How to Give a Sacrament Meeting Talk: An Open Letter to Converts

Jana Riess comes to us as one of the regular Dialogue participants.
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Friends:

What follows is an excerpt from a satirical essay I have in this month’s Sunstone, posted with permission. (This is the sarcastic first half. The plaintive second half delves into some of the theology of preaching, and discusses what we can do in the Church to improve the deplorable state of sacrament “talks.”)

Dear New Member,

Congratulations on your recent baptism! There is so much to rejoice in, and you will be glad of your decision to join the Church. The good news is that there will be fruitful discussions and Spirit-led testimony meetings. Not to mention awesome potlucks! (You will grow to love funeral potatoes.) The bad news is that sooner or later, the bishop is going to ask you to speak in sacrament meeting.

Now you may feel intimidated by this assignment, especially if you converted from a religious tradition that has professional preaching. But, more good news! Mormons have extremely low expectations for what constitutes an acceptable sacrament meeting talk, so if you just use the following guidelines, everything will go swimmingly. In fact, unless you or the bishop reveals it, I guarantee that no one will guess that you aren’t Mormon already!

Before you give your talk:

1. Behave appropriately when you get the call. A member of your bishopric will either corner you in a hallway at church or call you on the phone to extend the call to speak–usually for the following Sunday. Whatever you do, don’t sound excited or enthusiastic. Real Mormons always act as though they would rather have a root canal that day, and you want to start behaving like a birthright Latter-day Saint. Sounding too eager might scare your bishop, who may be elderly, under a good deal of pressure, and prone to stroke. Don’t be the reason he has one.

2. Think about the assignment as a talk and not a sermon. Sermons require serious preparation, forethought, and study. A Mormon talk just requires that you show up. So don’t be frightened! You’ll want to hastily assemble a few things the night before, but other than that, you can basically cruise through the week.

3. The night before the talk, gather the following items:

  • A dictionary. You will need this to orally define whatever topic the bishop has given you. This is necessary even if the topic seems self-evident, like “family” or “service.”
  • Some printouts from the Internet. You will need at least two long quotes from General Authorities (preferably living ones) and one inspiring urban legend of uncertain provenance. Check out the resources at www.lds.org and www.snopes.com.
  • Your scriptures. What’s important to remember, especially if you have converted from a Protestant faith tradition, is that these scriptures are mostly window dressing. You will want to choose two short verses that seem to shore up what you will say about your topic. Be sure to keep them brief.

Excellent! Now that you are so well prepared, I know that you will give an outstanding Mormon talk.

GIVING THE TALK ITSELF

Here are a few other elements to keep in mind, so that your talk will blend in well with all the others that day.

1) Begin by explaining where you were and what you were doing when you got the call to speak. This should take up at least two minutes of your time. Since you are a new convert, your assigned time for speaking is unlikely to exceed ten minutes (and if you happen to be female, this may be the longest amount of time you will ever be given for speaking), so you have just filled 20% of your allotted time — all with no preparation! Fantastic.

2. Segue into a profuse apology, explaining that you are unworthy of the call to speak. You will need to spend another two minutes (longer if you are a woman) apologizing for your many inadequacies as a communicator. Emphasize that your hands are sweating and your knees are wobbly. To break the tension, you might tell a joke that is wholly unrelated to your assigned topic. Conclude this portion of your talk by telling the congregation just how much you’ve learned since 11:58 last night, when you first began thinking about the assigned topic, and how you hope you can do it justice. Then breathe deeply — you are now almost halfway through your talk!

3. Define your topic using the dictionary. This will probably only take one minute, but you can drag it out by actually bringing the dictionary with you and thumbing to find the right page.

  • Note: Webster’s is the preferred tool among birthright Mormons, but they will cut you some slack if you use a non-canonized dictionary, especially as you are a convert.
  • A variant option if you are a woman: In addition to the dictionary, you may want to spend a little extra time beforehand making a poster to display, offering clip art or wholesome Ensign cutouts to demonstrate your topic visually.

4. Read your two long GA quotes in rapid succession without giving any context or otherwise personalizing the topic in any way. This section is the crux of your talk and should take a good three to four minutes. If you are particularly skillful, you can weave the conference excerpts in with your inspiring urban legend. If not, just read the story after the quotes. You will take more time if the story is so inspiring that you get choked up yourself and are unable to speak for twenty to thirty seconds. In any case, great news: You are almost finished!

5. Use your two scripture verses as the icing on the cake. You want to hammer home your point by appealing to the ultimate authority, the standard works. Just read the verses and be done with them. If you have not yet used up your allotted ten minutes, you can always slow this section down by having the whole congregation find the verses in their own scriptures.

