WHAT TO EXPECT
Note: you might want to talk to others about what you're doing and WHY. Please consider a visit to exmormon.org. There is one bulletin board that is especially good.
TIME. The church could choose to handle resignations quickly and with little hassle. There was a time when they did that, sometimes completing the process in about a week. For the past decade, though, they have made resigning (they call it 'name removal') a lengthy and time-consuming process, one that takes two to three months or even longer, and one that causes local leaders a lot of extra work. Keep this in mind: they are wasting their own time and efforts.
BEFORE you mail a resignation letter, be sure to read all of this section and also read the INSTRUCTIONS.
SO. Here's what usually happens.
You mail your letter. You get proof that they received it. You become a non-member the minute they receive your letter, but then THEY start THEIR lengthy process of handling your resignation.
YOU WILL HEAR FROM THEM: If you used the sample letter on this site, you've stated clearly that you expect them to only contact you once; to confirm that you are no longer listed as a member of their church. They will almost certainly ignore what you wrote and they will probably contact you at least three more times.
WARNING: If you live with people who are members of the church, they will almost certainly be told about your resignation. That is true whether the person you live with is a spouse, a parent, a sibling or even if they are just a roommate. If a relative lives in the same ward, branch or stake that you do, they will probably be told about your resignation.
FIRST: If you mailed your letter to Member Records in Salt Lake, and if you mailed it Priority Mail with delivery confirmation, they will probably send you a form letter telling you that 'this is a local ecclesiastical matter that needs to be handled by local priesthood leaders'. They will tell you they have forwarded your resignation letter to the local Stake President or Bishop or Branch President. With their letter to you, Member Records will probably include a one-page pamphlet called 'An Invitation' - which is a form letter from the 'First Presidency'. Sometimes that 'Invitation' is upsetting to people, sometimes people just laugh it off as ridiculous. The letter is an attempt to get you to change your mind about leaving the church. SAVE the letter from Member Records. It is evidence that they received your resignation. You can keep the 'Invitation' or you can throw it away.
NOTE: If you mailed your letter via certified mail or if you used some other service, they might return your letter to you. They may also return your letter to you if you've used a PO Box for your address. If this happens, see the section of this site called Returned Letters.
SECOND: The local bishop or branch president will probably contact you within a few weeks. In most cases nowadays this is just a letter that tells you he has received your letter of resignation, that he has filled out the proper forms and that he is sending it all to the Stake President. In the letter he will probably tell you that you now have 30 days to change your mind.
POSSIBLE, BUT NOT TOO LIKELY: The bishop or branch president might call you or drop by your house unannounced, even if your letter states clearly that you don't want any visits or phone calls. They might say they have to 'meet' with you or 'interview' you. They might have someone else drop by, maybe the 'visiting teachers' or the 'home teachers'. This doesn't happen often nowadays, but sometimes it does happen. You should prepare yourself for any such visits or calls and be prepared to respond to them the way YOU want. You don't have to invite them in, you definitely don't have to go to any 'interviews' or 'meetings' and you don't even have to be polite. The bishop or branch president has a copy of your letter, he has supposedly read it, so he knows you've asked for no contact. Feel free to ask him what part of 'no contact' he doesn't understand.
NEXT: The Stake President will probably sit on your letter for 30 days, then he will send all of the paperwork in to Member Records. Two to three weeks later you will get a letter of confirmation (it's another form letter; two short sentences) from Member Records. Member Records is apparently quite busy with all the resignations they are receiving, so try to be patient and just go on with your life. If too much time seems to have passed, at any point in this process, give them a call or send them a fax. Call or fax them as often as you like. The phone number for Member Records is 1 (800) 453-3860 ext 22053.
IF SOMEONE THREATENS YOU WITH EXCOMMUNICATION
UPDATE, March 2005: In 2004 some local leaders made attempts to 'excommunicate' people who'd formally resigned . . . and the folks at member records failed to do anything about it despite faxes and phone calls to them. You may need to involve an attorney, and that can resolve the problem quickly, even in a single day. In August 2004 a woman in Ogden, Utah, got a letter 'inviting' her to a 'court' the next day. The next morning she called her attorney, who sent a fax to member records and called the local bishop. Within hours the bishop notified the woman that they had canceled the court and would be sending the paperwork to member records.
There was, however, one case in early 2004 when the guys in member records were unable to convince the bishop and stake president to cancel the church court and they went ahead and 'excommunicated' a guy who had resigned. That guy didn't involve a lawyer either before or after the church court.
If they hold a court and 'excommunicate' you AFTER they receive a resignation from you, you can sue them, but that can be expensive. If you're capable of acting as your own attorney and filing the suit yourself, it won't be expensive at all. You may try reaching out to the ex-Mormon community for legal advice in this matter; many have come before you and are more than willing to help you in your efforts.
IF YOU MAIL OR HAND YOUR RESIGNATION TO A BISHOP: The church claims, in it's "Handbook of Instructions", that you must give your letter to a bishop. We recommend you mail it to Member Records, but it's really YOUR choice who you give it to or who you mail it to. The local bishop might be a good guy and maybe he'll treat you with respect and handle the resignation promptly and without hassles. Remember, you don't have to meet with him or accept phone calls from him. It's YOUR choice. If the bishop starts making demands or says he's going to hold a church court, you can fax a copy of your letter to Member Records at (801) 240-1565. Then you can call them and discuss the problem.
HOW WILL IT FEEL? When this is all over you will probably be glad you resigned. You might feel elated to no longer be a Mormon. Many people feel like celebrating. Rarely do people feel sad or depressed about it. By the time they get around to resigning from the church, most people have already dealt with their feelings of loss and betrayal.
As mentioned above, there is a great website for ex-Mormons and Mormons who are questioning the church. There are hundreds of stories about why people left the church. You can even post your story there, if you like. There is a bulletin board that gets over 100,000 hits a day and it's a great place to discuss the church and why you left. If you like, you can also share with other people the fact that you are resigning from the church.
SO, that's about it. Good luck with the process. Hopefully you'll be one of the lucky ones and they'll handle your resignation in just a couple of weeks.