I wore pants to church today. There are no rules against women wearing pants in a Mormon church, but culturally skirts and dresses are definitely the norm. I can remember only one other time, when not camping, that I wore pants to church in all my 30+ years of attending church. For an explanation of the issues and history see here. I think this post matches my feelings and motivation.
It was an interesting Sunday, atypical in so many ways. Lonnie had to go out of town for work, and we decided to come along with him and enjoy a change of scenery. On Saturday we drove the 6 hours from Auckland to Napier. Lonnie had to work on Sunday morning, which thankfully only happens maybe once a year, and we were left without a car. While I had initially thought I could walk with the kids to church, after seeing that it would take an adult more than 40 mins to walk I decided it wasn't very smart to try and get my two 4 1/2 year olds plus my 18 month old to walk that far. Even with the pram we would have arrived grumpy and sweaty. So I decided to call a taxi (I had never before taken a taxi to church). I arrived at an unknown ward, in a taxi, as a single mom (for the day) of three young kids, wearing pants.
We arrived just as the opening hymn was being sung and found a seat next to a young woman. I was nervous about getting the kids to sit still, which is hard on a normal Sunday, without the help of my husband. My kids did alright. I chose to ignore their noise a couple of times, as there was no way of leaving sacrament meeting with just one child. I would have been followed by all three and once we were out of the chapel it would have required my best WWF moves to keep them in the building. If I had not been alone I probably would have taken Trent out, but it wasn't really an option, so we had to stick it out. The young woman sitting in our row was kind when my daughter slid over next to her and asked her to color in her My Little Pony book. Thankfully we didn't get too many looks for being so loud even though it was a quiet ward and we definitely raised the noise level.
The ward was largely Maori and Pacific Islander. I appreciated the diversity. A woman talked about becoming a missionary rather than going on a mission. She was waiting on her call. A man talked about his life. Shortly after he was baptized he had gone inactive for several years. He later felt a call to come back to church and work on his family history. The talks were honest and genuine.
I held on through sacrament meeting with the hope of dropping Max and Maya off at Primary and Trent off at nursery. Unfortunately the ward lacked our age group and there weren't classes for any of them. I started to feel nervous. Was it a mistake to come to church? I couldn't possibly get the kids to sit still through two more hours of meetings. I looked and felt out of place. Thankfully the Relief Society President came over and talked to me. Then the Primary leaders found a teacher for Max and Maya. The teacher was a kind, older woman who put me at ease. Trent and I went along with Max and Maya to the first hour of class time. When all three kids were done with sitting still we walked with the teacher over to a stream to feed the ducks. She never asked about my lack of husband, car or skirt.
When it came time for Primary singing time I took Trent with me to Relief Society. I walked in late and sat in a row by myself to give Trent room to run around. The woman in the row in front of me smiled and welcomed me. The lesson was on temporal salvation and had a lot of participation. There was even some respectful disagreement while talking about the dole. I was impressed that the women were able to disagree with one another and not make sweeping generalizations.
To be honest I was so busy chasing kids that I didn't really have time to think about the fact that I was wearing pants other than the fact that it made it easier to wrestle the wiggly kids. I didn't feel like anyone looked at me strangely. I was warmly greeted and treated very kindly. In some ways I think it was easier because it wasn't my ward. No one knew me so they didn't have expectations as to how I should be dressed.
I gave a big smile to the only other woman I saw wearing pants when I crossed her in the hall chasing my kids to Primary. She had spiky hair and a happy smile and was talking to a lot of people. I thought, maybe she is wearing pants for the same reason I was, although I knew that the "pants" issue probably wasn't as well known here in New Zealand as it would be in Utah. I wasn't able to talk with her until just before we left to go home. Thankfully Lonnie was running late when he came to get us dressed in his field work clothes. Her seven year old autistic son had kept Max and Maya happy while we were waiting. She was a recent convert to the church, having been baptized when her husband, who was less active, had begun attending church services again.
When I told her I liked her pants she said that it was all she had to wear. I told her that it was only cultural that women traditionally wear dresses to church and that she should feel confident that she looked great and perfectly dressed for church. I was happy to be wearing pants if only to let her know that she wasn't the only one wearing pants that Sunday.
It was a good experience to feel for the day what someone might feel like coming to church as someone who didn't quite fit the norm. I think we can all gain persective on what others might feel.
Of course, it is not about the pants. It doesn't really matter what you wear to church as long as you are being respectful. What does matter is that we recognize that there are aspects of our church culture that don't match our true doctorine. There are women (and others) in the church who are hurting because of cultural limitations that are not rooted in true doctrines of Christ. I wore pants to church in hopes of opening up a dialogue seeking for greater compassion for those hurting.
I love this scripture in the Book of Mormom:
2 Nephi 26:33 For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he ainviteth them ball to ccome unto him and partake of his goodness; and he ddenieth none that come unto him, black and white, ebond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the fheathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.
We are all invited to come unto Him. Racism, economic discrimination, sexism, judgement, and religious discrimination have no place in the church. Wearing pants to church was a small sign to show that I recognize the pain of feeling unwelcomed or undervalued at church.
We are all alike unto God.
I'd love to hear about your expereiences. What do you think?