6. Close your talk in the name of Jesus Christ, even if you have not referred to him once the entire time.

Sincerely,
A Fellow Convert

Comments

  1. This is hilarious, Jana, and of course, a bit sad. There is a lot of interesting aspects to discuss, but an intersting historical note is that up untill the 1940′s people didn’t really close their talks, “in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” In the nineteenth century it didn’t really happen at all.

  2. Funny….

    How close to reality?

  3. Levi Peterson says:

    Two comments:

    One is that Jana has recently joined the Dialogue group who post blogs on BCC. Jana’s reference to her essay in Sunstone exemplifies the close association between Dialogue and Sunstone.

    Another is that the posted portion of Jana’s essay is funny because it is so precisely true, a laughable fact while we read the essay, a painful one while we endure an actual talk.

  4. Unfortunately true most of the time. “Preaching”, as defined in the prophetic sources, goes far beyond its usage and practice in our present society. Properly defined, preaching means to proclaim, announce and exhort. It embraces a variety of methods. How little of preaching and delivering of sermons we see in our meetings today.

  5. Now you tell me. Where was this list a few months back when I gave my first talk? I even got excited over the opportunity to speak. I pondered and prayed and studied the subject. I also performed it more like a sermon than a talk. Oh well, at least I know better for next time.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Utterly delightful, Jana, and very recognizable. I once toyed with the idea of writing a real article on how to give a sacrament meeting talk for the Ensign, but I finally decided that the very low odds of them publishing something on such a topic I would write (especially since I’m not even a GA) didn’t justify the effort.

  7. As a convert, I recognize the point, but do feel a little offended at the delivery.

  8. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    Haha, so true! We were talking about preparing talks at a recent Activity Days. When I asked the girls what they should include, one raised her hand and said (totally seriously) “never put a bookmark in your scriptures so you can take up time looking up verses.”

  9. The last talk I gave, I remembered that Kevin memorizes his scriptures and quotations that he uses in his talks and I tried to do that. Well, I didn’t give myself enough time and failed misserably. I did have a print out in front of me of the material so I could fall back on it.

    I had heard somewhere that Elder Packer advised sacrement speakers to not have people look up scriptures with them (or maybe even not look them up themselves but to have them pre-prepared). Is this an urban legend?

  10. Too funny. I hope Matt. W. wasn’t too offended – I see this as poking more fun at the lifetime members who have grown used to this method of speaking than at converts seeking to understand how best to deliver a talk.

  11. The reason this is so funny to me is because it seems to describe nearly every sacrament talk in my ward in Hickory NC. I don’t know where everyone else lives, but it is pretty funny that the same kinds of funny things are happening everywhere throughout the church.

  12. This would be funnnier if it wasn’t so true. However, as a long time convert, I can verify that the sermons of professional ministers are often just as deadly dull. The ones I have heard don’t have any particular gift for speaking.

  13. In my first talk, I used the word “sucked” to describe my life before baptism. This was back in 1973 when the word “sucked” was still considered serious swearage. Shock and awe in the congregation but we converts are so darn cute, we can do no wrong.

  14. Connor: Maybe the offense isn’t even really because I’m a convert. Maybe I’m just hurt (and only a little) for the average member, who is doing the best they feel they can, and is being attacked and lampooned as “less than”. I guess I’d rather see the solution than the problem. As termed, this speaks of a level of false superiority to the “averge member”. Don’t worry, it’s the same reason some Halestorm movies offend me, so it’s not just you. It bothers me when we lampoon the norm that somehow this becomes accepted as the norm.

  15. I’m leaning towards this being an example of tearing down rather than building up. It was funny, but funny isn’t always the way to go.

  16. I don’t see how any of this really matters. This is neither building up nor tearing down, because it being one of the two would connote that this will affect change, which it won’t.

    You want to know what is offensive? Having to sit though talk after talk of ill prepared drivel.

    Sometimes I listen to others speak a really feel for them, because I know they are really trying; but the majority of the time you can tell that they aren’t trying, they are just trying to get it over with. And I am so sick of the ‘joke’ that just about every member uses to begin their talk: “Well the bishop finally got me to do this”, “I thought we were going to be able to move without speaking” or something of the like. If you don’t want to be up there, then sit down.

  17. Oh and Stapley,

    Do you have a reference for you comment #1?

