Finding freedom: 3 Alberta women on leaving the Mormon church
By Sarah Lawrynuik
Standing in the lingerie department, staring at the array of colours and patterns, the guilt set in for Emily Rennie as she picked out her own underwear for the first time.
"It is really nice to just start feeling comfortable and attractive in what I chose to wear not what I was told to wear or not what I was told was modest," Rennie said.
Venturing outside the prescribed conservative Mormon undergarments was just one step in a decade-long journey for Rennie, 28, who chose to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I didn't question it back then. But being eight years old you're not really able to question it when you're being raised in that — I consider it a cult looking back," she added.
Three women, three very different stories
Rennie was raised in the Mormon Church and grew up in a rural southern Alberta town of less than 1,000 people. It her town, it would be easier to count how many people weren't Mormon, versus who was. Her journey involved conflict with the church's strict rules, and ultimately a breaking point moment from which she couldn't return.
Jane and Michelle – their pseudonyms, as they are remaining anonymous for this story – are both in their 40s, they're friends and they met in the Mormon Church. Their issues with the church run deeper with some of the religion's doctrinal tenants.
The latter two women are both from Lethbridge, Alta. which has been called the "Mormon Mecca" of Canada on the Latter-day Saints website.
All three women have different stories to tell about journeys that ended them at the same place. They talk about the inevitable fallout in their communities as well as what their family life and relationships look like after making the life-altering decision to leave.
"There are people there questioning. These people risk losing their friends and their family and all of the connections that they have in the community, by stepping away from the church. I mean that's a huge price to pay, a huge price to pay," Jane said.
The view from inside
Sherry Smith is the president of the East Lethbridge women's group for the church, the Relief Society.
She described life as a woman in the church as busy but was happy to be busy for the faith to which she's fully committed.
"I do not feel like we're treated as second class citizens or lesser than the men," she said.
In speaking with Smith, as well as a member of the church's executive — it's clear that the church is unapologetic and unwavering in many of their beliefs, for example, their stance that same-sex relationships are sinful and unaccepted in the church. However, they also both focused on the teachings that encourage love and acceptance of one another.
Late to the party
The woman we're calling Michelle joined the church later in life, when she was 19. While she says she doesn't regret the two decades she spent in the church, she is also confident it's no longer the right place for her.
So why join in the first place?
"The first thing that struck me when I started attending church was the sense of community. It really is an instant community, instant friendships, everything is so friendly and there's constant activity and there's constant opportunities to be involved in different things and serve," Michelle said.
"But I think you know at the at the time I joined I had just moved to Lethbridge and I was on my own and pretty lonely. And so that sense of community was tremendously appealing to me and felt good."
But little by little in recent years, Michelle stopped feeling good about being there.
"So you know Sunday morning would come and I would just think I can't face it today, you know? And so I would have a headache and not go and then I would have a really beautiful day and it became easier and easier to do that.
"I was able to recognize the difference when I wasn't going that I didn't have to come home from that and feel judged and feel lacking or just feel a bit empty even."