Two weeks ago I attended the local Mormon Church. I was on time, neatly dressed and very respectful of my surroundings. I took a seat in back so that I could observe fully what was taking place. I must confess I enjoyed the service. I believe it was a sacrament meeting followed by personal testimonies. However, I am an older white man and I do wear a full untrimmed beard. I was only acknowledged by two men and avoided by everyone else. I have since then learned that they do not like beards?
Not having been there, and not knowing the members of that ward or what was going on that day, all I can say is that a beard should not make a difference in how one is received in the Church. While they are less common, and there are certain times when men are instructed not to wear beards (and medical exceptions to those instructions), there is nothing forbidding or condemning the wearing of a beard. Further, members are asked frequently to be mindful of visitors and new-comers and welcome them. Really, there’s no excuse for not giving you a better welcome, and I’m sorry you didn’t receive one. Perhaps I can offer some understanding which may help, though it does not excuse.
In my experience, Mormons are like anyone else, and most are reluctant to approach a stranger – even a stranger in church, even when we’ve been asked to welcome strangers. Like anyone, we’re often busy trying to complete last-minute preparations, or visiting with friends we only see once a week. Also, women, especially married women, may not reach out to welcome a man they don’t know, leaving this task instead to the men. Finally, it’s not that unusual for members to visit a ward they don’t normally attend (e.g. while traveling), and just slip in quietly and then leave after the meeting – perhaps some assumed you were such a person. None of this excuses in any way the poor welcome you received in any way, but it might explain it.
I want to expand a little on the “last-minute preparations” mentioned above. As you may know, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have no paid clergy. All the work from playing music to conducting the service to teaching lessons to cleaning the building is done by the members. This means that when people come to church on Sunday, they’re not just there to listen to the speakers and sing the hymns – they’re there to play, conduct, teach, etc. Their human nature may often lead them to put off some things until the last minute, thus making them too busy to quietly observe and interact with the people around them. Again, I am not trying to excuse this behavior (in fact, I personally think Mormons ought to do a far better job of preparing before they arrive at church so this last-minute rush isn’t needed, but my thinking holds no sway in this regard). Still, I hope that knowing this helps a little.
I hope you didn’t give up on the ward (or the Church at least) because of a rough start like this. I hope the above explanation helps you to have patience with the very human members of the ward you visited. And please know that it’s not that people rejected you or your beard, its far more likely they were just too distracted by their own worries. Please go again, and take the initiative, if you can, even though that may seem backward – introduce yourself to one of the men, ask him if there’s someone who can spend some time with you after the meeting, and perhaps introduce you to a few more. It may take a little longer or a little more work than it should, but I think you’ll find your ward welcoming once they slow down long enough to realize you’d like to join them.