Do the Meetings Really Even Matter? (Thoughts on the Sacrament)

May 17, 2004 | 61 comments
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I sense a common theme, or at least a common presumption, to recent posts by Julie and Kristine (which is not to reduce either of their posts to the point I’m making; there’s a lot more to both of them than this). Specifically, both seem to be concerned with, exasperated by, or otherwise focused on the “public” operations of the church: leadership, callings, classes, etc. You know, all the stuff which happens on Sunday: this lesson on Lamentations needs to get taught even though that baby over there is screaming his head off and no one can hear a word being said; meanwhile the bishop has been led (presumably by revelation, but who knows?) to call a young man struggling with his testimony teach the Gospel Principles class to inactives and new converts, while a brand new convert with serious mental and physical handicaps has been appointed Scoutmaster. For all these reasons and more (infants on the loose, inexplicable policies invoked without cause, etc.), what happens in our ward buildings on Sundays seems to be (not always, or even most of the time, but often enough) random and unreasonable and downright infuriating, or at least that is the implication I draw from these posts.

I agree with that implication; well-run wards with clear lines of communication, articulate leaders, quiet children, responsible parents, with spirituality and respect and charity and good humor all around, are in my experience less than typical of Mormonism. But I also wonder if any of that matters.

It’s been noted before, in a couple of different contexts, that I’ve got a strong streak of some kind of traditional Prostestantism in me. That may be so. But I’m an ecumenical soul, with a decent chunk of Catholicism floating around in there somewhere, and I don’t feel it any more strongly than I do in relation to the sacrament. Like the host in the Mass, I see the sacrament as serving as more than just a “symbol” of Christ’s sacrifice and atonement: I think it embodies a living promise made by God, that it serves a real affective purpose and has real affective power, that it can and does move us closer to our covenants, that preparing and distributing it is profound act of worship in itself. In other words, I think the sacrament is the whole point of going to church. Which means, as long as the sacrament is prepared and shared, that the meaning of church-going has been fulfilled, and if everything else is chaos and banality and strangeness and incoherence, nothing really important has been lost. (This is one of the reasons I have a hard time taking stake or regional, or even general, conferences seriously: the sacrament ordinance doesn’t take place, which means they’re just…meetings. And I can always get notes on a meeting from someone else, or read the minutes when they come out in the Ensign.)

It’s not that meetings and callings are meaningless–there is fellowship and service and the missions of the church, all of which are important. It’s great if what happens on Sunday is something everyone can feel a part of, and supportive of, and not excluded from. But even if that’s not the case–even if you’ve no where to go with your infant and the ward clerk (that pinhead) won’t unlike the closet in the primary room because of some obscure bureaucratic policy–I can’t help but think that, assuming the bread and the water show up, then all is as it should be, or at least as it needs to be.

Stanley Hauerwas, reflecting on his years in the theology department at the University of Notre Dame, put it this way:

“I noticed that Catholics worshiped quite differently than Protestants: Catholics are noisy and not particularly ‘worshipful.’ Though I was at first bothered by this, I began to realize that Catholics do not have to be ‘holy’ at worship, because they think God is going to show up anyway. If the priest gets it right there is not a thing they can do to prevent God from being present in Eucharist. In contrast, most Protestants believe in the ‘real absence’ rather than any presence. Accordingly, we have to be especially ‘holy’ because otherwise we are afraid ‘God’ will go away.” (In Good Company: The Church as Polis [Notre Dame, 1995], p. 88)

I’m a hypocrite, of course; Melissa and I have long since developed a wide range of strategies to try to teach our children reverence during the Sunday meetings, and we feel embarrased when we fail, and we’re judgmental of others fail also. We’re in the same boat as everyone else. But I really think Melissa and I have been helped by coming to recognize that Sunday services are supposed to be opportunities for worship, with getting work done only a side benefit, at most. I couldn’t disagree more with the perspective of D. Fletcher, who asked, “Why do we need to bring children to Sacrament Meeting at all? How many other adult lectures do we bring our littlest to?” I mean, there’s a point to that question; I certainly wouldn’t bother to bring my children to listen to my classroom lectures, no matter how good I thought they were. But should we really assess our sacrament meetings in terms of the talks given? I want my littlest to learn about making covenants and receiving Christ into their lives; everything else (the talks and lessons, and whether or not you can hear them, and the callings and the policies, and whether or not they were inspired) is just institutional, isn’t it?

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61 Responses to Do the Meetings Really Even Matter? (Thoughts on the Sacrament)

  1. Nate Oman on May 17, 2004 at 1:10 pm

    Russell: I largely agree with that points that you make here, but I don’t understand your dissing of stake and general conference. It seems to me that the ritual of presenting ward, stake, and general officers for a vote is precisely the kind of corporate, participatory, quasi-sacramental act that ought to appeal to the Catholic side of your soul…

  2. Ben S. on May 17, 2004 at 1:12 pm

    “It takes an awfully good meeting to be better than no meeting at all.” Attributed to Elder Packer by my Dad, who’s in a Stake Pres. in MN, I have no other source. Regardless of who said it (or didn’t) I think it’s accurate.

  3. Russell Arben Fox on May 17, 2004 at 1:17 pm

    Hmm, you’ve got a point Nate. There are certain ritualistic, communal, worshipful aspects to larger meetings (stake conferences, etc.), that’s certainly true. I guess I’ve just never invested sustaining leaders with any real theological importance, unlike the sacrament. Maybe I should reconsider that.

  4. Julie in Austin on May 17, 2004 at 1:17 pm

    Russell–

    If all of the above is true, we should go home after the first 20 minutes instead of dragging it out for three hours. If we take the attitude that all that matters is the sacrament, then I would be even less motivated than I already am to try to get something out of the other meetings.

    I do appreciate your point, tho, that the sacrament is the most important thing we do on Sunday.

    I wouldn’t have phrased my issue with children the same way you did–I see it (even tho I called it a rant) as less of a complaint and more of a call for solutions and ideas.

