One incredible thing about being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that no matter where you go in the world, you can expect to find a ward or branch of fellow believers worshiping in a familiar way. All across the world Saints gather for a three-hour block, partake of the sacrament, teach and bear testimony to each other, and follow the same lesson manuals in a variety of languages. Ordinances are conducted by the same authority and manner in the Philippines as they are in France.
This consistency is not only amazing considering the size of the Church and the variety of cultures it encompasses, but it also testifies to the truth of the gospel. After all, we believe there is "One Lord, one faith, one baptism," (Ephesians 4:5).
Within the doctrines of the gospel and the policies outlined by the Church, however, it is also incredible that there is room for cultures and families to express their faith and worship in unique ways. Here are just a few examples of unique Latter-day Saint traditions that can be found around the world.
*Note: Information for this article has been gathered from individuals' personal experiences living abroad or visiting Latter-day Saint congregations across the world.
When the Sabbath Isn't a Sunday
Although most of us are used to worshipping the Sabbath day on Sunday, this isn't possible in some parts of the world, and some Saints honor their one-day-in-seven on a different day of the week.
In Dubai and other areas of the Middle East, Latter-day Saints meet for church on Friday, as Friday is regarded the Holy Day in Islamic culture. For similar reasons, sacrament meeting is held on Saturday in Israel.
The stake center in Abu Dhabi. Image from lds.org.
In Hong Kong, there is no consistent day that everyone can pause for the Sabbath due to strict, overlapping six-day work schedules. To accommodate, the Church holds sacrament meeting on every day of the week.
In Alaska, severe weather conditions and distance cause the Anchorage Bush Branch to hold church meetings over the phone. Members mute and unmute themselves to participate in talks and lessons, and they partake of the sacrament in their own homes.
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Kisses and Simple Gestures
Many of us were taught to fold our arms to pray or show reverence, but not so in Poland. Polish Latter-day Saints never fold their arms because its a sign of being upset. They also don't shake hands over a doorway because it makes a cross.
In Spain, members greet every other member in the chapel with two kisses to show friendship and fellowship before church begins.
Sister Jean B. Bingham greeting members in Spain. Image from Newsroom.
In the Philippines, older women in the congregation will greet you by taking your hand in theirs and pressing it to your forehead as a sign of respect.
Priests who pass the sacrament in South Korea always hold their right forearm with their left hand while distributing the bread and water. In Korean culture, you must always use two hands when giving or receiving something.
Correcting Grammar from the Pulpit
In Hawaii, speakers say "Aloha!" at the beginning of their talk, and everyone in the congregation repeats it back. Similarly, in Micronesia, speakers begin with "Good morning," and everyone repeats the greeting.
Master woodcarver Tui'one Pulotu speaking at a BYU-Hawaii devotional. Image from Deseret News.
In Denmark, members always sing every verse of the selected hymns in sacrament meeting . . . even the long ones!
In South Korea, it is customary for everyone in the room to say "thank you" out loud following the "amen" at the close of a prayer.
If you're giving a talk in Poland, beware! Members are not afraid to correct a speaker's grammar in the middle of sacrament meeting.
Special Ward Activities
In Spain, wards and branches hold their own ward family night each week on a day other than Monday. At these activities, members can enjoy each others' company and invite investigators to participate in a casual, relaxed setting. They usually play games, have a lesson, and eat snacks.
In South Korea and Thailand, some wards and branches host lunch at the church immediately following the block, since many members have a long way to travel to get back home. In South Korea, they keep bags of rice and enormous rice cookers in the church kitchens and members all bring something to contribute. In Thailand, "Everyone is welcome, but no one is assigned to bring food. The same faithful women and men bring plenty of rice and homemade treats to feed the entire ward and any investigators every week!" says returned missionary Sofia Belnap.
The Andong, South Korea branch sharing lunch after a baptism. Images courtesy of the author.
Due to time zone differences, many members around the world watch general conference together at the church building a few days or weeks after the original broadcast. In Ireland, for example, all the Saturday sessions are watched on Sunday, and in Puerto Rico, members gather and hold a potluck together between sessions.
Sabbath Day Attire
In Tonga, missionaries adopt traditional clothing. Elders wear white shirts, ties, a black tupenu (similar to a long skirt), and a ta'ovala (a woven mat) and a kafa (string belt) around their waists. Sisters wear a long traditional dress called a puletaha and a tupenu.
Missionaries wearing traditional attire in Tonga. Image from emilybever.blogspot.com.
They have traditional best-dress attire in the Philippines as well. Men, for example, will wear light dress shirts called barongs when they visit the temple.
In India, women often wear a traditional red dot on their foreheads called a bindi when they attend church. Some believe the bindi is symbolic of a third eye that sees inward to God and reminds those in the culture to keep God in the center of their thoughts. Women also often wear a traditional dress called a sari.
Latter-day Saints in India. Image from LDS Living.
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Children in South Korea wear traditional hanbok dresses and suits when they perform in the Primary program each year.
South Korean primary children singing for a video shown at general conference October 2014. Image from YouTube.
These are just some of the unique traditions Church members have around the world.