Reading at Church

So I’m sitting in sacrament meeting yesterday when I feel a sharp elbow to my ribs. I looked up from the book I was reading just in time to hear the words: “Sacrament meeting is not a time for reading books or magazines.” It turns out the speaker had been asked to summarize a conference address by Elder Oaks on the subject of sacrament meetings. I smiled at the irony, listened for a moment to see whether the speaker actually had a thought or story of his own to share that I hadn’t already read on the subject, and concluding that he did not I slipped back into reading the book I had brought from home.

I always bring a book to Church; it is my way of surviving the experience. Usually it is a church book, although I confess that yesterday it was not. I keep my ears attuned to personal stories or other material I’m not already familiar with, and put the book down for that. But if someone is saying the same formulaic thing I’ve heard over that pulpit a hundred times before, the book I bring with me is my salvation.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you read at church, or do you manage to avoid it? Does your significant other give you grief about it if you do read during the three-hour block? What are your preferences for Church reading material? Or do you prefer to use your phone to surf the web or use some other technology to avoid terminal boredom?

Comments

  1. I sleep. Too much guilt from years of indoctrination to read anything, even scriptures, during meetings.

  2. During SM I read through the good bits of the Old Testament. Being in the bishopric, doing anything else is a little unseemly.

    During the other meetings, if I’m not actually doing something, I usually pinch something from the institute library upstairs. Lately I’ve been looking through the Sperry Symposium series, which are uneven in quality but generally diverting.

  3. There are largely three possible scenarios that play out in Sacrament meeting. From most to least common:

    1. I read: scriptures, usually, sometimes the Ensign.
    2. I snuggle with my wife and try not to fall asleep.
    3. Sacrament meeting is actually engaging and I pay attention.

    I don’t have the chutzpah to read something not Church-related, but in a few years maybe I’ll be old and grumpy enough.

    This isn’t just me being cynical: I learn best by reading, and tend to tune out when I’m being talked at. I’ve stopped attending General Conference because I get much, much more out of the talks by reading them in the Ensign than by attending and listening.

  4. Perhaps your post is partly in jest, but you assume that everyone shares your boredom at church. I admit that there are topics that I enjoy more than others and speakers that are better than others and that at times my mind wanders. Boredom is generally not a problem though.

    It’s probably not my place to say, but I’ll say it anyway- if you expect to be intellectually challenged at church or to hear something new, you probably will often be bored. Perhaps challenge yourself to change your perspective. See if you can be touched by the simplest message of the deacon or beehive. See if you can feel the Spirit from each speaker. See if you can give your undivided attention. Isn’t this why we go to church?

  5. When this was given in conference I had 2 thoughts 1 how many would be asleep instead of reading? 2 Does this also apply to children and younger members? Most members in my ward either read sleep or wrestle with children. When I give a talk there are very few in the congregation that make eye contact and seem to listen so I do understand the problem. Why have meetings just to have meetings? Personally I think the solution is 2 hour church blocks. If we only pay attention for a limited amount of time then the rest is waste.

  6. Most of the time, I pay attention. However, when I catch my mind wandering, or if the speaker is out on some random tangent, I’ll pull out my scriptures to read. I find that reading my scriptures during Sacrament Meeting has been a rich source of personal revelation.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I freely acknowledge that my practice of reading at church is less than ideal. I hope others do better than me, but I suspect many are right there with me, and I’m curious how people negotiate this particular practice.

  8. The miserable experience of standing at the pulpit giving a talk and seeing a lot of bowed heads, blank stares, and dozing has made me feel like I should do my best to at least appear attentive when others are speaking, even if they’re boring. I try to see it as a small act of service because I know I appreciate it when people appear attentive when I talk. I would feel guilty reading, and I do feel guilty when I zone out, because I feel like I’m contributing to the speaker’s misery.

  9. molly bennion says:

    I read. It’s not the best quality reading because I do listen with one ear, two if it seems at all fresh. Usually Dialogues, easy to carry,scriptures and church books. I don’t wish to hurt anyone’s feelings so I keep it low, on the seat beside me if there’s room. Kevin, as you say, it is “survival” and “salvation.” Important.
    My husband usually sleeps–unless he’s on the stand and then only rarely. (We once sent a granddaughter to the stand to wake him up in time to give his talk.) Yesterday he read a church book and I herded granddaughters, also a fine alternative to boredom. When our children were small, we would each campaign to take out the noisy one.
    It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of telling us not to read, how about telling the members how to do a much better job preparing talks and speaking?

  10. I finished the last 50 pages in my second time through the Bible yesterday, so I feel pretty good about it, I guess.

  11. I understand the boredom, even the desperate frustration, of hearing horridly butchered rehashings of conference talks I still remember clearly (our meeting *the*very*next*Sunday*after*conference* consisted of *six* butcheries of talks given only a week earlier). I despise the “how my husband and I met each other in high school” cutesy stories that all the very young wives in our ward impose on us each and every week, and I hereby absolve anyone of anything any of us do to survive those despicable moments.

    But if you’re in your own private world of reading, how do you participate in the communal aspect of worship?

    That’s the nice phrasing of the question. The other phrasing is, “What gives YOU the right to escape the experience that the rest of us feel obligated to endure?” If you’re one of us, you can jolly well suffer along with us. :)

  12. Steve Evans says:

    I play with my kids and wrangle them as they suddenly, inexplicably, start behaving poorly.

  13. I bring a notebook to work on math problems I’ve come across. Other than that, read scriptures to not feel too guilty. Still get the ribbing from time to time.

    On that note, I typically give fairly well-researched, non-documentary sacrament talks. Why would I restate what others have said? I just give the source (typically a general conference talk) and then only marginally relate to the topic for the rest of the time.

    When on my mission, all of us typically would see how easily we could work the topic into a message of the restoration. Good times.

    I guess I got jaded to listening when the stake presidency began giving their talks as rehashes of the general conference talks from the previous sessions. Also when the most “original” talk concerned a woman who wanted to make a million dollars before she retired, and gave detailed advice as to how she was going to do this. She lost most of it in October, apparently.

    Really, too many people don’t share personal experiences or bare testimony. We had an excellent talk from a Young Men’s president this last weekend dealing with righteous traditions in the home. I believe he began his talk with a GA quote, and all the rest was straight from the heart or the scriptures. It was awesome.

  14. My wife would kill me if I read a book in Sacrament meeting while she had to control our two little girls by herself. (Smiley face, but it’s still true.)

  15. Actually, come to think of it, I usually do read a board book — out loud even — during Sacrament meeting.

  16. Molly’s got the right idea.

    I don’t read during Sacrament meeting–it’s really tough to do that while sitting on the stand. I usually fill my time silently praying that the speaker will speak the truth, and that those attending will feel the Spirit.

    Unless it’s a Spanish-language congregation, in which case I sit there trying to figure out what’s being said.

  17. I read scriptures, plan seminary lessons, or watch my son during boring meetings. I would only bring a non-church book if I was addicted, and that hasn’t happened in a long time (since Twilight)(j/k).

  18. I have another alternative to just reading (although I do plenty of that, and usually the scriptures or I bring a church/church history related book): I am working on writing a life history of my dad. I bring a three-ring binder with lined paper in it, as well as copies of my dad’s transcribed journals. I work on outlines and drafts of stories from his life. It is immensely fulfilling, although hard at times to concentrate deeply.

  19. I agree with what others have said about paying attention to speakers, even if you’ve heard the material dozens of times already. Consider the feelings of the deacon as he looks out and sees you staring down at your book… is an hour of your attention really too much to ask? I can’t speak for all of us, but I know that when I’m speaking and look out into the congregation, it’s very comforting to see just a few heads turned my way! LOL

    It’s not even an hour – after you take the Sacrament, prayers, hymns, announcements and business out of Sacrament meeting, it’s only 30 minutes at the most :)

  20. I, like others, have small children. I do occasionally check the Blackberry for e-mail, blogs, etc, but mainly, I am taking the 1 year old out, or coloring and drawing with the 5 year old, or being the Young Men’s President, I am going to get bread at the corner store across the way, or wandering around asking people to help with Sacrament becuase the Youth didn’t show up. Sometimes I am doing more noble things like going to sit with the family I home teach who’s kids are out of control, but often it’s me and the 22 month old in the hall, walking up and down, looking at Harry Anderson and Carl Bloch paintings.

    I quite enjoy it.

  21. The palm pilot is the greatest sacrament meeting tool ever. I can read scriptures, I can prepare my lesson for Sunday School, I can read the Priesthood lesson since I’m the defacto emergency substitute (once taught with 15 seconds notice), I can read e-mail (unsecured WiFi network within range of the chapel), or I can conquer eastern Europe with a Risk game. Any dirty looks from the wife and I hit two penstrokes and I’m back in the New Testament. It also helps during those times when I need to “borrow” one or two of the six kids from a family I home teach because Mom or Dad had to take the naughty ones out for a little corrective sermon.

    I don’t know what I would have done without it yesterday. EQ was so bad, I finally asked “So, it sounds like what you’re saying is if you don’t do your home teaching, you don’t love Jesus. Does that sum it up?” The teacher agreed that yes, I’d accurately understood the lesson.

  22. Re: 11 “But if you’re in your own private world of reading, how do you participate in the communal aspect of worship?”

    Ardis, apart from singing the hymns, praying, and taking the sacrament, what part of Sacrament Meeting actually contains “communal worship”? Sitting there listening to sermons is worship? How do you define worship? Isn’t reading a sermon (i.e., the scriptures) then also communal worship? Seriously.

  23. I alternate between listening and wrestling my brood of boys. I have found that allowing a limited number of Star Wars toys really distracts them. I always pay close attention to youth speakers for the above stated reasons. Some of the talks by the kids are really quite good.

  24. I read the Ensign. Not because it’s great reading, but because I feel like I should keep myself informed on what’s being printed in there, and SM is the only time I really want to devote to reading the Ensign.

    I also keep one ear open to what the speakers are saying and i quit reading if their words catch my attention.

  25. Kevin, I’m with you one hundred percent, though I am working on reading less. I generally receive the sharp elbow from my wife on a weekly basis, and the elbows seemed to get sharper recently as my acceptable reading moved from “Mormon” books to “religious” books.

    She was especially annoyed when I brought along a book entitled “Damned Women” a few weeks back (the book deals with witchcraft in colonial New England and I was trying to finish it before class on Monday), and brought up my church reading habits on the ride home. She (correctly, I think) sees my reading as both rude and inappropriate. We’ve compromised now, and I still bring along a book, but try to limit my reading to the breaks between classes/sacrament meeting.

    I do have one positive experience from my bringing along a book. A couple of months ago, I brought along Susan Juster’s book on the visionary culture of the early American republic. Coincidentally, the EQ lesson that day was on JS’s first vision. I brought up my own research on the subject, and quoted Juster in an attempt to paint JS’s first vision as primarily a conversion experience. It generated a great conversation among the class about how JS’s own understanding of his experiences and mission changed over time, and a number of people thanked me afterwards for my input.

  26. How about we just devote one meeting per month to group silent reading? Think of the positive interaction this would create, everyone being so curious to see what everyone else is reading.

  27. Seriously, Hunter, however you define worship in the context of Sacrament meeting, there *has* to be a communal aspect to it, else there’s no point in being there. We might as well administer the sacrament, then dismiss the meeting for us all to go home and read in peace.

