047-048: Amy and Jeff – Are You a Member of the Mormon Club?

FamilyJeff and Amy have a unique perspective of what it is like to be fully active, participating members of the church even though they aren’t members of the social club.  Infertility and the struggles that come with it created a situation where they felt that they were always looking in from the outside. In this interview we explore their experience and the wisdom that comes with many years of knowing what it feels like to be rejected and excluded.  These are two great people who share a compelling message.

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27 comments for “047-048: Amy and Jeff – Are You a Member of the Mormon Club?

  1. Steve In Millcreek (SIM)
    May 16, 2013 at 1:48 am

    Jeff and Amy were candid with us about their personal pain and struggle; and I like them more for being so nice about it. I live in Millcreek (SL County); they in Utah County. My first thought was, “How much I wish that we were neighbors”, and then I realized that I probably have neighbors like them, undiscovered.

    Random items:

    1.) When I have been the overseer of a group of people (i.e., Sunday School Presidency,..), I appreciate it when individuals hint what they would like to do by sharing their skill set. I am dismayed why their shared experience was so different. I am greatly saddened if they were released from their chosen calling by their leader to spite.

    2.) Amy spoke kindly of a perceived value of ward member comments like “.. I am fasting and praying for you; and I put your name on the temple pray roll.” In my humble opinion, those gestures have ancillary, not primary value. I feel that God (or the Church) created those things to place ideas into our heads to embrace the named, not to conclude that the fast, prayer, or roll is its own end. – At times, I wonder: Should we dispense with such gestures to focus energy directly where it will do good, here and now? Idea enlarged, should our effort toward ‘temple work for the dead’ be redirected toward the living?

    3.) Jeff’s right when he said that we should not simply embrace the Disneyland mold of Church membership; and that we lose something significant when we speak only of our thinnest, lightest sins during group conversations. Not only does light-weight conversation miss deep healing; it also leaves the individual with false view that his personal struggle is much deeper than anyone else.

    4.) I generally agree with your “club” analogy; and feel that its presence within wards is damaging on two fronts. First, club outsiders find themselves on the outside, excluded, shunned; and club insiders who face a life challenge will not seek member advice, comment or nurturing because its reveal will put them outside tomorrow. This is lose-lose; we should create wards with win-win.

  2. Ben
    May 17, 2013 at 6:55 am

    Of your many wards you’ve been in, how many outside of Utah during your “struggle of alienation” or noticeably outside of the club?

    • Jeff
      May 18, 2013 at 9:50 pm

      Hi Ben,

      We have always lived in Utah during our 20 year marriage. We have been in approximately 10 different wards during that time all of which have actually been within Utah County (from the southern end to the north). I do think that the “club” issue may be much more prevalent within Utah but I do not have the experience to speak to that one way or another. My perception growing up in Chicago was that everyone in our ward was very included but I doubt I would have known any differently due to both my age and the fact that I would have been in the club as the oldest of 6 kids. I would be very interested in hearing other perspectives for sure!

      • Ben
        May 20, 2013 at 5:56 am

        While it seems extremely unfortunate that you and your wife feel left out of exciting activities, I just can’t connect it to anything the church does, through it’s culture or teachings. I grew up in Idaho as a member of the church, didn’t serve a mission, and don’t feel that I’ve been alienated in the least. I’ve always felt very embraced, welcomed, appreciated, and valued. One of your comments suggested that I should be out of the “club” since I didn’t serve a mission. In 15 years of marriage, we started in Logan, then Texas, Ohio, now east coast. I think it’s unfortunate to tie the church into what may seem to be a cultural or social trait versus a church trait the runs exactly opposite of social norms. Try living in Texas as an Oklahoma fan, or Ohio as a Texas fan, or try to be neighborly on the east coast. Most people want their tight little group because they feel safe and it’s difficult to expand to outsiders. The church is the only place I see widows helping with young babies and singles teaching marriage veterans about their marriage, and born and bred Mormons with recently dried off converts. Our church, in my experience, has been on of the most culturally diverse and welcoming organizations I’ve seen. Are you part of the “happy hour” club at work? Perhaps you feel excluded in many other areas of life, but point to the church because it’s an “easy” target? Whatever it is, the only place that’s important is to feel valued and loved at home and it seems that you two love each other and have a miraculous daughter of which you should be proud and happy. You might want to make sure you exercise though, because I’m sure if/when your ward members listen to this podcast, they’ll have you booked for meals through 2020. Good luck.

