Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Laie Ward X Primary Program Somettime in the 1980's


Note: Jared's dad, Kent, told me the story of my Uncle Scott and the Laie Ward X Primary Program when Scott was three years old and a Sunbeam for Jesus. I decided to share it while I'm still working on my "Judge Alex" eulogy. To the best of my knowledge, this is really the way it happened on that Sunday in the tiny windward/northshore (the Laie chapel sits almost precisely on the spot in Laie where Oahu's terrain turns from windward to North Shore, as evidenced by vegetation) village.
The Primary leaders in the Laie Ward X of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had all the children seated on the dais (the "stand" in LDS terminology) for the program that they would present in place of a sermon. Adults were seated among the children, but not as many as there ideally should have been, and not in strategic places. The three-year-olds, otherwise known as Sunbeams, were largely monitoring themselves and each other, as they had no adult sitting in particularly close proximity. Their teacher was having a baby that morning and no one had bothered to sit with her class.

Communion (or "The Sacrament" as Mormons like to call it) comes before the sermon or sermons in Mormon churches. Twelve-and thirteen-year-old boys who have been ordained to the priesthood level of "deacon" distribute The Sacrament to the congregation in little plastic trays. (Note: Mormons, unlike Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches, do not believe the bread and wine or water to be the literal body and blood of Christ, but rather to be symbolic representations, which is probably how they justify letting 12-year-olds distribute it. If the sort of occurrence which I will soon recount were to go down in a Catholic or in an Orthodox church, hell would be paid.) A prayer is said, and the deacons pass out the bread. Another prayer is said and the deacons distribute the water, which they use in place of wine or grape juice.

One time I told a Mormon kid at school that a lot of churches use grape juice instead of water in their communion or sacramental rite. The girl at first didn't believe me. When she found out I was telling the truth, she went home after school crying, "It's not fair!" to her mother. The girl's mother, with whom I occasionally come into contact because she and her husband bought a house next door to the home of one of my best friends' parents, still hates me nine years or so after the fact. So much for anything Jesus ever said about forgiving someone not just seven times, but seventy times seven and then some, even when the person who wronged you was a mere ten years old and did so by outing your church for being such cheapskates that they wouldn't come up with a measly ounce of grape juice per communicant. That, however, is a subject for another day's blog.
Usually when it's not a front row, the deacons hand the bread or water tray to the first person in a row or pew, who then passes it on to the next person and so forth, until everyone has partaken of it [Mormon lingo again]. When it's the front row of either the dais or the congregational seating area, the deacons themselves stand before each person, themselves holding the tray.

This particular deacon didn't get the memo about holding onto the tray for the front row. He handed the lightweight plastic bread tray [containing more bread than it would usually hold because of the increased attendance at the day's meeting because of the Primary Program] to the first Sunbeam in the pew and let that kid pass it on to the next. I believe that's about as far down the row as the tray actually made it before it was inevitably dropped, spilling its contents of white Wonder Bread [which some people still actually believe builds strong bodies in twelve ways] all over the floor directly in front of the three-year-olds. The three-year-old Sunbeams all dropped from their seats in the pew to the floor and began grabbing the bread off the carpet and stuffing it into their mouths. Scott was on the floor with all the other Sunbeams, trying to get his fair share of the unexpected bounty, though only three-year-olds or perhaps the underfed dogs perpetually roaming Laie would have considered white Wonder Bread broken into barely bite-sized pieces and scattered all over a floor to be much of a treat.
A little girl who shall be called Cameron [because that's close to but not her actual name, as I do not wish to risk a defamation suit] slapped Scott's hand because he took a particularly large piece of bread she was eyeing for herself. Scott grabbed her braided ponytails and held onto them tightly in one hand, then punched her in the nose with the other. Scott was dexterous even as a three-year-old. The slap and retaliatory punch turned into a knock-down-drag-out wrestling match. All Cameron's siblings jumped out of their seats and were cheering her on, while all Scott's siblings (except for his oldest brother Kent, who was a deacon and was too old to be in the program) sprang from their seats and cheered Scott on. There's supposed to be dead silence during this time when The Sacrament is being passed. There isn't, of course, dead silence in ANY part of a Mormon church service because of all the cranky babies and bored toddlers forced to be there on a given Sunday, but still, it's considered the most sacred time of the meeting, and the World Wrestling Federation Championship for Three-Year-Olds, complete with a shouting audience for each competitor, was going on right in the middle of it.

Scott's mom and dad were not seated anywhere near the front because Scott's dad had been dealing with an issue in the student ward of which he was the bishop. The issue involved girls, so Scott's mom went with him to try to help him mediate the quarrel. The family nanny, a BYU-Hawaii student whose services were being paid for by Scott's mother's inheritance, as one could never afford the services of a nanny on a BYU-Hawaii professor's salary [even if he was on loan from the mother ship BYU-Provo campus and hence receiving a slightly higher salary than that being paid to most of his peers] had driven the children to church in the family's van. On a normal Sunday in an LDS church, the back pews fill up first and those who arrive late get stuck sitting in the front, but on Primary Program Sunday, parents and relatives try to arrive early to get prime seating so that they can see their children and grandchildren as they sing annoying songs slightly off-key and recite with no emotion whatsoever (or, more likely, read not terribly smoothly and in equally monotone voices off tiny slips of paper because they haven't bothered themselves with the memorization) inane lines beamed down to them directly from Primary headquarters in the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City.