    I realize that most meetings are so awful that we’d be better off if the bishop did dismiss us. But that is apparently not the way it should work, ideally. If the speaker really had a testimony to bear or instruction to give, and we were all paying attention and unitedly sharing the enlightenment, recognizing our community, feeling the Spirit — communing — we would each leave the meeting with something more than we would have gained from reading a printed copy of the talk alone in our living rooms. Otherwise there is no meaning to the commandment to “assemble together [to] instruct and edify each other.”

    I acknowledge that that’s a rare event due both to the lack of skill by most speakers and the private amusements/slumber of most individuals. But that’s no reason to abandon the ideal.

  28. #4:

    See if you can be touched by the simplest message of the deacon or beehive. See if you can feel the Spirit from each speaker.

    I love hearing from inspired deacons and beehives. Or anyone of any age, nationality, education level, etc., provided that their words are inspired and heartfelt. It’s not that I’m looking for high-level philosophy–I’m just looking for some kind of connection to the speaker.

    A counter-example of what I’m describing: a couple weeks back, a young Priest read a conference talk verbatim. This is bad enough, but–how shall I say this politely–the kid didn’t read at grade level. (And yes, he’s a native English speaker. No, he doesn’t have special needs.)

    So. I. Got. To. Hear. A. Con-fer-ence. Talk. Re-peat-ed. Like. This. For. Twenty. Minutes. Amen.

    How is that spiritual? It’s the very essence of vain repetition, even if it’s not being delivered with ill intent. Contrast that with a few minutes of off-the-cuff, heartfelt words from a young man or woman about the Savior or their family–which happens too rarely in my ward, at least–and you’ll see why sometimes I need to read Scriptures to feel anything spiritual in Sacrament meeting.

  29. Kevin, I face a variant of your question weekly. That is, given that I’m typically reading or writing during sacrament meeting, what books should we allow our children to read? We request that they don’t read until after the sacrament, and we often recommend they listen to a specific speaker or two. Other than that, while we encourage certain genres and languages for reading in church, we don’t have any hard rules. I guess we do discourage books with distracting covers.

  30. I’m not at all sure about this. My dad ALWAYS did reading at Church, and the message I got was that he had more important things to do than listen to the speakers. I know other brilliant men who find literary avenues to take during Church talks, but the results (as far as their children’s attitudes towards Church go) have been less than ideal.

    I am struggling to keep my kids in Church. It isn’t easy, frankly. I acknowledge to them that Church can be terribly boring, and I tell them that since we have a lay clergy, anyone can be the speaker–without training or speaking skill. I ask my kids to be courteous and listen as best they can. I usually stroke my son’s back during Sacrament Meeting to make it a bit more pleasant for him. I usually try to find something good to say about a talk: “I liked that story.” “That’s one of my favorite scriptures too.” Yesterday, when my daughter complained about how boring Church was and how many of the youth leave because of it, I said that I was certain the leaders were aware of this, and I wondered what they were planning on doing. I suggested she come up with a list of ideas to hold onto our youth. My youngest son would love to go to Calvary Baptist every Sunday, because the music ROCKS and Pastor Davis is so good. But we don’t go there.

    So Kevin, I do understand where you’re coming from, but I disagree with you on this one. I think you should show your children that even though you’re brilliant and almost certainly a better speaker than those who have a microphone [you’re a very good speaker], you still listen. (I hope that didn’t sound too condescending.)

  31. Follow-up to number 28: one of the most amazing talks I ever heard in Sacrament Meeting was in an inner-city ward from a teenaged girl who lived with her mom. She very briefly spoke about our Heavenly Father’s plan, and about the challenges in her life and family. She concluded her talk by mentioning cruel classmates who teased her at school because she didn’t know the identity of her father. Through tears, she told them (and the congregation), “It doesn’t matter, because I know who my Father in Heaven is, and I know what He wants for me.”

    One of the few times I ever wept openly in church. Tearing up a little bit right now just thinking about it, in fact. And this girl was poor, not a native English speaker, and might even have trouble reading an Ensign article out loud. Didn’t matter–it was a beautiful, stirring talk that left me a better person and made me feel a connection with her. (If you’re reading this, Sam, thank you.)

    Again, stark contrast from the upper-middle-class Priest I mentioned in #28.

  32. Kevin Barney says:

    I don’t have kids at church, which may be part of my problem.

  33. Margaret, are you volunteering for a subsequent post entitled:
    Enduring to the end–and enjoying it! How to successfully teach your children to enjoy all aspects of the modern church experience (yes, even those sacrament meetings).”

  34. I just couldn’t be that rude to someone in Sacrament.

    I was the concluding speaker yesterday. I had 12 minutes to talk about the Birth of Jesus (I was told 20 but I will never go over time when I speak, I think you lose everyone if you make them look at the clock). I had a short intro, gave my thesis statement and then proved it with scripture and personal examination. I spent 4 hours preparing it. It was good and a few people told me that they had never really understood the “condescension of God” before and now they did.

    I’m just asking for 12 minutes of your time. I promise to listen to your talk when you speak :)

  35. Interestingly, I posted on the exact same topic a while ago and scheduled it to publish this morning.

    Summary: I listen for a couple of minutes to every adult speaker, then let my mind wander and seek personal inspiration (often about a talk I’m preparing) if the talk isn’t reaching me. However, I listen to every word of every talk given by a youth speaker and smile whenever they look at me, no matter how awkward. Period. They deserve that attention.

    Full Version: I Smile Whenever They Look My Way

  36. Thomas Parkin says:

    So, let’s see if I get it:

    Some brother or sister is up speaking – an experience that they have probably dreaded, prepared for with trepidation, hoping that they find something enlightening to say, or at least something that will endear them to the ward, or at least hoping they won’t completely embarrass themselves. And your responce is to obliterate all that by sticking your big nose in a book.

    Well, my ‘thoughts on this issue’ are: inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. The idea that there ARE a ‘least of these’ is that the ‘least’ seemingly don’t have much to offer us but that how we receive them means everything. ~

  37. I’m usually occupied keeping my preschool-age kids content during sacrament meeting. And I’m in primary the second and third hours.

    But I don’t have a problem with reading scriptures and church-related items (correlated or non-correlated) during meetings.

    Alternatively, I often do what Henry Eyring once suggested — I think through what I would say if I were assigned to speak on the given topic. And it can be interesting to compare the speaker’s perspective to my own thoughts in the process.

  38. Mephibosheth says:

    I heard the cure for church boredom whilst on my mission (it comes from Elder Widtsoe, I believe). Whenever there was a talk or lesson that didn’t hold my interest, I’d open my notebook and write my own talk or lesson on the topic being discussed or taught. Also, I kept a running list of good stories, axioms, jokes, or teaching models from others. It completely transformed my church-going experience.

    After a while, I realized it would be a useful teaching tool if I organized it. So I got a new notebook that fits with my scriptures, divided the 200 or so pages among 50 or so gospel topics (leaving a sizeable section in the end blank for write-in topics), and copied all the information over topically. Now when someone shares a valuable insight in church, I record it under the appropriate topic. In the event of a GC-talk regurgitation I use the time to flesh out topics that seem a bit thin (“Gathering of Israel”, etc.) Other times I write whole talks or lessons in the blank sanction, drawing from the various topics. Also, I keep a few running lists, such as “Things That Must Go (In Church)” which shall be my syllabus if I’m ever running the Teacher Development course. I’m in the middle of moving the notebook to an electronic format on Google Documents so I can add tidbits I find surfing the Bloggernacle and access them via smartphone.

  39. #36 – Well said, Thomas.

  40. John Mansfield says:

    It’s important to treat the sacrament meeting as a worship service, but there is usually some math equation in my head that I’ve been wrestling with. Some Sundays, the ideas need more room, my discipline is weak, and I start writing, which earns a reproach from my wife when she glances at my “notes.” I’m reminded of an old movie, Carbine Williams, starring Jimmy Stewart. Jimmy Stewart’s character, some master gunsmith, is convicted for a shooting that he didn’t do. In prison, he dreams up automatic rifle improvements, then starts drawing his ideas, saying the drawings are just what are in his head, and so there is no harm. Then he builds a gun following a similar principle. It’s Jimmy Stewart, so he uses his gun to stop a jail break instead of create one.

    Yesterday, my wife took my hand as we sat on the pew together and was amused to find between her fingers and mine, a small shaft coupling I had taken out of my pocket to contemplate.

  41. Re: 36 “And your response to [the fearful Sacrament Meeting speaker] is to put your big nose in a book?”

    Yes. And in Sunday School, too.

    (However, I have young children and Margaret Young’s comments have got me thinking . . .)

  42. John Mansfield says:

    On “ideas that need more room,” here is a delightful story that Eugene Wigner had about John von Neumann:

    I have a story against him, if you want to hear it. I once told him that I just read, to my amazement, that somebody could multiply two 5 digit figures in his head. He said, “That’s wonderful. I’ll try it also. ” I gave him two 5-digit figures. He went to the corner, as he always did when he wanted to think hard, looked up, and mumbled. He did that for about five minutes, and then he came back with a product. I said, “Wonderful, congratulations.” He said, “Is it correct? ” I said, “No, but to get any result is wonderful.” It is very difficult, almost impossible, to multiply two 5-digit figures in your head. After all, for what purpose was paper discovered?

  43. Stirling (#33)–if I were to write such a post, it would include not just “enduring to the end of sacrament meeting” but “enduring to the end of church activity–and letting your children know you still love them even if they quit Church.” Since two of my children are not currently active (though one thinks she is; she believes that reading scriptures makes her active, though she has attended only a couple of church meetings in the past year), my methods have clearly not worked too well.

    My youngest son’s seminary teacher had ten students stand up last week. He then told five to sit down, and announced that 50% of the youth will leave before age twenty. He then directed three more to sit, and said that only two of the ten would serve missions and remain active for the rest of their lives.

    I really don’t think bringing our own reading to Church is the solution, but there must be something we can do. I definitely vote a two-hour block rather than a three-hour one. But I was in a meeting fifteen years ago where that issue was raised to Elder Maxwell. He said that the Brethren were aware that three hours was a very long time for young people. I don’t believe that has changed. Three hours is still a long time.

  44. Kevin Barney says:

    Everyone has their crosses to bear, and as I’ve expressed before boredom at Church is one of mine. Reading for me is a form of self-medication. I acknowledge it is not ideal, but if I can’t even do that the alternative might not be sitting there listening in rapt attention to someone reading yet another conference talk; the alternative might just be not going at all.

  45. Mephibosheth says:

    #44 – I’ve said the same things many times myself. I have a strong testimony, I love the gospel, but had I not found ways of coping with it I think boredom could have done me in.

  46. Re: 27: “However you define worship in the context of Sacrament meeting, there *has* to be a communal aspect to it. . . We might as well administer the sacrament, then dismiss the meeting for us all to go home and read in peace.”

    Excellent points, Ardis. Maybe a good compromise would be to just leave one talk instead of three? I mean, after one talk, that “communal worship” theory starts to get pretty thin.

  47. I would call that an either/or fallacy, Kevin (44). Apparently, the real solution works only for math lovers, who generate calculations in their minds. For those of us who would rather listen to a conference talk read at half speed than do a math problem, I find daydreaming to be quite effective. I can always appear attentive while inventing my own world.

    I do think we miss the opportunity to wake ourselves up when the “rest hymn” is really that–something to put us into REM sleep. I’d say get trumpets back into church (they’re currently on the “banned instruments” list except for special programs) and do some VIGOROUS singing halfway through the program. I’d love to include clapping with that singing, but I know that ain’t gonna happen for a long time. (It will, of course, happen eventually, because the David writes in Psalm 150:”
    Praise ye the LORD.

