Recent research, supported by anecdotal evidence from a variety of sources, including conversations with prominent editorial boards, show that many people know little about what a Mormon worship service looks like. And unfortunately, many think they are not invited or welcome to attend church with the Latter-day Saints, where they could see for themselves how Mormon worship is focused on Jesus Christ.
This is often the basis of misunderstanding and leads many to interpret the close-knit community ties of the Latter-day Saints as clannishness. Such a perception may stem from a blurring of the line between regular Sunday worship services that take place in chapels and *temple worship.
Like other Christians, Latter-day Saints attend church every Sunday — over 28,000 congregations meet weekly in chapels throughout the world. These local congregations are geographically designated so as to bring neighbors and communities closer together and give them greater opportunities to serve each other. Sunday services are open to all who wish to attend, including those not of the faith.
As an illustration of what a typical service looks like, men, women and teenagers speak from the pulpit; sing hymns; offer extemporaneous, not recited, prayers; participate in the sacrament (similar to communion); attend scripture classes and engage in discussion; and share personal faith stories, or “testimonies.” As there is no paid professional clergy, sharing congregational responsibilities and duties instills the value of community and fellowship. This cooperative enterprise means that lay members alternately preach sermons and listen to sermons, lead music and sing music, give advice and receive advice.
This openness and outreach to the public, also attested by the thousands of missionaries who leave their homes and serve throughout the world, demonstrate a culture of outward extension, not inward retreat. So it is apparent that at the core of the public perception of the Church there is a discrepancy between a growing, sociable religion on the one hand and an insular, inaccessible religion on the other. Attending church with the Latter-day Saints and becoming acquainted with them on a personal level is the best way to resolve this discrepancy.
In addition to regular Sunday worship, Latter-days Saints also follow the biblical practice of worshipping in temples. The Church operates *138 temples throughout the world. By comparison, there are over 17,000 chapels for Sunday worship services. Latter-day Saints believe that temples are the most sacred places on earth — sanctuaries from the distractions and commotion of life. The temple is a place where the most cherished of human relationships are made eternal. Accordingly, it is only fitting and appropriate that the lives of those who worship there reflect that sacredness. Thus, unlike regular Sunday worship, to which all are invited, temple worship is set aside for Latter-day Saints who observe the basic principles of the faith.
Because temples are architecturally beautiful and often prominently placed, many inquire about visiting them and are disappointed to find out that only Church members in good standing may enter. It is noteworthy, however, that the general public is invited to participate in educational tours of the interior of temples after their construction is complete but before they are officially dedicated and opened.
To account for the diversity of religious experience, many religions have traditionally made space in their worship practices for the public and the private, the common and the sacred, the routine and the exceptional, the wide and the narrow. These sanctuaries serve a much different purpose than regular worship services intended for larger audiences. It is no different with the Latter-day Saints.
*The number of temples have increased since the article was published in 2007.