~by Michelle

This past Friday night, I was one of several in my local ward congregation who helped with a wedding reception. This is not an uncommon occurrence in the Mormon Church — friends and family of the parents of the bride will come to help set up, serve food (and sometimes make it), and clean up.

We had a great time working together. It wasn’t until last night, though, that I thought about how this experience provided some snapshots of how men and women (and children!) in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints work together. I only wish I’d taken pictures!

Before I share some of the glimpses from the evening, it might be helpful to note that Mormon wedding receptions often include simple refreshments for a lot of people. I have no idea how many people ended up coming through the reception line, but I can tell you that there was a line for almost the full two hours of the reception…which is to say that we stayed very busy keeping the food table filled, garbage cans emptied, and tables cleared of dishes!

So what did I see Friday night?

– One of the men, John, spent most of the evening standing at the counter in the kitchen cutting chocolate- and caramel-covered apples, except when he was needed to haul something heavy or help keep garbage cans emptied.

– A humorous moment for me was when I was frantically filling plates of doughnuts and called out that the garbage was full, John came back asking, “Did I take care of the garbage to your satisfaction?” I was confused until he told me he hadn’t emptied it, just smashed it down. (I guess maybe you had to be there and you’d have to know John.)

– Suzy, Sue, Doug, and I were constantly going back and forth between the kitchen and the food table to keep serving dishes full and looking nice.

– My friend’s teenage daughter kept the hot cocoa pots hot, full, and ready for the guests.

– My friend’s other daughter and my children (dressed with matching bows in either headband or bow tie form that my friend made) took turns helping clear tables and be runners to let us know when we needed something at the food table. They also helped fill cups of cocoa and food plates.

– When the decanter of hot chocolate started leaking, many of the above adults jumped in to take care of the spill, come up with an alternative plan of serving the cocoa, get the decanter fixed and back on the table, and keep the wedding party as oblivious to the problem as possible.

– The same kind of real-time problem-solving took place when we realized a half-hour into the reception that we were going to run out of food if we didn’t change portion sizes. (Senses of humor were running at full throttle as we planned what we might do if we ran out.)

– A member of our stake presidency (also a member of our ward) sneaked into the kitchen holding the hand of one of the small children from our congregation. The guest line was long and she must have been getting restless; he gave her the royal treatment as he let her choose her doughnut piece. “You be sure to remember that President S. will always take care of you,” he said, as he led her back to her parents. (That kind of Christlike service and attention to “the one” is something I see so often in my Church leaders.)

– We laughed and joked with each other all night as we worked in the kitchen. We had a lot of fun working together.

– That said, I saw moments where opinions or approaches differed here or there, and such moments could have ended up creating tensions or even ruining the evening for us. Instead, I saw people making deliberate choices to not let ego drive the night.

– As soon as the crowds died down and the wedding cake was cut, a flurry of activity ensued as the church cultural hall was transformed back to its original state and get the kitchen clean. I wish I had looked at my watch, but a good majority of the work was done in about a half an hour. Our bishop and his wife lingered to help in every which way, from the bishop climbing on ladders to get the lights down to his wife going the extra mile to make sure that the plants that needed to be returned to a ward member ended up in the back of her van.

– The father of the bride bounced his granddaughter gently in his arms in front of the wedding video (which was still running as we cleaned). I think the music was calming to her. The bishop noticed this tender moment and tried to find the photographer to capture it.

– John, Mr. Apple Cutter/Garbage Smasher, later took a turn holding the baby so the father of the bride could pitch in some clean-up time. (You could add Baby Whisperer to his list of abilities. He’s great with little kids.)

– A few of us (my children included) loaded up gifts to take to the newlywed’s new apartment while the last things were taken out of the church building.

Earlier in the evening, as my friend and I stood next to each other cutting different kinds of doughnuts into quarters (our solution to prevent running out of food), she said something like, “You know, they say I was ‘in charge’ of the kitchen for this reception, but really, everyone just works together.” We asked for her input through the evening, but she commented on how nice it was to watch people just step in and do what needed to be done — how we really are all peers, even when there is someone who is a designated leader. That this is how the Church works.

Of course, I realize making a wedding reception happen won’t be a flawless metaphor for the Mormon Church organization. But I do think Friday’s experiences illustrate some meaningful parallels to how the Church functions. We have leaders who have assigned tasks to make sure certain things get done. Not everyone will have that position at one time, but in the end, very little really happens in the Church unless everyone pitches in and helps. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf called this lifting where we stand. We work to check egos at the door and fill needs where they exist. At least that kind of approach is what helps the Church function well.

I love being a Mormon and I love the feeling of community that comes as we all work together side by side in a spirit of service and love. We seek to serve our own people but also seek to do good elsewhere as well (anyone need help with a wedding reception?) {grin} We aren’t perfect by any means, but in my life as a member of the Church, I’ve seen so much good — both the good that is accomplished, and just the goodness in the people.