    Praise God in his sanctuary:
    praise him in the firmament of his power.
    Praise him for his mighty acts:

    praise him according to his excellent greatness.
    Praise him with the sound of the trumpet:

    praise him with the psaltery and harp.
    Praise him with the timbrel and dance:

    praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
    Praise him upon the loud cymbals:

    praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
    Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD.

  48. #44 – I get that, Kevin. I really do. I just treat youth talks as a completely separate issue, and I personally like to prepare talks in my head. I have no problem whatsoever with not paying rapt attention to an adult’s boring talk, and if a book is the best option for someone, so be it.

    Oh, and I treat a recent convert or a non-native speaker the same way I treat a youth speaker.

  49. Kevin Barney says:

    Recent converts and non-native speakers are almost inherently interesting, so those aren’t a problem for me.

    And I’m pretty good with youth talks, since they’re first on the docket.

  50. Margaret, I agree we should have Rejuvinate Hymns instead of Rest Hymns.

    I also think we should do WAY more formal public speaking training than we do – for everyone.

  51. Since our ward begins at 2:00 pm est, I spend a lot of time refreshing ESPN.com on my blackberry for football scores. I wait until after the sacrament has been blessed and passed; but, once that’s over it’s off to the races for NFL updates. Once I’ve digested the initial data dump of scores and stats, it only takes a moment or two of further distraction for the updates. I also teach gospel doctrine, so I occasionally review my notes and lesson material during sacrament mtg.

    I have to confess I haven’t mastered the art of reading and listening to a speaker at the same time. For me, it’s one or the other. When my wife and I compare sacrament mtg notes/ideas it often seems like we attended two different meetings. (that would probably still happen if I listened as attentively as my wife, since we have different expectations/perspectives.)So, even when I think I’m getting the general drift of a talk while reading something else, I don’t think that I really do.

    Based on my NFL research during sacrament meeting I will, from time to time, ask the person who says the ss opening prayer to include a football team that is trailing or some fantasy player(s) on whom I am dependent that week. It gets some laughs at the beginning of ss, before we move on to the heavy lifting of scripture study.

  52. Clay Whipkey says:

    I don’t read in church because my wife wouldn’t let me get away with it (for the same reasons Margaret mentioned). SM talks might be a little better if we didn’t make people regurgitate conference talks and also if we didn’t feel some obligation to give *everyone* a chance to talk. There are plenty of people who don’t want to talk, and some who might want to but shouldn’t. Also, our culture of speaking style is BORING. Why is Bad Public Speaking 101 the official course for Mormon talks? Would a little animation and passion really be disrupting to the Spirit? Somewhere between Richard G. Scott and T.D. Jakes *must* be achievable, right?

    Thomas #36: I guess Kevin can now consider his doorstep officially foot-dusted. Nice work.

  53. Okay, so how did Joseph Smith get the Saints to listen to him for so many hours in a Nauvoo grove? What do the JS papers tell us about his speaking abilities, Kevin? I raise this because when I’ve urged my husband to keep FHE lessons and scripture reading pretty brief and not like yet another SM talk, he has mentioned Brother Joseph in the Nauvoo grove, and reminded me that the Saints were happy to listen for four+ hours. I doubt the early Saints did much reading while Joseph was speaking. And I think there was some energetic singing. Also speaking in tongues, which we don’t do anymore. (Though the fact that some pay special attention to non-native English speakers says something…)
    So what made those meetings so good? Maybe if it was a choice between draining the swamp and listening to a talk, there wasn’t much contest. But I suspect there’s something to be learned.

  54. Good grief. Look, I don’t even go to church much any more, and I have done my share of NT reading when I should have been paying attention. But this, gentlemen, is pathetic. And I say gentlemen because I’ve scanned through this thread and haven’t noticed any women saying, “yes, I read instead of paying attention.”

    People matter. These are your fellow saints. The people you are to mourn with, and comfort, and love even when they can’t read at grade level. Give them the courtesy of at least the benefit of the doubt. Try to listen. Put what they have to say in the context of what you need to hear. And if all they are doing is badly reading an Ensign article, pray for them that they’ll have the spirit with them as they speak and that they won’t be afraid and that they’ll feel the love of the people in the congregation for them. Yes, for the whole 20 minutes.

    No wonder church sucks so badly. The people who could be making it better (yes, the men, because women have really very little control over what happens in a sacrament meeting) can’t be bothered to pay attention to what’s going on. Honestly, if you can’t be bothered, just save everyone the pretense of “activity” and don’t go.

  55. I seem to remember hearing some BY talks (given in the bowery on Temple Square?) where he starts out complaining about unruly hearers and asks mothers to remove their children, etc.

    Maybe the secret to Joseph Smith’s four-hour talks was that his hearers were free to inconspicuously step out and take a little walk when they became fatigued?

  56. Thomas Parkin says:

    Ann, Amen.

    Ray, thanks. You’re a peacemaker. I’m not a peacemaker. Sometimes in the real world, because I really don’t get angry at people … it’s the idea of a thing. My problem is that I’m more than willing to get a little pugilistic in my online communications. It isn’t people that make me angry, and I’m not mad at Kevin. It is the idea, that I sit her and dwell on, of someone up there doing their damnedest and looking down and seeing the ward scholar with his nose in a book makes me so angry – I was virtually shaking with rage. So, in case it seems like I was trying to be holy, I’ve got my own crosses and serious personality issues. Not that I think,

    Kevin, that a grown man paying twelve minutes attention to a speaker he finds boring rises to the level of a “cross to bear.” But every man walks in his proverbial moccasins, and it could be that, with your obvious gifts, you are mildly autistic … in which case I withdraw in advance the following: there are two people involved in this, and you’re only one of them. Be a big boy, put the book down a brief time, and do better. Those are my continued thoughts. When the time comes, even now, I’ll be more than happy to take your censure. ~

  57. re: 54, excellent points, notwithstanding my own hypocrisy on this abhorrent practice.

    Can we at least agree that everyone should be entitled to a “Dry Council” exemption? That is, when a member of the High Council delivers a “dull as dirt” talk members should be allowed, with impunity, to read, surf the net, sleep, annoy kids to point of crying, etc. Please?!?!? Imo, you’re absolutely correct about manners and courtesies that should be extended to the average speaker, but I don’t think it’s too much to expect something more from a HC speaker and when he fails to deliver, I should be free to disengage in pursuit of something more edifying.

  58. I know this sounds harsh but if people are dozing off and bowing their heads during your talk, then the talk is causing this behavior. I don’t think the congregants are obligated to act attentive when they’re really bored out of their minds (youth speakers excluded, although they rarely look up from their notes anyway). Gaging audience reaction is essential for knowing how you’re doing and wanting to improve the next time. The culture we’ve created at church in which people should be celebrated for simply standing at the podium, regardless of the quality of their talk, has created the level of public speaking mediocrity that we currently experience. I try to give a talk that demands attention. And when others do so, I tune in. When they read GC talks word for word, then I tune out.

  59. ….which is to say, after reading Mr. Parkin’s comment: why is the onus on us to pay attention and not on the speaker to be compelling?

  60. Katie – I think the onus should always be on us, whether we are the speaker or the hearer.

  61. I recently read one of Henry B. Eyring’s talks from several years ago, he related a story of a man in his ward who he noticed taking notes whenever he (Pres. Eyring) spoke, and even during home teaching visits. He was flattered until he realized the guy also took notes when youth speakers and primary children gave talks. After some time he realized the man was expecting to learn and receive some inspiration, and therefore he always did have something to write down. That story really struck me — the idea that even during the most boring and unprepared talk, if you were willing and open, the Spirit could (and would) still teach you something, maybe something completely unrelated to the topic of the talk. To me, the idea is being an open slate, being with my fellow saints and saying collectively to the Lord, “I’m listening”.

  62. Thomas Parkin says:

    Katie, only a portion of our _brothers and sisters_ up there speaking have the capacity to be engaging for twelve minutes. But paying attention for that same amount of time is something virtually any adult is able to do.

    As to the quality of speaking: if I were the Bishop I would be very careful in who I asked to speak, and in the instructions I gave to them. I would do everything I could to make sure the spiritual content in Sacrament Meeting was high. It is a big ole problem. There are weeks I go desperately needing spiritual knowledge or succor, and get very little. But, I’m not the Bishop, or that one up there speaking, and it is incumbent on me to be first, respectful and engaged with someone I have to assume is doing the best they know how; and second, listening patiently for that bit of something I do need. ~

  63. #53

    Maybe if a little more constructive speculation were allowed in SM talks, SS, and RS/PR similar to Joseph Smith’s wild imaginings in Nauvoo folks would be more rapt. But as it is, if I were to stand up and deliver a disquisition on God’s mortal sinful existence, subsequent repentance, salvation, deification, christification, and further deification, I am quite sure the results would be spectacularly memorable and of course, condemned. Fact is, it’s hard to gussy up most of the stuff about which we Mormons insist upon talking week in and week out (can’t put lipstick on a…).

  64. My parents made the rule for their five kids, we were going to attend Sacrament Meeting as long as we lived with them. However, we could do whatever we wanted as long as it didn’t disrupt anyone around us. So two sisters and I read, a brother did crossword puzzles, and the other brother usually listened. So far we’re all still active, so I don’t know if there was any permanent damage to our spirits.

    I still usually read something during Testimony meeting, if I don’t I usually drag my son out to walk around and chat for a while. There’s something about Fast and Testimony meeting in most of the wards I’ve lived that really rubs me the wrong way.

  65. I’m not sure how Mr. Parkin would answer, but I’d say that the onus is on us because we have committed ourselves a community, and not all of us are good speakers. I wonder if my youngest will ever be able to speak publicly. I think that his quiet nature might keep him from wanting to serve a mission because speaking will be required. If he were to give a talk–even a very short talk–I would celebrate all day. It would be such a step out of his comfort zone. But as Latter-day Saints, we have committed to leave our comfort zones. We get asked to teach classes, visit strangers, go on missions, etc. I want us to cheer for each other–even for High Council speakers. When my husband was in the stake presidency, I occasionally got calls from new HC members who were scared to death of their speaking assignments. I always checked with my husband to see how they had done. Some were lousy speakers–but the act of doing it was heroic. I imagine my son at a later stage of his life being asked to give HC talks. If any of you are alive then, the onus is on YOU to recognize how huge a thing it is for him to give a talk. I expect you to give him your attention, and to inwardly pray for him and cheer for him when he concludes. He would much rather be doing something else.

  66. StillConfused says:

    When I attend church, I always bring a notebook to write in. From a distance, it can look as if I am taking notes regarding the talk. Reality is, it is likely my to do list for the day, week, month, year.

    When I give talks, I do not read from ANYTHING. Jesus spoke in parables and I do too. My last talk was The Parable of the Motorcycle Wreck about a gal on a motorcycle who slammed into the back of my car on the freeway. I toned it down for the benefit of the little kids in the audience, but when I looked down, there wasn’t a snoozer or reader in the audience. At the very end (okay, the last three sentences), I threw a little religion in on ‘em. They didn’t even see it coming.

    (#54 — I am a woman. But if it helps with your analysis, I have the religious attention span on a man so you can include me in that category if you want.)

  67. I seem to remember hearing some BY talks (given in the bowery on Temple Square?) where he starts out complaining about unruly hearers and asks mothers to remove their children, etc.

    Maybe the secret to Joseph Smith’s four-hour talks was that his hearers were free to inconspicuously step out and take a little walk when they became fatigued?

