Sunday Services: Two Experiences

Being Mormon is a multi-dimensional affair, involving belief, practice, history, and community. Of the many aspects of Mormon-ness, one of the least-often discussed on LDS blogs is the simple experience of attending Sunday meetings. In this post, Steve Evans and I discuss our quite different personal experiences of the Mormon three-hour block.

Steve Evans: I Like Going to Church

In terms of simple pleasures and the joy of community, there are few things I look forward to more each week than attending Sunday meetings.

The talks are often clumsy and boring, the lessons tedious — and yet, I find myself attracted to attend Church and almost never regret the weekly choice to partake of the Sacrament and spend time with my fellow saints. Why is this so?

First, I believe I enjoy Church more since I do not take it as a granted, automatic decision to attend. Many people encourage the practice of attending Church meetings out of a force of habit; “that way,” they may say, “when you feel depressed or spiritually down, you’ll still manage to find the strength to make it.” I don’t reject this advice out of hand, but I do find the notion of unthinking habit to be counterproductive when it comes to worshipping, especially with regard to taking the sacrament or participating in any ordinance. When I think about attending, and make the choice to attend, I feel much more vested in my sabbath worship. What happens when I don’t feel like attending? Sometimes, I guess, I don’t attend, but more likely my social network (wife, kids, etc.) will ensure that I make it nonetheless. In other words, I would never abandon the weekly decision.

Second, I enjoy Church as a chance to take in the Saints in all their glory. I like Mormons, by and large, and I don’t get to see them too often. Each week I see a generational and socio-economic cross-section united by common belief. Sometimes these differences drive me nuts, but then that’s part of the whole point, I think — to remind me that Zion is made up of all kinds of people, not just super-conservative button-downed true believers like myself, but of rich and poor, black and white, and even smart and dumb. It’s a real challenge, and a fun one at that, to look around during Church meetings and realize that this is part of our concept of heaven.

Some may be put off by the artificial smiles, the occasional forced familiarity of the speakers, but again this is part of the challenge and reward; either we are brothers and sisters or we are not.

Third, I like the way my Church speaks to the substance of the world around me. Consider the portion of our weekly meetings used up in announcements on enrichment, ward activity night, cub car rallies, canning, delivery of meals and other nonreligious activities. To be honest, I don’t participate in many of those weekly activities, but even so I love hearing about them. Although I may never go, I love the fact that my ward has hosted a weekly rugby match each Saturday.

These activities and seemingly interminable announcements may cut into our time and may leave us only 10 minutes to discuss all of 2nd Corinthians, but they have a value nonetheless — they remind me of how concerned we are with community-building and how engaged we are in each other’s lives. Sure, sometimes the endless clipboards filled with sign-up sheets and announcements can drive me nuts. But I’d rather be overburdened with activities and opportunities to participate than to have none at all.

I guess I don’t have too many problems with our weekly meetings. There are a few things I’d change if I had my druthers, but not too many and nothing too substantive. I could get onboard with a 2-hour block, I suppose. Sometimes I get frustrated that so much of our time is devoted to repetition of concepts without breaking them down to see what’s inside. But when our church meetings hit their stride, each week feels like a baptism — a full-on immersion in the culture and lives of the Saints. I welcome it, and sometimes I feel the words of that clumsy hymn:

‘Tis good to meet each Sabbath day And, in his own appointed way,
Partake the emblems of his death, And thus renew our love and faith.

Oh, blessed hour! Communion sweet! When children, friends and teachers meet
And, in remembrance of his grace, Unite in sweetest songs of praise.

J. Nelson-Seawright: I Don’t Like Going to Church

It’s a hard truth that I must face. I dislike attending LDS church meetings.

The earliest point in my life when I can remember explicitly disliking church meetings was the summer I graduated from high school. Just after graduation, my family moved to another city and another ward. I didn’t know anyone in the ward, and I was leaving for college in just a few months — so nobody seemed interested at all in getting to know me. The meetings began to drag on. I started counting down the 180 minutes of the meeting block, anxious to leave.

Church meetings struck me in a similar way during my mission. As I wrote several times in my mission journal, Sunday church meetings often seemed like the least spiritual time of the week. Some version of that impression persists for me up to the present. I have no shortage of spiritual and devotional moments in a given week. But very few of them happen during Sunday worship services. There are moments during the church services that consistently work for me, in spiritual terms. The ordinance of the sacrament and the hymns during sacrament meeting generally feel sacred and spiritually nourishing to me. Yet, for the most part, the rest of the service does not.

In saying this, I do not mean to criticize our meetings, the efforts of the people who plan and participate in them, or our community. I have no obvious right to demand that our worship services be run in a way that works well for me, nor do I have a desire to do so. And I know that our services do meet the needs of many others. At the same time, I hesitantly suggest that it might be reasonable for me to express my own experience because it is a genuine part of our community and of the meaning of our worship services — just as is the experience of the many who find themselves nourished by our Sunday meetings.

Why do I find that I have so little connection with our church meetings? One issue for me is stylistic. I find that Mormon worship meetings are dominated by a kind of pseudo-familiarity that I find off-putting. In comparison with most meetings in my life, talks and lessons during our church meetings are highly unstructured — and delivered in a somewhat personal and informal way that presumes a connection of one-to-one friendship between the speaker and the audience. Yet such a connection never exists for the entire audience, and usually only actually exists for a rather small fraction of it. Because I am always aware of this mismatch between style and relationships, the informal mode of Mormon church discourse often feels distancing to me in a way that more formal speech would not.

A deeper issue is substance. The large majority of the lessons and talks in our church meetings don’t speak to the spiritual issues and weaknesses that I feel and live most strongly. I don’t imagine that it will ever hurt me to hear sermons or discussions addressing other peoples’ dilemmas, concerns, or issues. And I certainly can’t proclaim with any confidence that those same themes will not become central to my spiritual life in a year, or five years, or ten years. But today, and for much of my life to date, they have not been. The themes on which my heart seeks solace are the existence and benevolence of God, the reality and efficacy of Christ’s atonement, the implications of divinity for human sociality, and the power of hope in areas for which my faith alone is not sufficient. Simply put, in a week of Sundays I’m lucky to be blessed with ten minutes on these themes in our church services.

Perhaps our meetings are meant for those who are better than me, given the gift of stronger and more comprehensive faith. Perhaps my attitude toward these meetings — or, worse yet, my personality — is a poor fit for our worship services. Perhaps I need to repent and find a way to change my emotional and cognitive responses to Sunday church meetings. Or perhaps I simply need to endure this as a weekly sacrifice to the Most High. I don’t know. In my heart, I feel called to attend, and so I do. Each week, you will find me in the pews, unhappy but reverent, unwilling but present. After all, my presence I can give, even if it hurts.

Comments

  1. It’s no secret that I’ve long maintained that the three hour block is not doing anyone good. Especially since the last two hours are largely redundant. I’ve even heard staunch-timesandseasons-unquestioning-no-second-piercings- type mormons complain that really the 3rd hour is superfluous and sunday school could easily be replace by EQ and RS. And if they’re unhappy you know it can’t be just me. There’s a reason why missionaries only bring investigators to one or two meetings.

    To me it’s not a question of whether you like going to church or not. It’s a question of length. I’d like it a lot more if it was shorter, especially since many times the lessons are either ill prepared or just contain nothing new in them (usually the former not the latter, especially in EQ).

    To me I go to church for the sacrament, the rest of it I can get on my own, or in an hour, I don’t need another two to do it as I usually get more out of private study than from lessons.

    I just feel like the third hour is overkill. I love Bach, but I’m not going to sit down and listen to his music for three hours straight every week, week in and week out.

  2. Kristine says:

    I agree with both of you. And not just because I’m such a sweet, agreeable person (though of course I am). I would have generally put myself in JNS’s camp a few years ago, but, for complicated reasons, I’ve found myself attending only Sacrament Meeting most Sundays in the last several months. Yesterday I was able to attend a whole three-hour block and I loved it. Loved it. It helped that the Sunday School lesson was brilliant and the Relief Society discussion remarkably honest and productive, but I think I might have liked it even if I had been bored. Of course the third hour is overkill, of course the worship service is too disorganized and informal, the music is crappy (although, again, yesterday’s meeting was a happy exception in that regard–Mendelssohn’s “Beati mortui” sung rather well!(!)) But that is what Mormons do, and I found myself so pleased to be a Mormon among Mormons, wryly amused at our cultural tics and disposed to be charitable about them, inasmuch as people are often charitable about my (relatively few and insignificant) foibles.

