Mormonism is a faith that I have had some experience with before launching this project. In fact, my great grandfather was a Mormon bishop in Florida. But, Mormonism has not been a prominent part of my family for a long time.
I was surprised at how open the Mormon church in Philadelphia was to me photographing there considering many people had told me it would be impossible. The catch is, however, that there can be no photographing in the Mormon temple. The temple is a very separate place from the meeting house, which is where their normal Sunday morning services took place. The temple is a holy place, in which only Mormons can be admitted. Despite not being a Mormon, I was welcomed into their meeting house and permitted to photograph as much as I wanted, excluding during their holy sacraments like communion and baptisms.
The first thing that struck me upon entering the meeting house was how white it is. The walls of the sanctuary are all pristine and white and the architecture is definitely that of a church, but still very simple. There is artwork in all of the hallways depicting Jesus’s life or other important stories from the Mormon faith (I hear that these same paintings are distributed around all meeting houses).
Their style of service is very community-based. There are usually several speakers that take the pulpit and give short sermons, and few of them seem to be official ministers or ordained in some way. This is something I admire about the Mormon church: they are very community-driven and inclusive of their members.
After service was over, I got the meet their Elders. Now, Elder can be taken here as a title and not a description in any way because these Elders were younger than me! It is common practice in the Mormon church to encourage young men to go on missions when they turn 18. So, they get sent off to different churches to work as Elders and preach the Mormon faith to people in the city they are sent to. The most common place I heard the Elders were from was Utah (no surprise there) but their locations of origin did vary across the country.
After attending a few Mormon services, I came to the conclusion that Mormon church is an all-day event. They arrive for the worship/sermon service around nine or ten in the morning, and then there are classes going on for a couple hours afterward. They offered everything from women’s topics to a kid’s ministry to studies on specific books of the Bible or the Book of Mormon.
All in all, my experience in the Mormon church was more positive than I had expected. I suppose I had a lot of stereotypes in my mind about Mormonism, but the people I met were all-together kind and even eager to be a part of the Faith Project.