  5. Gary Cooper on May 17, 2004 at 1:38 pm

    Russell,

    Amen, Brother! This is the attitude I have taken for years. I go to church on Sunday for the sacrament, because “in the ordinances of the Priesthood, the power of godliness is made manifest”, as the D&C puts it. As far as everything else goes, well, “the power of godliness is put to the test”. I don’t *expect* to have any other spirituality in the meetings on Sunday other than what the sacrament gives me, and so when I do encounter the Spirit in a Sunday School class, or priesthood, or a sacrament talk, I am pleasantly surprised. If I don’t, I’m not disappointed. Since I do teach Gospel Doctrine, I do pray for the Spirit to be with me and with my class members, but even then I would be quite content to know that the class members come away with some new insights or information, even without an epiphany of the Holy Ghost. For me, since obtaining and exercising charity is my biggest Gospel hurdle, I view everything else in our Sunday meetings besides the sacrament as an opportunity to apply my covenants and be forgiving, loving, understanding, and watchful for opportunities to serve. This attitude has helpd me—I can honestly say that in the last 10 years or so, maybe longer, I have never come home from church thinking “I wish I hadn’t”. (And this is with two small children, age 6 and 3.) I’m not saying the concerns on the other posts aren’t legitimate—they are quite legitimate. I’m just saying that the attitude I describe here is how I have successfully dealt with these problems. Who said it best? “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a mausoleum for the perfected.” The fact that the church may seem like a *mental* hospital doesn’t change my perspective.

  6. Kingsley on May 17, 2004 at 2:17 pm

    While none of my Scoutmasters growing up were recent converts, all, I think it is safe and charitable to say, suffered from serious mental and physical handicaps.

  7. clark on May 17, 2004 at 2:33 pm

    I have to admit that having gone to family wards the last year and a half has been a shock. Perhaps it was that extended “singleness” but I truly still have a hard time getting used to the noise. (I think the talks tend to be better in singles wards as well – perhaps because most are filled with college students and so forth – or perhaps because I still feel more in common with them than established families whose experiences I have more time relating to)

    On the other hand, the biggest deal at church is taking the sacrament. Lessons may suck as may talks. But if you get that core, then the rest follows. (I also am strongly convinced that fellowshipping is extermely important and is more of a reason why people go inactive than “sin” – but that is also something most wards tend to be weak on)

  8. Ben S. on May 17, 2004 at 2:33 pm

    “While none of my Scoutmasters growing up were recent converts, all, I think it is safe and charitable to say, suffered from serious mental and physical handicaps.” When we were through with’em :)

  9. Grasshopper on May 17, 2004 at 2:52 pm

    If, as Gary says, the Church is a hospital, then it seems that the patients are also the nurses. Without proper care, hospitals can be very infectious places. Perhaps some of what Julie and Kristine are talking about is akin to making sure we wash our hands when moving from patient to patient.

  10. Kingsley on May 17, 2004 at 2:56 pm

    Ben S.: Point taken, but you wouldn’t believe the run of stereotypical drill sargent/coach of the wrestling team-type Scoutmasters that I, as a tender youth, was subjected to: “Oh quit crying, girly girl, catching on fire never hurt anyone,” etc.

  11. Steve Evans on May 17, 2004 at 3:12 pm

    I think it’s short-sighted to claim that the taking of the Sacrament is the whole (or even major) reason to attend Sunday meetings. Ultimately, our relationships to each other and our capacity to teach and be taught is as central IMHO to becoming like Christ as taking the bread and water.

    Clearly, the ordinance is vital. Christ instituted it, we carry it out by commandment. I’m not questioning its importance. What I don’t like is to downplay the relative importance of communing with the Saints as a group.

  12. Anna on May 17, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    When my children were young Sacrament Meeting seemed rather pointless to me, too—I spent most of the time walking the halls with them. But now that they are teenagers I can see that getting them into the habit of going to church every single Sunday was what was important, not so much what they or I learned from the talks or the lessons.

    I don’t know that it’s impossible to build a testimony without regular church attendance, but I think it would be hard.

  13. Ben Huff on May 17, 2004 at 3:27 pm

    Do you mean “affective”, or “effective”? “Affective” suggests it’s all about our feelings. But your reference to the Catholic host suggests you don’t mean that . . .
    (ducks to avoid flying tomato!)

  14. clark on May 17, 2004 at 3:44 pm

    The problem is, Steve, outside of some priesthood lessons, we *don’t* commune as a group. In Sacrament meetings we sit passively. We then go to Sunday School where typically there is little interaction. We then go to Priesthood and Relief Society which while better, isn’t exactly fellowshipping.

    Real fellowshipping takes place in individual interaction with each other. That ideally happens with visiting teachers and home teachers – although lets be honest. Of the people who actually do it, few do it well. Likewise activities, which is a great way to fellowship, are not focused on in most family wards I’ve been in. Service projects seem relegated to teenagers as well.

    I think the big problem is that we look to our Sunday meetings as our fellowshipping and communing, while they typically are anything but. Saying hello in the hallways simply doesn’t amount to much.

  15. D. Fletcher on May 17, 2004 at 4:02 pm

    A digression following Clark’s line of thinking:

    Since I’ve always been a practicalist at heart, I have a suggestion for Home Teaching (at least pertaining to how it’s done or isn’t done in New York City).

    Married couples are HT partners. Assign each couple one other couple each month, and they are assigned YOU. The two couples determine the time and place, and will bring their families if necessary.

    So, one will meet 12 other families each year.

    It takes away the supposed intimacy and personal attention normally given to the HTs, but this doesn’t really happen anyway. It binds the community together with real communal events.

  16. clark on May 17, 2004 at 4:07 pm

    I actually like that idea *except* that the big problem for most couples is what to do with the kids. I think that in practice this would make home teaching even more ineffective than it is now.

    But I agree that most wards ought to focus in on fellowshipping and getting people able to know each other. Some wards do this and those that are fellowshipping are also very united and typically very spiritual. I think we often tie to sin what amounts to the lost sheep getting lost because no one held their hand. Sin is the consequence as often as not and not the cause.

  17. Julie in Austin on May 17, 2004 at 4:10 pm

    D. –

    What about the unmarried people?