        • Zack T.
          August 5, 2013 at 9:03 am

          Thank you Ben for giving my perspective. Although I have no intention to minimize Amy and Jeff’s experience. For clarity purposes I believe these issues are very much a human issue, yes a culture develops characteristics that are sometimes unique, most are variations from social group to social group and are not unique. I do believe we think we are “particular” or some how our social group is vastly different that others both on a righteous, compassionate side and non-inclusive, hurtful etc. We are more like other groups that we realize. My life time experience with wards, stakes and the church as whole is positive and happy. I belong and I fully participate.

  3. rachel
    May 18, 2013 at 8:16 am

    I wanted to say that I loved listening this podcast! Podcast about personal stories are the ones that I connect with the most and I really was grateful for messages in this conversation.

    This was more than a story about infertility, it went much deeper in exploring the many “displacements” that are found with many members of the church. I have felt the same struggles that this couple has and I do agree that if we were more open in our lessons and in our conversations that it would help so many “non-club” members not feel so isolated. Thank you for producing this podcast and for the much needed message of awareness it provided.

  4. Yvonne
    May 19, 2013 at 8:39 am

    Wonderful podcast! Loved this couple and appreciated the messages that were given. I very much agree that we all need to TALK more in the church. We need to love and embrace each other no matter what. We also need teach our youth that not everybody is the stereotypical Mormon and that is OKAY! Thank you for speaking out and for sharing your story.

  5. Ethan
    May 19, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Great podcast! Thank you!!!! I was wondering if Amy and Jeff are still active on the church? Not that it matters but I was simply curious and couldn’t tell what their current stance was. Thank you for sharing your story. I was deeply moved by your message.

  6. Amy
    May 20, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks for your comments everyone! Ethan, to answer your question. Jeff and I are still fairly active members.

    Ben, I am happy to hear that you have had good experiences throughout your life in the church. Jeff and I both know that many members have never felt alienated in any way and we tried to make that point clear in our podcast. But…we do know there are many who have had experiences similar to ours.

    We did not discuss this in our podcast but I personally have counseled literally thousands of men and women in my position at work and know first hand that the Mormon culture can create issues that are similar to our situation and the students that I counsel are from all over the U.S. not just members of the church in Utah.

    • Ben
      May 22, 2013 at 7:51 am

      Please let the listeners know how your ward family responds. I’m betting that once a few people hear your concerns, you’ll be showered with love, attention, kindness, and connections. I’m sure the biggest step is expressing your feelings/concerns/experiences.

  7. Aaron
    May 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    This was both an enlightening and frustrating podcast to listen to. Entirely worth my time, but for once I feel I need to write some thoughts down:

    1) the need to seek people out and talk to them – include them – really resonated with me and tells me I need to do a better job. I’m not a natural conversationalist and am generally not motived to make conversation with people that aren’t close friends. On top of that my three kids keep me busy enough that I almost always have a plausible excuse to keep to myself (until I want to reach out to – generally – my ward friends).

    With that said, I can think of a few people off the top of my head that probably qualify for “outsider” status as defined by Amy and Jeff that would appreciate more inclusion. It would help me get to know people better which, after the initial awkwardness, is always enjoyable. This point alone made the 2 hours spent listening to the podcast worth-while.

    2) While generally I like church culture (admitting I’ve always fully been in the “club”), it resonates to me that it’d be easy to feel left out either without kids or being single (amongst other things). I don’t know what the answer to this is other than more inclusion discussed in 1. I fully recognize it’s an issue though and am perplexed how we fix it. Jeff/Amy suggest more talks/lessons about inclusion, less about the hurtful topics (eternal families, raising children, etc). I can see pros/cons to both, but still see it as a major issue without a good solution.