    Maybe you just need a sabbatical, J. A sabbath sabbatical.

  3. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    …over at “Mormon Mentality” Proud Daughter of Eve asks what you would and wouldn’t like to see in the church’s future…

    (I hope this isn’t rude but it looked to me like the discussions might relate nicely.)

  4. Eric Russell says:

    J. Nelson-Seawright, I am sympathetic to much of what you say, but I think the problem may be in expectations. I think we often expect church to be a stream of spiritual nourishment and feel let down when it is not. But I don’t know that it’s intended to be.

    I tend to think that not only are “activities and seemingly interminable announcements” a good thing, but they are what church is really all about. Group scripture study is great, but real study, enlightenment and spiritual upliftment comes on our own time. To me, it seems, church is about community. About joining together to worship with others, supporting others, teaching others, learning from others, and most of all finding ways in which we can be of service to others.

  5. I used to bring books to church. My wife laughed when I was reading _Freedom of the Hills_ (a mountaineering guide published in Seattle), so I started bringing church related books. Then somebody new in the ward noticed one day I was reading Kathy Daynes’s history of polygamy in Manti and figured I was some polyg wretch. Now I bring Mormon-themed work of my own to edit. I find that this act of devotion, combined with the church meetings, make me quite satisfied with my worship experience. I’ve had trouble concentrating on one thing at a time for years, though, so my case may be exceptional.

    The other thing I would say is even the professional clergy don’t meet my oratorical standards very often, and as much as I love the Catholic (or high church Protestant) liturgy, if people don’t have perfect voices I find myself a little frustrated. It’s pretty rare that I walk away satisfied by preaching, so it’s not like another church would meet those needs, and in Mormonism I do feel connected with the speakers in a way I wouldn’t with most preachers/priests. I get that connection high in the mountains, but that’s not a concrete act of connection the way church services are.

    And I mean no disrespect: I’m delighted when people are moved in liturgy sung slightly off key or with a wan voice, or when people feel a connection with a preacher I feel is flat, and I recognize that often the problem is in the listener rather than the speaker. I do mean, I think, that I would not recommend a move to professional clergy on grounds that it would make Sabbath meetings more enjoyable.

    Finally, some of the most spectacular religious experiences of my life have happened during the 3-hour block, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

  6. ronito, I think there’s a complex discussion to be had about the relative merits of Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society meetings. That trade-off is perhaps the tricky part of advocating the otherwise seemingly nearly universally-longed-for two-hour block.

    Kristine’s Sabbath sabbatical — well done. Who says Americans can’t do wordplay?

    The paradox of this for me is that, while the church meetings are often difficult for me to get through, I feel better about life and everything if I go. So a break may not be the answer.

    I also love being a Mormon among Mormons. And the Sunday worship meetings are a part of how we do that — but I think really a smaller part than we sometimes think. I’m quite sure that I spend a great deal more time involved in my ward each week outside the three-hour block than during it.

    PDoE, good — and I think kinda relevant — cross-link.

    Eric, I’m completely willing to take responsibility for my own experience; it’s something about me, about how I experience the church meetings, about that JNS-meeting relation, not unilaterally about the church. At the same time, I don’t think my expectations are as high as you suggest. I’m not disappointed that the Sunday meetings aren’t a stream of spiritual nourishment; a cup or two would do. And I probably get that from the sacrament itself. Anybody up for the 15-minute block?

    Sam, I wouldn’t trade in my Mormonism, either.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m somewhere in the middle, I think. I absolutely love the people and the sense of community. I love to sing. I enjoy sacrament meeting by far the most.

    But I’m a big advocate of a two-hour block. Since the institutional church apparently lacks the fortitude to pull the trigger on this obviously needed innovation, I often self-medicate and make it a two-hour block on my own.

    I always bring a book. I’ll perk up when someone tells a personal story; but then when they go back to trying to goad the class into making a list of items like prayer, study, fasting, etc. on the white board, I go back to reading.

    I really hate the tendency to try to govern by guilt trip. And as I get older, I get more militant about defending myself.

    Most of our teenagers are bored to tears at Church. That is a serious problem.

    I generally keep my mouth shut during lessons, for a number of reasons.

    In short, there are aspects of it I like and aspects I don’t.

  8. Phouchg says:

    Robert Kirby said it best in one of his articles. To paraphrase: “I don’t like broccoli, but I eat it anyway.”

  9. Phouchg says:

    Also, sometimes it’s ok not to be in church:

    I Didn’t Go to Church Today
    by Ogden Nash

    I didn’t go to church today,
    I trust the Lord to understand.
    The sea was swirling blue and white,
    The children swirling on the sand.
    He knows, He knows how brief my stay,
    How brief this spell of summer weather.
    He knows when I am said and done,
    We’ll have a plenty of time together.

  10. Mark IV says:

    J.,

    Perhaps our meetings are meant for those who are better than me, given the gift of stronger and more comprehensive faith. Perhaps my attitude toward these meetings — or, worse yet, my personality — is a poor fit for our worship services. Perhaps I need to repent…

    I don’t think others have stronger faith, and I don’t think you need to repent, at least any more than anybody else does. You’re probably right that it is a matter of personality and temperament. And while you can’t do anything about that, there is also a bright side to look at. You’re you, that is that, and there is nothing to be done about it. No need to feel that you need to change or be something you are not.

    You described yourself as being unhappy but reverent, and now I feel guilty. I’m usually happy at church, and probably somewhat irreverent. When the little kid in the pew in front of me turns around, I enjoy pulling faces and going cross-eyed in order to make him laugh. I am probably a contributor to the atmosphere of informality and faux chumminess that is difficult for you. In my defense, I will say that when I speak or give a lesson, I try to make it a stimulating and challenging experience. I admire your willingness to participate anyway, acknowledging as you do that the style of worship probably works for most of the people in the meeting.

    Steve,

    Third, I like the way my Church speaks to the substance of the world around me. Consider the portion of our weekly meetings used up in announcements on enrichment, ward activity night, cub car rallies, canning, delivery of meals and other nonreligious activities.

    That used to really bother me, but now I share your view wholeheartedly. Last priesthood meeting, we discussed who was sick and who would visit them, who can help with youth conference food prep, who can help a family move, who can help drive scouts to camp and back, who needs garden space tilled, whose tiller is available, and whose truck is available to transport the tiller. This was in addition to the temple assignments, the assignments at the bishop’s storehouse, and team-ups with the missionaries. It took almost all the class time, and it was wonderful. What could be better than fifteen men discussing the logistics of how the Lord’s work will get done in the next seven days? I think my quorum is great.

    Rugby, huh? My ward does ultimate frisbee every Saturday, and it is open to male and female, young and old. It’s very cool to see a 55 year old woman competing with teenage boys.

  11. I mostly occupy a space in church, except when I’m conducting the hymns. I usually don’t listen very carefully, but sometimes I do. I usually don’t feel like I get much out of the meetings, but sometimes I do. I don’t go to Sunday School (head exploding=bad) but I don’t mind Relief Society most of the time. For me the key is to have zero expectations. Don’t anticipate, for good or ill. Just be.

    I think the people who love/hate being at church the most are active listeners. I’m a poor listener. It serves me well.

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Yeah, the rugby part was unexpected but cool. One of the members of our bishopric is a kiwi who used to teach rugby, so we have co-ed touch rugby. It’s fun — to hear about.

  13. RE: #6 JNS,
    That’s the beauty of it. We don’t have to have that conversation of the trade offs and benefits. We could just do one one week and the other the next.

    I really believe that the 3 hour block is a big problem. Whether you’re a new parent who can’t keep a baby there for 3 hours or a teenager who is bored to tears, or have a child too young for nursery, or bored in primary, or asleep in EQ or RS. It seems that we all grin and bear the third hour because that’s what we’ve always done.

    I was talking about this very thing with my father and when he heard me complaining he said, “I remember that time. I forced myself to go for you though, as I knew you were enjoying it.” To which I replied, “I wasn’t enjoying it. I was doing it because I thought you wanted me to.” It didn’t take us long to figure out that perhaps we should’ve discussed this back then.

    I fear sometimes we stick with things simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” Like the woman I knew who always cut off the tip of a roast when cooking it. When I asked her why she said she didn’t know that’s how her mother did it. When she asked this went up until her great grandma who said she always cut off the tip of the roast because it wouldn’t fit in the pan. Sadly, I don’t expect the church to change the 3hour block.

