Most people who have stepped foot inside of an LDS church building are familiar with the foyer (some people may call it a lobby). It’s that area with the most comfy chairs in the building, between the main entryways and the chapel.
This morning while I was watching the fifth session of General Conference (the twice yearly collection of meetings based in Salt Lake and directed by the top leaders of the LDS Church, televised over satellite, TV, and internet all over the world), I was full of the Spirit and pondering how much I loved Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk yesterday and my mind went so strongly in this direction that I knew I needed to write it down.
The pondering started with thinking about how Elder Holland’s talk, as his talks usually do, seemed to speak to my heart, mind, and needs directly, more than any others. As I was thinking what made his talk different from the others, I remembered how many people I know, including myself at times, have felt like the pain and the struggles we endure on a daily basis so often seem to go unaddressed in the Church. So many of the talks in Church seem to come from the perspective of those who have many of the ideal conditions in their lives: functional, two-parent families, relative good health most of their life, good leaders to help and support them, etc. The trials and setbacks mentioned in those talks often seem superficial or temporary compared to the intense, life-long struggles experienced by the people on the fringes. And the thought came to my mind, we’re foyer people.
Now, foyers, as most rooms do, have a specific purpose. In the times in between meetings, people often greet each other there. Since meetings are not held there, it’s a safe place to be less formal. But their biggest use is during meetings. Rumor has it that, long ago, Brigham Young said in a church meeting, “Noisy children, like good intentions, should be carried out.” Foyers are the culturally accepted place to carry noisy children, and most (in the US, at least) even have speakers installed so that parents in the foyer can hear what is being said over the pulpit in the chapel.
There are basically three types of people who sit in the foyer during meetings. The first are those for whom the area is designed: those with circumstances beyond their control (such as noisy children or physical difficulties), who must temporarily step away from the body of the congregation. These people usually long to be back in the chapel and make efforts to return as soon as possible.
The second are those who left for legitimate reasons, but who, for whatever reason, don’t want to return to the chapel. Sometimes they are just so comfortable out on those couches. Sometimes we worry we will drag those in the chapel down. Sometimes we feel we aren’t welcome.
The third are those who finagled a way to get themselves to the foyer (I like to call them ‘baby pinchers’), and the foyer is the only thing keeping them in the church building at all. They don’t want to be there–not so much because they don’t feel good enough, but because they just don’t like it. They are only in church because they feel they have to be for some social expectation. These are those for whom the barrier is their choice.
Elder Holland’s words do more than speak to those willing and able to sit quietly in the chapel. His words are like him personally coming to find us, in the couches and halls and mother’s lounges, bringing the words and love of the Lord. He knows those of us in the foyer. Those who struggle and long to join those in the chapel, and those who have felt so self-consciously uncomfortable in the midst of the main congregation that the comfort of those foyer couches seems to have a stronger call. Whether or not it is best for us to return to the chapel at this moment–because the chapel is often filled with those who may not understand the depth of our struggle and for whom our struggles may be distracting and distressing–Elder Holland wants us to know that we are never alone, never truly excluded, and, no matter how much it feels like we are, never forgotten. And just as he is acting as a messenger of the Lord to bring us this message, we need to strive to bring the same message to the foyer people around us. Because no one is exempt from Christ’s love, sacrifice, and grace, not the tiniest bit.
Not even those of us who sit by ourselves in the foyer.