  18. D. Fletcher on May 17, 2004 at 4:24 pm

    For singles in married wards, two single women or two men would be assigned to each other as “companions” and then fit right into the system, meeting other families, etc.

    As to the couples with children, bring them. Home Teachers are supposed to meet with the entire family.

    In the case of New York City, the meeting would take place in one or the other’s apartment. A little party for two families to get to know each other.

  19. Russell Arben Fox on May 17, 2004 at 4:42 pm

    Julie–

    “If all of the above is true, we should go home after the first 20 minutes instead of dragging it out for three hours.”

    All the more reason to pray for the day the church leadership comes to its senses, and the block meeting schedule ends. Seriously, I may have engaged in hyperbole in my post–I don’t mean to say that there is literally no reason to stay after the sacrament. I’d like our wards to be places of, as Clark put it, “fellowshipping and communing,” and that won’t happen if everyone leaves. But in the meantime, I simply have fairly low expectations for church relative to the ordinance of the sacrament.

    Ben–

    “Do you mean ‘affective’ or ‘effective’? ‘Affective’ suggests it’s all about our feelings.”

    I mean “affective”–it affects us. The affective element of human existence is not limited, I think, to mere “feelings”; affectivity involves the whole person, in the sense of being moved in a direction or turned toward an end. My passion for my wife is not a matter of how I feel about her; it’s a matter of my whole orientation towards her. Ditto for my kids. Ditto, I presume, for God’s love for us: He’s not just “fond” of us, He loves us, and His love obligates His whole being.

    Clark–

    “I agree that most wards ought to focus in on fellowshipping and getting people able to know each other.”

    I concur; there is a lot the ward can do–through activities, service projects, social arrangements and so forth–that can encourage/force people to actually get to know one another, in settings less conducive to dodging out than home teaching is. Wards which really coordinate priesthood, Relief Society, and missionary activities so that people are interacting are much more pleasant places than those in which the natural reluctance most people have to stay within their own little group predominate. I’ve seen initiatives similar to the one Fletcher suggests attempted, and they can work (though they can also be very exclusive as well, which is a danger).

  20. chris goble on May 17, 2004 at 6:01 pm

    I think I tend to take a “holy place” type view of church. It is a place where for some reason or another, it is easy to feel the spirit. Of course for single people like me some social aspects certainly do compete with the spiritual side of things. Well, at least this seems like the case when I reflect on whether 3h of church has a net positive effect or not. In this way I see church as a mini temple experience. As much as we like to say there are other reasons to go, perhaps one of the big motivators is the degree to which just being there affect us and allows us to feel the spirit.

    Along these lines, perhaps the spirit is present at church not because of an arbitrary level of performance or competency, but rather because of the spirit of worhsip that people bring to the place.

  21. lyle on May 17, 2004 at 6:39 pm

    I like D’s suggestion, except that it still has the same “forced” problem, re-created each month instead of just with the initial HT assignment as currently done. Having just read OSC’s “lovelock” which discusses a colony spaceship and “real” community events…I’m leary of a forced system.

    However, I think as an ‘informal’ best-practices type suggestion…great idea! I’ll implement it for myself by inviting at least 1 new fam over for dinner very month. :)

  22. Dan M. on May 17, 2004 at 8:23 pm

    Something some people tend to overlook is the fact that the Lord commands us to do lots of stuff for the sole purpose of testing our faith. Perhaps the suffering we’re subjected to is just to determine if we have enough of a testimony to take it.

    The Catholic church drew a lot of people in by replacing the plain and simple sacrament with lavish ceremony and sanctimony. Pagan worshipers were used to that kind of ceremnoy, so the early church incorporated much of it to draw their attention. The same is done today in Pentocostal churches in underdeveloped countries throughout the world. The sacrament was never meant to entertain, it was meant to afford us a moment to focus our hearts on the Lord. For some of us, one of our life trials may be to suffer through mind-numbing sacrament meetings. For others it may be to sustain a leader that is obviously misguided. All these things are trials, and the Lord wants us to hold to our values. When Saul said he was going to kill any man that broke the fast he irrationally imposed upon his troops he had no idea his own son would be the one to break it. How did Jonathan react to this obvious misuse of authority? “Lo, I must die.” That’s what sustaining leadership is. No one ever said that every Bishop and Stake President on earth would operate under complete and total guidance from the spirit, but we were never given the option of deciding when guidance is inspired, and when it isn’t.

    On my mission I was called to be Branch President over a branch of seven members in Uruguay. If you want to attend a meeting that’ll make your hair fall out go to Fraile Muerto and go to that meetinghouse. Despite the struggle, I treasure those three months more than any other three months of my life; and it was because we struggled and fought to make it better. Above all, I found I enjoyed every meeting that I spiritually prepared for. The Spirit will teach you everything you want to know if you let Him.

    Questioning the value of these meetings reflects (in my humble opinion) anything from an attitude of discontent with the leadership of the church to a lack of faith.

    “Seek not to counsel the Lord.”

  23. Dan M. on May 17, 2004 at 8:26 pm

    Something some people tend to overlook is the fact that the Lord commands us to do lots of stuff for the sole purpose of testing our faith. Perhaps the suffering we’re subjected to is just to determine if we have enough of a testimony to take it.

    The Catholic church drew a lot of people in by replacing the plain and simple sacrament with lavish ceremony and sanctimony. Pagan worshipers were used to that kind of ceremnoy, so the early church incorporated much of it to draw their attention. The same is done today in Pentocostal churches in underdeveloped countries throughout the world. The sacrament was never meant to entertain, it was meant to afford us a moment to focus our hearts on the Lord. For some of us, one of our life trials may be to suffer through mind-numbing sacrament meetings. For others it may be to sustain a leader that is obviously misguided. All these things are trials, and the Lord wants us to hold to our values. When Saul said he was going to kill any man that broke the fast he irrationally imposed upon his troops he had no idea his own son would be the one to break it. How did Jonathan react to this obvious misuse of authority? “Lo, I must die.” That’s what sustaining leadership is. No one ever said that every Bishop and Stake President on earth would operate under complete and total guidance from the spirit, but we were never given the option of deciding when guidance is inspired, and when it isn’t.