  18. Thanks for these comments! Well, like I said, this was the more sarcastic portion of the essay. The constructive and non-satirical part is the second half, where I discuss the need for Church-wide training in the reasons for, and best ways to encourage, better sacrament meeting talks. I wanted to diagnose the problem before jumping in to offer suggestions. Here’s a sample from the second half:

    “What is absolutely wonderful about Mormonism is that we have an entirely lay ministry where every single person is responsible for sharing the load. This includes our preaching. But what is often disappointing about Mormonism is that we let people sink or swim in this all-important aspect of ministry. We train people in their callings; we set them apart; we mentor them. But when it comes to preaching, we simply trust that they will learn from example – a strategy that would only work if we had mostly good examples.”

    Any ideas out there about why we don’t train laypeople in this spiritually significant task? I’ve heard of successful local efforts to help teach people about preparing and giving a sacrament talk (and have offered this training informally myself) but I don’t know of any program Church-wide.

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    Note that the constructive suggestions of the second half of the piece were not included here, so those who saw this as unduly negative need to read the entire piece in Sunstone to get the full picture. This was just the set up to illustrate (hilariously, I still aver) the need for the constructive suggestions in the rest of the piece.

    (I haven’t read the piece yet, I’m just assuming that is its structure based on the introductory note.)

  20. john scherer says:

    I gave my first talk about three years ago after converting. I was excited, I think I even hugged my Bishop. I said alot of things then that I don’t agree with now, plus I’m sure I was pretty dull. Afterwards, a High Priest and former bishop put his arm around me, congratulated me, and concentarted on the positive parts of my talk. I felt loved and appreciated and used this as a learning experience. My talks have gotten much better( or so my wife tells me). If I would have known that there were so many “seasoned” members who may have been so bothered by my talk, I don’t think I’d have been able to do it and would never have had that growth opportunity.
    I think maybe this post could have been a litle less snobbish, perhaps the entire post is even unnecessary. I appreciate a good laugh, but converts are vulnerable and I don’t expect that one could do a good job at fellowshipping and nurturing converts while we’re really thinking about all the ways in which we are superior. I’m not offended, just offering my thoughts.

  21. Steve Evans says:

    Matt w: “same reason some Halestorm movies offend me”

    …um, because they suck?

  22. Saint Albatross says:

    JamesP,

    Welcome to the bloggernacle.

    After consultation, we would like to ask that, in the future posts, your posts be more glib – not to mention longer.

    Furthermore, we note in your responce a whiff of something that makes us feel you may, at some point in the future, make reference to Satan, aka Beelzebub, Mephistopholes, the Father of All Lies, Lucifer, the Wicked One and Old-Red. Please be advised that reference to the Dark One is generally considered un-intellectshull, and inappropriate in this forum. Oh remember remember that JS once said that the devil was generally blamed for evil that we ourselves did, and following this admonition we collectively prefer blaming the pedestrain ignorance of more routine Mormons for those things that bug bug bug us.

    Again, welcome to the Bloggernacle.
    All are welcome.
    All are welcome.

    Your pal in tenuous faith,

    Albatross

    ~

  23. John Scherer, I think the sarchasm wasn’t directed at new converts, rather it was directed at the seasoned members.

  24. john scherer says:

    I didn’t read #18 or #19 before hitting the send button and I already regret the word snobbish. Sorry. I just don’t know how I would have reacted to this post three years ago.

  25. I’ve been informed several times on this blog that I’m seriously humor-impaired, and I have no doubt that it’s true, but somehow I still can’t find the mirth in mocking the Saints, most of whom are trying their best with a frightening and intimidating assignment. Sorry, Jana, this one didn’t work for me.

    For those who are looking for a constructive resource, I recently received this book as a gift: “Amen: Speaking in Church with Purpose and Peace.” I haven’t spent much time with it, but it looks like reasonably good advice.

  26. How can we expect anyone to take speaking in church seriously when the talk is preceded by “Who’s on the Lord’s Side, Hoo?” and followed by “Scatter Sunshine”?

  27. “but somehow I still can’t find the mirth in mocking the Saints, most of whom are trying their best with a frightening and intimidating assignment.”

    Sorry Rosalynde, but I don’t see this as being the case. Surely there are some who try very hard, but I think the majority do not. Generally, I think time spent preparing both talks and lessons is abysmally inadequate.

  28. Mark B.,

    And it is even worse if you sing I have work enough to do for the “rest” hymn.

  29. 21- Steve Evans.. Well I was trying to be polite, but can’t disagree.

    18- Jana, thanks for the sample. It was very well worded and friendly. You do inspire me to check and see if “Teaching, no Greater Calling” has a section on how it applies to giving talks in Church. I would love to see your suggestions on giving a talk, and am thinknig about having a sunday school lesson dedicated to this. In that context, I’ll even apologize, as I can see your presentation as a valuable “attention getter”. It certainly got my attention!