  14. Steve Evans says:

    Mark, I also am terrible at paying attention. I’d much rather play with the kids in the row in front than listen intently. Fortunately now I can play with my own kids — still there’s a delicious forbidden quality to getting a 5-yr-old in trouble with his parents by making faces at him.

  15. I’m one of those people who smiles constantly at church and shakes just everybody’s hand – because I am a teacher and performer by nature, and because I truly love associating with the Saints. It’s not forced or faked; it’s totally real and sincere.

    I grew up in central Utah, and as someone else said (sorry, too lazy to go back and see who it was) I spent more time with members outside of church than at church. (At one point, I probably was related to more than half the ward – if you include 2nd and 3rd cousins.) That’s not the case now; I usually only see most of my fellow ward and stake friends when I am in meetings on Sunday, so meetings are an obvious social-reconnecting event on top of everything else they were growing up. In all honesty, my mother taught us to look always for the positive in others, so I also have an easier time overlooking the negative (actually hardly even noticing it) than most people. That helps tremendously at times.

    I know this will frustrate the hell out of more than just JNS (and isn’t it a good thing not to have any hell in us?), but right now my favorite Sundays are those that include nearly three hours of administrative meetings and six hours (2 blocks) of regular meetings. (Essentially, from 6AM-5PM, with a short break to go home, eat lunch and return with my family.) I truly love being with my biological family, but I also love being with my extended spiritual family – both helping them learn to administer and minister and also worshiping and studying with them.

    Of course, I get frustrated a bit when I sit in on a lesson that I feel could have gone much deeper, but I am struck on a regular basis by the simple dedication, faith and courage displayed by so many people who are scared to death to do what they do anyway – simply because they were asked to do so. That, more than anything else except the Sacrament, is what thrills me about Sunday meetings. I have seen SO much growth in SO many individuals, and I absolutely love being a part of that. That and my innate personality, that is.

  16. For me it’s all about the ward members. I just couldn’t care less about the lessons or talks. If they’re good I’m pleasantly surprised and I take it as gravy. Otherwise, I’m just happy to be there with these people that I just absolutely love. Seriously. Call me a sap.

    I have to say also that I would be seriously intimidated to teach a lesson or give a talk in some of your wards. Having a lay ministry has its drawbacks and standing in front of a crowd of scholars like you, all giving me the stink eye, would be something I would not do unless I was being highly compensated in some fashion.

    I think I read somewhere (RSR?) that JS never built any chapels, only temples, and that he never concerned himself with Sunday services. In that light, the block schedule seems born more of our modern culture than anything doctrinal, so to me it seems we should feel free to freelance on occasion.

  17. Steve Evans says:

    yeah, OK Ray, you lost me on #15 too. Loving 3 hours of Church is one thing… extra meetings, you’re on your own.

  18. I know, Steve, I’m a true church geek. If I had been raised Protestant, I probably would be a minister. Being Mormon, I became a Social Studies teacher, instead.

    MCQ said it very well. It’s all about the members and seeing their growth for me.

  19. I identify with something that Steve said. One thing I really like is the broad cross-section of people I see every Sunday. It helps me realize that the gospel is for all people. If I weren’t LDS I’d probably find myself in a church full of white middle-aged professionals like myself, and I wouldn’t have the joy of learning from people I (to be honest about it) don’t normally pay much attention to, much less identify with.

  20. Copedi
    So you weren’t LDS you’d be in my ward? It’s definetly a church full of white middle-aged professionals….excluding me of course.

  21. I have fallen on both sides of the spectrum–sometimes I hate church and sometimes I love it. A lot of Sundays it’s kind of a mix of both. This past Sunday I had a pleasantly surprising experience. Our ward periodically has a “Linger Longer” after the block where snacks are provided and people can talk. Not being much of an extrovert and having already spent 3 hours dealing with a cranky baby I didn’t really want to stay. But they were having crackers and cheese and my 3-year-old really wanted some so we stayed. I ended up sitting by a family I didn’t know well, and for some reason this other couple and I suddenly found ourselves bearing our souls to one another and sharing some deep, spiritual feelings. It was an amazing experience, and one I never expected to have at Linger Longer. Usually I either skip it or I spend the whole time chasing my kid around the room. I think that’s part of why I keep going to church–I always hope for those sudden moments of spiritual connectedness.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve never liked Sunday School. What I would like them to do is to split Sunday School into much smaller classes. When we were first married, my husband and I were called as ward missionaries in a Wymount ward at BYU. It was kind a superfluous calling, but one of my favorite parts of it was the fact that each Sunday we had Gospel Essentials with a small group of three or four other couples. Our class developed a close bond and we had wonderful discussions each week. I’ve also sometimes participated in smaller classes like the special ones on family history or on strengthening marriage and I’ve always enjoyed small group classes so much more than the regular large-group Sunday School.

  22. Any worship service called “The Block” is in trouble, if you ask me. (And since you asked me, see here. 64% of BCC readers don’t like “3”.)

    Evans,
    I think rugby would do you good.

  23. II was impressed by the ‘author’s note” at the end of Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord out of Egypt. The note was the best part of the book. She describes her journey through the Catholic Church, through a commitment to atheism then back to a sudden, overwhelming belief.

    “How, I asked myself, could I express the love for God that I felt by becoming a member of a community of believers when I didn’t know what I thought about the literal truth of Adam and Eve or Original sin? How could I join with fellow believers who thought my gay son was going to Hell? How could I become connected with Christians who held that there was no evidence for Darwinian evolution, or that women should not have control over their own bodies? How could I affirm my belief in a faith that was itself so characterized by argument and strife?

    Well what happened to me on that Sunday that I returned to faith was this: I received a glimpse into what I can only call the Infinite Mercy of God. It worked something like this. I realized that none of my theological or social questions really made any difference. I didn’t have to know the answers to these questions precisely because
    God did. He saw the God who made the Universe in which I existed. That meant He had made the Big Bang, He had made DNA, He had made the Black Holes in space…..He had done all that. He could do virtually anything and he could solve virtually everything. And how could I possibly know what He knew? And why should I remain apart from Him because I could not grasp all that he could grasp? What came over me then was infinite trust, trust in His power and His love., I didn’t have to worry about the ultimate fate of my good atheistic friends, gay or straight, because he know all about them and he was holding them in His hands. I didn’t have to quake alone in terror at the thought of those who die untimely deaths from illness or…destroyed in the horrors of war. He knew all about them. He had always been holding them in his hands.

    He and only he knew the full story of every person who’d ever lived of would live. He and He alone knew what person was given what choice, what chance, what opportunity, and what amount of time, to come to him and by what path.

    It does not matter what we do at the block, just being there affirms our relationship to God and to those imperfect beings that teach the Sunday School lesson or bore us in sacrament meeting. The Light of Christ fills everything up and will consecrate our efforts for good.

  24. Melanie says:

    I have to say I went and took the sacrament yesterday and left to partake in Father’s Day observance… it was a really great Sunday and I felt more in touch which the atonement because it had really been the focus of my “15 minute block”.

    However… I missed the fellowship. I missed deciding whether or not to go to SS, saying “hi” in the hallways, checking up on my acquaintances, praying with other Saints, and mostly, hearing the earnest testimonies and relevant discussions in RS (last week’s SWK lesson was a discussion on student loans– perfect for a bunch of ysa sisters).

  25. Latter-day Guy says:

    Ahh, I have been hashing this out for myself of late. I have often just gone to sacrament meeting and then home. I feel guilty for doing this, but sometimes, another Sunday School lesson is more than I can handle; the EQ lesson quote-a-thons are scarcely better (and often worse). But is feeling guilty better than not going at all? If, for instance, they locked the doors at the beginning of sacrament until the end of “The Bloc” (tht spelling seems more accurate somehow… “Ah, Brother Comrade Smith, how are the children?”) would I skip it all? Does the nourishment of the Lord’s Supper outweigh two life-sucking hours? My theological answer is yes, but I am not sure about my practical answer (which, I suppose, reveals the theology I live, not only that to which I pay lip service).

    I am still unsure how to resolve this. But I am unsettled by the Lord’s comments about “lukewarm[ness].” Perhaps I will just take a page out of the Catholics’ book and offer up that discomfort to the Lord as a sacrifice of self mortification. Still: Sunday School or flaggelation? The options are scarily balanced.