The LDS primary organization has a leadership structure, with a president and her two counselors, and teachers for each age group. They were seated somewhat among the children that day, but not very strategically. The Primary Presidency sat in the very back row of seating on the dais, with The President in the middle, her First Counselor to her right, and her Second Counselor to her left (standard Mormon leadership seating formation), slightly removed from the bulk of children. Their seating position was essentially a statement to the ward that they were not mere teachers or other personnel but were, indeed, The Presidency. As was stated earlier, the three-year-old Sunbeams were essentially unsupervised because their teacher was in labor and therefore not at church (the nerve of that woman to go into labor on the morning of The Primary Program!), and it hadn't occurred to anyone else looking upon the unchaperoned three-year-olds that it might be a good idea to place an adult somewhere in their midst. The Primary Presidency was, in the delicate words of Scott's brother Kent, who did have a front-row view because he was one of ther deacons passing the trays that day (but, he would want me to point out, he was NOT the deacon who handed the tray of bread to the three-year-olds to pass to each other until one of them finally dropped and spilled the bread) "sitting with their thumbs up their asses, doing absolutely nothing about it," Kent described in uncharacteristically colorful language for him.

The nanny, even though she wasn't technically a member of that ward because she belonged to a student ward, was filling in for the Primary pianist, who had recently had a baby. On Primary program day in that particular ward, it was traditional for the Primary personnel to be responsible for all the music for worship service that day. The Primary pianist played the organ for the hymns, the Primary chorister [in normal American English dialect, chorister means choir member, but in LDS lingo, the person who leads a group in singing, unless the group is a choir, is called the chorister; don't try to find any logic in it, because it isn't there to be found), conducts the hymns for the congregation, and so forth. The nanny was seated at the organ and couldn't see what was happening on the floor, but could see one of Scott's brothers and his three sisters out of their seats and hollering. Just as Scott's mother was prodding Scott's father to get up and make sure none of their kids were involved in whatever disturbance was occurring, the nanny slipped off the organ bench and down to the front to see for herself what was the problem. She quickly pulled Scott off the top of the little girl (he had her pinned to the floor by one shoulder and was using his free hand to grab any remaining pieces of bread within his reach) and picked him up and held him under one arm. Since Scott was immobilized by his nanny, Cameron made a quick grab for the last of the bread, and then went after Scott, punching him hard in the stomach and hitting the nanny's arm in the process. Scott grabbed one of the Cameron's pigtails. The nanny grabbed Cameron with her other arm and practically threw her over two rows of children seated in pews to the lap of the Primary President. Leaning across two pews full of children to pry Scott's fingers off the Cameron's braided pigtail, the nanny hissed "Don't let her go," at the Primary president, who was probably twice her age and then some, and was married to the division chairman of the department from which the nanny sought to obtain a degree. 

With Scott under one arm, the nanny pointed at every sibling of each of the warriors one at a time with her free hand. "You, sit there!" she hissed at one. "You, over there," she directed another until all the siblings were seated far enough apart from one another to keep the family feud from re-erupting. She even pointed at Kent, he said, and admonished him in a loud whisper, "Don't you DARE even THINK about getting yourself involved in this!" ("I was just standing there holding my own little tray of bread and minding my own business," Kent whined many years after the fact.)

The nanny carried Scott back to her place at the organ bench, sat him in her lap, and ensured that the power source for the organ was turned off. The last thing the meeting needed at that point was an impromptu organ concert from three-year-old Scott. Satisfied that peace was restored, the nanny smiled at the congregation she faced as though it was just a normal day's work. She was all of eighteen years old.

"That's why we have a nanny, " Scott's dad whispered to his mom.

An older man, a humanities professor, seated in the row in front of Scott's mom and dad, turned and warned them in hushed tones, "You'd better be paying her well, because if you're not, the rest of them are going to pool their money and hire her out from under you."
"I hope no one minds if we skip the rest of the Sacrament and go straight to the children's program," the bishop announced from the pulpit. If anyone minded, they certainly didn't express their concerns. The program went off as has nearly every children's program in the history of Mormondom, to be remembered, if at all, only by its very epitomization of mediocrity. The real show that day was the program before the actual program.

how they're supposed to sit in church, but not necessarily the way they really sit


  1. What a hilarious story. I can just see those kids piling on to get the breadcrumbs. The passing of the water cups must have had the entire ward collectively holding its breath. The Primary program was always my favorite Sacrament Meeting of the year.

  2. Loved your story! You have a great story-telling voice. I could picture the whole thing. Church certainly was entertaining that day.

  3. Donna and Karen, thanks. Writing that story made me really sad that I was not yet born and couldn't have been there.

  4. Hilarious! Nothing like that ever happens in the Presbyterian churches I used to go to.

    1. By the way, I finally figured out seamlessly cutting and pasting on Blogger. There's a button on the toolbar at the top of the post next to the quote button. If you hover your cursor over it, it'll say "remove formatting". Select your text, click the "remove formatting" button (a capital T with an x next to it), and your text will come out looking normal. It took me forever to figure that out!

  5. Thanks, Knotty. I'll probably fix this post, and I'll know what to do in the future.