    I think I fell into a trap where I was putting my anti-Dialogue and Sunstone Bias at the forefront. (I am biased here and tend to think of this group (your group) as a bunch of elitest with “better than thou” attitudes.) I am sorry. I am wrong to stereotype and make blanket assumptions.

  30. a random John says:

    In ward council meeting this week I suggested that for a YM/YW combined activity they have a talk writing seminar. Let the kids pick topics, have somebody lecture for 15 minutes on how to prepare and deliver a talk, and then have a team of adults there (2 teens to 1 adult ratio) to help them outline a talk.

    My motivation for making this suggestion was that our youth speakers are very hard to schedule, frequently don’t show up for their talks, complain that they aren’t given enough time to prepare, and finally, usually end up reading an article out to the New Era.

    I didn’t share any of this motivation though. I just said what the activity could be. The YW President was initially very offended, “I think our kids give great talks!” I wasn’t about to get into it, but they don’t, and even if they did I can’t see such an activity as hurting. If you are going to participate in a church that is going to require you to speak to 300 people on occasion there is no harm in getting some training in.

    The YM President joked that he needs the training. I don’t know of anyone that it would actually hurt.

  31. Steve Evans says:

    Rosalynde: “I still can’t find the mirth in mocking the Saints, most of whom are trying their best with a frightening and intimidating assignment.”

    Rosalynde, is BCC really the only place that you’ve ever been called humor-impaired?

  32. Jared E. here is a brief write up on how the Lord’s name was invoked in our history. I’m recollecting the data to include talks that had no invokation at all. I’ve been busy doing other things, but I’ll eventually get around to posting an updated version with much more data and normalized distrabutions.

  33. Rosalynde says:

    Well, there was that one time I tried out a Lenny Bruce impersonation at the YW talent show…. How was I supposed to know that cross-dressing was such a big deal?

  34. For Father’s Day the Bishopric asked each member (7 or 8 I think) of the YW to give a talk on fathers, etc. It ended taking a combined 15 minutes in all leaving the bishopric with a half hour to kill. The talks were basically poems that each YW read. It was fairly embarrassing.

    I was then asked to give a fireside on Public Speaking. It went really well but they obviously just need more practice.

    I love telling people what a recent survey revealed what people fear the most: #1 is public speaking, #3 is…DEATH!

  35. Molly Bennion says:

    Wonderful, Jana. Your fresh wit drives home one of my pet peeves so much better than I ever could. Not the least offensive to me. My Lutheran pastor delivered his sermons in monotone, but at least they were well researched and assembled. We are all moved by the member truly doing her best, however poorly, esp. when we remember her last talk was even worse, but many Mormons are far from doing their best. Improving the situation would be so easy. I’ve occasionally devoted SS lessons and Sacrament meeting talks to teaching principles of public speaking. Can’t say it’s done any good, but it’s an important subject and should be addressed. My husband keeps trying to get the high council on which he serves to devote some meeting time to improving their talks, but it never gets on the agenda. Do they really think all their talks are are good as they could be? Sometimes I think we waste each other’s time in this and numerous other ways because we don’t really cherish life’s brevity and import.

  36. Kevin Barney says:

    The very best youth talk over the pulpit at Church I’ve ever witnesses was, of course, delivered by my son. He prepared it himself; all I asked is that he not read it but prepare it sufficiently to just be able to give it, with minimal checking of notes.

    His talk was based on the Simpsons. (He has since read The Gospel according to the Simpsons, but had not at that time; this was material he had divined himself, sort of a Simpsons version of Jana’s WWBD.)

    He didn’t read anything; he maintained eye contact with the audience. He spoke on something he was passionate about, but also conveyed wonderful lessons. He told of personal experiences. He was funny as hell.

    Even years after the fact, I still have adults in the congregation tell me how much they enjoyed that talk. It was that memorable. I’ve never seen another youth talk even approach that one for its vigor and passion and spirit and insight. Only rarely have I witnessed adult talks that were as well done.

    Not that I’m biased or anything.

  37. a random John says:

    Kevin,

    You don’t happen to be my father, do you?

  38. any mouse says:

    regarding number 9, i have also heard that we are not to ask the congregation to turn to their scriptures. it was even outlined in a pdf a former bishop used to send to everyone he asked to speak.

    we had enrichment night last week and the topic was “how to make great chili and cornbread.” i’ll not discuss how UNenriching it was, but just share that after one woman read aloud the chili recipe (which sucked), she tacked on, “and i leave these things with you in the name of jesus christ, amen.” oooookay!