  26. either way, chances are good that you wont like it and your back will ache afterwards.

  27. I don’t like or dislike the current church format. No more than I dislike the fact that it’s too cold in winter and too hot in summer. It’s just the way things are. It’s been this way my entire life and I take comfort in the continuity.

    I’m suspicious of those who claim better worship by “going into the mountains” etc. I guess I’m suspicious of it for the same reason I’m suspicious of most New Age religions – a lot of it looks like self-indulgent hogwash.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had more spiritual experiences in the outdoors than at church myself. But I don’t think that personal spiritual experience is primarily what Sunday observance is about.

  28. If my count is right, we are split evenly down the middle:

    Steve’s “love it” — 11 votes
    JNS’s “Ugh!” — 11 votes (but it’s a respectful ugh)

    I’m going to tip the scale in JNS’ favor. And I can only blame my own cynical self for it.

    This is a horrible admission, but it’s a good example of why I don’t look forward to church — I was listening to the testimony of a sister in the ward a few months ago — I hometaught this family and genuinely care about them. She was talking about how her grandfather was introduced to the missionaries and baptized overseas so many years ago — and it really touched her know that all those events were done because the Lord knew that years later this man would have a granddaughter (her) and that she would need the gospel — all these things had been done for her.

    I hated myself for my cynical response to that, but so much of what I hear at church I hear through the ears of a skeptic — and this story sounded so ego-centric to me, I just couldn’t take it. I wanted to be kind, supportive — but I just couldn’t say anything nice (so I took the Flopper route — ’till now).

    It’s awful — I know — I can’t help it — I really do care about these people and I despise my own cynical reactions to their sincere admissions of faith. It does not make being at church very pleasant.

  29. I’ve always been bored by Church. I used to “lose” my church shoes so that maybe my parents would give up and let me stay home. I figured that as I became an adult I would start enjoying church like my parents seemed to. But I’m still bored by Church. And when the kids are young I’m bored and stressed. And I’m starting to think that maybe my parents didn’t love church. Maybe they went every week and dragged me along for the same reason I go every week and drag my kids along: because it’s the right thing to do. It’s how we engage as members of the Kingdom. I need something to help me out of my self-centered daily grind and force me to look outside and engage in the world around me. Even if I don’t take the service opportunities offered me often enough, I’m at least putting myself in position to do so.

  30. endlessnegotiation says:

    Glenn, I could have written that myself. My problem is that I tend to whisper aloud those same sentiments in real time and receive a quick elbow to the ribs from my wife who’d rather I be more charitable in my thoughts about other people’s vanities.

  31. We seem to be eliding two things here:

    1. That church communion — and Mormon sociality — is a “good” thing.
    2. That although church is boring for many people, because of #1, it is something to be endured/embraced/tolerated/suffered, etc. because it is “good.”

    I humbly submit that just because #1 is true, doesn’t mean #2 is inevitable or necessary. Which is to say that just because church is a “good” thing, doesn’t mean it can’t be better.

  32. I’d echo everything Steve said, but then I’d make everyone read something they’ve already read, so mark me down for being in Steve’s camp.

    And I agree with Seth #27.

  33. I hesitate to say this, because I usually cringe when I see churches trying to make their services more entertaining, but if so many long-time Church members find the three-hour block somewhat lacking spiritually and attend largely out of a sense of duty, how do we expect visitors, investigators, and new members to respond to our meetings?

  34. Anna,
    That’s an excellent point.

  35. Anna,
    The problem might be the mentality that church should be entertaining. I’m entertained all week by tv, work, friends, movies, the internets, etc., it’s not what I’m looking for at church. If you’re suggesting church be more meaningful or more engaging or more spirit-filled, then yes, we could do much better. But no way am I wanting it to be more entertaining.

  36. As per Rusty (32), I won’t repeat Steve, but count me with him. (Including, especially, playing with the kids in the pew in front of me, at least until I had my own, so now I can play with her.)

  37. I like to sing hymns in a group. I love it when there’s a really good discussion in SS or RS. I’m impressed when there’s a really good talk. I really like some Mormons.
    I hate bad sacrament meeting talks. I hate hate bad lessons, in which they ask the same questions they always ask, expecting the same answers we always give. It makes it boring and I’m often irritable afterwards because I feel like we’re all either dumb or amazingly lazy.
    Sabbaticals have helped me. As have books and Bible wordfinds. My mom writes in her journal every week at Church. My friends growing up thought she was so churchy, taking notes and all, but really she was just recording her life, without the foggiest idea of what was going on in Sacrament Meeting.

  38. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, I agree with your #31, except that I do believe that part of the purpose of church is to force us to go beyond ourselves and participate and/or tolerate in ways that don’t necessarily feel comfortable and wonderful every time. Personally, I wonder if part of the purpose of Church isn’t to bump us against each other and expose us to all these different perspectives whether we like them or not.

    But yes, we can make the experience better. Of course we can.

  39. I used to hate going to church. I went because my wife would get mad if I didn’t go. Man I really didn’t like that.

    Then I had some life changing experiences. My heart changes. I began going to church metings to see and be with the people that I love. If I miss them just one week than I miss them. I go to support the 12 year old giving his or her first talk and to cheer them on and give a smile afterward. If I had only this one chance to say “good job!” and really mean it just because it took courage, it makes my day. I go to lend my voice to the hymns to sing my praises to God and my Savior. I go to ponder the sacred moment and revel in taking the life and body body of Christ into me to become my body and my life. I got to show the bishop that I meant it when I said I would support him. I go to revel in the spirit that I now feel that I used to never feel. I go to have time to reconnect.

    Is it sometimes boring? Yes, but then I do a soul-check and see that the issue is mine and not with the service. I have discovered that I get out of it what I put into it. I was bored when I was a critical and judgmental jerk. When I find myself being bored I look inside. I’m still quite capable of being a jerk — but it is boring so ask why I would do that.

    Is that Ronan’s “problem” with meetings? Who can say? I certainly can’t see into his heart to say one way or the other. But I know what my problem is and I find it fascinating to use my enjoyment of the meetings as a real gut check.

  40. BTW I spelled “metings” that way on purpose. We are meted out what we mete to others. That is why we should call it it metings rather than meetings. Mete comes from meter. What we get out of a meetings is often a good meter for us.

  41. Rusty (#35),
    You understand my point exactly. I am no fan of the entertainment culture and would never suggest that church should be more entertaining. But several people on this thread have suggested that it helps to have low expectations about church, and I find that a little bit sad–is it really so outrageous to expect church to be meaningful?

  42. CS Eric says:

    I love the three-hour block, but that is probably because of my callings. I am the organist for Sacrament meeting, and the Primary pianist. We split Singing Time/Sharing Time between the Junior and Senior Primaries, so I get to do Singing Time twice every week. Few things are more fun or uplifting than kids’ singing songs about Jesus at the top of their voices–regardless of whether they are out of tune.

    And whenver they get a chance, they always choose to sing “Popcorn Popping.” How can you hate that?

  43. I am with Steve.

    I usually like church. Its a great diversion from the day to day drudgery of house work and career. I really respect the people I attend with as well and look forward to seeing them. I like singing the hymns. We sang “Ye Elders of Isreal”, “In Humility our Savior” primary kids sang a couple of numbers and finally “o my father” on sunday. Great hymns. I confess that when I get 2 kids on the lap at once in sac mtg I tend to doze off.

    We had a great talk on Sunday about how men preside as equal partners from a HC for Fathers day and we all got a cookie for being Dads. My kids ate my cookie of course.

    My kids love primary and nursury. They always go running to primary as soon as the final amen is said and come running with their art to me afterward.

    Its really a great community to raise kids in. I know that my fellow ward members care about the church exp of my kids and make an effort to make it meaningful for the kiddos.

    I also like the 3 hour block and would not like to see it changed

  44. Mondo Cool says:

    Thank you, Blake.

    Sunday services, to me, are the perfect nexus for orienting our Christian service. It’s a great opportunity and facility (multiple meanings) to gather, to learn and to offer our efforts in support of others. My hope is to get to the point that whatever the Lord blesses me with because of my attendance will be sufficient.

  45. Blake and Steve,
    If I could be bothered, I would expand my #31 to show how I think you are missing my point. But I won’t, because the only thing more exhausting than The Bloc is talking about The Bloc.

