Or many activities. Just give me a couple of paragraphs to flesh this out before you click off. On Sunday, there is singing, praying, talks, and the sacrament. In adult classes there are teachers, participants, and lurkers. There are meetings for those special few in the morning, maybe choir practice if you like to sing, maybe a fireside if you like extra content. During the week you might do personal scripture study, you might pray, you might visit an assigned ministeree or a friend, you might do a service project, you might attend the temple.
But not all people do all these things. Some Mormons sing energetically, some mumble along, some are simply mute. Some read their scriptures daily, some once in a while, some never. Some attend weekly but never lift a finger to do service. Some are just done with church on Sunday but are quite happy to help move a piano or help fix a leaky roof. The more you think about it, the more you realize how optional all these various activities are. And how much you and I and everyone else sort of chooses or selects their own set of Mormon things and activities to embrace while at the same time avoiding the distasteful or unwanted Mormon things. We all design our own particular Mormonism.
Now you might agree or disagree with that claim. Let me point out some interesting observations that follow from the idea that the Church is a broad collection of more or less optional things and activities.
First, notice how the things and activities that collectively compose the Church change over time. Just a generation or two ago, road shows and Know Your Religion and storing barrels of water and wheat in your basement were Mormon things/activities. They have gone away, but new things/activities have sprung up: Trek, name extraction at the local level, EFY. Scouting is going, going, not quite gone. This is a can’t-step-into-the-same-river-twice thing. The Church is an ever-changing collection of loosely affiliated things/activities. From year to year, it’s a different church as things and activities come and go.
Second, notice how your own personal Mormonism might be quite different from another person’s version. The Church, the institutional church, of course, struggles against this personalization thing. Leadership wants you to do everything, all the time, and if you don’t you’re a slacker or spiritually lazy. But in practice, I think most members skip this or that thing/activity that just doesn’t work for them. A large chunk of more or less active Mormons never attend the temple. Recent data suggests something like 40% of Millennial Mormons drink coffee. I’m guessing well over half of more or less active Mormons read their scriptures about twice a year. Some Mormons quite happily view General Conference as a twice-a-year Church Holiday and go do something fun instead of parking in front of a screen for a 10-hour marathon viewing experience. We all practice Mormonism selectively.
Third, note the new willingness of senior leadership to eliminate some activities. Pageants have been a Mormon thing for a long time, and some Mormons are really, really into them. Gone. Scouting has been a Mormon thing for a long time, with support from the highest levels. Almost gone. High priests have been a thing in Mormonism almost from the beginning. Now redefined out of meaningful existence, just like local seventies were eliminated two generations ago. I think this ongoing episode of paring back is long overdue, but it is still a surprise to see the senior leadership, which had sort of settled in a permanent status quo in recent decades, actually *do something*.
Fourth — and this is something of a surprise to me — my own personal Mormonism is considerably happier this year. Home teaching going away was the spiritual equivalent of losing ten pounds. Managing to get called into Primary means I no longer have to deal with the various dumb claims made in the Sunday School curriculum or the Conference-talk-every-week approach to priesthood lessons. Two-hour church, particularly the resulting one-hour Primary, is a lot less of a drag than three-hour church and two-hour Primary. The net effect of these changes (all of which have come on President Nelson’s watch) is really quite positive, at least for me. I hadn’t actually realized this until writing this post. Your experience may be similar or quite different.
The comments are going to be all over the place, I suspect. I’m sure there are some disappeared things/activities from two generations back that I forgot about. There are some new things I probably missed. I’m also interested in the net effect of recent changes on your own Mormon happiness barometer. If you are one of those Hill Cumorah Pageant people or a super Scouter, you are probably quite disappointed those things are going away. I doubt anyone misses three-hour church, but I could be wrong.
A final thought, which I almost hesitate to raise: Is the net positive effect of recent changes (assuming you like them) or the liberating realization that you can personalize your Mormonism by choosing or avoiding this or that thing or activity overshadowed for you by the continuing leadership crusade against gay marriage and homosexuality? It’s possible these positive changes are the equivalent of rearranging (in a very beneficial manner) the deck chairs on the Titanic instead of looking out for icebergs that might sink the ship. For some people, the continuing Mormon crusade sinks the ship. It’s possible, of course, that the leadership is starting with the simple procedural stuff while substantive changes to doctrine will require more time to engineer. Maybe in the comments this issue is best addressed in terms of what changes to the collection of Mormon things/activities you think might be on the horizon.