  39. any mouse says:

    ah, and i’m one who always feels the need to apologize for being a crummy speaker. i prepare well and spend as much time as possible preparing and memorizing what i’m going to say. i spend the night before with my stomach tied up in knots and cry the morning of, always vomiting at least once. i once outright lied at the last minute to get out of giving a talk and have sometimes tried to bribe the missionaries into taking my place. my talks start out okay and then anxiety kicks in halfway through and i end up blurting out nonsensical statements and wrap it up. i am always incredibly shaky and sound on the verge of tears. i rarely remember what i said for the second half of my talk. i haaaaaate giving talks, but love preparing them. i just wish someone else could deliver the message…

  40. Thanks for posting, Jana. Excellent satire.
    This is a tricky issue. The great speakers develop followings, which has a way of making some nervous (think back to McConkie vs. Glen Pace or even the more recent Gileadi heresy). The poor speakers often are wonderful people with little training in public speaking, and their audience has little impetus (we are, after all, a Christian family) to provide criticism, even constructive. We who speak a lot or feel confident when we do so are likely to simply burst with pride if we were preferentially asked to speak. Would that be good for our souls? Maybe, I don’t know.
    Would the lousy speakers feel slighted? Probably.

    I think that people use these tired canons of public speaking as a way to defend themselves. By embracing a low standard, they can escape feeling judged. It’s one thing to give little to a talk and have an indifferent audience response; it’s another beast entirely to give your all to a talk and find a lukewarm reception.

    These standards would also tend to favor those of us with advanced degrees and a fascination with words and ideas. There are those who are not a part of that world but are integral parts of our faith community. I’m not certain that oratorical training for these people would result in technically excellent talks and may in fact alienate the speakers.

    What I would vote for is more flexibility and personality in talks. Along the lines of “tell us what your work on the farm has taught you about God” or “if you prefer we’d be glad to hear a brief testimony from you or a story about the influence of God in your life.” Or “what would you like to talk about?” In one ward, a single individual was called to coordinate speaking assignments (in coordination with the bishop) as a full-time calling–s/he was to consider the speaker, their background, the needs of the ward, and to offer flexibility. i think that sacrament meetings were better in that setting.

    ps, though I’m sure it worked brilliantly for Kevin’s son, I vote for written talks as a general rule.

  41. As a convert, I find your post delightful and quite funny. It is too bad that many new converts feel the need to fit in and know the jargon and go with the flow – when it is our collective unique insights and life experinces, which can bring light to great gospel principles.

  42. Kevin Barney says:

    You’ve got to be kidding, Sam. There’s nothing worse than watching someone read a talk. Maintaining as much eye contact as possible is extremely important. (If you’re talking about writing a talk out first, that’s a different matter.)

    We used to have a counselor in our bishopric who would assign very specific topics, thoughtfully geared to the particular individual, much along the lines Sam suggests. It wax extremely effective, but unfortunately that practice seems to be the exception, not the rule. Usually speaking assignments are overly broad and quite thoughtless. So you have three people assigned to speak on “tithing,” and all three read the same sciptures, and more or less give the same talk. Ugh!

  43. Is there any incentive for people to give good talks? How about rewards for excellent talks (free movie tickets?) and re-education for poor showings (a stake work assignment or something). Or cut a ward’s budget if sacrament meeting talks are consistently sub-par. If we really wanted things to change, there are ways. How about a video screen for Power Point slides? If we can put satellite dishes and computer labs in every chapel, why can’t we upgrade the technology in our chapels? We pay more attention to the quality of our parking lots than to the quality of our sacrament meetings.

  44. Can someone tell me whether “talk” is an American-ism or a Mormon-ism in this context? Do business people or academics “give talks”? I say this because the only setting I would call something a “talk” is at church. Otherwise, one hears “homilies” or “speeches” or “sermons” or “papers.” “Talk” has had all the life sucked out of it. Did we Mormons invent this label, or are you Yanks to blame?

  45. Academics in the US give “job talks.” But I can’t imagine that as a source for the Mormon “talk.”

  46. #43 Dave,

    Noooo, noooo, not Power Point! There’s enough of it in our stake training meetings and IMO nothing sucks the Spirit out of a room faster. Also we might end up using it to put up the words to the hymns like in megachurches, and the only place I feel we get to do that is in the Conference Center. Not the chapel, pleez.

  47. Very thought-provoking article. Certainly reinforces and renews my impression of all things Sunstoned.

    (No sarcasm intended.)

  48. My Ward actually did use a projector to put the words of the hymns up on the back of the church for the Primary Program. It worked really well if any of you are in primary, I recommend it.

