A life guided by God – and dress codes

I helgen tillbringade jag drygt sex timmar i Århus mormonkyrka, skulle skriva reportage på temat religiösa minoriteter. Det var en intressant och lite speciell upplevelse. Framför allt så älskar jag den typen av journalistik där man tillåts ta god tid på sig, inte bara kastas in och göra en 10-minuters intervju, utan sitta ner, prata lite längre, följa med, observera. Önskar jag fick skriva den här typen av reportage oftare. Här är i alla fall resultatet:

Saturday at noon. The sun is shining, it’s the first day of spring. Inside a red brick building in the midst of a residential area south of central Århus, women of all ages are beginning to gather. Drowning in friendly small-talk you can hear the distant sound of young female voices practicing a hymn. It’s mother/daughter/leader-day in the Mormon church.

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The walls are white and the floors are covered with wall-to-wall broadloom. The atmosphere in the entrance hall is that of a long awaited reunion. Some of the young girls are wearing Justin Bieber t-shirts, giggling with excitement as they tell their friends about last nights  concert. Slowly the crowd is moving into the church hall where the day starts off with prayer and singing.

Just inside the entrance is a sign that says “Everyone is welcome – worldwide Mormon conference”. Today around 60 women and young girls from all over Jutland and Funen, have gathered not just to spend time together but also to listen to a broadcast from this year’s General Young Women Meeting taking place in Salt Lake City, US. The General Young Women Meeting is held once a year and includes members of the so called First Presidency and members of the Young Women general presidency delivering messages specifically for young women of the church.

Rikke Rosenkilde sits down with her 15-year-old daughter Laura in the back of the room. Rikke has been a Mormon her entire life, just like her parents. She has five kids, three sons and two daughters.

“My other daughter is too young to come, you have to be 12 years old for the UP-activities”, says Rikke. UP is short for “Unge Piger” and translates to young girls.

Personal progress

Laura and Rikke’s first activity today is the personal progress workshop in the church’s basement. Tables covered in black plastic are set up, scattered across the plastic are paint tubes in numerous colors. A woman in her thirties introduces the workshop. Her name is Tanya Køster, she’s head of UP in Jutland and Funen and one of the main organizers of today’s event.

When Mormon girls turn 12 years old they’re introduced to a six year long program called “Personal Progress”. The program is summarized in a little pink booklet given to all the young girls. The booklet includes assignments, projects, guidelines and requirements.

When Rikke was young she took part in the program and now she’s sharing the experience with her daughter. Today they’re assigned to paint a small canvas together on one of the program’s seven themes; faith, divinity, personal values, knowledge, choices and responsibility, good deeds and righteousness and virtue. Rikke and Laura can’t make up their minds about which theme to choose, so they decide to make their canvas represent all seven by using the colors representing each theme. While waiting for the paint to dry Laura is bombarding her mother with stories from last night’s Justin Bieber concert.

“I’m guessing it was the highlight of the year” Rikke says, turning to Laura.

“The highlight of my life!”, Laura corrects her with sparks in her eyes.

A one-way road to God

Upstairs a second workshop is taking place. Sally Hall from the congregation in Odense is standing in front of a blackboard filled with pictures. In the middle the guidelines for clothing and appearances are carefully handwritten on a white paper sheet. Every Mormon is expected to dress according to the guidelines. For women that means wearing clothes covering the shoulder, avoiding skirts and dresses ending above the knee, avoiding clothing that is low-cut in the front or the back or revealing in any other way.

“But I have nothing to wear!”, Sally cries out holding up a sign with the same words. The girls and the mothers in the audience are smiling of recognition. Sally speaks engagingly about the importance of following the guidelines, even if from time to time, it can be hard. Especially for young teenage girls desperately wanting to stay fashionable.

The mothers in the audience starts to share experiences and tips and tricks of how you can learn to sew clothes yourself, or how to easily alter the length of skirts that are too short.

As reminders of the importance of decent clothing, Sally has created paper traffic signs, relating to the guidelines.

“When you see this sign, I want you to think there is only one way to God, there is only one way to do it right”, she says and points to the paper traffic sign saying “One way”.

To teach the gospel of Jesus Christ

The entrance hall is empty apart from two young boys in black suits and tie, talking in a low voice. 21-year-old Skyler Hardy and 19-year-old Samuel Pfeil are Elders, which means they’re missionaries. Samuel and Skyler are Americans and they’re spending two years in Denmark to share the gospel. They’ve both been Mormons their entire lives, so have their families. Making the active choice to commit in their teens, promising to avoid alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea was an easy, but deciding to be a missionary for two years demanded a higher conviction.

“Off course you had doubts, two years is a long time and it’s an important decision. But everyone has doubts and having faith really helps. I turned to God and he answered me and said I was doing the right thing”, says Samuel.

The objective of the missionaries is to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to try and help people throughout the world improve their lives. For Samuel and Skyler it’s a way to show God their commitment to the church. Skyler, who’s been in Denmark longer than Samuel, has had the opportunity of experiencing three people convert to the Mormon church.

“To see how people change and start changing their lives to the better, it’s indescribable”, says Samuel smiling.

“It’s who I am”

The lights are switched off and the blinds are lowered in the church hall as the broadcast from the General Young Women Meeting is about to start. Downstairs the broadcast is in English, in the church hall it’s interpreted simultaneously into Danish. Mothers and daughters sit together, some young girls take notes, some rest their heads against their mother’s shoulder.

Tanya Køster sits at the very front, eyes focused on the screening. Like Sally Hall, Tanya has come to Århus for the day from the congregation in Odense. Everyone in her family are members of the church and Tanya has never had any doubts concerning her membership.

“The church means everything to me. It’s who I am”, Tanya says and smiles.

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