What Does Testimony Meeting Really Mean?

This Sunday, my ward offered the usual cast of stock characters for an LDS testimony meeting: the returning wayward member who confessed to a variety of heinous but unspecified sins; a couple of grandmotherly types who discussed their ailments or those of other family members; a couple of auxiliary leaders sharing the good things happening with this or that person or group; a dynamic Polynesian sharing an aggressive but touching testimony; and of course a dutiful high priest or two expounding on the temple as a metaphor for life. Why do we do this once a month?

Wearing my critical hat, I might offer that it is a simple meeting to plan–no planning at all, in fact. Insecure leaders obsessed with apostasy are no doubt thrilled with a monthly meeting where we all get together to remind ourselves how true the Church is and how wonderful and inspired our leaders are. And the willingness of leaders to support a meeting with no agenda and no programmed message is symptomatic of the stunningly low quality of Mormon sacrament meetings overall. Meetings can be dull or boring but leaders simply can’t grasp the idea that a meeting can be “too dull” or “too boring.” That would imply a need to change something.

Wearing my faithful hat (I still have one), I would offer that it’s at least a departure from the normal routine of dreary talks. These days, real people and their joys or problems seem rather more interesting that the ad hoc doctrines that infest Church manuals and high council talks. And from time to time there are moments of high drama that just don’t happen anywhere else. It’s not quite Jerry Springer, but then it’s not phony either.

While it may be an easy meeting with no agenda, it’s also true that allowing any member of the congregation to come share their thoughts from the pulpit is an unusual vote of confidence in the general membership. I suspect there are Evangelical churches where members of the congregation are invited to come share their conviction that Jesus is love and the Bible is true, but in many denominations the average member would have to climb past a pack of deacons, noviates, and lay ministers, then wrestle the microphone from the iron grip of an aging minister to address their message to the congregation from the pulpit. Could the Mormon tradition of an open mic on fast Sunday actually be a vote of confidence in the average Mormon sitting in the pews?

Comments

  1. “Could the Mormon tradition of an open mic on fast Sunday actually be a vote of confidence in the average Mormon sitting in the pews?”

    As opposed to the fact that the average Mormons sitting in the pews runs the rest of the ward as well…..

  2. Dave, I don’t know what you’re grousing about. Today Mathew, Christina and I all got up and had a great time. The only exception were the horrible “Utah Mormons” that got up to hog the mic, esp. after our Bishop had specifically explained that the meeting was for members of our ward to create a community with each other.

    But yeah, you distinctly get the impression that it’s that way just to get a break from having to plan stuff.

  3. Dave, that’s because you ARE out of the loop. Man 1st ward is da bomb. Regular sacrament meetings are as ho-hum as anyplace, but not a week goes by that I don’t hear a few comments that are completely brilliant/insane.

  4. Elder Eyring said the following in October 1996 Conference:
    Those who have prepared carefully for the fast and testimony meeting wonÂ’t need to be reminded how to bear testimony should they feel impressed to do it in the meeting. They wonÂ’t give sermons or exhortations or travel reports or try to entertain as they bear witness. Because they will have already expressed appreciation to people privately, they will have less need to do it publicly. Neither will they feel a need to use eloquent language nor to go on at length.

    A testimony is a simple expression of what we feel. The member who has fasted both for the blessing of the poor and for the companionship of the Spirit will be feeling gratitude for the love of God and the certainty of eternal truth. Even a child can feel such things, which may be why sometimes the testimony of a child so moves us and why our preparation of fasting and prayer produces in us childlike feelings.

    Sometimes I think that Bishops need to read that over the pulpit a few times a year. In a past ward a certain brother would get up every Sunday with up to 20 minutes of prepared remarks. Sometimes he would begin, “Today I have prepared a talk on…”

    That said, our ward’s meeting yesterday was wonderful and I am better for having been there.

  5. Judy Brooks says:

    For years I’ve sat in testimony meetings and noticed that 8 out of 10 people who bear their testimonies are about 10 beans short of a dozen.