  49. Patrick Mason says:

    Great post, Jana. And while I agree with many that we shouldn’t poke fun at people who simply aren’t very good at public speaking, my experience is that the problem is more with effort than talent. I’m a firm believer that God magnifies the efforts of those who put their hearts into something, regardless of whether they have any aptitude. But when people slide by, they have no promise. (that sounds like a bad paraphrase of a good scripture)

    Just as an example of low-effort Saints… In our ward a couple of years back, the bishop instituted what I thought was a great idea. He didn’t assign topics for sacrament meeting talks, but rather asked people to speak a few weeks in advance and then told them to pray and seek revelation about what they should talk about. Guess what? The quality of talks went down, because people couldn’t handle being “agents unto themselves.” Needed to be “commanded in all things.” In most cases, as the bishop has told me, it was simply because people didn’t put the requisite time and effort in, and thought they could pull something out on the Saturday night before.

    There’s nothing I love more than the awkward but earnest talk of someone who clearly wants to please God and edify the congregation but isn’t a pro. There’s nothing more annoying than the awkward and unprepared talk of someone who clearly “forgot” about their assignment (i.e. brushed it off) and then does essentially what Jana outlined, knowing that regardless, people would tap them on the shoulder and tell them, in as unenthusiastic a manner as the talk was delivered, “Thanks for your talk.”

  50. We’re never going to have speakers as polished as some professional clergy. They have, after all, chosen themselves to be preachers (although I’ve heard that some make you wonder why).

    All we can do is bear witness. And if that witness is borne by the Spirit and received through the Spirit then speaker and hearers will be edified together.

    That’s why the choice/assignment of a topic is perhaps the most critical step in the preparation of a talk. If the topic is one about which the speaker cannot bear personal witness, then chances are the talk [sic] won’t be very moving.

    And Ronan is right. We should kill the word “talk” and ask people to give a “sermon”. While we’re at it, we should kill the word “share” and its mealy-mouthed equivalents in whatever other languages we speak. Don’t “share” your testimony–”sharing” is what you do with toys in the sandbox when you’re four years old. Declare it! Bear it! Testify! And if you can’t do that, tell us that you believe or that you desire to believe.

  51. A couple of years back I went to a Divine Comedy show at BYU. In one sketch they basically acted out this post, poking fun at the bad sacrament talk. I laughed along with everyone else – all very funny. The very next day at church we had a brother who I swear saw the show and decided to give the exagerated bad talk anyway. He took a couple of minutes to tell how he was asked to speak, how nervous he was, and how so many others would give a better talk than him. He defined his topic from the dictionary. He read large parts of it, making little eye contact. He even finished with one of those stories (not footprints in the sand, but that kind) that do the rounds among mormons. Yet his talk moved me in a way that very few others ever have. Why? Well I knew this brother very well. I knew he was one of the most humble, sincere, good men I have ever met. I knew how much he loved his family; how much he wanted to do the right thing; how hard he served in his calling with very little recognition. It didn’t matter what he said or how he said it, all I heard was how good this man was. I basically found his character a far more compelling sermon than the form of his words.

  52. I’m with gomez. I anticipate, based on personal experience with those that may have more difficulty with public displays of testimonry, that most people put in the effort people here deem lacking. Are there exceptions? Certainly. Do some people skate by? Certainly. But I for one would rather not make that judgment precisely because, as gomez notes, we rarely see the heart of the speaker.

    And I’m sure that all who wander around these parts give singularly stirring discourses. Good on you.

  53. I must admit, I found the original post spot-on and quite funny.

    However, I would never ever consider reading it in a Sacrament Meeting or any other meeting at church. I wouldn’t even think of putting it in something like the ward newsletter.

    Maybe that says something.

  54. Thomas Parkin says:

    Amen to gomez and rd. I go to Sacrament meeting to be spiritually fed, not to be impressed by someone’s speaking ability, nor to be aggravated by their lack of it. Certainly speakers in church have a responsibility to feed the congregation – and are very often lacking in preperation both pragmatic and spiritual. I see my role in that as making myself as prepared to receive as possible, so that I can wring out every ounce of spiritual nourishment available. My understanding is that this requires that I keep my heart tender as well as my mind open. This scripture in Alma 12 comes to mind:

    10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God, until he know them in full.
    11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.

    It seems to me that where unkind feelings are present, the Spirit may be restrained. So, if anything in the criticism of other’s speaking causes my heart to callous towards them, to any real degree, I”ve come to see that as a failure on my part. Not that this doesn’t happen – it happens all the time. I’m often disappointed by my experience in Sacrament meeting. But I can usually get something out of it. And much of the time, even most of the time, I find Sacrament meetings to be wonderful.

