A Mormon Convert at 22 and Leaving after 24 Years of Membership


Note: The author's e-mail is at the bottom of this story

My life in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began at the age of 22. It's ending now 25 years later. My feelings are a mixture of relief, sadness, anger and joy. Did I have some good experiences and memories of my time in the church? I'd be lying if I said no. Did anything good come out of it? Yes, but at quite a price. That price was my personal freedom of thought and expression, of religion and choice; the freedom to be me.

I was born in Kansas City, Kansas to a Catholic mother and a Russian Orthodox father. Neither one were actively involved in their churches though my mother did have me baptized Catholic. I was raised with 2 younger sisters ( a third one died in infancy). When I was 8 yrs. old, my mother died from acute intermittent porphyria, a rare genetic disease which I also have. After my mother's death, my paternal grandmother came to live with us. Between she and my father, they managed to raise the 3 of us girls to adulthood.

I was always a shy child and grew to be a shy adult. I often wonder if I would have been less shy and felt more comfortable in social situations if my mother had lived. Anyway, other than my mother's death, my childhood was pretty uneventful. My family did not go to church on a regular basis, though occasionally, my grandmother would take me and my sisters to the Russian Orthodox church with her. I attended a weekday church school when I was in elementary school. Each week we had release time from school to go to one of the several nearby churches that held religious classes and activities for about 1-2 hrs. We always looked forward to that day each week and took our time walking back to school when it was over.

Towards the end of my teens, I started to attend church on Sundays at the Catholic church in our area. We had a Catholic family that lived across street from us and I went with their daughters. After high school, I went to work in the offices of Hallmark Cards headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. I made some friends there who were Catholic and was seriously considering becoming a member of the parish we lived in. This must have been a time when I was really seeking religious stability in my life because I was also attending Billy Graham crusades and reading books like "The Cross and the Switchblade".

In 1971, I attended an Osmond Brothers concert with my friends. Yes, I liked the Osmonds and I was fascinated by their family image. I remember hearing something about them giving their religion the credit for their close family bond. During this time there was also an article in our local paper about Mormon missionaries working with Catholics in Italy. I decided to find out what this church was all about so I called a number from the phone book which happened to be the stake president's office and he sent the stake missionaries to tell me about the church. That became a story he was fond of repeating on visits throughout the stake.

The missionaries started teaching me in November. I did all the required reading of scriptures and pamphlets, praying, went to the visitor's center in Independence and watched the movies and attended church meetings on Sunday. In January 1972, I was baptized in Independence, Missouri. As I look back now I know I was vulnerable to the church's message. The wholesomeness, family togetherness and built-in social life were all things I wanted to be part of.

The callings came soon after and I did my best to fulfill and magnify them. The following January, I received my patriarchal blessing and was overwhelmed by the promises. Wow, it even said that my mother was very much aware of what I had been doing and she had accepted the gospel in the spirit world and waited upon me to do her work here. What more could I ask?

Well, borrowing from the words of the late John F. Kennedy with some slight changes; "Ask not what your church can do for you; ask what you can do for your church." People in my ward were starting to apply some pressure for me to go on a mission. My bishop had even started filling out the paper work when he first talked to me about it. I wanted to think about it for a while so we left it at that. In April 1973, I went to visit Salt Lake City for the first time. I stayed with a friend who used to live in K.C. and I even dated a returned missionary who was assigned to my home ward when I was baptized. We even went to a session of General Conference in the tabernacle. My friend, K..... worked in the Church Administration Building and I got to meet several of the general authorities while visiting with her at work.

When I returned home a week later I was on a real "Mormon spiritual high." One evening I went to my room to pray about whether to stay in K.C. or move to SLC. As I was praying I had the distinct impression of a voice in my head telling me to go on a mission. ( I attribute this to my strong emotional high at the time.) I got right up, called my bishop (we had a new one by then) and told him I wanted to fill out the paper work for a mission. To save a little more money, we agreed to wait until September 1973 to submit the papers.

My family took the news well, They never interfered with my religious beliefs. They really didn't know enough about Mormonism to be concerned. As it was, neither did I. During the summer I was given the opportunity to go tracting with the lady missionaries in Liberty, Mo. I had the whole day open, but left after just a morning of going door-to-door. I hated it. Should have been a warning, but I naively thought that when I was formally set apart as a full-time missionary things would be different.

I even visited some of the Mormon historical spots in Missouri: Liberty jail, Richmond, Haun's Mill, Far West and Adam-Ondi-Ahman. Yes, I was immersing myself in Mormon history.

In October 1973, I left for the Missionary Home and Training Center which was in SLC at that time. I was to serve in the California North (Sacramento) Mission. Two days before entering the home, I went thru the SLC temple for my endowments. To say it was not what I expected was an understatement, but I think I was too nervous and excited about my upcoming mission to be fully aware of the significance of what was being said and done. I do know I was disappointed in not getting the further knowledge which I had been told I would receive in the temple. Thought I would have to pay more attention in the future.

While in the mission home, we were able to attend another temple session and then be addressed by Pres. Harold B. Lee in the Solemn Assembly Room in the temple. We had a question and answer session with Pres. Lee. Being shy, I felt doubly intimidated when we were admonished that since Pres. Lee was giving up time in his busy schedule to be there that our questions needed to be important enough for him to spend his time on. Well, either many others were scared also or they already knew it all because there were not many questions asked during that session.

Serving that 18 months was difficult for me. As an introvert, it was hard to for me to talk to people. I hated doing the door approaches. Though I was always a nervous wreck giving the discussions, I managed to pull it off quite well. Though I felt at the time that I firmly believed all I was teaching, I have to admit that inwardly I would cringe when giving some of the concepts wondering how these people would ever believe what I was telling them. Somewhere inside, my brain was trying to get my attention, but I just was too programmed to listen. When I think about it now, I see that taking a person and controlling their lives 24 hours a day as the church does with its missionaries is a great way to keep their "testimonies" in line. Here I was with a "companion" 24 hours a day, studying Mormon scriptures and discussions every day, teaching them every day, testifying of them every day. I attended weekly district meetings with other missionaries all going over the discussions, scriptures and testifying to each other of their truthfulness. Periodic zone meetings where several districts got together going over discussions, studying scriptures, practicing door approaches and teaching techniques and testifying again. Weekly reports were made to the president accounting for our hours for each day of the past week. Even had a space to give the "# of hours wasted." A space was left on the back of the report to write a letter to the president. This was the time to report any uplifting experiences and also to confess any rules that you or your companion broke. Yep, we were expected to keep each other in line and dutifully report any infractions. If anyone doubts the Church's past denial of the priesthood & temple attendance to black people, I will tell you now that during my 18 months in the mission field we were not allowed to seek out blacks to teach. If we were out tracting and a black person opened the door, we were not to give our standard approach. We could only leave a pamphlet and wish them a good day. In fact, my companion and I were given a family to teach by some elders because the family lived in our area. Their name had come thru on a referral. When we got there, the wife was white and her husband was black. We went ahead with our discussion, but when word got back to our mission president, he grilled