    Or maybe they weren’t distracted my crying babies, yelling toddlers, and children tossing fruit snacks across the room?

  68. Kevin (and others)- I understand your plight. I’m also disappointed at how sacrament meetings sometimes turn out. I am usually guilty of not focusing enough during that (and most) meeting(s).

    But I do have a question. How about during the endowment session? What do you bring to read when you’re in there? It is the same thing every single time…

    I’m curious how that’s different (in principle) than sacrament meeting.

  69. Katie,
    Elder Bednar gave an excellent talk titled “Seek Learning by Faith” in which he discusses the student or learner’s responsibilities. I do not think it specifically addresses sacrament meetings but nonetheless the principles are applicable.

    Here is one quote: “…as learners, you and I are to act and be doers of the word and not simply hearers who are only acted upon. Are you and I agents who act and seek learning by faith, or are we waiting to be taught and acted upon?”

    As a congregation or students in a class, we cannot control the speaker’s preparation, material, etc.; therefore, if we wish to learn and to be edified, the onus is on us to listen and to gleen what we can.

  70. #56 Thomas,

    I offer a mild censure. Be kind by listening to talks, and be kind in reproving others for not listening to talks.

    The internet makes Boanerges of us all.

  71. cahkaylahlee says:

    Ann – I read instead of paying attention, in Relief Society. Usually the Joseph Smith manual, since we don’t cover much of that in there…

    During SM we sit directly beside or behind people with cute but rowdy kids. If the talks are not interesting we draw pictures with the kids, read them a book, play with their toy car, etc. The parents are happy because they don’t have to wrestle with their kids as much, we’re happy because we have a distraction, the speaker is happy because they don’t have to talk over as many screaming kids, and God’s happy because we are doing service.

    Our ward has had this long-standing tradition of assigning SM talk topics to people 6-12 months in advance. The people who spend time studying/practicing the topic they were assigned often have interesting personal insights. Not that most people actually do that, but I think it helps boost the over all talk quality. And all three of the speakers have different topics, so they aren’t all trying to rehash the SAME conference talk.

  72. Thomas Parkin says:

    adam e,

    I thanks you, and I know you’re right. ~

  73. When I’m not sleeping in sacrament meeting, I have on occasion thought how wonderful it would have been to bring a book… but I don’t have the balls to face my wife’s wrath if I tried. I really do understand the urge though, as much as I feel bad for the poor devils at the podium.

    As for those of you that are so mad (“rage”? wow…) that anyone would read during sacrament meeting… well, I get your point, and I’m not unsympathetic… however, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, really weak. Besides, there are plenty of boring speakers that clearly aren’t doing their “damnedest.”

    I have a little notebook of music manuscript paper, so sometimes I write music during sacrament meeting because it doesn’t involve words. It keeps me from nodding off, and still allows me to listen to what’s being said… but that puts me on thin ice, too, so I try to use it sparingly.

  74. Katie #59—because the essence of true Christianity is to accept and encourage the unclean, the sinners, and the imperfect.

    Being called to the High Council does not automatically make one immune to rudeness.

  75. When I get bored in sacrament meeting, I try to remind myself that although I may not be actively giving a sermon every Sunday, I can still play a role in working to establish Zion. I often remind myself in sacrament meeting that if a key attribute of a Zion people is to be “of one heart and of mind,” then I need to look beyond my own intellectual enlightenment and take to heart the words of Heber J. Grant:

    Some of the people, I know, think it is almost a set phrase with the speakers to call for the faith and prayers of the Saints, but I wish to say that I think there is altogether too much of a neglect on the part of the people in supplicating the Lord to bless and inspire those who may speak. On occasions of this kind we are guilty, as a rule, of not concentrating our thoughts and our feelings upon the speaker and desiring earnestly and prayerfully that he may be blessed of the Lord. I plead guilty myself to occasionally forgetting, while my brethren are speaking, to pray to the Lord to bless them by His Holy Spirit.

  76. John Hamer says:

    Kevin, I don’t think I once sat through a sacrament meeting without reading a book. When my mom occasionally pushed-back and wanted me to not read science fiction novels, I would switch to reading the Bible, which she accepted as a compromise. A few years ago, I took my partner Mike to LDS church here in Ann Arbor for the first meeting I’d attended in perhaps 15 years; (he had never actually been to a service, despite his interest in Mormon history).

    I decided I would not bring a book so that I could have (for once) the real LDS experience. I have to tell you, it was excruciatingly boring. The dullness surpassed my recollections and was far beyond anything I had prepared myself for. It was nearly impossible to believe that an hour and fifteen minutes — we certainly didn’t stay for anything past Sacrament Meeting — could stretch on so seemingly indefinitely. I have to say, I’m not doing that again. If I ever visit another LDS meeting, a book comes with me.

  77. Re #53 – Margaret, Joseph Smith had far more interesting things to say. To most of his listeners, the gospel was new. Plus he pushed the envelope a bit. Take the King Follett Discourse for example. Lots of new and interesting stuff. You can’t compare that to what most of us get in Sacrament Meeting today. I suspect if I were to prepare a talk that says essentially what the KFD says it would make my Bishop nervous and I would never get asked to speak again.

    Mmmmm. I may try that.

  78. CJ Douglass says:

    The culture we’ve created at church in which people should be celebrated for simply standing at the podium, regardless of the quality of their talk, has created the level of public speaking mediocrity that we currently experience.

    Katie, Scorn will not cure someone of public speaking anxiety. I served in a small Branch Presidency with 95% the active congregation being 1st generation members w/o a college education. Most of them expressed extreme anxiety with the prospect of speaking at the pulpit. Very devoted and loving people – not so good at public speaking.

    I’m guessing that the shunning from a few pretentious academics isn’t going to help matters.

  79. CJ Douglass says:

    That being said: If reading keeps you in your seat Kevin, do what you have to do.

  80. Why do people that read in church have to be “pretentious academics”?

  81. Katie M.: We can’t control what others do. We can only control what we do. If we were to compel our speakers to be more compelling, we would probably be paying for them to get formal training. That’s what most churches do, after all. And it works quite nicely. Except that no one else in the congregation feels obligated to improve their scripture study and public-speaking skills as a result.

  82. Good point, Orwell. Some of us are pretentious lawyers.

  83. (That last comment was directed at myself – not to Kevin or other attorneys here :))

  84. As a bishop it pains me to hear some of these comments. I know that at times the quality of meetings can be poor. There are a handful of members in our ward who would give outstanding talks, but would you have us invite them to speak on a monthly basis? How do we ever find out who is a good speaker if they are never given the opportunity? Sacrament Service (not meeting) is a time for worship. If one feels he is worshiping God by reading or checking NFL scores, great, I choose to worship in a different way. Listening to what someone is saying during a talk is only part of that process.
    Maybe it’s because as a Bishop I am listening intently tomake sure nothing too off the wall is taught, but I have found that if I truly listen to what someone is trying to communicate there is richness to be found and felt.
    I am curious what everyone would suggest to improve the quality of sacrament meeting. I would appreciate feedback that could realisticly be implemented.

  85. Holy crap. I’m constantly surprised by which posts become the 100-comments firestorms.

  86. I have three little kids. There is no paying attention to anything. I would love to have the luxury of being bored. Read on, Kevin.

  87. Yeah, seriously, JT, I would hope that being “pretentious” is enough to qualify anyone for reading in church. Let’s not start any career profiling here…

  88. Bishop Rick, if I were able to sit on the stand, listen intently and garner the pearls from the talks, no matter the delivery, I would love it.

    As far what could be done to improve it that could be relistically implemented? How about assigning a topic, and not a specific talk? It’s brutal hearing three speakers all relating and reading verbatim from the exact same talk.

  89. My children read during Sacrament meeting. (Those who are old enough to read.) Recently we’ve started requiring the older children (8 and 10) to listen to the youth speakers (whose talks are shorter) and write down one (ONE) point that each youth speaker makes in his/her talk. I don’t expect them to pay attention to the adult speakers, who cannot be accused of even remotely gearing their talks to younger members of the congregation. I don’t care if my kids read or draw or eat during sacrament meeting, so long as they’re quiet. I feel that particular bar is high enough, at least for my offspring.

    I myself cannot read and control my children simultaneously–not that I can control my children period, but I can’t even try if I am reading. I rarely, rarely pay attention during sacrament meeting because I am too focused on keeping my children from ruining other people’s enjoyment thereof (my own obviously counts for nothing here). When I do not have children with me, though, I find that I am perfectly capable of paying attention, even if it’s boring, if I can have a pen and paper and take notes. I just pretend I’m in a class and I have to pay attention. The pen and paper helps me focus. That’s just how I am. It is easier to listen if my hands can stay busy. It’s a nervous thing. I’m sure that it looks like I’m opposite-of-listening, but I really am actually-listening. (If I am looking at the speaker and keeping my hands folded, I am probably day-dreaming. That’s what I do when I have no pen and paper.) Sometimes I write commentary on what I’m listening to–such as, “that’s a load of crap.” So you know, I’m not always being edified, necessarily, but I am paying attention. I feel it’s the least I can do.

    I have read books during Sunday School and RS. Sunday School more often because I truly have no patience for it, and I’m only at church during that hour because it’s a waste of gasoline to drive home only to turn around and come back (either to attend RS or make sure the rest of my family has a ride home). I don’t enjoy communal scripture study, figuring out as a group which folks were from Zarahemla and which were from the land of Nephi and who was king of where and what lesson we’re supposed to glean from so-and-so attacking the Lamanites from the south. Others do, which is jolly for them, but I am not gifted with that quality. RS is usually more interesting to me than Sunday school, but not always. It is easier to read discreetly in SS, since our GD class is huge and held in the chapel. But since I’m a writer, I usually prefer to do my writing and have it look like I might possibly be taking notes. That seems more discreet. But again, not during sacrament meeting, when a) the kids are in the way and b) I feel obligated to give my attention as best I can.

    These days I’m usually in the library for most of Sunday school, and I’m chatting with the other librarian or with whoever is popping in to do their library business. Theoretically the library is only supposed to be open those few minutes between classes, but my co-librarian and I have found that lots of people use the Sunday school hour to take care of other church business or kill time before the third hour. If they don’t need their library materials or copies for the Sunday school hour, they will just leisurely walk in wherever, so that there is this steady trickle of library patrons throughout most of the Sunday school hour (if not all of it), and no good opportunity to close the library and go to class like we’re supposed to (which is fine for someone like me, who doesn’t like Sunday school, but frustrating for the other librarian, who does).

  90. Rick, I love that as a Bishop you are soliciting comments to make your meetings more inspirational. I just love that.

    First, I would have a Sunday School class devoted to this topic. Make it a 6- or 8-week course and repeat it a couple times a year.

    Second, I would assign topics more than a month in advance. This gives the speaker time to really digest the topic. And also it sends the message that you take Sacrament Meeting talks seriously.

    Third, I would set the example yourself by being engaging from the pulpit and really showing the congregation how to teach the Gospel.

    Fourth, at the time you issue the call to speak, explicitly encourage the speaker to relate personal experiences in their talk and also avoid reading long passages.

    Last, I personally favor giving the topic based on a particular scripture, and NOT a talk. This makes the speaker really dig into what the scripture means, as opposed to just regurgitating someone else’s thoughts.

  91. I agree with you about assigning talks. As a bishopric we try not to do that. Our experience is that it give members an easy way out…quote a few lines here and there and comment briefly…bear a testimony,sit down.
    For next year I have toyed with the idea of using one of the Savior’s parables each month for a “theme”. We will ask a member we trust to give a well prepared talk to introduce the parable each month and expound on what we should learn from the parable. The remaining speakers for the month will be assigned topics that relate to the major theme of the parable. We’ll see how it goes.