    ~

  55. Okay,

    I have read a lot of defenders of those of us who struggle with talks, but sometimes it seems like people don’t even try.

    A few months ago, the Relief Society President in our ward got up a read a conference talk. That’s all: “I found this talk, and thought it was good.” Then she read it. Then she sat down. Didn’t even throw us a bone as to why she thought it was good. Did it help her understand a principle better than before? Did it help her through a difficult time in her life? Did she think that maybe somebody in the ward could be helped by hearing it? Did it make her laugh? Make her cry?

    This is even more extreme than Jana’s example, but if I want to read a conference talk, I’ll read it. If somebody wants to recommend a talk, fine. Or even if you want to read long exerpts, please tell me why I should listen.

    I contrast that to last Sunday, where the speaker was asked just a couple of days earlier to speak about “a talk given last conference.” He admitted he hadn’t prepared very much, and spent quite a bit of time trying to find his place in his notes, but he told us why he chose the talk he did. Most important (to me, anyway), he talked about how it helped him in his life right now–where his wife has abandoned him and their son to shack up with another church member, how he’d lost his job and was moving out of state with no job prospects in sight. He fumbled and bumbled his way through his talk, but he moved me, and brought my wife to tears.

  56. Point well taken, Gomez. Thanks.

  57. I apologize for being a little late to this discussion.

    Re 41: This is why I prefer to hear recent converts over birthright members. Birthright members tend to repeat the same platitudes over and over, while new converts tend to bring new perspectives (plus occasionally they’ll bring some baggage from their former churches, which can be entertaining if nothing else).

  58. 1) Perhaps we are blaming the wrong people. Bishoprics are the ones responsible for sacrament programming. They should give assignments SEVERAL weeks in advance, coordinate the theme with the organist and hymns, and have an overall idea of how to help the ward over a period of time. Would it be so novel of an idea to have the bishopric member who called you to speak contact you a few times before your talk to see if he could be of any help? Check in a little bit? What about being a resource person for speakers instead of sink or swim?

  59. 2)What is the general rotation for ya’alls sac mtg talks? How often do you get asked to give’em? In our ward, if every worthy active adult member were asked to speak (HA!), it would take about 40 weeks to get through everyone. We instead see the same S.T.O.P. folks (Same ten old people) about every two months. My husband and I as well as several other people haven’t been asked to speak in 4 years. We’re not heretics, but faithful RMs. While I studder and sigh a breath of relief NOT having to speak (as I’m sure the ward does), my husband is a gifted lawyer, talented communicator and also very knowledgable in the gospel. The other people I’ve mentioned have several other wonderful talents, good hearts and strong testimonies to share.

    What gives???

    It seems that when the bishopric forgets to call people to talk or pray or whatever, they usually end up relying on close family and friends, who get stuck doing it again and again and again. (Who else can you ask such a huge favor to on a Friday or Saturday night???)Who else dare you call and divuldge that you aren’t doing your calling until now???

    Case in point:
    There is an extended family in my ward right now with six adults and eight kids. For the past 8 months, EVERY SUNDAY at least one (if not more) have spoken. I kid you not. I’ve saved the programs to prove it. It gets better. Second hour, one of the adults is gospel doctrine teacher, third hour one of the women is RS president, and the other two are teachers. That means 3 our of 4 weeks a month, this family monopolizes ALL THREE HOURS. You’d think we had moved to a professional clergy and professional sermon. Not so. Oh, sooo not so. But, perhaps with the practice, they’ll get better. We’ll be there with our butts on benches covered with ground-in cheerios to root for them. Go team.

  60. Just one more thing,

    Has anyone noticed that when women speak in sacrament mtg with the general RS board lilt in their voice, the kids in the chapel get EXPONENTIALLY LOUDER??? I just think its odd that when men speak with loud and low voices, kids aren’t as squaky. When a woman is up there, it seems like the audience is being filmed for Animal Planet.

  61. I lied, just one more addition to Jana’s funny sarcasm.

    *Rule of thumb. If you are asked to speak on a holiday like Christmas, 24th July, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc. you probably WON’T be assigned a holiday topic, but rather something like ‘Tithing’, ‘Chastity’, or ‘Provident Living’. No need to incorporate the holiday into your talk. Hey, why complicate things? Just go with the flow.

  62. I’ve always tried to make my talks rather lax. I think it’s really the anxiety and the cookie-cutterness that makes many uninspiring, but I’ve always found it best never to criticize. In my two years as a member of the Church, I have given five talks and two priesthood lessons.

    My first talk was at my own baptism (I’m a convert of two years now). Ten minutes on faith and repentance.

