Making the decision to leave the LDS religion was so much like losing someone to death. I went through all the typical stages of grief – and then some – there was shame and guilt to deal with as well. I stayed away from any church for quite a while but realized I was missing the sense of community attending offers, and I also longed to feel the Holy Spirit in a way that can only be experienced when a group of believers gather together to worship. Fortunately, we were blessed to be friends and neighbors an amazing couple who lived right across the street. Through years of discussing faith, God, and His plan for us, I knew where to turn when I was ready.
The first time I decided I was going to attend church was about 18 months after I’d left the LDS religion. I thought I would surprise my friends and just show up unannounced to their church. Well, the joke was on me as they weren’t in attendance that Sunday. Instead I walked in on my own, but not without a handshake and warm welcome at the entrance; that small gesture, and extended hand and being looked at with love right in my eyes about broke me. The tears started flowing. I was then greeted with a hug in the atrium by another person. I felt so enveloped, so wrapped in love in the moment that it brings tears to my eyes now just remembering it. Please, if any one reading this serves as a greeter at your church, please don’t ever doubt your impact on those walking through the doors of your church.
I entered the chapel and was so overwhelmed. It was about then that I realized the my friends would not be attending that day and I was ready to run, but something inside of me told me to stay. I literally felt locked in my seat once I picked one. I prayed for peace. Soon the music began and having come from a more traditional church I was a bit startled, but then I began to read the words on the screen to the songs of worship – each word singing the praises of God and of Christ and I literally fell apart. I was sobbing – alone in the midst of strangers until a kind lady sitting next to me put her arms around my shoulder, offered me some tissues and stayed by my side. I never did get her name, but I am forever thankful for the comfort she offered me.
I don’t remember the specifics of the message that day, but I remember how they moved me, how relatable they were, how bible-based they were. And I remember most of all how strongly I felt peace and the Spirit wash over and through me. I left that day knowing that I had found a new home and one that would continue to help me heal.
Shortly after I began attending, I went to a Next Steps 101 class. This is a time to meet the pastors and learn more about the church and their beliefs. The poor pastor. As soon as the meeting was over, I assertively, well, let’s be honest, aggressively pinned him to a wall and asked him to define their doctrine for me. My past experience had made me nervous to start over – that I would get another decade in and find out there were things I wished I’d known in the beginning – my experience with the LDS religion was that you didn’t get to know everything up front, and by the time you learned all the ins and outs you were too far entrenched to back out without hardship, loss and pain. The pastor was so great with me. He listened and tried to understand my heart and where this was all coming from. He offered to connect me with his brother, a pastor in the SLC area and then he mentioned another parishoner who shares a similar story. Once he said the name, I realized it was someone I already knew and was friends with. This person had been a member of my Ward before he left and I decided to seek him out after my meeting at the church. And that was such a blessing for me. The advice he gave me was to throw out all the rules. Just start from scratch and take it slowly, one step at a time. The doctrine was simple. Christ died for our sins, because of that once we have faith, we are forgiven. The end. No ordinances needed, no line upon line. Nothing behind door #2. It was a concept that some days I’m still in awe over.
Time moved on and I joined a small group at the church that my friends were part of. What an amazing group of people to do life with. They took me in, taught me, and shared the joy of the Good News with me in a way I had never experienced. We did dinners together and spent social time together, which my husband began to attend. He eventually started coming to small group and while healing on his own, he made his way to Sunday services with me after a while. Through God, and through the ministry at Plum Creek church our whole family continued to heal and gain a testimony of grace. The most simple and complex gift there ever was.