Our branch in New York did not have a printed program for the members to take as they walked into the chapel each Sunday morning for Sacrament Meeting. I sorely missed it.
For members and visitors alike, that little sheet of cheap white copy paper is invaluable when they need it. When they don’t, which is most Sundays, it seems a waste of effort and resources. Generally, we already know the names and phone numbers of our ward or branch leaders, the bishoprics or branch presidencies, the Relief Society and Primary presidents, the youth leaders. Most of us have no occasion to call on the ward missionaries (that failing is a topic for another time). But just last Sunday, a new sister to our ward came up to me after Relief Society, seeking a bulletin, a program, anything that had the above listed information.
And sometimes the program has additional helpful information: where certain classes meet, what the lesson schedule is, upcoming activities, or even short introductory biographies of members and families. (One of my favorite of these had mistakenly omitted the “s” from the wife’s favorite hobby of scrapbooking. The next week’s humorous correction drew more attention to the anti-scrapbooking bias of the bulletin editor.)
Very little changes in the program from week to week. Yes, the listed speakers and hymns vary, but they are just minor changes within the standard template. Even so, I love finding old programs, the ones tucked away in old scripture cases, accidentally filed with papers that I actually intended to keep, tucked away on a bookshelf, or uncovered in the exercise of archeological fieldwork that is cleaning out from under a bed. I’ll pause and read through it, remembering the ward I was in then, the Relief Society presidency I loved but haven’t thought about for years. Those programs that change so little from week to week chart the gradual development of my life in the church over the years.
Very few programs make it home intact. Most are turned into origami by my two older children. Others become impromptu note pads, coloring pages, or airplanes that are grounded in sweaty little hands until the children can break free of the building.
I wonder if anyone is deliberate about saving their sacrament meeting programs. Are copies of the stake conference programs kept in locally maintained archives? For these pedestrian papers, nothing more that a few names and dates, are primary source materials for future historians of our communities.
I have a small, personal collection of programs. It is a very incomplete archive. They are the ones with our names printed in them as speakers, the ones with snippets of covert conversations recorded in the margins, the ones where the scribbles of children are mixed with their first awkwardly drawn letters, the ones with bright colors or careful drawings superimposed on the blurred photocopy. I think I may start saving some more.