    On my mission I was called to be Branch President over a branch of seven members in Uruguay. If you want to attend a meeting that’ll make your hair fall out go to Fraile Muerto and go to that meetinghouse. Despite the struggle, I treasure those three months more than any other three months of my life; and it was because we struggled and fought to make it better. Above all, I found I enjoyed every meeting that I spiritually prepared for. The Spirit will teach you everything you want to know if you let Him.

    Questioning the value of these meetings reflects (in my humble opinion) anything from an attitude of discontent with the leadership of the church to a lack of faith.

    “Seek not to counsel the Lord.”

  24. Dan M. on May 17, 2004 at 8:28 pm

    Dangit, it posted twice. Sorry.

  25. Kristine on May 17, 2004 at 9:01 pm

    “Questioning the value of these meetings reflects (in my humble opinion) anything from an attitude of discontent with the leadership of the church to a lack of faith.

    ‘Seek not to counsel the Lord.’”

    Well, Dan, thank goodness you’re here to call everyone to repentance.

  26. Sheri Lynn on May 17, 2004 at 11:16 pm

    Um, I thought it was a useful scriptural reference. I do fear steadying the ark/counseling the Lord. I appreciate what Dan said even as I appreciate the terrible burdens Mormon culture places on people. We’re not asked in temple recc. interviews if we like green jello salads, but sometimes it seems perilously close! The three hour block numbs my body and spirit, causes frustration with my children, and makes being active far more difficult, especially for converts, like me.

    Atheism had fewer rewards to offer, of course!

  27. Dan M. on May 18, 2004 at 12:52 am

    I don’t mean to offend anyone. I’m offering my opinion, and I could be wrong just as well as any of you. I apologize if anyone takes issue with my comments. Please don’t think I’m pulling out a soapbox here.

    I’m a convert as well. I joined the church at twenty. I’m twenty three now, and I just moved up here to BYU. One thing that is abundantly evident here is that not everyone takes the Gospel as seriously as I imagined. It’s disillusioning to say the least, but that’s just part of the challenge.

  28. obi-wan on May 18, 2004 at 1:11 am

    While it’s quite true, and perhaps disillusioning, that not everyone will take the gospel as seriously as you imagine, don’t mistake that for everyone not taking seriously the gospel that you imagined. Those are two very different issues.

  29. Dan M. on May 18, 2004 at 1:16 am

    That’s a valid point, but I think you’ll find my understanding of the Gospel to be comprehensive enough to tell the difference.

  30. Nate W. on May 18, 2004 at 1:44 am

    Just to clarify –

    “It better be a damn good meeting to be better than no meeting at all!”

    — J. Golden Kimball

    (Kimball, James. More J. Golden Kimball Stories, p. 99)

  31. Nate W. on May 18, 2004 at 1:45 am

    Just to clarify –

    “It better be a damn good meeting to be better than no meeting at all!”

    — J. Golden Kimball

    (Kimball, James. More J. Golden Kimball Stories, p. 99)

  32. Dan M. on May 18, 2004 at 1:57 am

    J. Golden Kimball was giving a tour of Salt Lake to some guys from New York. He was pointing out some of the buildings the church was particularly proud of. He would point to a building and the men would say, “Wow, that sure is a fine looking building. How long did it take y’all to build it?” Kimball would answer something like, “About eight months.” They would come back, “We’ve got one kinda like that in New York. Only took us six months, though.” He would move on to another building. They would ask how long it took to build it, and they would answer that it took them less time to build a comparable building in New York. After four or five instances he got kinda irritated and led them to the Temple. They whistled and asked, “Now how long did this little pearl take y’all?” “Don’t know, the damn thing wasn’t here yesterday,” Kimball answered dryly.

  33. Ben Huff on May 18, 2004 at 2:04 am

    I actually completely disagree with you, Russell; I think the rest of the meetings are an important part of how we honor the meaning of the sacrament. They don’t have a lot to do with the words of the sacrament prayers, but they have a lot to do with taking in the Word.

    I don’t know how I would have learned what my parents believed, or confronted it directly enough to receive a real testimony of it myself, without weekly church meetings. We had pretty good FHE a lot of the time I was growing up, but I don’t think it could have substituted. And I’ve been in enough Sunday meetings that were really great, and as far as I can tell accomplished pretty much just what they’re supposed to, that I’m not ready to give up on them even though I go to a lot of meetings that are not so great.

    How do Sunday meetings compare with most school classrooms, for effectiveness? How about business meetings, or professional conferences? Let’s be realistic about what we’re expecting. When I teach Sunday School, I think a lot of times people are getting a lot more out of it than the students in the courses I’ve TAed. When I’m not teaching, I usually think about what *I’m* getting out of it (which is comparably frustrating to other classroom experiences I’ve had), and I really don’t know how it is for the other people there. I think a lot of them are pretty satisfied.

    I do think there’s a lot of room for improvement, but I think we need to work on figuring out how to make these meetings do what they’re supposed to.

    I think they probably worked a lot better when people stayed in communities longer. I don’t think it’s wild speculation for me to suppose that nearly everyone who comments on this site is part of that wacky American jet-set culture where people move to a different state every four years or so. Some of you may be fixin’ to settle down a bit more, soon, but how many of you have been in your current ward for more than two years? That kind of mobility really eats away at the effectiveness of fellowshipping (especially home teaching), and at the effectiveness of the classroom environment at Sunday meetings.

    Now, in the wards I’ve been in overseas (expat wards in Riyadh, Moscow, Tokyo, and Mexico City), it’s different, because *everyone* is only there for a little while, and they are far from home, and they bond! Sunday meetings are something everyone looks forward to, for fellowship and rejoicing together in the blessings of the gospel. Another dynamite ward was the foreign language housing ward at BYU. I’ve seen some fabulous wards; I think the questions to ask are, “What keeps other wards from being that good,” and, “How can we move them in that direction?”