    3) To counter point 1 above – generally the point I found aggravating – when the initiator of conversation receives resistance it leaves a strong first-impression. “He is sitting alone because he wants to be alone, I won’t bother him again.” Both Jeff and Sarah (the interviewer) expressed the initial resistance of someone randomly sitting next to them at church to talk, thinking there are possibly alternative motives. Most likely the person talking to you picks up on that vibe. So if you give off that vibe, how many times do you expect random people to reach out? We all know the derisive reputation things like “love bombing” has, how the person you’re talking to thinks you have alternative motives. Doesn’t the person sitting alone need to work hard on not putting off that vibe, especially if they understand LDS culture?

    3) The church is constantly putting out notice that we need to talk to those around us. Especially those that are new or we don’t know… I’ve heard this talk 10x it seems. In my ward (a Southern CA ward) it seems (non-scientifically of course) people have 2 or 3 people around them when sacrament is over. Sure, lots of people (like me) don’t always heed the advice. And maybe the church stresses talking to others from a missionary perspective which can come off as disingenuous. But in practice, I’m guessing 95% of such chatter is genuine “get to know you” type chatter. It’s just normal people making conversation.

    Two overall points I’m trying to make here (apologizing if I’m not making sense): 1) I’m not saying Amy/Jeff made this specific point, but generally you can’t be critical of how members approach you while concurrently complaining about being left out – regardless of if you think members have alternative motives; and 2) I honestly don’t see that as something to blame on the church. Cliques are a human phenomenon across cultures and religions (I imagine) and that’s what’s at work here. I understand the no kid/single thing… but there are lots of counter examples to that as well (I’ve known plenty of both types who are active, well-accepted parts of the ward). If anything the church works to break cliques (age, income, race where possible, and the advice that we all work together as a “ward family”). So while those two things are obstacles to full fellowship/activity, so are lots of other things we all face (unique family issues, boredom with church, whatever).

    To Jeff or Amy… put yourself in the shoes of being that fully vested club member, maintaining the exact personalities you currently have. Are you now at church on the look for people to talk to that you don’t know? Or are you more or less doing the same thing, save for a few conversations in the hallways with friends you’ve built a relationship with the past few years?

    I appreciate the podcast and getting me to think about the subject. I will certainly work on inclusion going forward.

    • Aaron
      May 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm

      Point 3) above should be 4)…

  8. Amy
    May 22, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Ben, neither Jeff nor I have a desire for anyone in our current or past wards to listen to this podcast. We kept our last names out for a reason and I am sure that nobody that we go to church with is a part of ATF so it isn’t likely that those we associate in our wards will ever listen to this and that is actually what we prefer.

    Aaron, I appreciate your thoughts and I personally do make it a point to go out of my way to reach out to others in church and in other activities. We moved recently and so we still are getting to know people but I make it a point to always sit by someone who is alone in RS or Sunday School (and that isn’t a rare thing here).

    I truly have witnessed and believe that so many are suffering in so many ways that were not even touched on in our podcast and so I do hope that others will take the time to look around. I also feel that lessons and talks can’t please everyone in the group and that is not realistic to ever think that we can make everyone happy. I do feel that members of the church can be more proactive is talking about differences, issues, opinions and that would help SO many and that is my greatest hope.

  9. Trisha
    May 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Just finished listening to this podcast and really felt that it brought out some much needed points that I haven’t heard discussed before through other podcasts.

    I felt like Amy was inside my head and telling MY very similar story and experience! I appreciated the many important points that her and Jeff discussed. I agree that these issues are VERY real in the Mormon culture and even if members don’t agree or experience this I can say that there are MANY who do feel “out of the club” and it can be a very lonely and shamful place.

    In my opinion, there should never be a “club” in the first place but I do agree that there is one. I also agree with this couple and believe that we do a big disservice with our youth and others in the church in portraying that we need to be a certain Mormon mold and these messages can be very damaging.

    I have experienced the damage that it can cause and although I am a faithful and active member, I feel that there is SO much that can be done to improve in the way we communicate in the church. We need to talk more about the many different paths that are out there and help everyone in the church feel that it is okay to think and be different.

    Thank you again for sharing your message. I related in so many ways and I very much appreciate your thoughts.