    Blake,
    That I am a judgmental jerk is certain. But Kevin Barney’s not, so I feel I’m in good company…

  46. Alot of people who love the three hour bloc are judgemental jerks – doesn’t change the fact that they’re still jerks, and the bloc is still three friggin’ hours!

    Not that anyone cares, but I’m all for a 55 minute sacrament meeting – which focuses on the Savior/Atonement – and a 55 minute every other week alternating Sunday School/Priesthood/Relief Society Meeting (with a break, total of 2 hours)….that way, we don’t have to eliminate Sunday School or PH/RS, but we just have to tollerate, errr, partake of them twice a month. This every other week schedule would allow teachers of the respective SS or PH/RS classes 2 weeks to prepare a better thought out, more meaningful lesson – and the burden for everyone (teachers, YM/YW advisors, etc) would be lifted a little.

  47. Just had a Red Bull…

    OK, here goes. For me, it’s simple: church is too long. And here’s how I know I am right:

    Who, when the final speaker ends 20 minutes before time and the bishop doesn’t bother to fill the space, is sad to leave early?

    No-one. Ever.

    QED.

  48. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, I humbly suggest that I did not miss your point. It wasn’t that subtle…

  49. Antonio Parr says:

    Adcama: If Latter-Day Saints were to embrace the notion of “talking” of Christ and “rejoicing” in Christ during our Sacrament meetings, I believe that we would begin to experience the kind of joy in worship that would be infectious — we would want to bring our friends and neighbors, and we, ourselves, would want to attend.

    Instead, we experience entire “worship” services where the talks — all 3, mind you — are about “word of wisdom” or “tithing” or “Priesthood” or “prophets” or some other dry, academic topic that (a) fails to even refer to Christ; (b) has no sense of joy or wonder or worship; and (c) is so rote that it bores us all to tears (or sleep). A renewed Sacrament Meeting focus on Christ and His atonement could work wonders — even miracles.

  50. Steve,

    You implied that I’m not willing to “go beyond [my]sel[f]” and “participate and/or tolerate in ways that don’t necessarily feel comfortable and wonderful every time.”

    That’s not my problem. All of these things are part of my point #1, and I rejoice in them. So there must be something you’re not getting, rugby boy.

    It all boils down to the fact that church is just too long (for me, 5 hours door-to-door with three kids on two modes of public transport). But let it be known: I really love my ward in Vienna.

    The Red Bull is wearing off now, so I will go back to being a judgmental jerk in private. I’ve said this all before. No-one has change their mind, so we should just read that old thread and save a great deal of aggro.

  51. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, that wasn’t my implication at all. It really wasn’t; I’m surprised you say that. And I have no problem in your saying that church is too long. It very well may be too long, and I admitted such in my post:

    There are a few things I’d change if I had my druthers, but not too many and nothing too substantive. I could get onboard with a 2-hour block, I suppose.

    So yes, I got your point. Given the implications you’re drawing, did you get mine?

  52. To add to what I wrote earlier and explain a bit more why I am a church geek – and actually like the 3-hour schedule:

    1) I was a very precocious child and was bored to tears in church all through Primary and the first few years of Sunday School. I started truly loving Sunday meetings as a teenager – when I stopped focusing on what I was getting out of it and started focusing on what I could do to help others get as much as possible out of it. I owe that change of focus to my father, who told me very bluntly one day when I was complaining to “grow up and quit being so selfish”. (If you read what I wrote about my father, you’ll understand how powerful that was, even if I didn’t understand why at the time.) I have come to understand pretty well the “find yourself by losing yourself” concept, and that understanding has come primarily through my change in focus at church.

    2) There is a very specific purpose for each meeting, and even when I’m not learning anything new in a meeting I feel a responsibility to listen intently, observe those around me and try to help them learn from that meeting. I have found that I can GROW in almost any meeting I attend, as long as I’m not hung up on having to LEARN during the meeting – and sometimes I learn amazing things from someone I might otherwise think can’t teach me anything.

    3) Given the multiple purposes of our meetings (SM = communal worship and praise, renewal of baptismal covenants, sharing of testimonies, spiritual renewal; SS = doctrinal study; PH/RS/YM/YW = personal and communal growth and service, practical discussion, organizational planning; Primary = too many to list and truly the most challenging, exhilarating, frustrating and exhausting), it would be very difficult for me to envision fulfilling those purposes in 2 hours. To further emphasize this, “the whole need not a physician, but the sick.” In many instances, I am not the patient. I can choose to try to be a physician, but to reduce the care a sick member receives just because I personally don’t need that level of care . . .

    4) I only enjoy 9 hours of church every other Sunday because of how I view those hours – as a chance to render truly important service to people who truly need that service.

    I see tremendous potential in those who comment here but struggle with church. At the risk of being WAY too harsh in a forum where I only know people to the extent that they allow me to know them, and sincerely in a spirit of brotherly love, may I pass along my own father’s advice: “Grow up and quit being so selfish”. Find your joy in church by stopping your effort to find it. Go there to love and help and serve others. I think you’ll have the same experience I did and will discuss this differently next year.

  53. Sorry; forgot to add something that echoes #49: If the primary problem is lack of the spirit in meetings, then the solution, IMHO, is NOT to eliminate the meeting but rather increase the spirit. That is something over which many of us have little control organizationally, but I think it’s still a better solution. Remember, church in Joseph Smith’s day generally was an all-day affair. If you were stimulated more during the meetings, do you think you would want them reduced?

  54. I am not a fan of the three hour bloc. In a church that no longer exists in religiously homogenous communities, the idea of the ward community seems to make less sense. When everyone in the neighborhood is also in the ward, then church becomes a part of the community life and Sunday School is integrated into a broader fabric of daily interactions between neighbors. It seems that the current LDS model of church, which is already a major revision of the even broader integration of church into the communal life of the early Mormons in Kirtland, Nauvoo, and then during the remainder of the nineteenth century in Utah, still works best as a supplement to Mormon communal living. Where that no longer exists, as in virtually all locations except on some parts of the Wasatch front, it would perhaps make sense to modify further to a more consolidated meeting schedule.

  55. jjohnsen says:

    I love the 2 hour block. I attend EQ once a quarter to make sure they know I’m alive, but usually I take my 1-year-old to the park or back home to read some Dr. Seuss.

    The 20 minute discussions on the Super Bowl, NBA finals or the last BYU football game followed by the teacher reading straight out of the manual was slowly driving me nuts. My wife wasn’t getting much out of RS with the kid, so I tried to improve both of our situations. Now she is spiritually fulfilled to a greater extent in RS, and I’m feeling less put-off by church.

    So yeah, I agree with JNS.

  56. Antonio Parr-

    You’re preaching to the converted….I agree that a renewed emphasis on Christ would work wonders – but under your proposal (if I understood you correctly), the bloc would still be three hours! Cut it to 2, and we agree completely. And if nothing else, a 2 hour bloc would mean less time for talky people to just meander through non-essential, non-Savior focused blahh. I believe (and I have absolutely no data to support this) that a shortened program would force folks to FOCUS – not so much time to eat with non-essential material.

    I share what appears to be your frustration. When when one is counting (and I’m so bored I actually do this from time to time) Christ’s name is mentioned only about once for every 6 times that say….Joseph Smith’s name is mentioned. Father’s Day in my ward consisted of two talks – on how Joseph Smith taught gospel principles (speakers #1 and #2 had to deviate at the beginning to wish everyone a happy father’s day). It should be noted that third guy didn’t even get a chance to speak because speaker #1 and #2 just went on, and on, and on…..

    Ronan, I did’t see the old thread until now…thanks. I voted for 2 hours!

  57. Ray: “At the risk of being WAY too harsh…”

    you got that right, Ray. That crosses a line, unfortunately.

  58. As far as spiritual content, I am largely with JNS on this. Except for when my wife teaches Sunday School, it is rarely uplifting or meaningful for me at present. Singing the hymns and partaking of the sacrament are definitely the highlights of the Church experience for me. My children, on the other hand, really, really like Church. They are willing to suffer sacrament meeting for primary.

  59. p.s. I really resent the implication that somehow not enjoying Church or not attending each week is keeping people from realizing some vast well of untapped potential. That’s picking at the motes of others IMHO. Attending Sunday School each week doesn’t give you or anyone else the right to condescendingly view others as children whose potential may someday be realized if they can become as righteous as yourself.

