Some elements of our every day lives are so mundane, that we never think to record anything about them. How many of us burden our diaries and journals with the details of our daily commute? Which route we took, whether the light at a particular street was red or green that day and what car we owned at the time just don’t seem like important details. But more than 100 years later these details sometimes make a lot of difference in how we understand the past.
Do you record the details of sacrament meetings in your journal? Has it ever occurred to you that 100 years in the future sacrament meeting might be somewhat different? Fortunately, outsiders sometimes see the mundane of our lives with different eyes, and their accounts of what is mundane to us and unusual to them are, 100 years later, insightful accounts of important parts of every day lives.
Sacrament meeting is a good example, in this case. In 1873 a reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle published an account of a Brooklyn sacrament meeting, leaving us what is, I think, an interesting outsider’s view of the “mundane” of Mormonism:
… The meeting place of their branch, is in Grand street, E. D., in the fourth story of a brick tenement house. Every Sunday afternoon at three o’clock, the principal service takes place. About 120 persons are seated in the benches and chairs, crowding every part of the room. At one end stands a plain altar, bearing a Bible, and on a table in front of it, is a communion service of silver plate covered with a linen napkin. About twenty-five or thirty elders among the saints, are seated behind the altar ranging across the room. The President of the Branch sits on the high seat at the altar, unless one of the twelve apostles or of the seventy elders, or some other superior officer of the universal church is present, in which case he presides instead of the branch officer. The people, for the most part, are from the unintelligent and uncultivated classes—factory hands predominating. They are past middle age, or else are children; few young men or women are to be observed among them. The physiognomical signs of all nationalities are to be seen—French, German, Swiss, Scandinavian, Scotch, Irish and English. The latter take more kindly to Mormonism than any other race.
The service opens with a hymn, sung standing. A prayer follows, and then the Sacrament is administered. During the communion the following hymn is sung:
- Ye children of our God,
- Ye saints of latter days;
- Surround the table of the Lord,
- And join to sing His praise.
After another prayer, the meeting is open for speaking, and the elders present are at liberty to address the meeting. Some of these sermons are often eloquent and always earnest; cant phrases are abundantly employed. They refer with special unction to “The Holy Church of Jesus Christ,” of “The Latter Day Saints,” “The Chosen People,” “The Beautiful Valley of the Mountains,” “The New Jerusalem” and “The Hills of Zion.” After all the speakers are through, another hymn is sung, and the meeting is closed with a benediction.
The meeting is at once different and yet the same. The Branch’s Elders sitting in front is certainly unusual, as is singing while the sacrament is being passed. The hymn isn’t anything I recognize either. And 120 people at sacrament meeting with 30 Elders sounds large enough to be a ward today–so did the reporter just fail to mention counselors to the Branch President? Or did he not have counselors?
I love the reporter’s mention of phrases of Mormon cant (we’d call it jargon today). referring to the New Jerusalem doesn’t seem very Mormon, but the Hills of Zion , Latter Day Saints and Chosen People all seem normal today.
The differences are mostly things that changed in Mormon culture over many years, and the changes happened so gradually that I suspect they weren’t recorded by the vast majority of Mormons. What changes do you notice? And what changes are gradually happening today?
- “The Mormons.” Brooklyn Eagle, 8 November 1873, p. 2 ↩