by Anna Jones Buttimore
When someone is baptised a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they do it because they have come to truly know that Jesus is the Christ, and they have repented and turned to Him. As they covenant to follow Him for the rest of their lives, they gain the healing power of the atonement and forgiveness of their sins, their lives are forever enriched, and they have the promise of fullness of joy and eternal life with their loved ones to cherish.
That's a pretty big benefit to gain from the simple step of walking into a font filled with water.
There are several other benefits which might be quite unexpected however. While these don't apply to everyone, here are some major advantages I have found to belonging to the "Mormon" church.
1. An Enhanced Social Life
Ten years ago I moved into a new home in a new area and threw a housewarming party. I invited the neighbours, the parents I had met at the school gate, and the local ward members.
One of those schoolmums later admitted that she had attended my housewarming party because she felt sorry for me. I'd only lived in the town for a couple of weeks, and she was concerned that I might sit all night in an empty house staring forlornly at the punch bowl. Instead, half the ward turned up and my house was packed to the rafters with welcoming well-wishers, most of whom had brought a gift. And there was no punch bowl.
One of the great advantages of being a Latter-day Saint is that wherever in the world you go there's a happy crowd of people eager to get to know you and help you settle in, and ready to love you and welcome you to their social circle.
2. Public Speaking
Many people are terrified of public speaking, but not lifelong Latter-day Saints. Almost as soon as they can talk they will be going up to a podium in front of hundreds of people to give a talk, a presentation or a lesson. Because there is no paid ministry in the church, everyone contributes, everyone gets a regular opportunity to speak in Sacrament meeting or give a lesson. Speaking to a large crowd of people becomes almost second nature.
3. Friends all over the World
LDS missionaries (of which there are currently 88,000 worldwide) are sent out from across the globe to places far from home. That means you get to meet a lot of missionaries who have come from a long way away. In the last year alone we have had missionaries in our ward from Albania, Holland, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Brazil and of course America. I'm still in touch with many of them through Facebook, and seeing posts by those who have gone home gives me insight into their lives and the cultures they come from. It's great when discussing far away places to be able to say, often, "I've got a friend who lives there."
Our ward is fairly large for the UK, with average sacrament meeting attendance of just over 100. Among the congregation we have three electricians, two hairdressers, two carpenters, a tree surgeon, a builder and an accountant (my husband). One of the hairdressers regularly styles our family's hair, the builder installed our kitchen, and one of the carpenters put up a bannister on our stairs. Not that these people do jobs for members of the church for less than the going rate - they have to make a living - but it's good to have someone you know and trust to ask for advice and expertise.
Plus Mormons, and especially missionaries, love to give service. In just the last few months missionaries have laid my garden path and dismantled an old shed, and yet they still ask us if there is anything else they can help us with. It's traditional in LDS circles that when someone is moving house the men turn out to lend a hand, and the women take casseroles to ladies who have just had a baby.
If you need help, whether paid expertise or voluntary assistance, it's there.
When my children were small, church was a wonderful oasis of peace. Sacrament meeting was a bit of a struggle, but afterwards there was two hours of nursery for the tiny one, and two hours of Primary for the older two. In other words, I was my own person for two blissful daytime hours. Not only were my children being cared for and educated for free, but I got to sit with actual adults and have real adult conversations. Intellectual in-depth scripture study for the first hour, then wonderful time with the other women for the second hour learning things which were of real benefit to my life and refreshed my flagging spirit. For two wonderful hours I was something more than a meal-provider and nose wiper, I was myself again, a valued member of a Sunday School class and the Relief Society sisterhood.
Later, as the children grew, Young Women doing their personal progress or service projects were always keen to babysit so that my husband and I could have a night out. Motherhood is wonderful, but it doesn't allow for much time off. Mormon mothers get a guaranteed two hours of child-free time each Sunday morning.
I'm not talking about the Perpetual Education Fund (which provides funding for education for members of the church in poorer areas) although that's a wonderful programme. I'm thinking now of the extra education I have gained through the church. Just this past Sunday a superb teacher taught me one of a course of lessons on how to teach effectively. I have previously been taught how to understand a time signature and conduct music (although please don't tell my ward or they'll ask me to do it), how to research my genealogy, and many other practical things quite apart from the regular Sunday lessons.
7. Free membership of Ancestry.com
Because the LDS church has contributed so much to the study of genealogy, from photographing church registers to indexing records, Ancestry.com has repaid this effort by giving every member of the church free lifetime membership. All you need is your church membership number and you can log in for free. It's usually around £120 per year, so that's pretty sweet.
8. Free Weddings
My husband and I have now been married for eight years, and our wedding was, to all intents and purposes, free. Because we were members of the church we married in our ward chapel (Temple marriages are not legally recognised in the UK so we were sealed later the same day) and had our reception in the cultural hall. The Bishop gave his services for free of course (he is also a licensed registrar) and the use of the building cost nothing. Members brought food for the reception as their wedding gifts for us (carefully orchestrated by our wedding planner - also a member working for free - so that we got a good mix of fine food) and the florist, cultural hall decorator, videographer and photographer were also members who provided their services free of charge as a gift for us. In the end we paid only for our outfits, rings and the wedding cake.
My eldest daughter is now nineteen, has been with her LDS boyfriend for two years, and they are starting to think about marriage. Naturally they will get married in our ward building, and have their reception in the cultural hall, so again the venue and officiant will be free. When people often spend thousands hiring the venue for the wedding, this is no small advantage. Unfortunately I don't think Gwen wants a bring-a-plate buffet reception...
9. A Career
But (and this is a very personal benefit, so forgive me if it doesn't apply to you) I realised that there was a small niche market which might just be my way into publishing. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to read widely from good books, and they generally prefer not to read books which include sex scenes, violence or bad language, and so there is a thriving market for uplifting and clean LDS books, often featuring LDS characters. With fifteen million potential customers it's not a small market either, and many LDS writers have successfully moved on to become big names in the mainstream market.
I thought - wrongly, as it turned out - that getting published by an LDS publisher would be easier that getting a contract with a mainstream publisher. Actually, the standard has to be just as high, but I was lucky enough to get a contact with Covenant Communications, and have now had five LDS novels published, with more to come. I'm, also starting to publish within the mainstream market although, actually, I have decided that I prefer writing for the LDS audience. Look out for Haven in a bookstore near you soon!
No one joins the LDS church for the social life, the free membership of Ancestry or so that missionaries will paint their fence, but these are, nevertheless, among the many wonderful blessings of being a member of Jesus Christ's restored church.