  92. I truly believe that a sincerely seeking person can be edified by even the worst, most boring talk, because the Holy Ghost can work its magic even when the speaker has done nothing to engage it; if the listener has engaged the Spirit, the Spirit will engage back. I am not that kind of person, but I believe such people exist, which I guess is why I feel obligated to pay attention, on the off-chance that I could become such a person by accident. Occasionally.

  93. Researcher says:

    Oh boy. I usually have to sit on the stand (organist) and my problem is to try and keep that lovely Mormon stand-sitting, interested-in-what’s-being-said poker face and not have my eyeballs roll back into my head from sheer boredom.

    I’m female and I would never dream of pulling out a book. Sometimes I look through my music. If there is no “rest hymn” I will go down off the stand and take the baby out of the meeting as necessary.

    By the way, our talks are not always boring. We’ve had several nice ones this year.

  94. I use my wireless email solution to post Mobile Uploads (mostly poorly imaged photos of my nose hairs) to teh Facebook on the off chance that anybody out there cares.

  95. For improving Sacrament meetings (or services): A few good speakers could be asked to speak consecutively, to model good organization/delivery skills — I think some of the bad habits (like the cutsey how-we-met stories) are perpetuated because people think that’s what is expected and honestly don’t know better.

    The bishop, or a good speaker designated by him, could use a fifth-Sunday RS/Priesthood meeting, or a Sacrament meeting, to teach what makes a good talk. (I posted an old MIA speech lesson on my blog today as one possibility for such a lesson.)

    Rather than assigning conference talks, or even topics, bishops could let speakers choose their own topics, something they actually have a testimony about or are enthusiastic to address, even if those topics need to be cleared by the bishop a few days after the invitation to speak is given (added benefit: that would cause speakers to begin to think about their talks earlier than Sunday morning). When two or three speakers are assigned the same topic — usually boringly broad ones, like “baptism” or “faith” — they end up googling the same dictionary definitions, finding the same talks at lds.org, and quoting the same two or three scriptures, because they don’t have any real interest or personal investment in the assigned generic topic.

    The bishopric member conducting could conclude by doing more than announcing the closing hymn — he could model good listening and communal worship by briefly mentioning a single point from each of the talks that he appreciated or wants to think further about.

    That puts a burden on the leadership, but it goes along with Joseph Smith’s “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” It has been a great many years (at least since the consolidated meeting schedule) since we have been taught correct principles either for speaking in church or for listening to speakers in church, so it’s no wonder so many of us fail at governing ourselves appropriately.

  96. <em.We’ve had several nice ones this year

    “Several” in a whole “year” of 100+ talks! That’s a gentle way of noting the problem, Researcher!

  97. Mephibosheth says:

    Bishop Rick (#84) – Most people learn their poor speaking skills by observation. They’re asked to give a talk, they’re given a topic, and they do what they’ve seen other people do: read a dictionary definition from Websters, read some printed-out blockquotes from whichever conference talk was the top hit off LDS.org, and call it good. When you or your counselors invite people to speak, you could specifically invite them to do things that will make for a more compelling talk: teach doctrine, share personal experiences, and testify of Christ. You could make this a goal for the ward: during a 5th Sunday combined meeting, you could even teach people some principles of preaching the gospel, just like the General Authorities did for their Worldwide Leadership Training a while back that was focused on more effective teaching. For ideas, you could look at the series on this topic posted on M* a while back, some of Kevin Barney’s other posts here, and the 1960’s sunday school lesson posted by Ardis on her blog.

  98. Mephibosheth says:

    Wow, no sooner did I hit send than I see that virtually everything I wrote was already mentioned by others. Funny how we’re all on the same page.

  99. I’m not saying why I know this, but it just so happens that the Oxford Very Short Introduction series fits inside the Hymn book.

  100. There’s a guy in my current ward who until recently would sit on the back row for all three meetings and make chain mail.

    No, seriously. He had a backpack full of supplies and would wind stiff wire around a metal rod, slide it off, cut the loops with a pair of wire cutters, and fashion the loops into gloves, sleeves, helmets, shirts….

    I’m with #66 StillConfused. I try to tell good stories that have a point. My last talk on “The Gathering of Israel” started with a story about two of my cousins who used to go to the big park in SLC and crash family reunions for lunch so they could save money for dating. As I look back over 38 years in church, I can only remember a handful of talks. The ones I can remember involved really good stories and parables, unless they were memorable talks simply for how bad they were. One high council speaker talked about taking a fencing class in college because he thought he’d put up enough barb-wire fence to teach the professor a thing or two. He got up on the ledge next to the podium and demonstrated several techniques. His topic – being willing to leave our comfort zones and learn new things. Later that year, he brought a squirt gun (and used it) during his talk so it wouldn’t be “dry council day”.

    For some reason, the bad talks stick with me even more. Another high council speaker tried to tell us that Elmer Bernstein music was evil, because “The Magnificent Seven” had once been used for cigarette advertising. Same guy tried to tell us that Gene Simmons had once sat on a plane next to Spencer W. Kimball and told him that KISS stood for “Knights in Satan’s Service”. A few years later, he divorced his wife, left his five kids, and moved in with a 19-year-old college cheerleader he’d met while working as a basketball referee.

    We are a church of speakers. My high school and college speech teachers both said they could pick out a Mormon student in the first thirty seconds because they were used to giving talks. (They thought this was a good thing.) But, the majority of our church members, speaking once a year or two, aren’t going to be the same caliber as a full-time pastor who’s spending 20-30 hours a week preparing a sermon.

    My last point is one I learned during the first month of my mission. 90% of teaching the gospel is to be happy about it. If we get up and talk like it’s a dry topic, that will come across. If we have learned something exciting, and if we try to put some of that excitement into our talk, people won’t be able to do anything but listen to us.

  101. There are so many different ways of programming sermons for a congregation. No one strategy is right for all. No one argues that, however. I think our musings are kinda moot, because the biggest barriers to a more “communal” worship atmosphere are put up by the Church by the handbook of instructions, which dictates how the sacrament meeting will be run. There’s not getting around to the components of a sacrament meeting (welcome, song, prayer, ward business, song, ordinance, talks, song prayer), not even the order in which they are presented (except for extreme circumstances like having no sacrament cups: hey, it happens!), not even the music that is sung, really.

    How to inject interest in such a rigid structure? 1) Improve the quality of the speaking (but how?), 2) guilt-trip the congregation into listening more intently, selling it as the way of true communal worship (only works for a few weeks), 3) injecting surprises into the program that disrupts the normal order of things (2 rest hymns, youth speaker at the end!, calling on members for testimonies, only one speaker, etc.). This last part isn’t done all that often. I have no idea how long that would work, either.

  102. During the years that I attended a singles ward, I frequently found sacrament meeting to be a very edifying experience, mostly because I was able to concentrate on the speaker and really attempt to understand his or her perspective.

    However, the change for me came with a return to family wards. I just can’t concentrate with the volume of crying, noise, books, drawing, and food. For me, young children really are a major distraction. About the only solution I have found to this problem is to sit on the front row. I have to confess that I would be in favor of some kind of nursery program during sacrament for the very youngest children that was staffed by a rotating group of people so that no one missed sacrament meeting too often. Though, I have no idea how feasible that would be.

  103. I do think more lively music (if even our hymns played at a faster pace) would be one way of immediately making sacrament more engaging!

  104. I’m a female, and I read during sacrament meeting, and SS and RS, too, if I can get away with it. The thing is, though, I read my way through my entire formal education up until graduate school, so I’m pretty good now at reading and listening at the same time, which means I can perk up to anything I haven’t heard before, and I usually end up with a fairly good idea of what’s been said in a given meeting.

    That just sounds like justification of a bad habit, and it is. I know I’m being rude, but right now I’m living the lesser law: I’m not a good enough person to not be thinking catty/angry thoughts at a bad speaker, so I figure it’s better for my soul to just read, especially since I stick to religious material. Plus, my half-reading, half-listening behavior ends up very much like the “think about it and let the spirit guide” policy, in that I’m constantly seeing interesting connections between what I’m reading and what’s being said, and I often leave feeling as edified by the interplay of book and bad talk as I would by a good talk. I still feel guilty about it, though, since all the speaker can see is my nose buried in a book.

  105. Contined from comment #103.

    We had a brilliant pianist in my last ward who would always play special variations of the music. Almost every fast and testimony meeting, someone would testify about how much his music contributed to their faith and made their experience in that ward special. He had a wonderful presence in the ward and really made sacrament meeting a time that people looked forward to.

  106. StillConfused says:

    Attending church meetings for me is torture. Okay, attending any meeting for me is torture. But I figure Jesus suffered a bit while hanging on the cross for me. So going to church reminds me of Jesus’ suffering. Seriously.

  107. Bishop Rick – Moroni 6:9 “And their meetings were aconducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the bpower of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.”

    We don’t take that scripture seriously for some reason. I bet it would help to include some variety from the standard sacrament meeting formula. Why not have 4 musical numbers and one talk?
    I have a question for you as a bishop – if you decided that you were going to shoot for a 60 minute sacrament meeting instead of 75 minutes, and didn’t “announce” it as a policy but just went ahead and did it, what would happen? Do you think the stake president would find out right away? Would he do anything about it?

  108. Julie M. Smith says:

    Kevin,

    I haven’t read all of the comments, but what I usually do: outline the talk I would have given if assigned the topic the speaker was given or read scriptures.

  109. #107
    Stake President would probably eventually find out. And yes, he would mention it to me.
    I myself have no problem with shorter meetings. I actually spoke last month as our concluding speaker. The earlier speakers remarks were shorter than expected, so I gave my remarks which I had intended to last 15 minutes and we were done with 10 minutes to spare. Peeple in the congregation were caught off guard. The primary presidency who seems to leave early each week to get things ready in primary left in a panic. I got a chuckle out of that part:)If I prepare 15 minutes I will speak 15 minutes OR LESS. Alos, I memorize my talks. If a quotation is too long to be memorized, it shouldn’t be included in a talk. (IMHO) I realize not everyone can do this, but I think the idea is to try to speak from the heart.

  110. The primary president, the bishop, and a high councilor were sitting in the front row of coach. The plane was hijacked! When their demands were refused, the hijackers said they were going to start shooting passengers, starting with the front row.

    The primary president asked, “Can I have a last request?”

    A hijacker asked, “What is it?”

    “I want to sing my favorite primary song before you shoot me,” she said.

    “OK, I guess that’s OK,” said the hijacker.

    “I’d also like to make a request,” said the high councilor.

    “OK, what do YOU want?” demanded the hijacker.

    “I’d like to deliver the talk I have prepared for next Sunday’s meeting,” stated the high councilor.

    “Well, all right,” said the hijacker. “How about you?” he asked the the bishop? “Got any last requests?”

    “Yes,” sighed the bishop. “Can you shoot me after the song?”

  111. Kevin Barney says:

    I just want to pop in and say how much I am appreciating all of the terrific ideas people are sharing for practical ways to improve our meetings. Keep ‘em coming!

  112. #109 – Ok, so he “mentions” it to you. So what? I often wonder why we as mormons are so reluctant to “govern ourselves” more often.

  113. I used to read novels by Stephen King, John Grisham and James Ellroy in sacrament meeting, but I’d put dust covers from church books on them so as not to draw glares of disapproval (oh the righteous indignation of pew neighbors!). For example, I found the Doctrinal New Testament Commentary cover fit nicely over one of those bloated Stephen King books. As I became more engaged in ward business, however, I eventually retired the habit.