  10. Scott
    May 25, 2013 at 3:56 am

    As a 4th class mormon I really appreciated this podcast. I grew up as a step child in a part member family that moved a lot in my young days. Always the outsider “looking in the back window” of a club that I could never be part of. A mission was never brought up by my parents, school was the emphasis. Over the years when I met people the first thing they would ask is ” where did you go on your mission?”‘ , awkward moment when I said I didn’t go on one. They had nothing more to say. Even today leaders in meetings will ask by a show of hands, who went on missions.
    All part of the perfectionism and shamming culture that is Mormanism. I consider myself a Buffet Mormon. I come to the feast and take those parts of Mormanism that look good, and leave those parts that I don’t like without trashing the place.
    I haven’t been “called” or expect to be called to any leadership positions. Leadership positions are for elite and first class Mormons. But my Mormon experience is still a valid experience and it has worth to me.

    • Steve In Millcreek (SIM)
      June 19, 2013 at 10:37 pm

      Scot, thanks for your 5/25/13 posting; I relate. Here are a few points; please comment on any or all.

      1.) My fall-from-class happened by not getting an Eagle Scout rank in a major LDS community where many/most boys did. Similar to your comment about missionary service, an inquiring adult makes a default assumption that a boy got an Eagle and any boy not achieving it was marginalized. Perhaps Sunday School lessons should focus on sensitivity training.

      2.) When I make conversation with someone new, I default to assume nothing about them and show genuine delight when he/she reports anything meaningful like an Eagle, or mission, or college, or whatever. Let a person be built up for his life achievements rather than deflated if an assumed achievement is missing.

      3.) It’s embarrassing how insensitive some adults are on this. As a kid, I incorrectly believed that adults defined the world, and that all kids had to conform to their protocol. Fortunately, we sub-classers are now adults and can respect others better than we were treated. Many first-class kids did not learn this and sadly become insensitive adults.

      4.) Why do people ask questions such as, “Where did you go on your mission?”, or by raise of hands in audience, “Who went on a mission?” What is the point? Is the point to divide people? To discover travel destinations? If so, then ask where people have traveled regardless of purpose. Why is missionary service revered above other service such as Peace Corp or similar?

      5.) Yesterday, I (again) realized that Mormons do not stand alone on such insensitive speech. For example, I attended a mid-week service of a different faith; and after the meeting, an aggressive member cornered me to ask which church member that I am studying Bible with, and etc. His default assumption was pre-planned for me, and was deflated when I did not meet his plan. Rather than simply being a friendly representative of his faith without pushy questions.

      Scot (and others), this is all food for thought. Comment if you like.

  11. Joel
    May 25, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Sarah – I have listened and listened and listened. These people are not alone in struggling with their host of issues. The church is not a social club as much as many of us would like to have it be so. It is not for everyone as much as we would like to be. The mission of the church is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and warn our neighbors of the return of Christ and build Zion. It teaches people to be temporally and spiritually self-reliant so that they can help fulfill this mission. I don’t know why people in the church think that it is some kind of social organization that is supposed to fix everyones problems???

    I have a suggestion that I think might help with folks that are not feeling like they are fed socially or fit in with church members. Look outside of the church for the answer. You can still be a good standing member of the church and be involved in all kinds of social activities that will fill your needs. Here is an example that I have first hand experience with:

    My son. a returned missionary, married a woman whose father is a Former Stake Presidency counselor. She had been married before in the temple and divorced. She got a temple clearance and they were married in the temple. What my son didn’t know when he married her was that she had audio and visual psychotic manifestations all the time. He could have easily just divorced her and called it a day of which even I suggested he might be justified in doing. He felt inspired when he married her and knew that God would help his situation. Some of her problems were aggravated when she would attend church. After long struggles they stopped going to church except when my son would take their daughter. My daughter-in-law is now under a medication that is very helpful. As you can imagine when she tells church members about her struggles their social life diminishes in the church. Right or wrong, the social aspect doesn’t seem to play into it for them. What my daughter-in-law did was start a group that meets every third Wednesday of the month for couples that one spouse struggles with a psychological disorder. It was great! They meet with people with a common problem and share not only their particular situation, but about life in general. The people are not members of the church. They share the camaraderie of their struggle with having a spouse with a mental illness. Now the blessing that comes from reaching outside of the church is thus:

    My daughter-in-law came to church last week for the first time in a long time. The Bishop is aware of their situation and my son is now able to commit to being active again. They could have easily just left the church because of all the negatives they experienced. What they are living now is a higher law. A law of spiritual and emotional self-reliance using experts, Psychiatrist, counselors and others to fill needs that the church was not set up for. Now they are able to fulfill the church’s mission which is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone, inviting them to participate in the ordinances that open the door to eternal life and salvation. Not to join a social club. They are spiritually self-reliant in the church.

    I sympathize with Greg and Amy, my brother and sister-in-law went through a very similar situation not being able to have children without a medical reason, she had a career etc. etc. They did eventually adopt two boys. He has since been a Bishop, HC etc. and they both have temple callings now that their boys are gone. It was not easy for them because they didn’t fit wither, but they did not view the church as a social club. Sarah, to refer to it as a club or that you are a member of The Club really is a huge misnomer. I get the jest of why the church might be referred to as a club in this particular podcast, but it smacks of being offensive to those of us who really fight against this type of caricature of the church. I hope that we come to understand better what the church’s real mission is.

    Best Wishes in all of your life’s journey. I hope and pray that the church is part of your life and you are able to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all that you are inspired to. I would hope that you find a way to get out of yourself to find yourself in the service of the Lord.

    God love you and let’s all work a little harder on being better brothers and sisters and become more spiritually self-reliant in the process.

    • Steve In Millcreek (SIM)
      June 19, 2013 at 11:44 pm

      Joel, the account of your family dynamic shows understanding of gospel principles applied; and I thank you for sharing it. My sister’s husband has a medical need; and the two of them are working through it somewhat similar to your account.

      For the past year, my work and travel put me in random LDS wards about 1/3 time and non-LDS faith worship services about 1/3 time; and I note these observations.

      First, as a visitor to those venues, I have few expectations. I attend as my best available worship site that week and gratefully appreciate cheerful comment from gregarious congregants who reach out to me and me to them.

      To memory, I have never been ignored at any of these services; however, the non-LDS congregations are generally more welcoming, likely because I flag myself as a non-member since I do not take their communion. Also, pastors often include a minute of meet-and-greet within the body of the worship, so follow up conversations are more likely. I also attend their version of Sunday School, which often follows an open-discussion format with a moderator who accepts more broad answers than we tend to accept in our LDS meetings; and their forums accept (or politely challenge) my viewpoints whether known as LDS or not.

      One goal here is to make comparison-contrast with Jeff/Amy’s experiences; and to figure out if their story is duplicated uniformly among members of all faiths. From my observations, LDS-UT/AZ/ID is most likely place for J/A’s experience to occur; and as a UT resident, I plan to do better to prevent similar heartbreak within my reach.

  12. Joel
    May 25, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    I forgot to thank Amy and Jeff for pointing out the real problem of leaving people out in the church. I do understand how frustrating it can be. Thanks having the courage to put your life experience out there for us. Very good podcast that anyone can learn from.

  13. James
    May 31, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Great podcast! Thank you Amy and Jeff! So raw and their messages are so true. Whether members think so or not, these conversations are not happening and they NEED to! I am grateful that someone would speak out concerning this. Clearly, from the comments so many just don’t get it and are judging this couple and it’s too bad but I loved it, agree with what they said and totally relate.

  14. marshall
    June 12, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Thank you Sarah for producing this podcast. The messages were different than most through ATF or MS that I have listened to. I really related to their story and have felt similar struggles with messages in our church. Mostly, thank you Amy and Jeff. Your story isn’t an easy one to tell and I appreciate your raw honesty.

  15. april
    June 13, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Thanks Amy and Jeff! I really appreciated you speaking out. This conversation is SO needed!

