As I write this, it has been 11 months to the day since my baptism. Besides being the most anxious temple-prep student that ever existed, I am very pleased with the last 11 months. I'm especially pleased because tomorrow I get to go to the baptism of a man I have been helping the missionaries teach. I'm giving the talk on baptism and acting as witness.
So even though it hasn't been a full year yet, I will tell you the 5 things that have surprised me the most about being a convert in the last 11 months.
1. How other members treat me. If you would have asked me a year ago, I probably would have said that I expected and understood that I would be treated slightly differently as a convert. That has not been my experience. At all. I have been so warmly embraced and told several versions of: Its like you were supposed to be with us all along.
2. Cultural VS Religious Mormons. I expressed to a friend once that I still felt a bit like an anthropologist looking in on a culture that is not mine. He affirmed my feelings and said, "Unless you were raised by a Mormon mother, there are things about the culture you will never really understand." And that actually helped me make the needed separation between Culture and Faith. At our Ward's Christmas party I announced to our table of 10 that I don't really like Funeral Potatoes. I might as well have denied that Heavenly Father exists. Chaos erupted and all the other adults at the table tried to convince me why it was the perfect side dish. So, I ate the potatoes. Food is a big part of culture. I may not be of this culture, but I have been invited in and that is what you do when you are invited in. You eat the potatoes. But its helpful for me to make a difference in my mind between the tenants of our faith, and the preferences of the culture.
3. "Tell us what it was like!!" There is this interesting dynamic that I've seen now in many different contexts. People who have been members of the church for their whole lives are compelled to know how others see them. I have been asked 100 different versions of this question. Sanjiv Bhattacharya talks about this too in his book, "Secrets and Wives." He is an atheist reporter born in India but now working in the US. He wants to investigate some of the various Mormon polygamous groups and finds surprising inroads with them. At one point, he is allowed to talk with a group of children who belong to one of the groups. He invites the kids to ask questions of him - he comes from a very different world than they do and he thinks they might be curious about him. Nope. All they want to know is how he sees them, what his first impressions were, how they changed, and what he thinks of them. And I see the same thing. A favorite story that gets laughs and egging on every single time is my first Fast and Testimony meeting - when a very elderly man in our ward got up to give his testimony of how he hopes polygamy comes back soon. By then many people in our ward knew me and that I was investigating, and I could feel every eye in the room slyly look over and see how badly I was freaking out. And people in my ward love when I tell this story and they want me to fill in all the details of what I was really thinking, what I thought of them in that moment, how frightened I was, what I thought of the man giving his testimony (he and I have actually developed a sweet little friendship), and more. It's a very particular dynamic that I haven't really experienced much in other places in my life and its surprised me.
4. The lack of theology nerds. In my Anglican background (not as much as in my Evangelical background) there were always dozens of people in any given church who were, for lack of a better term, theology nerds. The people who are up on the current issues being discussed, aware of what is being published, etc. There is one man in my ward who is interested in this stuff to the same degree that I am, but other than that I have had to deliberately seek out others online for these conversations. I attended Education Week at BYU and felt like I had found my people. I never wanted it to end.
5. The reality of being in a centrally-run global church. Prior to being an Anglican (so, the first 30ish years of my life) I always attended Evangelical or non-denominational churches. These are generally churches that are independently ran, and even if they belong to a denomination its probably going to be a very loose situation. No one is making decisions about what happens in the church except the local leaders. And even in the Anglican church, which is a world-wide denomination, the vast majority of decisions are local and effect the local congregation only. But I have been surprised by how often it occurs to me that this is a centrally-run church, and that they are doing their best to think of the circumstances of such a wide variety of people.