    I think if I tried it now, the wife’s stink eye would quickly find me and put me down.

  114. I like church, and I read. But I read during everything–I used to take a book with me to parties when I was in college, and I still read books during movies. I get very jittery if I have to pay attention to one thing at a time. I always make sure to listen to the talks, etc., though, and to contribute appropriately in classes. My wife tells me I used to read alpine gear catalogs when we were first married, so the fact that I always read religious material during church to me marks a significant improvement.

    My wife also likes to remember that I was once reading Kathryn Daynes’s history of polygamy during church, and a new move-in (who later became our good friend), decided I was a fundamentalist, and my wife was locked in a plural marriage. (NB: this is astoundingly far from the truth)

    When I compare church to professional encounters, church generally comes off in a better light–the problem sometimes is holding church to a much higher standard than you do for work or other settings. (We could always stand to improve our preaching, but part of the problem is a bit of a double standard).

  115. I used to live in the most boring ward in the universe. It was painfully boring. So boring I had to start taking notes during SM to force myself to pay attention.

    If I heard something I thought was insightful, or felt the spirit, I’d put a star next to it.

    I then noticed there were a lot more stars in my notes than I ever would have guessed there could be.

  116. David,

    “Govern yourselves” is great as long as it is in accordance with established guidelines and directives from leaders that we have sustained. Maybe the principle of “govern yourself” is more applicable to individuals than to congregations as a whole.

  117. #112,
    I’m not sure that my comment that the SP would “mention” early conclusions to meetings needs to imply that we are reluctant to govern ourselves.
    Perhaps you meant the SP should be more willing to let us govern ourselves?

  118. I’m definitely of the opinion that more music and less talking makes for a better sacrament meeting. But that’s a pipe dream.

    I’m sure that the rationale behind having four talks is that the more talks that are given, the greater likelihood that at least one of them will be good. What it usually means, though, is that the sacrament meeting goes on too long.

    BTW – funny joke, Ann. :)

  119. I am a chronic reader. I’ve read through meetings, classes, TV shows, movies, meals, everything, my entire life. I used to read a book a day in high school because I just read for 7 hours straight (except in band — it can be done, but it’s much harder), and I got away with it because I could still answer all of my teachers’ questions. I don’t recall ever reading anything but the scriptures or the hymnbook during sacrament meeting, though. Probably because those are what I could get away with growing up (but I did learn lots about which hymns you could sing to which other tunes, and how), and it’s kind of stuck.

    That being said, I love the one or two Sundays a year when I can actually listen to Sacrament meeting talks. I remember clearly the last time I heard a talk — it was about 7 months ago, when my youngest was still breastfeeding, and I turned on the speaker in the mother’s lounge and actually listened while my husband wrangled the two older boys elsewhere. Before that, it was probably last Christmas. Since both sets of grandparents were in the same ward, plus some single aunts and uncles, I rarely had to take my children during sacrament meeting while visiting (and it was glorious). I can’t wait until I actually get to hear sacrament meeting talks again. (Of course, when I do get to the point where I can hear them regularly, I’m sure I’ll occasionally be hoping my children will act up so I can escape. Such is the way of life.)

  120. For example, I found the Doctrinal New Testament Commentary cover fit nicely over one of those bloated Stephen King books. As I became more engaged in ward business, however, I eventually retired the habit.

    Early in my marriage I’d tear covers off the Ensign and stick them to Entertainment Weekly.

  121. @Margaret and others-

    I’m not expecting every speaker to be brilliant and charismatic, as other have mentioned, these things aren’t necessary for a good talk. Every single member, from the the old to the young, from the scholars to the uneducated can give a decent talk by relating personal stories and testimony.

    But Mr. Parkin is right that bad SM talks are not always members’ fault; sacrament meetings can be richly improved with help from the bishopric. As others have mentioned, the worst thing the bishopric can do is to assign people to talk about a talk. That’s how it is in my ward, and 90% of speakers spend most of the time reading the talk. The best talks I’ve heard came from a ward in which the bishop would simply say to the assigned speaker, “Please speak about whatever you feel inspired to speak on. Let the spirit guide your choice.” That’s it. This resulted in talks about topics that people were greatly enthusiastic about it, about subjects that people had recently gained great insight on, or had rich personal experiences in reference to.

    Several years ago there was a leadership broadcast about running our meetings more by the Spirit. I’ve unfortunately failed to see this implemented very much, and assigning the speaker talks this way is one way to do so.

  122. molly bennion says:

    Another ideas for improvement:

    Get tough about the length of each talk, song, announcement so the last speaker is not suddenly cut to 5 minutes. It happens so often and is a strong disincentive for the last speaker actually to prepare (which partially explains the sometimes low caliber of high council talks).

    Assign several possible topics, together with an option to choose your own (run by the Bishopric first, if you like). Ardis is right: people always speak more compellingly about a subject which is on their minds at the time. But if the option of self-selection seems to give people a pass, also get tough about length too short.

  123. Just yesterday my wife whacked me in the ribs for reading during SM. I just got released from my HC position for a ward leadership postion (had to give up my decoder ring, Ray!) and started reading the handbook that goes with my new calling. Sometimes I will read the lyrics out of the hymnal. When I was bishop, I would occasionally read the BoM while somebody was speaking, but otherwise tried hard to pay attention. The worst talks, though, were the ones that kept me awake, never knowing what someone was going to say that I’d have to do damage control on.

    Having spent the last two and a half years on the HC, I gave about half really good talks, and about half that are more what you expect from a high council speaker, I’m sorry to say.

    I have noticed what I would call a potentially negative trend, which is that bishopric members in the wards that I have attended often assign speakers to use a recent general conference talk as their subject, and that sometimes brings on a poor rehash of something we already heard. Elder Bednar’s pickles? Got ‘em. Lifting where you stand? Getting tired just standing there.

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved both of those talks, when given by elders Bednar and Uchtdorf. However, after about the third retelling, they are lacking some of the original impact.

    I will give the youth in our ward credit, though, for giving mostly extraordinary talks. They have been taught well, and do great.

  124. SM talks mirror general conference talks. They set the standard. Who reads during general conference? Goes to the refrigerator? Goes to the bathroom? Plays Freesquare on the computer to stay awake?

    Long time ago we visited my wife’s aunt and uncle, then in their 70’s or early 80’s. We went to Sacrament Meeting with them and Uncle Deb explained that they had heard it all before and were likely to sleep. He was right. Now I seem to have those narcoleptic fits when speakers speak in SM. Actually this is so embarrassing, and sometimes I really miss good things, so I have started taking NoDoze before the block. It works.

    In the not too distant past a high councilman got up and read, verbatim, a conference talk. I did not go to sleep out of pure indignation.

    Imagine if everyone were to think of some new bit of information, of a different way of approaching things, a new implication? I watch stand-up comedy on occasion. I wonder, with all those people telling jokes and pointing out irony, will they ever run out of material? They haven’t yet. So, if everyone were to put that much effort into sacrament meeting talks that would really be wonderful. New material every time, engrossing, inspiring. Now, how about General Conference?

    So, if you have to read in SM I have just the thing: the Kindle from Amazon. No one can tell what you are reading. In a recent lesson in priesthood about JS’s letters to Emma, I was curious so I got out my Kindle and found the pertinent sections in “A Rough Stone Rolling” about Joseph’s marriage history. (I kept my mouth shut, however.) I just as well could have been reading Time Magazine or the Book of Mormon or a salacious passage from the Song of Solomon.

  125. KatieM, # 121, you said it first while I was typing! No talks about talks!

  126. The miserable experience of standing at the pulpit giving a talk and seeing a lot of bowed heads, blank stares, and dozing has made me feel like I should do my best to at least appear attentive when others are speaking, even if they’re boring. I try to see it as a small act of service because I know I appreciate it when people appear attentive when I talk. I would feel guilty reading, and I do feel guilty when I zone out, because I feel like I’m contributing to the speaker’s misery.

    I agree.

  127. It sounds to me like many of us would like only one hour of church on Sunday and perhaps only one talk and that one given by a better than average speaker. I think the Methodist Church down the street from us uses that format and it seems to work for them. =-)

  128. Lifting where you stand? Getting tired just standing there.

    This was read to us yesterday. So very, very, very tired of it, and it has been only two months.

  129. I think there is something to be said for patience and compassion. I’ve probably given as many bad talks as I’ve listened to, and they only serve to remind me of how I hope people get what I was trying to say in my talks. That’s part of both the promise and the penalty of lay clergy, and a dependence on members doing the talking and speaking. You get good and bad, and you learn both better skilz and patience with others (hopefully). I am sure I have given talks where the only benefit was to be able to use my talk for a nap or a bad example.

  130. StillConfused says:

    If I looked down from the pulpit and saw that people were disinterested, I would accept full responsibility for that. If I were unable to speak in an engaging manner, I personally would decline the invitation to speak. I don’t think it would be reasonable of me to expect people to pretend to be interested in what I was saying if they weren’t. But that’s how I roll.

  131. StillConfused says:

    SM talks mirror general conference talks. They set the standard. Who reads during general conference? Goes to the refrigerator? Goes to the bathroom? Plays Freesquare on the computer to stay awake?

    Well, since I watch general conference on TV, I most certainly go to the frig, go potty, or whatever else I need to do. Last conference Saturday, I listened while I was gardening. I love to multi-task!

  132. Holden Caulfield says:

    Church is a good place to be. If someone reads a book in sacrament meeting, I’m glad they are there reading it. They could be somewhere else.

    We as LDS are constantly thinking we are all square pegs and all must fit in square holes. It is a great weakness of ours. We forget we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

  133. 127: In Chile, the church was testing out a 2-hour, fifteen-minute block pilot program the last few years. (I used to know the area president, but he has since been moved, so I don’t know if they are still doing it.)

    I experienced it a couple of times, it was great! Unfortunately, this particular area president said that he didn’t think that the brethren were going to expand it… what a pity.

  134. #127 – I hope you were kidding.

  135. #127 – cause I’m not up on what all the different smiley-faces mean

  136. I usually don’t read, but I do find it perfectly possible to practice reciting memorized poetry, etc. in my head while looking like I’m paying rapt attention and giving the speaker encouraging nods every once in a while. I’ve also tried to memorize big chunks of John Donne’s sermons, so I can imagine them being delivered by HC speakers on those oh-so-rare occasions when their actual words fail to inspire :)

  137. Left Field says:

    I recently ran across a box of old cassette tapes and decided to thin them out by listening to them in the car and discarding the ones full of static, bad music, or other such material.

    Among the tapes were a few of general conference that I recorded when I was a teenager in the mid ’70s. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but it sure seemed like conference was more interesting in those days. On the downside, they seemed much less interested in political correctness then, resulting in a few cringe-worthy moments. But there seemed fewer speeches delivered in the “solemn GA” style. Fewer speeches rehashing the same old topics with no new insights.

    Just today, I put in a tape and listened to LeGrande Richards, who was without doubt, one of a kind. He was always interesting to listen to, even though he really only had one talk (i.e., various selections from A Marvelous Work and a Wonder). I heard Adney Y. Komatsu relate his personal conversion and testimony, in his first conference talk after being called as an Assistant to the Twelve. I heard Marvin J. Ashton inspire us away from procrastination. And I heard S. Dilworth Young lament the fact that he had never used scout campfires as an opportunity to inspire young men to serve missions. Elder Young’s style was not dynamic perhaps, but his cadences indeed brought to mind an image of this Grand Old Scouter telling stories around the campfire with boys in rapt attention. How many speakers now deliver conference addresses that even have cadence?