  16. Erin
    June 23, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    I listened to this podcast the same week as someone in my ward posted something on Facebook about how do you get into the club at church. I had honestly thought that my current ward was one of the best at teaching out and not being cliquish. But his post and this podcast has made me realize that we can always be reaching out and doing better to include others. I know it is much easier to make friends if you are a stay at home mom because you can get together for play dates etc. when you are a working mom it is easier to be excluded because there simply isn’t time to get together wih others.

  17. Ryan
    July 1, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    This was a great podcast with a real story of an everyday Mormon couple! It was refreshing to hear someone besides the repeat intellectuals that I find are starting to dominate Mormon Stories podcast groups. Not to say that I don’t enjoy the intellectual guests messages but it seems as though the same people are on the podcast over and over again and so it was nice to hear a message from someone like me. I relate to Jeff and Amy’s message in SO many ways! Thank Sarah for taking the time to produce this podcast and for Amy and Jeff’s candid thoughts. Well worth the time to listen to!

  18. Zack T.
    August 12, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    The complication of personalities sometimes gets to be to much for friends, leaders, all the way up to the general authorities.

    Put this couple is a congregation anywhere in an evangelical church and they would struggle in the same manner. Yes….we should be better!

    Now, as a church we need to do more, change, and reach out, yes, we have a lot of work to do.

    Sometimes I listen to podcast like this I wonder if I am going to the same church.

    Now after many of you read this comment many are going to say, well this is the typical thinking of the club.

    No, there lies a lot of responsibility on all, those that feel left out and those who are in the club. These are complicated issues.

    Pitch in and lets all be more like the savior.

  19. Chance
    September 6, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    Thank you Jeff and Amy for doing this podcast. Also, thank you Sarah for the time you took with them and so many others in interviews that you have done. I can’t imagine how much time this takes on your part but I am grateful for the messages that have touched me and truly helped me.

    My wife and I have struggled with infertility for over 10 years and I can say that I agree that it would help if we taught our youth and we discussed this issue in RS, Priesthood, etc. so those of who are are going through the struggles year after year would not feel so isolated and different.

    Struggling with this has made me feel just like Amy and Jeff in that I feel like my wife and I are being punished by God especially when we see all of our ward members with families full of children spilling out of the pew.

    The discussion of infertility is a taboo subject with all ages in our church. My wife and I were taught growing up and now over and over again that it will work out for us if we followed the commandments. The blessings will then surely come. Ten long years later they haven’t come and everyone we know has been blessed with children but us.

    I know for those who have easily had children can’t comprehend how it must feel or think about asking these couples how they are doing but it was discussed and normalized in our lessons and in the Mormon culture than I feel that it would generate more awareness and needed conversation.

    The lessons in our church in all ages talk are primarily about multiply and replenish the earth, forever families, etc. It can and is heartbreaking sometimes and for those of us struggling with this issue. You attend church and can often end up feeling terribly unworthy and sad.

    For those who can’t grasp this concept, I cannot say anything but you just have to be through something like this to know how incredibly difficult it is. It is SO lonely, you do feel like Jeff and Amy said that “you’re the only one who is going through this” and if we looked around, talked about it and included this topic in our conversations and lessons, it would help so many like me.

  20. TC
    September 18, 2013 at 12:33 am

    I really appreciated this interview. My husband and I really enjoyed discussing the experiences shared here and how we can be more aware, more sensitive, and more genuine in our efforts to extend friendship. To do something, rather than nothing. We’re in a military ward overseas where the about 1/3 of the ward moves in/out each summer. Some would joke that this is heaven :) It is interesting to have been here for almost five years and to notice which new families and individuals get showered with attention while others do not. I have a friend investigating the church who is a single mother of two and we often talk about her feelings of being on the outside looking in. This is a challenge no matter what one’s circumstances. I am just so sad that Amy and Jeff’s were so devastating. I do not know how I would have handled them. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing!!!

    I’ve always felt in the “club”, having grown up in a very large family outside of UT. My husband grew up in UT but his later teen years were harder when his family struggled with unemployment, depression, and divorce just to name the harder stuff. Their ward and stake took sides in the divorce and many hard things happened. It left a very bad taste that some family members have not recovered from. I know we can do better and that conversations like this podcast are instrumental to opening our hearts to struggles others are having and how we can extend ourselves to share the burden. Thank you!

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