  60. Elder Kimball (before he was President) apparently said that he had never attended a boring sacrament meeting. Someone read me that quote from a lesson manual last year. I pointed out that Kimball was probably not being entirely truthful. That drew a surprisingly angry response from the person I was talking with. They couldn’t believe I was calling an apostle a liar! I asked if that person had ever attended a boring sacrament meeting. The person fumed, and that was the end of the conversation.

  61. Ray, I’m not selfish and childish – I’M NOT! I’M NOT, I’M NOT!

  62. Ronan – as far as church being too long, lets recall how it was a few decades ago, with Priesthood in the morning, Sunday School in the Afternoon and Sacrament in the evening. How’s that for long? But in some ways a broken up meeting might be more enjoyable, despite consuming more of the day. A sacrament meeting, followed by a family brunch (or the other way around), would feed both spirit and body (As well as the sense of community).

    As far as boring elder’s quorum meetings, I have to wonder if they are so boring, why no one does anything? My initial reaction was to suggest that perhaps we could do a little more to make them interesting. Perhaps put down the book (both the instructor’s manual and the member’s novel) and make it a discussion? I would be curious and really do want to know what stands in our way of improving the class as an individual (as opposed to structural changes or those as an instructor).

  63. Steve, I knew I was treading a fine line – and probably crossing it. I actually carried on a fairly long internal debate before adding the last paragraph, but I finally did so only because of the impact those words had on me personally. I also struggled about adding it because I was afraid, correctly, that it would distract from the central message that would be much more palatable without it.

    I understand your response in #59, Steve, although it is not at all what I intended. Loving church is one of my strengths, frankly. This thread doesn’t address one of my MANY weaknesses – and I truly do have lots of them. I don’t see myself as an adult who is participating here in order to educate children. I actually understand the tedium of church, and I understand the inclination to try to limit that tedium by shortening the meetings. I just don’t agree with it, and my reasoning is that I see SO many members who desperately need the full three hours – and probably would welcome more if it kept them from their abusive husbands, communal isolation, etc. The key point for me is not the length of the meetings, but rather the quality of the meetings – and I think, based on what has been said by almost everyone in the “don’t like the block” column, that if they were experiencing a spiritual feast each week then the length largely would disappear as a hot button issue. My suggestion simply was a way to try to make that happen on an individual level, even if it is not happening on a ward level.

    I sincerely appreciate both your and JNS’ posts, because they illustrate two differing points of view from two people who still attend despite their differences. That is the heart of what makes the Church work on the local level – people who faithfully attend despite various issues and contribute in whatever way they can. I read many of the posts and comments here and truly appreciate the insight. As I said a in Mike’s Odd Fellowship thread, I get fed intellectually and spiritually here in ways that just don’t happen at church – which is easy to forget when I try to explain my church-geekiness.

    I sincerely do apologize for crossing the line.

  64. Costanza says:

    CE,
    I remember that quote too. I think I read it in an Ensign article about President Kimball and my reaction was exactly the same as yours.

  65. Ray, I like you. You drive me nuts once in a while, but I like you.

  66. In an April 2002 conference talk, Elder Oaks talked about people who don’t feel like church meetings “meet their needs.” He said:

    Which needs could they be expecting the Church to meet? If persons are simply seeking a satisfying social experience, they might be disappointed in a particular ward or branch and seek other associations. There are satisfying social experiences in many organizations. If they are simply seeking help to learn the gospel, they could pursue that goal through available literature. But are these the principal purposes of the Church? Is this all we are to receive from the gospel of Jesus Christ?

    Elder Oaks went on to say that we really attend church to “give to our fellowmen and serve the Lord,” and to obey a commandment from the Lord to offer up our sacraments each sabbath day. He develops these ideas much further in his talk–you can read it for more context.

    I like the idea of attending church to serve others. Perhaps that is an interesting paradigm to consider in this discussion. Does our current meeting format provide the best opportunities to serve and help others?

    Based on my experience and many of the comments here, I think the answer is “not as well as it could.”

  67. One more clarification: I truly and sincerely don’t see myself as more righteous than anyone else here, but I do think I am better at this particular issue than many. All of us have strengths and weaknesses. I can’t get away from that, but I also think I am worse at other issues than many who comment here. I try to learn from those who are better than me when we are discussing those issues where I am weak, so I hope others will try to learn from me when we are discussing those issues where I am strong.

  68. Thanks, Steve. I added my last comment before reading yours. I drive my children nuts all the time . . . Oops, didn’t mean to lump you with my kids. :-)

  69. I have feelings on both sides of this issue. When our meetings work, there is no where I’d rather be. When they are not working, I resort to reading the BOM.

    Sunday School and PH seem to be the most obvious problem areas. In our ward, we alternate between two different gospel doctrine teachers to try and vary the experience, but there are always people languishing in the halls. PH varies from really good to really awful.

    However. And this to me is the big issue: Our lay clergy extends clear down through lay teachers, by their very nature inexperienced and not mature in the gospel always.

    There are two important advantages to this, that require some understanding from both those serving and those being served. First, every one of us is supposed to have a calling, and so we are often called to things that we aren’t always good at, and hopefully we get better. And we often do. Second, since we all have those chances to succeed or fail in the full glare of the footlights, we ought to be more tolerant of those who fall short. I’ve become more tolerant of bad teachers and dry talks in sacrament meeting.

    Disclaimer: I now serve as a high councilor, and often attend two sacrament meetings a week, two Sunday schools, and two PH meetings. I know that I have given good talks in other wards as part of my HC assignment, and also know that I’ve given some real clunkers. I know, because I can see you sleeping, and it’s not always because you stayed up late watching the cartoon network.

    I have rejoiced, though, in the community and sense of belonging. I mostly come to my home ward after attending the block in another ward where my assignments take me so I can be with my family, and also with my friends in the church. I loved hearing the new convert of just over a year give his first PH lesson, and even though he stumbled and was obviously uncomfortable, I could sense the sincerity of his testimony.

    Another recent convert gave a talk last Sunday about Fathers Day, and gave one of the most engaging and dynamic sacrament talks I’ve heard, about her own father. She used phrases like “bored out of their skulls” and others I’ve never heard used in sacrament meeting before. Mostly, though, her point was that she joined the church because it was the first church she had seen where the men and fathers really had any involvement with church other than showing up.

    Finally, one wacko admission. I love going to my 6 AM HC meeting every week. Best meetings I’ve ever attended.

  70. I remember that Kimball quote as well in SS. Without thinking I blurted out “I’d love to know the books he was reading during sacrament meeting.” Which got a load of laughs.

    Jay S, I know what you’re saying. To which I respond that people don’t like to have the boat rocked. For example, I was given the opportunity to teach EQ once. Seeing this as my opportunity to give a lesson I’d like to see given I really took to it. At the beginning of the lesson I stated that we weren’t going to use the manual much as they were all grown men and could read for themselves and instead used it as a setting off point. It was well prepared, we had great discussions that didn’t stray from the topic, I taught them about jewish and church history. At the end I got a ton of compliments and people saying, “That was great. I haven’t had lesson like that in years.” or “I’ve never taken so many notes in a EQ lesson.” and such from everyone except the EQ leadership.

    Know what happened? I was shunned and never asked to teach again, barely asked to particapte. And next week were back to the “read more scriptures.”, “Pray more” oh and my favorite, “Let’s all read starting at page 36 and finish at page 45. Who wants to read first?” Fact is, I believe that people feel that church can’t be enjoyable, or can’t change. See how many of us cling to the 3 hours.

    I remember that Oaks talk. It was fantastic. I liked to apply the same logic to my marriage, “What do you mean I’m not romantic anymore? You’re just trying to get the wrong things out of it. Maybe the problem is with you and how you’re approaching it.” (snarky I know, but you get the point)

  71. Ronito – I’m sorry that happened. Perhaps there was more to the story than you realize. I don’t know, I am just disappointed that happened.

    I myself try to shake things up when I teach (once every few months). Not that I am an acadmeic, or a teacher, but I try and encourage participation by breaking into small groups, mandating comments (EVERYONE SHARES) and sitting down to teach (instead of lecturing from a pulpit). Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but I try.

    I was visiting my parents ward, and the EQ lesson was done in 10 minutes. I myself have done 10 minute lessons (one a few weeks ago, where we had a few announcements, new members and learning how to pass the sacrament, leaving only 10 minutes for the lesson). But this lesson was read a few quotes and be done, with 20-30 minutes remaining. Disappointing. It was even more disppointing because people were given the opportunity to share comments, and testimonies, and no one spoke (including myself, shame on me!).

