Tuesday, June 2, 2009

He Said: Death of A Mormon Tradition

This week I learned of the discontinuation of another LDS tradition--the dropping off of a missionary child. I have mixed feelings about no longer dropping off a missionary at the MTC. I read about it on M and M's blog when she linked to the KSL report which cited the reason as being the spread of the Swine Flu or H1N1 virus.

Richard G. Hinckley, a member of the Seventy states:

Friends and family are now being asked to say their goodbyes outside because three missionaries have the swine flu. Church officials say their mission is to keep the H1N1 virus from coming into or out of the MTC.

"We've had protocol in place for these kinds of things for a number of years. We isolate them," said Elder Richard G. Hinckley, executive director of the Church's Missionary Department.

Hinckley says they've had outbreaks of other viruses before and similar protocols are used. However, this time it will permanently change how parents say goodbye to their children at the MTC.

"Those [parents] who typically do come, from this area, will be asked to drop them off, from this point forward in time, at the MTC and say goodbye to them at the doorstep and not come into the buildings," Hinckley said.

When I lived in Utah I dropped off my two oldest daughters. It was a really production to take them to the MTC. We drove the three hours to Provo and then assembled their three siblings who were attending BYU together. We had all their bags which we took and placed with hundreds of other bags that looked similar. Some old guy directed us where to park after dropping off the bags. I didn't really enjoy trying to find my daughters and wife who left me to park the car when they wandered off with the bags.

We then had to stand in a huge line to take our pictures in front of the entrance. In order to get us all in the picture we had to beg some other stranger to take our picture in front of the wall with the MTC's name. Literally thousands of parents had to go through this process to get the tradtional shot that is on every missionary's blog of them with their parents standing there.

Another trying experience was getting in the foyer with hundreds of family members who pressed against you as some sweet little old lady gave your missionary a name tag with a bright colored dot. Again you had to force y9urself on someone to take a picture in front of Christ. If you went down the stairs they tried to tell you not to take a picture from that point on.

Next you had to stop every few seconds as your wife or daughter grabbed a Kleenex to wipe the tears out of their eyes as guides tried to move you along to the room where the twenty minute devotional was held.

The first time I shed one tear when my first daughter was separated from us going out one entrance as we were instructed to go out a different one. The first time not knowing any better we followed the MTC president's advice treating the separation like ripping off a bandage and gave a last quick hug. The following year hearing the same spiel we were slower as that particular daughter was more emotional about leaving us and it took four minutes. I didn't shed a single tear that time. I regretted though I didn't bring all eight kids but they asked people to limit the size of their paries so we only brought the kids at BYU. I noticed though the great bonding opportunity that siblings had as they shared in the missionary's first experience.

I am not sure what their experience will be now that this sappy tradition is ended. I think of the literally tens of thousands of hours spent in saying goodbye and the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in traveling to Provo by families who would come from all over the country. The Church ending this tradition is being more health and resource conserving.

I never knew until my third child went on her mission that the LDS Church pays their way to the MTC so this time I said goodbye at the Charleston International Airport. I have some nice pictures of my wife and daughter saying goodbye. I think the Church is probably wise in not having such big fanfares for missionaries any more like farewell talks, open houses and now missionary drop-offs. I mean what is the big deal anyway. It is like fasting--God knows and recognizes the sacrifice. You don't need a program to part with your kid. When I went on a mission as a one year convert my parents didn't even help me find a way to Provo. I think this practice of dropping off is only a twenty year phenomenon. In a few years no one will care one way or another.

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