  34. Clark Goble on May 18, 2004 at 9:18 am

    Ben makes a good point about transient wards. They always are harder to fellowship within and unfortunately many just stop. Our own ward is fairly transient as we have a collection of married student housing in it. Further a lot of the homes in the area are starter homes. People live here for 5 – 6 years and then move up to a bigger one if they become successful.

    The problem is that it is always easier when there are some stable members who friendship others and make them feel comfortable. The fact is most people are shy and shrink away from being as outgoing and inclusive as they ought.

    As to meeting length, hey, I’m as tired of long meetings as the next guy. You think Sunday School is bad – try two hours in nursery where there never seem to be enough people! (grin) Seriously though I think one problem with Sunday School is that unlike student wards, married wards typically have only one gospel doctrine class. Since there are so many different levels and interests, that tends to mean some people love it while others are bored stiff. I think though that we could probably trim about 20 minutes off Sacrament without loss. Do we really need three talks? An hour and ten minutes (often an hour twenty with overruns) is a very long time for kids to sit still. If all meetings were 45 minutes long then I think the kids would do a lot better.

  35. Ben on May 18, 2004 at 10:20 am

    Ben H. said “Another dynamite ward was the foreign language housing ward at BYU.” Amen! I particularly enjoyed it because the Bishopric was Brent Hall (FARMS business manager at the time), Stephen Ricks, and Daniel Peterson, and the Stake Presidency had Robert Millet and Brent Top in it.

    The foreign language housing is the best-kept housing secret at BYU.

  36. Ben on May 18, 2004 at 10:22 am

    Ben H. said “Another dynamite ward was the foreign language housing ward at BYU.” Amen! I particularlyr enjoyed it because the Bishopric was Brent Hall (FARMS business manager at the time), Stephen Ricks, and Daniel Peterson, and the Stake Presidency had Robert Millet and Brent Top.

    The foreign language housing is the best-kept housing secret at BYU.

  37. Adam Greenwood on May 18, 2004 at 10:25 am

    I could be completely wrong about this, but coming from a family of nine I hardly even notice the noise in sacrament meeting. In fact I contribute to it myself, probably. I always see Church like a kind of family reunion that God’s invited to, and everyone’s loud and happy and ready to put an arm around. I always get a frisson when I walk in the doors.

  38. Russell Arben Fox on May 18, 2004 at 10:35 am

    Ben–

    “I actually completely disagree with you, Russell; I think the rest of the meetings are an important part of how we honor the meaning of the sacrament.”

    True. Of course, the rest of the Sabbath day is an important part of how we honor the meaning of the sacrament as well. As is the rest of the whole week. How we treat our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our co-workers; how we watch (or don’t watch) our thoughts, words and deeds; how we serve and seek and express the fruits of the gospel: all of that is an important part of how we honor the meaning of the sacrament. But we can’t honor the meaning of the sacrament at all if we don’t take it. It’s a ritual, not just a reminder, and that means actually receiving it, in my opinion, transcends everything else I do (or isn’t done) at church on any given Sunday.

    “We had pretty good FHE a lot of the time I was growing up, but I don’t think it could have substituted. And I’ve been in enough Sunday meetings that were really great, and as far as I can tell accomplished pretty much just what they’re supposed to, that I’m not ready to give up on them even though I go to a lot of meetings that are not so great.”

    Again, I think the hyperbole I employed is getting in the way of my meaning. I really don’t think I implied that we should “give up on” all the other meetings (and, by extension, all the missions they are supposed to–and sometimes actually do–promote in the lives of individual members and the church as a whole). I absolutely agree that Primary, for example, plays a huge role in inculcating the gospel message into children (though why Primary has to take the form it does, or–as is too often the case–has to take a backseat organizationally speaking to all sorts of other supposed “priorities” which wards like to tell themselves they have is beyond me). Ditto for seminary (which, I’d note, is I think well served by the fact that it is to a significant degree a separate program, and isn’t just lumped in on Sunday as just another meeting; I think the way we teach Sunday School would likely benefit from a similar approach). But anyway, my point was simply to emphasize that, as I see things, total cacophony in Sunday School, or a strong suspicion of a complete lack of inspiration (or even common sense) in the calling of the new Relief Society visiting teaching coordinator, while regrettable and hopefully not inevitable, are pretty small potatoes insofar as the focus of our Sunday worship is concerned.

    “I don’t think it’s wild speculation for me to suppose that nearly everyone who comments on this site is part of that wacky American jet-set culture where people move to a different state every four years or so.”

    For what it’s worth, I’m actually quite opposed to most forms of cosmopolitanism, for both philosophical and socio-economic reasons. The fewer jet-setters there are, the better.

  39. Adam Greenwood on May 18, 2004 at 10:45 am

    For what’s it worth, the thing I could be completely wrong about is the implicit speculation that people from large, bustly families mind noisy meetings less.

  40. Russell Arben Fox on May 18, 2004 at 10:48 am

    Clark–

    “I think though that we could probably trim about 20 minutes off Sacrament without loss. Do we really need three talks? An hour and ten minutes (often an hour twenty with overruns) is a very long time for kids to sit still. If all meetings were 45 minutes long then I think the kids would do a lot better.”

    I agree completely. 15 minutes for ward business, confirmations, baby blessings and hymn singing, 10 minutes for the sacrament, one musical number, one well-prepared talk, and we should be out of there. (And I suspect that we would be more likely to get well-prepared talks and musical numbers if it was understood that such would be the only “content” to the meeting.)

    Adam–

    “[C]oming from a family of nine I hardly even notice the noise in sacrament meeting. In fact I contribute to it myself, probably. I always see Church like a kind of family reunion that God’s invited to, and everyone’s loud and happy and ready to put an arm around.”

