I attended my first Meet My Religious Neighbor (MMRN) event at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February 2020. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints welcomed visitors warmly, extending their hand in greeting. We began with a tour, led by an elder. An elder in Mormonism is a worthy 18-year-old male. He led us to their “family search program” designated area. Here, a woman took over the tour and explained to us the importance of family to their church. This program allows members of the church and community to learn about their genealogy for free. They are always looking for volunteers that way they can be more available to serve their community. While I found myself caught up in chatting with her, our elder had taken the rest of the tour to the next part. Two sisters took over our tour, the term “sisters” is used to describe women of any age within the Church. The sisters I met was very kind, even complimenting my shoes. All the members of the Church were dressed pristinely, proud of their beliefs.
The two sisters led us to a room where members of the church share certain passages from the Book of Mormon and their connections to the scripture. This intimate form of sharing is provided for high school-aged children before they leave for school. During the event, they also showed a short clip about why the members enjoy going before school. One clear message became known: it made them happy. It was a good way to start the morning before a potentially dreadful day of school and to be reminded of God’s love. Next door, children were singing about being a child of God. About 14 children held microphones and let their voices ring true. It was quite the scene, though I am sure our presence looming over must have been frightening, their confidence was overwhelming.
Through the winding halls, we found a room that the sisters use to focus on their service. All the women are part of the Relief Society, a philanthropic based organization the women in the church created. Their focus is on expanding their faith, strengthening fellow families within the Church, and helping those in need. Certain women provide extra support to those struggling. The women provide such support by going to their home to visit or always being just a phone call away. This sense of community and family is central to the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints.
Though we also explored the chapel and baptism room, the most productive, and enjoyable part of the visit was simply sitting down and conversing with the missionaries. California, Illinois, Texas, and Utah are just a few of the places these young men hail from. This voluntary mission is encouraged by the Church, and it requires them to fulfill two years of service outside their community. While they were excellent conversationalists, they also love to learn. Specifically, about other religions. I thought I had a plethora of questions, but theirs were endless. Every member of the Church that I met possessed the same curiosity. While they encouraged us to return, they also maintained a level of respect for different religions and cultures. Previously, I had not interacted with a Mormon. This experience was enlightening and I am glad my first MMRN was a positive experience.
I am looking forward to the next MMRN, which is at the Hindu Temple & Cultural Center of Iowa, located in Madrid. We will be celebrating Holi, a Hindu festival that occurs every spring. I plan to prepare more questions, as last time there was a large amount of time dedicated to asking questions. Besides preparing questions, I will do a little background research into the celebration.
MMRN are important community events, allowing us to learn more about religious residents of Des Moines. Without these organized events, it can be difficult to work up the nerve to attend a religious service or informational session. Thanks to MMRN, you don’t have to be alone, as many members of the community participate to further their knowledge. These events are also important to the religious communities participating because it allows them to address different stereotypes commonly associated with their religion or culture.
Meet My Religious Neighbor is a great opportunity to further explore your community, through organized events attended by other community members.
Ella Stafford First-Year Religions of Des Moines Student