    I probably agree with those who suggest that sacrament meeting talks take their cue from general conference addresses, which seem to have become (with some notable exceptions) largely so uniform and bland in delivery that any new insights go unnoticed as our minds wander elsewhere. I also deplore the practice of discussing and even reading conference talks over the pulpit.

  138. @Stillconfused-Ditto.

  139. I would like to offer some defense for the “poor” speakers in our church. I have served in 4 bishoprics and on 2 high councils so you can guess how many times I have had to give a talk. I know I was not called because of my speaking ability. I know I am not a great speaker. It is hard for me to organize a talk. I spend about 30 minitues preparing for every minute I speak.I have tried to pattern my talks after speakers I admire. I have asked the better speakers for help. I try to include a bit a humour, personal experiences, anecdotes etc. I pray for help.I know I have a responsibility to the congregation and I know they come hoping for a good talk. I am desperate from some sign from the congregation that I’m not wasting their time. I hope someone will make eye contact with me or give me an encouraging sign that my talk isn’t all that bad. I don’t think I’m much different than the majority of church speakers. We didn’t ask for the assignment but we do our best. And for you truly amazing speakers, you leave me in awe, and I thank you. You give me something to aim for and an example to follow.

  140. I write in my journal. My husband is not LDS so I don’t have to worry about him buggin’ me to pay attention during SM. I find that I enjoy the speakers more while I’m writing in my journal recapping the week’s events and my feelings. Plus I often include something in my journal that one of the speakers said. If the speaker has something profound or an interesting story then I’ll stop writing. Some Sundays I write a lot and others I don’t.

  141. Some people read in meetings as a coping mechanism for ADD.

    Of all things, Elder Oaks used to read through meetings.

    Interesting, he has a perspective on it much like President Kimball’s perspective on swearing.

    I liked what Margaret Young had to say.

  142. As for writing in your journal during meetings, it seems a perfect time for that. I always took notes in class …

  143. I just checked the blog to find this wonderful discussion. Thank you all for an engaging and lively sharing of ideas and thoughts about our Sacrament Services. As a Bishop, I take seriously the meeting that surrounds perhaps the important ordinance that takes place outside of the temple, the ordinance of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. (Remembering the entire name makes it even more beautiful, doesn’t it?)

    We have tried several approaches to make this a spirit filled time of revelation for our Ward members. Each sacrament meeting is “themed” to track the scriptures and theme of the Gospel Doctrine lesson that week. Members love explicating the scriptures and relating them to their own life experiences. Also, each month, a member of the Bishopric BRIEFLY reviews the First Presidency message from the Ensign and relates it as we can to the work of the Lord in our Ward.

    We have occassional sacrament meetings that have more hymns than words. Members talking about their favorite hymn and then the congregation singing it certainly seems to invite the Spirit into the chapel! We strive to be a reverent people before and after the service — and every time we stress reverence, the meeting that day is wonderful. Why, sometimes the Bishopric stands with the Primary “reverence children” for a few moments before the meeting begins. (Now it is always fun to see the faces of the members when they see us standing up there!)

    The most important key we’ve found to improving our sacrament meetings is working with those called to speak to focus on Christ, giving them ample time to prepare, and being upbeat and thankful for the service rendered by all those who participate.

    My First Counselor pulled out his Blackberry during the Sacrament a few weeks ago. Turns out he was just looking up a scripture — but it did, just for a moment, make my heart skip a beat. LOL.
    If members are reading during sacrament . . . well at least they are there — and we just need to work harder to make the meeting good enough to get their attention off their lap and onto the speaker.

    I am grateful for the Sacrament Service time the Lord has granted us each week. And let me say, I would suffer any amount of bad public speaking, poor singing, and outright boredom to be able to partake of the bread and water each week and for just a moment draw back close to my Father and Savior. I want our Ward members to feel so close to the Lord for those precious moments — anything else is a great bonus!

    Thanks for letting me comment on this wonderful topic.

  144. Yet Another John says:

    I haven’t read all the responses on this post yet, but I have to relate an incident that happened at church. My wife and I were newlyweds and were attending the same ward as Elder Oaks and his family when he was president of the Y. We were sitting in the row ahead of them when I heard Sister Oaks whisper loudly to Pres. Oaks “Put your book away, dear.” It has since become my wife’s mantra. Since then, for 33 years, anytime that I try to read during church my wife will lean over and say, “Sister Oaks says not to read in church, dear!”

  145. After reading some of these comments I think we should do away with stupid waste of time talks and end the meeting after the sacrament and business is finished.

  146. Cyril #143:
    Very well put- thank you. I believe my bishopric takes a similar approach to making a sincere effort for the sacrament meeting to be a spiritually rewarding experience. I believe most wards and brances are like this- our leaders do the best that they can. Some results are better than others. If we all individually make a greater effort to prepare for our meetings with a hope and a desire to be fed, perhaps the level of speaking and teaching will improve.

    I also empathize with Alan (#139) as I know that I am a less than dynamic speaker. Not all have this gift, so we shouldn’t expect to be “wowed” by everyone that takes the stand. And I think we can generally improve at thanking our speakers and helping them feel good about their effort. Nothing is more disheartening than leaving your comfort zone and feeling afterwards that no one cared or listened.

  147. Great post, Kevin. My wife called me right after Oaks finished his talk (I had a Saturday class and missed it.) She was pretty happy about the whole thing. I think she’s more concerned that it is impossible for me to put my arm around her while I am holding a book and highlighter, though.

    Some great tips in this thread. I’ve decided to stop reading during Sacrament mtg. (with a few exceptions of course.)

  148. And I was feeling guilty for crocheting last Sunday. I really do pay attention better when I’m doing something with my hands and I try to make a point to glance up and make eye contact with the speaker every 10-20 seconds. I know that I couldn’t read during Sacrament Meeting because I wouldn’t be able to pay attention to the speakers and my book. I used to get mad at my husband for reading email and whatever on his phone, but I’ve kind of given up that battle. Personally, I think that looking out on a congregation of bowed heads when you’re nervous about speaking anyway can be disheartening, so I try to be engaged, even if my hands are busy.

    I have to agree with Jim way back in Comment 4. I have tried to lower my expectations and I find that if I just look for a simple message, I find I feel the Spirit every week, even in our urban ward where not everyone is well-educated and profound. But then that may be because we get a lot of earnest, from the heart talks rather than rehashings of conference talks.

    It would be nice if since the Church expects everyone to talk, that they would give some sort of guidance. We have Mission Prep and Temple Prep, how about Speaking Prep?

  149. Any truth to the myth that Pres. Eyring’s father preached himself a sermon in his mind when the speaker was boring?

    Even if it isn’t true, it is a rich myth with some pragmatic advice.

  150. #148 You said, “But then that may be because we get a lot of earnest, from the heart talks rather than rehashings of conference talks.” That’s all I’m asking for, and I’m hoping that’s not expecting too much.

    A side derail perhaps best saved for another thread: Sacrament Meeting at my ward is generally so awful that on one occasion I deliberately dissuaded a nonmember friend from visiting. Maybe I’ll pay for that in the eternities–but seriously, it’s one thing for those of us with a grounding in the Gospel and with the presence of the Holy Ghost to feel that we’re bored or unmoved by Sacrament Meeting talks. What about visitors, whose first contact with practicing members of the Lord’s church may well be an hour of verbatim conference talk repetition?

  151. Jim Donaldson says:

    Here are some of the things we did to improve our sacrament meetings:

    1. Made talk assignments in writing on a form that included the date and length of the talk, the scripture assigned, and some good natured advice about what to do and what not to do. Anyone who wants a copy can email me at JFDonaldsn “at” aol.com and I’ll send you one.

    2. We never asked recently moved-in ward members to speak as a couple. This eliminated lots of the ‘how we met’ talks even though the assignment sheet also warned against this.

    3. Kept a small data base of who spoke each week that was easily searched. Unless moved by the spirt to the contrary, we tried to keep people from being asked to speak more than once a year and also to make sure that no one was skipped over for years at time.

    4. Some ward members were given the option of choosing their topic, for the reasons mentioned above. But some we made very clear assignments to, usually for good reason.

    4. We varied the format frequently, sometimes having six five-minute talks, or, because we had a couple of exceptional speakers in the ward, even giving the whole meeting to one speaker, and every possible division in between. We tried to match the speaker to the time length, rather than the usual one size fits all.

    5. We once had a sacrament meeting about the sacrament and had the talks before we passed the sacrament, thus having the sacrament at the end of the meeting with, we hoped, heightened sensitivity.

    6. We never asked the missionaries to speak on missionary work, as badly as they wanted to do so, as it caused the entire congregation to glaze over instantly like a LaMarr’s doughnut. We asked them to speak on specific gospel principles, which they almost always did with skill and testimony.

    7. When Christmas Eve fell on Sunday, we got permission to have sacrament meeting at 7:00 at night.

    8. On Christmas and Easter we eliminated talks altogether and alternated musical numbers (including the choir and solos or duets) and scripture readings. Since people come and go, the music is fresh each year. It also kept the responsibility for a spiritually resonant holiday from burdening one or two one poor souls.

    9. On Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Thanksgiving, we’d do this: I’d call a few shills to be prepared in advance and the bulletin would list no speakers. I’d announce after the opening prayer that I’d be calling speakers from the congregation as the meeting progressed and announce the topic, which was something generic and based on personal experience like ‘the most important spiritual lesson my mother taught me’ or ‘the most impressive example of Christian ethical living that I received from my father.’ After the sacrament I’d go first, essentially to model the kind of thing I was asking for, then announce the next three speakers, the first of which was always one of the shills that I had asked in advance. When those three were completed, I announced another three, and so on. People caught on quickly. Other than those previously arranged, I’d make decisions on who I’d call while sitting on the stand, watching, believing whole-heartedly that I was being directed by the spirit. These were, in my opinion, some of the best meetings we ever had and included usually eight or nine different speakers. Everyone was thinking about what they’d say if called upon and, Kevin, there wasn’t much reading during those meetings.

    The idea was to keep sacrament meeting from being so brutally predictable. Each week in bishopric meeting, sacrament meeting for the following weeks was a standing agenda item because planning good sacrament meetings we felt was one of the highest responsibilities of the bishopric, especially the counselors. We believed that good meetings would improve the attendance. I’m still not sure whether the evidence supports that, but one loses his or her soul if the goal is only to fill the time. I was sure that the experience of attending sacrament meeting was better for those who did attend. The church makes every effort to be conspicuously responsible in spending every dime contributed by members. Our goal was to be equally conscientious in spending every moment contributed by the members to worship.

    I’ve often exaggerated and said that nobody remembers anything they’ve heard in sacrament meeting anyway, but they remember how they feel and that’s what keeps most coming back. The irony is that getting that feeling is almost as hard as saying something memorable. It requires prayerful thought and conscious effort.

    I’m the seminary teacher now and sometimes I crack open the scriptures during meetings to work on the coming week’s lessons, but it usually serves to keep my blood pressure in check when some speaker starts saying things that irritate me. My wife doesn’t care for that much either, but she knows that it will make for a more peaceful car ride home and is willing to compromise. Sometimes.

    Sorry about the length of this. I know it is scandalous. But it is something I’ve thought about a lot and believe to be important.