    I like that attitude a lot; I think it’s reflected in my admiration for what Hauerwas said about Catholic services in my original post. There were nine of us Fox kids (seven brothers, two sisters), and we were, with few exceptions, complete monsters. (My brother Daniel once tripped a deacon passing the sacrament, spilling bread everywhere.) Am I proud of that legacy, and are Melissa and I content to replicate it? No, not really; as I admitted, we’re hypocrites, we strive to put on a reverent show, we shoot our children Looks. But when push comes to shove, I just don’t care to work too hard, or see the leadership work too hard, to control the conviviality and rambunctiousness which ought to characterize any family or gathering; assuming the teachers remembered to bring the bread, then the real business of the meeting is going to happen regardless.

  41. chris goble on May 18, 2004 at 11:22 am

    In the small park I live in, during the summer we have evening services for people that work. The entire meeting takes about 40minutes. There are no priesthood or sunday school classes. There is only one talk. Things seem much more social because people aren’t desperate to get out of the building. Usually people hang around for about 30 minutes after things are over. Somehow though, I do miss having at least one class (priesthood or sunday school) I really like the one talk rule though.

  42. Dan M. on May 18, 2004 at 12:12 pm

    The purpose of the sacrament meeting is to renew our covenants, and to fulfill two of the three missions of the church. We go to the classes to learn more about the Gospel and to “perfect” ouselves. Through classes and service we draw closer to God. The only other mission we can fulfill during that three hour block is the mission to proclaim the Gospel. If you break it down to its fundamental purpose, we have talks just so investigators can see and hear what the church does for us. If the talks are not condusive to the spirit of missionary work, they’ve failed. Talks should never go into any doctrine that cannot be understood by investigators. They should never address issues that might distance the investigators from the other members. They should never do anything to detract from the experience of the investigator; because that’s why they exist – to help the investigator feel good in the congregation.

  43. Steve Evans on May 18, 2004 at 12:28 pm

    Dan M., you speak in such confident, absolute terms that you’re almost convincing.

    I disagree with two major points you make, namely that we go to classes to learn about the Gospel, and “we have talks just so investigators can see and hear what the church does for us.”

    The first claim is only partially correct because our classes do very little in terms of information-transfer; that is, it’s rare for members to actually learn something new in class. Their purpose must lie elsewhere in order to justify their existence, and I believe that purpose is community-building (though they serve that purpose as poorly as information-transfer, IMHO).

    I have no idea where you get the idea that talks exist only to serve investigators. I agree that talks should help investigators feel good, but they should help EVERYONE feel good. Sermons are a part of our religious tradition; exhortations of their kind are as much directed to members of the flock as to pagans.

  44. Clark Goble on May 18, 2004 at 1:20 pm

    If talks and lessons are only for investigators then many wards here in Utah might as well get rid of them. . . (grin)

    I also disagree that lessons don’t teach. It really depends upon the teachers. After having a bad teacher it is easy to get cynical but after getting one you do learn from it is easy to get excited. I’d also add that describing it in terms of information probably isn’t best. Some of the best lessons had relatively little by way of new information. But we all knew the basics so that wasn’t really the issue. The issue was getting people motivated and bringing back to their remembrance their covenants.

    My favorite lessons actually are the general discussions in priesthood where there isn’t much of a lesson but just topics everyone adds to. However most don’t like those. When I teach priesthood I’m often told *not* to do that.

  45. Dan M. on May 18, 2004 at 5:19 pm

    Lessons are of the most value when the class participates actively in the class. I agree that nothing astounding is ever taught, and it shouldn’t be; the point is to drive home the fundamental principles of the Gospel. They should be ingrained in our minds, and the more we hear them the more they become a part of us. I do think, however, that we can come away with a greater understanding of fundamental principles if the Spirit is teaching us.

    Elder Scott taught us on my mission that the Spirit will send diferent messages to different people in an audience if the talk is conveyed and received with the Spirit. I listened to Elder Wirthlin give a talk one time in the MTC and I didn’t get a thing out of it, but my companion told me it was the greatest talk he ever heard. He talked about it for weeks. I didn’t understand how he could have gotten so much out of it, but the words mean little next to the meaning the Spirit can convey to the heart and mind.

    As far as the sacrament talks go, I feel they serve very little for instruction. They speakers are rarely leaders. The talks are seldom inspired. It’s often just the opinion of the speaker or the repitition of church literature, just like the classes. Either way, it’s just an extension of a sunday school class, only this time the participant has the floor to him or herself. I believe the investigator comes away with much more than the member in this situation.

    It was made clear to me during my mission that the sacrament talks served best to help our investigators. If they couldn’t do that then they were just filler.

    I, too, enjoy the most when the floor is opened to discussion during meetings. I learn more from that atmosphere than a lecture. It also promotes the fraternal relationship we’re supposed to be fostering; but I do believe much can be learned in those classes.

    I don’t mean to offend anyone or sound aggressive. I apologize if anyone takes issue; it was never my intention or hope. I am young and somewhat new to this whole computer thing, so my sarcasm can be somewhat lost through this medium. I don’t mean to be assertive or threatening in any capacity, and I apologize if I’m interpreted that way.

  46. Jack on May 18, 2004 at 5:45 pm

    “For where two or three (or more!) are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” I understand that the Savior was talking to his apostles when he said this but, doesn’t the principle hold true to some degree in any setting where His disciples are gathered as one? (or at least striving to be as one) For me, in general, there just seems to be a greater outpouring of the spirit at church meetings than in most other activities. I think this is due to a collective faith. We benefit from the spiritual synergy of the ward or stake.

  47. Jim F. on May 18, 2004 at 7:00 pm

    As I was preparing Lesson 19 for Sunday School, when I read Mosiah 18:8-9 I thought of this thread. Whatever the problems with bad teaching, poor talks, loud children, meetings that are too long, and so on, it seems to me that it is impossible to fulfill the baptismal covenant that Alma describes if we aren’t in meetings together. I need to desire to come into the fold of God, but I can’t do that unless there is a fold to enter. I want to be called by the name of God’s people, but there has to be a people for me to be called by that name. I have to be willing to bear the burdens of others and mourn with those who mourn. Perhaps that is possible merely on an individual basis, but it seems to me that part of doing it means meeting together. And I have to stand as a witness. Church meetings aren’t the only places in which I can witness, but they are important for doing so.