    I just can’t imagine why this meeting is allowed to continue. It is a shock for investigators and an embarrassment to anyone bringing an investigator.

    Maybe some of you are from college wards where people seem to have a bit more thought going into their thought processes, but outside college wards the testimonies consist mostly of cult like remarks, “I prayed and found my keys” testimonies, children reciting memorized testimonies, or testimonies that sound very evangalical because the person is a convert from some other religion.

    OK, I admit there is an occasional heartfelt comment or two. But overall, it’s dismal!

  6. I make an appearance at the mic once every three years. I think that’s enough.

  7. I think F&T is part of the community building process. We go to church and serve in church in order to learn to love and help each other. As boring and weird as the meeting can be, it is a way to appreciate each other’s spiritual growth, particularly when we are in a ward for a long time and can understand other people’s development over a long period. I like F&T, but I hate participating. I find it feels much more exposed, maybe because I don’t say things like “I know this church is true”, etc.,

    And I hate it when all the tourists get up and hog the mic for most of the hour. That’s just rude.

  8. D. Fletcher says:

    I think most of our unusual practices have a practical application hidden beneath the spiritual veneer, and talks/testimonies are included in this. The best talks reveal a personality to be known, and loved. Talks/testimonies are meant to give attention to those that need it, in order to strengthen their position in the community. And the fact that we have talks/testimonies given by our “lay” ministry only points up the model of democracy our Church has adopted.

    Testimony meeting is often the best of the worship services, because it offers the most opportunity to hear personalities.

    Maybe this should be a thread with anecdotes from testimony meeting.

    Like the testimony of a young man saying that God had confirmed his goal of going to bartending school.

  9. I’m starting to feel out of the loop for not being able to attend the Manhattan Ward sacrament meeting. Do you think someone could be designated to blog it in real time every Sunday morning? Just sit there with a laptop and tap out, “Okay, Brother G—- is speaking on fasting. Joke about food at Scout camp. Reads Matt. 6:16-18,” and so on. Here’s your lead-in: “Live from New York, . . .”

  10. I’m surprised there aren’t more comments of F&T meetings generally (as opposed to whatever happened yesterday in Manhattan). People tend to develop rather pointed opinions about F&T meetings. I once found them quite dull, then a couple of years ago they really started to grate on me, and now surprisingly for the first time I find them rather interesting. What does New York think?

  11. If it were for testimony meeting then dinner conversation on the first Sunday of the month would be the same as it is every other Sunday. Think about that! I for one enjoy the discussion of the meeting afterwards at least as much as the meeting itself. I think that if I had to attend the meeting without being able to discuss it afterwards it would become less pleasant.

  12. Judy, you’ve obviously never lost your keys and really needed them. Prayer works!!!!

    OK, seriously, I know what you’re saying, but is it really as bad as you’re making it out to be? Do you think that sacrament talks should also be scrapped? After all, it’s the same stupid people…

  13. My friend Peggy, the Bishop of the disaffected Mormon underground, has said that she is starting to enjoy F&T meeting because, as an introverted non-believer, it’s her opportunity to learn what’s going on with her neighbors.

    I find it poignant, because it reminds me of what I’ve lost.

    A regular speaker would have to be a good one. I attended Methodist services at a large church in West Texas twice a month, and the senior minister, who always spoke, was never boring, used the bible, and gave some great food for thought every single time.

  14. D. Fletcher says:

    Of course, in our wards in NY, (at least during the summer), often the entire congregation is made up of tourists to NY, and the new temple. You can’t just ask them not to bear their testimonies, though our Bishop has done just that, to my sad disdain.

    P.S. Totally off-topic, I went down to the building today to help out with the installation of the organ. I’m going to go every day this week.

  15. Steve,
    As long as the jokes are shorter than 20 minutes I don’t mind. It is the random rambling that gets to me.

  16. Testimony meeting is great precisely because of the strange stuff people say–and because, as everyone so far seems willing to admit, occassionally you hear someone testify about something that speaks to you. I guess if there are really cult like remarks being said then I would like to see less of that and the brethern have addressed the topic of children getting up and reciting rote lines (with some success judging from my current ward)–on the other hand, if someone wants to testify of using prayer to find her keys, I don’t have a problem with that. I’ve prayed plenty of times over lost things–and prayed again to thank God when I found them.