  152. wow Jim, thanks for that comment! I’m a new Branch President – we’re struggling to keep people engaged in Sacrament meetings. I’ve taken quite a few notes from your comment. Thanks again :)

  153. Holden Caulfield says:

    A member of a past stake presidency would always take notes in whatever meeting he found himself. In some meetings, I had no clue why he was doing that. He said he took notes on whatever was said so he would pay attention.

    In one ward, the speaker had been assigned a certain topic. He told the congregation what he had been assigned and said that was a really good topic, but that he was going to talk on something else, which he did.

  154. Ardis,
    I always give the person giving the talk a chance to get my interest. The alternative to my reading is falling asleep and snoring. I view looking down into a book as less disruptive than snoring. I only read books that have an obvious religious connection, but am discreet about how I hold it.

    I only hold the book up and make obvious my reading if I hear blatant false doctrines.
    (Less valiant in the pre-mortal existence, Singles less valiant because they aren’t married, Singles only single becasue they are avoiding responsibility, JS was a perfect human being, etc.) Doing so, especially during high council/SP visits sends a very clear message.
    1.) Do not call me to anything more intense than home teacher.
    2.) I do not like false doctrines, no matter who it comes from.

    I recognize the tension between showing respect for the speaker and respect for yourself.

    I’m also more willing to listen to crappy talks from youth and new members than I am with news with an ax to grind (a la Bloggernacle).

  155. Kevin Barney says:

    Wow, Jim, fantastic ideas. You’re right, I can guarantee I wouldn’t be reading during the meeting format you described!

  156. I personally would rather have someone reading a book while I was giving a talk than sleeping. But maybe thats just me.

    But, seriously, could we incorporate some kind of service project into sacrament meeting for those of us who get bored easily? Crocheting/knitting scarves for homeless or cancer patients or writing letters/cards for missionaries/military/inmates/hospital patients. One missionary can be handing out the SM program, and the other missionary can be handing out pen and paper and addresses for cards/letters and/or yarn and crochet/knitting needles for those of us who need to multi-task.

  157. That was a great list of ideas, Jim. I have one to add. I attended a ward where the speakers gave a short (5 minute) talk about their favorite hymn and then the congregation sang the hymn. Best meeting I’ve ever been to.

  158. Gregory Taggart says:

    Thomas (#36) and Ann (#54) said it best. We covenant to bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort. That covenant means very little if we can’t even support our brothers and sisters as they stand at the pulpit, something many of them have been dreading since the moment the bishop or one of his councilors asked them to speak.

    Same goes for Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society lessons, though there class members have more control over the quality of the lessons because they can ask questions to generate discussion, even if the teacher won’t.

  159. Our bishop used a fifth-Sunday lesson to teach on this topic. He told us that even reading scriptures was inappropriate. Frustrated, I suffered a public meltdown and said something like:

    “As a Primary teacher I come to an adult meeting for refresment – only to be told I can’t read in Sacrament Meeting, not even scriptures while I take the Sacrament. This is jus what I need. I could barely drag myself to Church today [feeling blue about Prop 8 issues] and now I need to deal with this pharisaical new rule in our ward. I can’t handle it!”

    I knew I broke a taboo, but it was one of those witnessing times – I couldn’t be silent.

    The bishop came over afterward to make sure I was okay. I repeated my feelings – of all the things he could think of for the adults – we had to have THIS?? I sugggested he get a life, and start leading in a way that didn’t lead to petgy guilt and division among the members. Again, violating a taboo.

    I felt bad about it for 2-3 weeks, then resigned myself to it. It was just one of those things that happened. I can be known as the crazy Primary teacher who says scary things when he’s among adults.

  160. miztrniceguy says:

    I do not normally read during Sacrament. I try my best to listen to what is being said. My success depends greatly on how my children are behaving. My wife is usually reading her e-book.

    I too hate the talk-about-a-talk format adopted by our ward. I could just read the Ensign during the meeting and be good.

    As to making our meeting more inviting to the Spirit, our ward has just adopted a closed door policy. Not closed during just the meeting…but closed before with a guard er, i mean member of the bishopric posted outside each set of doors to greet us as we arrive. This was announced the previous Sunday and began this last Sunday. The intent is supposed to be keep talkers and visiting out in the foyer, to allow people to sit quietly and prepare themselves for the meeting. However, I felt it did not seem very welcoming. As my wife asked me, we we be frisked and wanded next?

  161. I try to pay attention.

    Here are my points for giving a good talk:
    1)Dont start with a joke.
    2)Be direct.
    3)Be short.
    4)Don’t read.

  162. Whenever someone does the opposite of those 4, I have a natural tendancy to space out.

  163. That being said, I dont see a difference between reading and spaceing out.

  164. I think what is most striking to me about this thread is the unstated agreement – by a lot of very smart believers – that sacrament meeting mostly sucks except for taking the sacrament and singing. And sometimes even singing sucks.

  165. I frequently read my scriptures in Sacrament reading (though mostly in Hebrew) and take notes. I confess that this is because I’m bored by or hypercritical of talks, and neither makes me feel very charitable, so I read. I do keep one ear open, though.

    This thread has made me rethink that practice somewhat.

    On the other hand, I really wish speakers didn’t think they were giving a book report. It’s a sermon for crying out loud! Show some life! Every SM talk should be 1) interesting (or at least personalized) 2) inspiring and 3) true.

  166. I love the Brent Wilson story.

  167. #151 – Thanks, Jim Donaldson. I am copying your comment and sharing it with our Stake PEC.

  168. I loved some of #151 Jim’s suggestions, but I caution setting up a meeting where members think that thay may be called out of the audience to speak.

    Public Speaking Phobia is the #1 PHOBIA. For those of you who do not have this malady and are mystified by the feelings of those who are petrified of impromptu public speaking, and then tell these individuals “to get over it it’s good for you”; I challenge you to get a big bottle of spiders and have someone dump them on you.

    Everyone should have the freedom of attending church without the dread of being called out.

  169. Jim Donaldson says:

    Our bishop used a fifth-Sunday lesson to teach on this topic. He told us that even reading scriptures was inappropriate.

    I can see that this kind of thing is necessary on occasion, but I prefer what I call ‘supply side’ leadership. It is far better to improve the quality of the meetings so people have less reason to read or pinch their children so they can take them out, than to yield to the impulse of the Pharisees and impose rules like this. It is also far harder, but the harder thing is the point, not the easy one. To me, such rules signal a surrender, i.e., we can never achieve our real goals, so we should just settle for the appearance of it. I fear this attitude is working its way deeper into church culture.

    I recognize the value of giving support to those who are speaking by being attentive and my wife frequently points out (if only to me) how rude it is to do otherwise. On the other hand, I think the speaker has an equal, even greater, responsibility to do something other than to read aloud a general authority talk, even if such a thing is approved in the ward. I’ve given lots of talks and can tell by the ambient noise level when I’ve lost the congregation. Then it is time to wrap up that thought and move on. Quickly. I’ve even reduced that to one of Donaldson’s Laws: Babies never cry when the speaker is talking about polygamy.

    Our ward, which has a nursery equal in size to the rest of the primary combined, will instantly rate the quality of your talk. If your talk is interesting, the parents will somehow keep the kids quiet, if not—you’ll need to speak louder to cover the noise. We regularly have moments of pin-drop silence, but we also have moments that sound like the fourth quarter of a close game. It pretty much depends on what the speaker is saying. And it isn’t coincidental. I know this is harsh, but it is also true, even if you happen to be enjoying the talk. Listen next Sunday. Perfection is impossible here, like so many things in the church, but improvement, great improvement, can be made if it is important enough.

    When I was in a position to influence these things, I felt that the congregation was starved—desperate for solid scriptural teaching, relevant personal stories that bore testimony, and enthusiasm for trying to be our best selves. But we were rarely fed. You can see others feel that way through many of these comments.

    I apologize again for my habitual long-windedness.

  170. Jim Donaldson says:

    Public Speaking Phobia is the #1 PHOBIA.

    I only called up those who I knew were comfortable speaking in public and never anybody that was new or I was even uncertain about.

    That was also the reason that I alone did this. I knew everybody and knew who had the phobia, of which there were a handful. I even warned those folks before the meeting that they could relax and enjoy the meeting, they were exempt.

    We did this three times a year for more than 5 years and never had any trouble. But we were careful.

    Your point (#168) is well taken for those who are tempted to try this at home.

  171. I sometimes read scriptures, and once or twice played tetris on my phone. For me, sacrament meeting is only as good as the amount of attention I give to it. I have heard a quote (I think from Elder Oaks), that if sacrament meeting or other church meetings aren’t enlightening, you should make it so for yourself through studying the scriptures and so forth during the lesson. Don’t know how accurate that is. I’d limit the reading to scriptures or Church magazines, though.

  172. As was implied by many commentors, if I wasn’t reading in Sacrament Meeting, I wouldn’t be there. My wife puts up with my reading because a) I am always reading something generally connected to Mormonisms, and b) if she tried to ban me from reading she knows I would be home watching football.

    I also let my kids read, but the rule is no reading once the opening hymn is said until after the administration of the sacrament is finished. The rule gets broken occasionally, but is generally followed.

    On a related note, my son (12) was recently asked to speak, and attached to the sheet identifying the subject was two pages of general do’s and don’ts. In general they were excellent advice for talk giving. It’s too bad that none of our recent speakers, including the high councilman, seems to have paid any attention to them.

  173. Ferdinand Chetler says:

    Well, I can honestly say I’ve never read during SM. I was brought up to understand that this was rude to the speaker, no matter how bad the speaker is. So while taking a book may have crossed my mind, I never practiced this because I felt it was inappropriate. I would be one of the folks in the congregation who would look at the speaker and keep at least an exterior view of being attentive, so as not to be rude to the speaker.

    So, instead of reading or feeling like I wanted to play something on a phone or PDA, as talks got worse and worse, my view on SM and Church meetings in general was that they were a waste of time. Our SMs in this current ward are among the worst I have ever been through. And if you thought our SMs were bad, SS and PM are exponentially worse.

    So instead of being able to overcome my childhood indoctrination against reading at church, I withdrew. Not that there weren’t other reasons to withdraw. Because I understand what Jim @ 151 is saying, and I took it to heart. I knew what I was feeling (nothing) and it did not keep me coming back.

    I can think of maybe two meetings the entire time we have lived in this ward where something could be felt, or the speaker moved me (all meetings, not just SM). Life is too short. I can do service to others in other places, I can donate my money other places, and I can live without feeling guilty for not being moved by a terrible series of talks and lessons that uninspired leadership foists on us and has no desire to change.

  174. @JimD’s 151 –

    I know people in our ward who haven’t spoken in over a decade, because our ward (in its various boundary realignments) has spent the last 10 years asking new move-ins to speak. A bishop only really has 20 meetings a year to program, so we rarely have speakers other than the new move-ins.

  175. Wow, I’m surprised by all these comments. I’ve never really read during Sacrament Meeting, and don’t plan to anytime soon. Growing up my dad gave us quizzes after church, which we all loved. The questions were rewarded with a little treat, we did the quizzes in the car on the way home, and were generally things like ‘who was the last speaker’, ‘what did so and so say about x’, ‘who got a new calling’, etc just basic things to help us pay attention. we were kids, and also allowed to play tic tac toe and other easy games whilst listening. I think it was a good combination for us, because it made Sacrament Meeting something we enjoyed and looked forward to whilst also teaching us how to listen, a skill that I have appreciated as a professional project manager.

    I also just think it’s rude to read when someone is giving a talk. You all know from experience that you can see absolutely everything everyone in the congregation is doing. Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s a basic courtesy to pay attention.

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