  48. clarkgoble on May 18, 2004 at 7:19 pm

    I think Jim, the issue is less whether we are to meet together than the kind of meetings wherein we meet together. One could argue both from Mosiah 18 and Moroni 6 that our meetings must involve more “speak[ing] one with an other” and less the passive setting back that characterizes most of our meetings.

    How can I bear the burdens of others while sitting passively in Sunday School or Sacrament and frankly not even knowing who the majority of people in my ward are. Our opportunities for real engagements with each other are, sadly, far too limited in church. We are left to our own devices to ensure we fulfill those commands. Yet in the grind of life and with the shyness many face, it is far too easy to neglect those weighty matters. I think that because of this far too many feel excluded and leave the fold.

  49. Julie in Austin on May 18, 2004 at 7:29 pm

    Clark–

    I think you have really hit on something. In the stereotype of the 50s (in other words, the ideal that no one probably really lived), people had bowling leagues, card clubs, parties for the neighbors, etc. With the exception of student wards that I have been in, it seems that the Saints don’t do a whole lot of non-mandatory (i.e., ward activity) socialiazing. (Or maybe it is just that no one likes us?!?). It seems that the ideal of spending social time together is something we have lost as a larger culture and an LDS culture. Not a good thing.

  50. Kingsley on May 18, 2004 at 8:10 pm

    Arrington & Bitton write that the “presence of growing numbers of non-Mormons in what was originally Mormon country [in the early twentieth century meant that] the religious & social cohesiveness that village life had once reinforced was now provided by the ecclesiastical ward.” This is an aspect of the Church that I tend to take for granted (or forget, now that I’m in a student ward), this village-like aspect of ward life. When I was a child I took cozy comfort in the thought of the Bishopric, the Elder’s Quorum, the Relief Society—each with their unique assortment of personalities, each with their unique assortment of responsibilities—knowing that everything uniquely important to me (my mother, my father, my brothers & sisters, my physical, social, & spiritual needs) was, in a real way, uniquely important to them, & fell under their jurisdiction by divine decree. If my father lost his job, God had appointed a brother to help him find a new one; if my mother took ill, God had appointed a sister to make sure we were fed; if the basement flooded, God had set up a network that knew how to handle flooded basements, no problem; etc. etc. etc. There was nothing quite like the feeling you got as a child when, sick & feverish, the home-teachers gathered around you, looking spic & span & solemn, to give you a priesthood blessing. There was nothing quite like that giant frozen turkey (if your family happened to be poor, like mine occasionally was) on your doorstep on Christmas Eve. I know I’m painting a quite idealized (or insipid, depending on your view) picture here, but I think there’s something to it: some sort of authentic beauty in the village-ward: especially, perhaps, for children. I know that when I read Tom Sawyer as a child, I didn’t feel I was reading about an alien culture: the village, with its assortment of colorful personalities, its wise, presiding judge, its picnics & plays & games, its children (mischievous & saintly, but mostly mischievous) everywhere you looked, was where I lived. Of course, my village had its dark side, too, just like Tom’s: it had its gossip & prejudice & cliques, its rich & poor, its hypocrisies, its shockingly boring church meetings where any distraction was heaven, etc. & yet—& yet.

  51. Ben Huff on May 18, 2004 at 8:25 pm

    My parents’ ward in Spanish Fork is another example of a ward that I think works really well. I haven’t been to a ton of meetings there lately, but my sense is that people know and care about each other, and as a result what is said in meetings reaches people, so that the size of the meeting notwithstanding, people commune. A lot of these people have lived in that town for generations; that makes a huge difference in the kind of ties they have to work with. I remember when the priesthood turned out to put up a greenhouse for a member. The guy on hand who was a construction manager walked up and down, with his trained eye checking the posts we were about to set in concrete to make sure they were straight and level, a bunch of us just held the posts while the concrete was shoveled and tamped in . . . this guy put up his greenhouse as much so that he would have a project to work on with his children as anything. I think it hurts our wards badly that increasingly what we rely on for our livelihoods does not lend itself to getting volunteer help periodically like this.

  52. Adam Greenwood on May 18, 2004 at 8:50 pm

    What do you mean, Ben? What about that time that the one grad student got sick and the rest of us turned out and wrote a chapter in his dissertation for him? Surely you remember.

  53. MDS on May 18, 2004 at 9:16 pm

    We can still serve, despite the relative lack of expertise. I spent 10 hours one Saturday ago pouring a concrete driveway for a widow under the supervision of one of the skilled members of the ward, despite the fact that my only marketable skills are litigation-related.

    I don’t know how many hours I have spent helping people move, or cleaning up yards, etc., etc.

    What we really need is the spirit of the old barn-raising, where after the work was done, the party began.

    We have absolutely lost the magic of the pot-luck in many of our units.

  54. Clark Goble on May 18, 2004 at 9:59 pm

    I think that the wards where there is the least amount of fellowshipping are those that are most transient. However even the wards that seem so successful it often is very difficult for outsiders to “break in.” Everyone is very close and fraternal, but when you already have that kind of relationship it is often hard for someone not already part of it to join in. Further in a ward with a relatively unchanging population in close proximity to each other there is a lot that brings people together. Parents have children in the same school and the kids go over to each homes. Usually there is some “traumatic” experience that brings people together. People are in leadership roles together where they are “forced” to get to know each other. Friendships develop but people forget they developed over the space of years and decades.

    The real test of a ward isn’t just if it is unified, but how it deals with change. (IMO) The fact that these problems often are more noticeable in transient wards often simply is due to there being more new “outsiders” in those wards. Most likely in other wards there are simply fewer outsiders so they are more easy to fall between the cracks.

    Now clearly there are good wards and I’ve been in some amazing ones. What is characteristic of these wards is that typically only a few members (often not in leadership positions) make the difference.

  55. Jack on May 18, 2004 at 10:15 pm

    Clarkgoble said “Our opportunities for real engagements with each other are, sadly, far too limited in church.”

    The church provides a minimal meeting schedule which, for all practical purposes, can bridle only the essentials necessary to steer the community of the ward or branch. I don’t think most wards look at this as a limitation. I know in my own ward there is a constant effort being made to create extra social engagements, most of which I think are succesful in terms of strengthening the community.