    As for Evangelical testimonies–I love it when new members have yet to learn the phrases and words we use inside Mormonism to describe our experiences–because it makes familiar things strange and new to me again. Literary critics use the word ostranenie to describe this phenonmenon and it is, I think, what commonly sustains and renews faith.

    I appreciate the fact that other people can find it otherwise, but testimony meeting is near the top of my list of things I like at church.

  17. Well John, now I’m feeling bad for the jokes I cracked up on the stand!!

  18. Justin Halverson says:

    While I too am occasionally bored and occasionally inspired by F&T meeting, I wonder what the alternative is? (Same question re: sacrament meeting talks.)

    Either we get rid of the meeting all together, take the sacrament, and then go to Sunday School, or we hire/secure/call someone consistently interesting to give a sermon.

    I think that the chance is at least as great–if it’s done through the standard mechanism of “calling”–that we end up getting to be bored by the same person every week (lame!). And then we’d have to be guilty about being bored, because we’ve sustained this person… (And they’d likely, given current practices, be male, so we’d doubtless have issues there…)

    I’d rather keep the system as is, especially as this system permits, in addition to boredom and true inspiration, the occasional to frequent (depending on the ward demographic) eruption of sheer and utter wackiness.

  19. D. Fletcher says:

    Yes, but did they fix the air-conditioning for your Sacrament Meeting? I had to get out of there…no windows, no air, no testimony…

  20. Yes, Protestant sermons seem to have “give them something to think about” as their goal. The ones I have heard are quite open to importing current events, even rather controversial ones, into the topic after using a scriptural text to “launch” the discussion. Mormon talks, on the other hand, generally shy away from discussion of political or social “current events” (or refer to them very indirectly).

  21. Judy Brooks #14

    Couldn’t agree with you more. When I last served as a counsellor in our bishopric we tried and tried to teach the people how to bear their testimonies but to no avail. Travel logs, faith promoting rumors, I love my cat, and the mumbles from the old folks, etc., etc…Awe inspiring to say the least…

    So in these blogs recently we have seen a call to eliminate F&T meeting, cut GC time in half, eliminate SS…I’m liking this more and more all the time. When can I sustain some of you for GAs?

  22. I love Fast and Testimony meeting, particularly the statements that are heartfelt and honest, no matter how odd or lame they seem. The church should be, in our contrived and glib society, one place, at least, where everyone can just be totally honest and open. If it’s all correlated and pleasant and noncontroversial, then it’s only a social club and those bore me terribly =). Some of the testimonies are long and rambling, and strange, others are smug, yet others are pushing the party line, but if I can’t be at least fond of those people for who they are, then what does that say about me? Christ is not just fond of them, but loves them ardently, poignantly, with a sacred passionate love. Learning to love people as they are, is the hardest lesson the church tries to teach us, perhaps, and it’s the one I know I need to work on most.

    F&T meeting does touch me and help me feel at one with the membership. When I was an investigator, it was one of the things I liked most about the church. I admire people for their courage to get up (I never have), and I admire the flashes of real honesty that we see. The kids’ rote ones are cute for a different reason. They are getting comfortable speaking in front of people, and will one day be able to (as I don’t think I ever will be) speak the truth of their hearts in front of the whole ward. Those times, when people are honest and speaking their deepest feelings, are awesome. But it’s so hard to do. I admire those who can.

    One thing about living in a culture that reinforces church might be that one tends to force oneself to go, and that tempts one to grow cynical. Like movie critics who are sour from being forced by their job to watch way more movies than they ever wanted to see, and therefore can’t stand any of them, I think the long time faithful members sometimes find it hard not to lose something, some naivete that lets them see these things with fresh eyes, and recognize the power and beauty that’s there. =)

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