s who I am”
The lights are switched off and the blinds are lowered in the church hall as the broadcast from the General Young Women Meeting is about to start. Downstairs the broadcast is in English, in the church hall it’s interpreted simultaneously into Danish. Mothers and daughters sit together, some young girls take notes, some rest their heads against their mother’s shoulder.
Tanya Køster sits at the very front, eyes focused on the screening. Like Sally Hall, Tanya has come to Århus for the day from the congregation in Odense. Everyone in her family are members of the church and Tanya has never had any doubts concerning her membership.
“The church means everything to me. It’s who I am”, Tanya says and smiles.
What you didn’t know about Mormons
- The Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints (LDS) is the correct name.
- LDS is the fastest growing religious community in the world with 13 million members.
- Since 1890 LDS dooes not approve of plural marriages. If you practice polygamy you can no longer be a member of the church.
- Mormons cannot drink alcohol, coffee or tea. They can however drink sodas and any other non-alcoholic, non-caffeine drinks.
- Mormons give one-tenth of their income to the church, it’s called the “The law of tithing”.
- Mormons fast once each month.
- LDS has genealogical records in 4.500 facilities in 80 different countries. The records in Salt Lake City are the world’s largest.
- Every Monday is family home evening. It means Mormon families stay home and pray and spend time together.
For Strength of the Youth – standards of the church
There are a number of standards Mormon youths have to live by – here’s an excerpt:
- Do not attend, view, or participate in entertainment that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way.
- Don’t listen to music that drives away the Spirit, encourages immorality, glorifies violence, uses foul or offensive language, or promotes Satanism or other evil practices.
- When dancing, avoid full body contact with your partner. Do not use positions or moves that are suggestive of sexual behavior.
- Do not date until you are at least 16 years old. When you begin dating, go in groups or on double dates. Avoid going on frequent dates with the same person. Make sure your parents meet those you date.
- No sexual relations before marriage. Do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not allow anyone to do that with you.
There are around 50.000 Mormon missionaries servicing at any one time all over the world. Most of them are young men, some of them are women. Single men can do their missionary service when they’re 19 at the earliest, single women at 21. Retired couples can also be missionaries.
Missionaries are only allowed to phone home twice a year, on Christmas and Mother’s day. They are however allowed to send e-mails once a week.
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