    My favorite was a stake conference talk. I was sixteen and a member of the church for less than a year. The subject was youth standards. This was in South Dakota, which only has three stakes I believe, and mine was the larger one that covered the west _half_ of the state. So I arrived late by not bothering to tell the preson giving me a ride that I just happened to be giving a talk (the guilt trip was useful later). I rushed up to the stand as the stake presidency member was beginning the meeting, and found myself a seat. The place was packed. Sacrament hall, cultural hall, auxiliary rooms with TVs, all seated to capacity. It was multicast to a few other stake centers, evidenced by two cameras that I could see mounted on the wall. And to top it all of, it was being translated into Spanish and ASL. I was the second speaker, and was given only ten minutes. Two minutes to the end, the counsellor conducting stands, gets close behind me, and moves the microphone up so that people could actually hear me, smiling as he sits down. Har.

    Since then, I have always loved speaking. I’ll write a talk, memorize the structure and quotations, and just deliver it. Most flattering was when two people asked for a copy.

    My most recent talk, on the word of Wisdom, was somewhat controversial, but enough people liked it that I counted a success. I asserted that temporal blessings for keeping the health law should be viewed as incidental to the spiritual significance. The other two speakers seemed to have put some words in my mouth, and gave a statement purposefully contradicting me. Then a member of the bishopric said he wanted to see me in his office. I was pale and felt ill. He congratulated me on my talk, however, and extended me (17 at the time) the authorization to confer the Aaronic Priesthood upon a recent adult convert in our ward that day, one of the most sacred experiences since my own baptism, confirmation and ordination.

  63. As a recent member of Toastmasters International, I would seriously recommend that church members join — great opportunity to practice speaking and get constructive feedback.

  64. a random John says:

    j.a.t.,

    I once attended a missionary farewell where the entire family had been assigned the topic of “mourning” as in “mourn with those that mourn”. It was awkward to say the least. Not only was it a seemingly inappropriate topic for the occasion, but they had three speakers all given the same topic, and really, once the third speaker (or even second) gets up, what is there left to say on a topic like that?

  65. I shared this with my coworker/friend/bishop, and he loved it.

    I live in one of the faster-growing areas of the US and the Church (with a 20+ year-old temple, 17 stakes and 2 missions in the greater metropolitan area). We have lived in our home for almost a decade, but have lived in 6 different ward boundaries. So what happens is that we CONSTANTLY have new members to the ward speaking. I spoke 9 years ago (but I’ve taught other classes for almost 6 years). My wife has spoken twice (once with me, as new members of the ward, and once for a special topics sac mtg in line with her calling).

    When you think about it, there are only so many Sundays you can program. Here’s a breakdown of the year:

    + 52 sundays
    - 2 GC
    - 12 HC
    - 12 testimony
    - 2 stake conf
    - 1 ward conf
    - 1 easter program
    - 1 christmas program
    - 1 primary program

    That leaves 20 sundays to program. Of those, maybe you’ve got the special meetings (seminary graduation where you let the students speak, family history, missionary farewells). So maybe that only leaves 15-18 a year to really program.

    So in our ward, which averages 10 or so move-ins a year, it’s pretty easy to get to the point where your speakers consist almost exclusively of new families.

    So to your list of instructions I would add:

    - Spend two minutes introducing your family, how you met, your fond memories of being students at BYU, how you appreciated the musical number, and what spirit possessed you to move to (fill in your ward).

  66. John,
    How odd! Sadly, how familiar!

    And Queuno,
    Thanks for the breakdown. Isn’t it funny that wards cling to unoffical ‘customs’ like new-move-ins mechanically giving ‘nice to meet you talks’? Heck—haul out the ol’ welcome wagon. Why not have an EQ or RS or HP dinner party or activity to welcome them instead? (As if hauling the new move-in’s non-functional and out-of-tune victorian upright piano(worth all of $200) up three flights of stairs wasn’t welcome enough.)

    Now that missionary farwells and homecomming sacrament programs have been axed, perhaps next on the chopping blocks is ‘new move-ins histories’.

    Dunno.

  67. WOW! This is so true it is
    currently 2:11 a.m. and I am still
    preparing my talk that I
    started around 10:00 yesterday! Thanks
    for the help! I could never finish
    without you!! :D

    Love/ Brigitta a distressed YW!! ;p

Trackbacks

  1. [...] I  gave the following talk a little over a year ago as our family was leaving the  Boston II Ward.  Apologies to ECS who has already heard it.  I’m posting it at the request of annegb.  I had sent a copy to her in response to an entry on her blog about  some less than perfect interactions she was experiencing at church.  I hope that it avoids the pitfalls recently mentioned at BCC. [...]

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