    This, I think is one of the largest downfalls of the block. We are in “Receieve only” mode from Sacrament, and continue this into SS and PH/RS. A break in the block might help to “reset” our minds.

  72. I enjoyed reading both of these perspectives about church attendance, but to be honest, I’m surprised to hear of so many that dislike (maybe that’s too strong) church meetings. Personally, the only thing I dislike about church is getting the kids ready, but it is the same frustration I experience in trying to get the kids to do anything. I guess I wrongfully expected that everyone loves church the way I do.

    As far as Sunday School, our ward has a legacy of many wonderful teachers that prepare well and give interesting lessons. In priesthood, we alternate teachers fairly frequently, so you never know what kind of lesson you’ll get, but after all the announcements and chit chat the lesson is pretty short but is usually pretty good.

    With sacrament meeting, again, you never know what kind of speakers you’ll get, but most are well prepared and do a great job.

    I have recently realized that what I get out of church is largely determined by my own preparation and attitude. Have I read and studied the lessons? Am I eager to listen, learn, and contribute if possible? Do I look forward to singing and praying with my fellow saints?

    Maybe I’m really naive, but I’m surprised that so many want less church meetings. Even if it were torturous, and I doubt that would be the case for any of us, three hours out of a week seems like a small price to pay.

  73. jjohnsen says:

    At the end I got a ton of compliments and people saying, “That was great. I haven’t had lesson like that in years.” or “I’ve never taken so many notes in a EQ lesson.” and such from everyone except the EQ leadership.

    Know what happened? I was shunned and never asked to teach again, barely asked to particapte. And next week were back to the “read more scriptures.”, “Pray more” oh and my favorite, “Let’s all read starting at page 36 and finish at page 45. Who wants to read first?” Fact is, I believe that people feel that church can’t be enjoyable, or can’t change. See how many of us cling to the 3 hours.

    Does this surprise anyone? The best teachers I’ve had in PH have taught similar to this, they also don’t seem to be teachers long. I think the accepted way to teach is to read from the manual with a few questions and short discussions thrown in. In SS it’s the same way, reading through the manual, with the teacher asking a few questions that we all know ahead of time how they’ll be answered.

    Rarely have I been in a ward that goes off this path.

  74. jjohnsen says:

    Jim A, I’ve can’t remember ever living in the ward you describe. A meeting like the one you talk about would leave me jumping for joy.

  75. Peter LLC says:

    Freedom of the Hills

    Sam MB, I would like to bear my testimony of this book.

  76. Peter LLC says:

    John, interesting ideas in #54. My delegation will study it carefully : )

  77. and, therein, lies the difference, IMHO. I have lived in wards where the bad lesson was the rule, but I have lived in more wards where the bad lesson occurred only about 25% of the time – which is unavoidable where callings often are extended to provide opportunities for the teacher to learn and grow. (Interestingly, that’s one of the reasons why some of the Primary teachers in our ward don’t want to be released. They can learn to teach without fear of criticism. That’s both really cool and sad – and it speaks directly to kevinf’s comment.)

    The primary difference in the wards I have attended is the care and attention paid to these issue by the Bishop. In our current ward, he makes (and his predecessor made) a conscious and obvious effort to increase spirituality in our meetings – hammering home that point in just about every leadership meeting he holds. He asks very few questions of the ward leadership, and they almost always deal with the tone those leaders set in the area of love, tolerance and spirituality. We are trying to help all of the bishops and branch presidents in our stake catch that vision, and it is paying tremendous dividends in those units where those leaders are getting it.

  78. One thing that PH leaders should probably do is be aware of who in their wards are good speakers and good teachers and make sure that they get used a lot. Not exclusivly but more

    It may sound elitist but it would make Sunday better for those that complain about the quality of talks and lessons.

  79. Amen, bbell. Only one additional point: My favorite bishop ever insisted that the best teachers in the ward teach Sunday School – specifically because that is where doctrinal instruction is the central purpose and makes the most impact. He felt that the adults should be able to understand, empathize with and accept less experienced teachers in PH and RS – and that the PH & RS leadership should work with those teachers to help them improve over time. I thought that was a good practical approach.

  80. One of my favorite Sunday School teachers once told me that he felt responsible to the Lord for the experiences that his students had. He felt that he was a steward over the time consecrated by members who attended his class, and he therefore took his calling, and his preparation, very seriously. In the time I was in that ward, I never heard anyone complain that they weren’t getting anything out of his class.

  81. Ronan: forgive me if you thought that I was calling you a jerk in any way. Only you could know that. And you’re right, Barney is not a jerk, but he’s still Barney and that counts for something.

    If I had to travel an hour each way I may well feel differently about the bloc as well … in fact I already do. I think that the block ought to be at most 1 hr. 20 minutes with five minutes off for good behavior and 20 minutes off for tithe payers. I also believe that scout masters should never be required to attend and that bishops should get their cars washed and gardens weeded on a weekly basis just for everything mind-numbing that they do.

  82. Barney is certainly a Barney!

  83. One theme that I see throughout this excellent discussion — which I haven’t had the time today to follow more closely; sorry — is the idea that the three-hour block is a good time for Christian service. This idea interests me, although I have to admit to some concern about it. It seems to me that our church meetings are often the period of time in a member’s week when it’s hardest to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, imprisoned, and afflicted, and do the other acts of service that characterize our efforts to be like Christ. The kinds of service that we can do during our church meetings seem mostly to be the lesser, easier kind, the kind that demand far less of us: being nice to people, congratulating folks for their talks and lessons, helping others with their bored or unhappy children, teaching the best lesson or giving the best talk we can. Now, of course, we ought to do those things as well, and other things like them throughout the course of the week. But these things are a constrained and narrow version of Christian service, aren’t they? Don’t the things we do outside the chapel doors seem far weightier on this score?

  84. JNS,
    It could be argued that we all suffer together and help each other through it.

  85. Re: JNS #83,

    It seems to me that our church meetings are often the period of time in a member’s week when it’s hardest to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, imprisoned, and afflicted, and do the other acts of service that characterize our efforts to be like Christ.

    In my opinion, participation in church services recharges me and makes me better able to give this type of Christlike service that you describe. I don’t think we can “weight” the different types of service that we give or receive- someone’s need for a “hello,” a handshake, or a smile may be just as legitimate and real as another’s need for a meal, shelter, or clothing. Again, my opinion, but I believe that strengthening and encouraging each other through our worship is as significant as other types of service.

  86. JNS,
    Yes. Yes. We can’t limit our service to inside the church, since the service we are supposed to emulate (Jesus’) never occurred inside a ward or stake building. Service inside the church building should be an extension of our service outside it – and if we aren’t doing the latter, the former doesn’t mean as much.

    Amen, ronito. That doesn’t happen automatically, but it’s wonderful when it is a conscious effort.

  87. Steve Evans says:

    Ray, I think you missed Ronito’s point, which was that church meetings themselves are a form of communal suffering.

  88. Thanks, Jim. I think when someone truly “gets” service, there is no distinction between different locations and groups of people. You simply serve people no matter where, when and how. I think that’s one of the main points of the Sermon on the Mount and the heart of Joseph Smith’s attempt to establish Zion as an actual community.

  89. For many, the Sunday block is where we learn about opportunities for service that we perform outside the walls of the building. IMHO, this is where we learn how to serve, and then get the opportunities. Going to church is not service in that sense, and it has taken me a long time to overcome the sense I had, even being raised in the church, that going to church, and not doing the bad things, was what was required of me. Only in my adult life has it become clear that the giving of service is probably the most important thing we do, more so than church attendance, reading the scriptures, etc, etc. But going to church, reading the scriptures, etc, etc, help me to be better at recognizing service opportunities, and being willing to do them.

  90. Yeah, I did, Steve. I want to laugh, but there’s a lot of truth to that. I think I’ll simply tip my hat to ronito.

  91. RE my post # 87. My first sentence was not clear. Church meetings are often where we learn about feeding the family of the mother stricken with cancer, someone who needs help moving, opportunities at the DI or bishop’s storehouse. That’s the introduction to freely seeking to give service whenever we see the chance.

  92. You folks post too fast. My # 87 became # 89, bumping my # 88 to # 91. Ronito, while I love some meetings, I’ve been in a lot of leadership meetings that were examples of communal suffering. A bishop friend of mine kept an egg timer on his desk for those kind of meetings, to keep people short and to the point. That was service indeed, albeit perhaps not all selfless!