  56. Jim F. on May 19, 2004 at 12:12 am

    Clark, you and I have very different experiences of our wards. I joined the Church in 1962 and have lived in a lot of different places in Asia, Europe, and the US. I have yet to be part of a branch or ward that didn’t have _more_ socializing than I am up to. (Perhaps, however, the difference is that I’m a bit of a misanthropist and you’re not.) There are ward parties of various sorts, groups of friends within the ward, service projects on a regular basis, none of which would happen, I think, were it not for the obligatory meetings. Those meetings could be shortened or rearranged, to be sure, but I don’t see the things required by Alma occuring without them.

    Kingsley’s description of a ward as a village–with the benefits and drawbacks of a village–is much more like my experience (with the exception of the student wards to which I’ve occasionally been attached).

  57. Kingsley on May 19, 2004 at 12:27 am

    I am still waiting for my brother to send me the details, but Chile’s new Sunday schedule (two hours instead of three) goes hand-in-hand with a renewed emphasis on activities outside strictly Sabbath stuff, & all designed to bring that village aspect out more strongly.

  58. Sheri Lynn on May 19, 2004 at 11:17 am

    I am without a car right now because someone else forgot what that red thing with eight sides and four white letters means, as well as much in the way of useful practical physics knowledge–his car and mine could not occupy the same space at the same time without traumatic modifications to the shapes of both vehicles. It was not an elastic collision. Oh well. I gather that the insurance is in no hurry whatsoever to remedy this and I fear being left with no vehicle at all.

    95% or more of useful service I can do anyone demands a car! Without a car, even temporarily, one becomes a huge drain on a ward. I’ve watched three families become inactive because no one could/would simply give the family a ride to church when they needed it. (Sometime’s it’s simply that no one has room in their vehicle–we cannot pack them in any longer as we used to do. Everyone must have his own seat belt.)

    It’s hard to bum rides all the time if you have a family. I hope that the widows and shut-ins have an easier time when they need help….

    Stories of walking to church to be sure to be there are very uplifting, but a thirty minute drive is too intimidating to someone with bad knees and small children!

  59. Russell Arben Fox on May 19, 2004 at 1:18 pm

    Jim–

    As Clark suggested, I think there are two different levels to this discussion–the matter of meeting together, and the matter of how we meet together. Perhaps we could label these the theological level and the practical level. (I recognize, Jim, that such a distinction arguably invokes a division between belief and practice which you deny, but I’m not sure it does; in any case, bear with me.) My original post tangled up these two levels by bringing up practical problems with our meetings (the matter of screaming infants, etc.) and then making a theological point about why and how we take the sacrament; I probably should have titled my post “Do Noisy, Irreverent and/or Disorganized Meetings Really Even Matter?” So let me attempt a disentangling. You wrote:

    “[I]t seems to me that it is impossible to fulfill the baptismal covenant that Alma describes if we aren’t in meetings together. I need to desire to come into the fold of God, but I can’t do that unless there is a fold to enter.”

    What exactly is the spatiality, or the sociology, of the fold, and what is its relationship to the meetings we attend on Sunday? I think this is an interesting question. Say I drive a couple of deacons to regularly serve the sacrament to elderly, bed-ridden, severly handicapped or otherwise isolated members of our ward. They do not attend any meetings; some of them may not have done so for many years. They contribute nothing to the life of the ward (at least, not in a direct sense; presumably they provide me and the deacons, not to mention various home and visiting teachers, with an opportunity to serve). They are not involved in any ward activities, do not hear any lessons, never get to sustain ward leaders, etc. It seems to me that the sacrament is nonetheless affective in their lives–that their baptismal covenants are renewed through our prayers and their partaking of the emblems, and they are therefore sacramentally brought into the fold through the power of God in their lives which is manifest in the ordinance. Which brings up the question I originally meant to ask: theologically speaking, insofar as acts of worship are concerned, does regularly attending ones meetings and being inspired in how one organizes them and keeping the kids quiet during them really matter?

    “There are ward parties of various sorts, groups of friends within the ward, service projects on a regular basis, none of which would happen, I think, were it not for the obligatory meetings. Those meetings could be shortened or rearranged, to be sure, but I don’t see the things required by Alma occuring without them.”

    Practically speaking, I agree. For example, if there wasn’t some sort of meeting of the saints, then I probably never would have been able to organize the deacons whom I drive around to serve the sacrament to those who can’t/don’t attend meetings. I could have phoned them, or got off the sofa and tracked them down on my own time and gotten commitments out of them, but in all likelihood I wouldn’t have: our act of service will be in a very real way a product of the fact that we were thrown together and given a bunch of responsibilities we were obligated to fulfill. You certainly won’t see me disagreeing with the need to invite/require/occasionally force people to recognize one another and work (and bear burdens, and mourn) collectively; I think our existence is and must be a fundamentally communal one, and it is through communities that God will save us. But I do think it is worth asking what the relevant salvific “community” is. Is it the enriched fellowship which exists between participants in a particularly well-prepared and executed-without-interference-from-crying-infants Sunday School? I tend not to think so, though such is obviously a good thing. Ditto for those associations (wonderful and necessary as they are) which (ought to) follow from service work, home teaching, ward parties, etc. I think the ultimately relevant community is, to borrow a Reformation term, the “invisible” church, the one we enter into by covenant within and through the visible church–the latter locates our meeting in the fold, but is not the fold itself. The fold is, I think, sacramental. Which means, again, that while non-sacramental meetings are needed and worth having, I’m not sure they “matter” in the sense I originally hoped to get at.

  60. Sheri Lynn on May 21, 2004 at 12:03 am

    Moses may have parted the Red Sea, but it took Russell Arben to organize the deacons. ;-)

  61. Times and Seasons » Back to Primary on September 7, 2004 at 3:49 pm

    [...] any particular set of meetings, aside from the worship service when we take the sacrament, actually matters. But if any meetings do matter, then clearly, Primary is included on that (pro [...]

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