  93. My favorite period of time since as far back as I can remember is Sunday School. I feel the level of interaction to be more personal and the opportunity to explore the concepts of the Gospel to be greatest of the three meetings.

  94. If my bishop kept an egg timer when I was meeting with him I think I’d slap him.

    This is probably why I’m an EQ instructor instead of Ward Bouncer or something cool.

  95. Steve,

    Not in personal interviews, in Ward Council and PEC! It all had to do with setting proper expectations, and he didn’t use it on everyone, just the ones who were serial offenders. Think chronic threadjackers, not people pouring out the deep dark secrets of their souls!

    On the other hand, Ward Bouncer is an interesting concept. But I threadjack, and the egg timer has been turned.

  96. Thomas Parkin says:

    re: feeding the hungry during the Bloc.

    We aren’t only meant to feed people’s physical hunger. I think those imperatives to feed, clothe, visit have a spiritual side, to feed the spirutally hungry, clothe the spiritually naked, visit with the spiritually alone, etc. – and that church meetings are exactly the place where those charges are best fulfilled. Ideally, ya know …

  97. Kevin, I’ve seen Steve wield his man-purse, and I think he would make an excellent Ward Bouncer.

    Steve, if you want to fill that role, ask to be put in the Sunday School Presidency and play Hall Cop – throwing people out of the chapel after SM and into the proper SS classes. Perhaps as YM 2nd Counselor you could teach the Teachers to escort out members who insist on talking at normal volume levels during the administration of the sacrament. That’s the closest I can come in a traditional calling.

    That might be an interesting thread: Most Creative Assignment for Those Who Simply Won’t Accept a Normal Calling.

  98. Steve: dude, we’re calling brothers!

  99. Something I figured out just this Sunday, after over 20 years in the church, is that, other than taking the sacrament, sacrament meeting really isn’t about me. It’s mainly about providing an audience for the speaker to speak to. Many of my personal “mantras” come from talks I have given, and few from talks I’ve heard. So if I feel like I have heard the same subject over and over again, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sacrament is not about entertaining or enlightening me. It’s mostly about giving the speakers an audience, and if I get something out of it it’s a bonus.

    As far as the two-hour block, during my time in the church my “favorite meeting” has often varied. Used to be it was sacrament, but our ward has mostly given up on actual speaking and gone mostly over to reading excerpts from conference talks. For many years, as a young father, it was Elders Quorum, but that varies now on which president of the church we are quoting out of context. :-)

    For years I skipped Sunday School because I was frustrated by the simple nature of the lessons, but now it’s my favorite meeting. After a long period of semi-activity I’m back to mostly-activity because I miss reading and discussing the scriptures, even if the lessons haven’t been updated since the mid-90s. I missed the sense of community as people try to apply the timeless lessons of the scriptures to their own lives.

  100. Ray #63, I have been one of those people you describe. There were times when those three hours of church were a refuge for me.

    The good thing about no expectations is that only by experiencing what is actually happening, can you be open to receiving whatever revelation or insights may be available to you. This is not limited to being in church, of course, but I often find that this is the place where such experiences occur for me. They’re few and far between, but when they happen, they’re really cool.

    I think of it as waiting upon the Lord. You don’t even really have to listen, because being in the present means engagement with everything that’s going on around you.

  101. In an effort to brief, I omitted an important point about no expectations: if you are expecting anything, then you are not focussed on the here and now but on what’s coming next, or later.

  102. Something I figured out just this Sunday, after over 20 years in the church, is that, other than taking the sacrament, sacrament meeting really isn’t about me. It’s mainly about providing an audience for the speaker to speak to.

    This is a nice thought, but it seems like a terribly inefficient way to organize a spiritual gathering. 3 people are strengthened and edified, while 100 people warm seats for the benefit of the 3. Since I am only asked to talk once a year, that only gives be one annual boost. And yet I really need a charge every week. Also, ideally sacrament should involve some type of worship. This is certainly provided in the form of the sacrament, but I would rather not simply be a spectator the other 45 minutes.

  103. One thing I realized from reading this thread is that some of you have sacrament meeting first. Here in the true church we have it last. That makes all the difference. Please alter your schedules accordingly.

  104. other than taking the sacrament, sacrament meeting really isn’t about me.

    I really hate to point this out, but here in the true church, the sacrament is about Jesus.

  105. RE: #99 @ Timeless Lessons:
    Rob, I don’t know if the people are that different where you are, but where I’m from (KY, USA) I see exactly the opposite happenning. I’ve been to three wards/branches in my area (I’m a college student, so I move around a lot) and all of them have an emphasis on applying the principals we learn to our everyday life.
    Dunno, it might just be because I see my awesome institute teacher at least once a week, and he loves to quote Elder Scott.

    “Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances.”
    GC, Oct. 1993

    He often says that we only get anything out of talks people give if we narrow down the principles that are stated, and separate them from the circumstances, and then apply them to ourselves and our lives personally.
    And I think the rest of the people in my area are picking up on that, even in the family wards… because lessons are always about taking the principles from the lessons and using them to change our daily lives. Individually, not just generally.

  106. Ray – waaayy back to #67 – I appreciate where you’re coming from – but I feel a little weird about classifying someone prone to enjoy the 3 hour bloc as a “strength” –

    “so I hope others will try to learn from me when we are discussing those issues where I am strong.”

    I thought a lot about it….trying to understand why you may be right, that it is a strength to like the three hour bloc….I finally concluded that it’s simply a matter of opinion, not a matter of strong versus weak. Some people like Coke (or Vanilla Coke), some like Pepsi, but the discussion relative to Coke versus Pepsi has nothing to do with strong versus weak.

    Additionally, there have been lots of policies, programs, etc that have been improved upon, strengthened, changed and modified to better meet the needs of members. Someone who supported old programs, methods, bloc schedules, etc., weren’t necessarily stronger than those who appreciated the changes.

    Then I thought, well maybe Ray is strong in this area because he tends to agree with (and like) the current meeting program of the church – a 3 hour bloc – so he’s strong in sustaining the leaders of the church. I suppose that may well be, but sometimes sustaining means providing feedback, different ideas and sometimes even challenging our leaders. I don’t think it’s weak to take a stand or a position that is contrary to a program or policy that may be operating inefficiently. Of course, this takes us into a completely different topic.

  107. Steve Evans says:

    Who on earth likes Pepsi more than Coke. Let them stand and be counted.

  108. Who on earth likes Pepsi more than Coke. Let them stand and be counted.

    Not me.

  109. adcama, I didn’t mean that my “strength” is liking the 3-hour block. I meant it to apply to attending church as much as I can, despite the fact that there are plenty of lessons and talks that aren’t exceptionally well prepared. If the Church re-instituted all-day gatherings and 8-hour testimony meetings, I’d be ecstatic. That just ain’t normal, so I called it a strength.

    I don’t know if “gift” would be a better word than strength, but this is one area where I used to struggle and no longer do. In that regard, I have seen the fulfillment of Ether 12:27 – a former weak thing becoming strong. In fact, as I think more about it, I like “gift” instead of strength, because “gift” recognizes that it came from outside of me while “strength” implies it was my effort that did it. Perhaps Ether 12:27 should be read in terms of asking for and receiving a gift that allows us to make weak things strong, since He is the one who makes the change possible. Never thought of it in those terms; I’ll have to think about it some more.

  110. Steve, Pepsi. Definitely Pepsi. Cherry Coke Zero is a distant second.

  111. I’ll take Pepsi, diet Pepsi or any other stimulant laced beverage ’bout two hours into a three hour bloc!

  112. jothegrill says:

    What if we had Sunday school one week, and Priesthood/Relief Society the next?
    Also I loved church when I was a teenager, but Sunday School was different for me than for most because our teachers often didn’t show up, so we all just talked about the scriptures, asked each other questions. Sometimes there was another adult from the ward there, but sometimes it was just us. It was wonderful.

  113. There is a scripture that states that the Holy Ghost carries the message of a lesson, talk, etc. “unto” the hearts of men, not “into.” This means that it is up to us to let it in. So not only does the teacher or speaker have to prepare with the Spirit, we do too as hearers of the word.

    If we prepare ourselves to be open to the things that are taught by the Spirit, then I think we’re more likely to feel the Spirit. Of course, this assumes that the teacher has the Spirit with them, which in my experience has been a big part of the problem. How many lessons or talks have you given without even praying or studying about it, rather just preparing it and hope it goes well?

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