In praise of the handbooks

When the new church handbooks were released last year, our stake president advised us to “press the reset button” on the way we administer the kingdom. Like everyone else, Mormons are susceptible to cultural accretions which soon take on the patina of gospel truth. For all the great questions of life (e.g. should we sit or stand for the intermediate hymn?), someone could point to some instruction by some visiting authority or something some leader heard when visiting some relative in Salt Lake or some such.

There is a different approach: check the handbooks. The new handbooks offer us the chance to cut back church government to its bare essentials, offering a minimal view of orthodoxy that represents the consensus view of the Brethren today. All else is spit and tradition. Here are some random ways in which the handbooks push against the Mormon tendency to invent all manner of jots and tittles. It’s not so much that there is anything new here but that current restatement is very useful:

  • On tithing: net, gross, what is “income”? etc. — “The First Presidency has written: ‘The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement that this'” (Book 1: 14.4.1).
  • On the Word of Wisdom: is cola verboten? — “The only official interpretation of ‘hot drinks’ (D&C 89:9) in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term ‘hot drinks’ means tea and coffee” (Book 1 17.2.11).
  • On women praying in sacrament meeting — “Men and women may offer both opening and closing prayers in Church meetings” (Book 2 18.5).

There are other examples (the instruction on musical instruments in sacrament meeting gives more leeway than you think, for example) which further demonstrate that in the vast majority of cases the handbooks are the servants of the reasonable, orthodox church leader who wants to offer faithful advice and run the church properly without getting bogged down in cultural minutiae. I like them and would advise their studious/wise usage.

It would also be interesting to explore how the new emphasis on delegating to the ward council is being received.

Thoughts on the new handbooks?

Comments

  1. In the past I have found the CHI a double-edged sword. Using it to support an specific idea can work against you when you want to try something a little different. The new handbooks work harder to delineate the space for adaptation, which I sense was often left latent in the past. In fact, one of the take-away quotations from the second broadcast was (para.) ‘Appropriate local adaptation strengthens the Church’.

    Re Ward Councils: To be honest, I have not seen a great deal of change here. The discussions modelled in the video were similar (at least in intention) to most Ward Councils I have been involved in. The primary difference, between the modelled Ward Council and the Councils I have participated in, was the ability and willingness of people to respond.

    In terms of accretion, I live in a shrinking ward, it has halved over the last few years and people still act like it is a big ward rather than a branch and that causes problems. There is an expectation that the programs should run like they used to. The new handbooks have helped us work against this trend.

  2. Peter LLC says:

    The new handbook has been come up a few times recently.

    In a priesthood lesson on priesthood ordinances last month, for example, a debate over whether women were allowed to bless their homes was more or less resolved by referring to the handbook, though the language was not as clear-cut as some preferred.

    Also, at stake conference last weekend, all stake YSA reps were released with a vote of thanks with an explanation that the position is no longer forseen in the new handbook.

  3. Peter LLC says:

    Um, make that “a debate over whether women were allowed to dedicate their homes.”

  4. Peter,

    Either:

    “Church members may dedicate their homes…”

    Or:

    “A Melchizedek Priesthood holder may dedicate a home by the power of the priesthood…”

    Or:

    “[A] family might gather and offer a prayer…”

    is kosher.

    See, that’s what I like about this stuff: it gives people permission to act reasonably in different ways. My wife always dedicates our homes, which is fine. Someone who wants the MP to do the dedication is also fine. And there even seems room for a child to do it.

    Aaron, there’s a section on what cannot be adapted. Seems to me that anything else is fair game within reason.

  5. Similarly, I like the statement on the WoW. If members personally decide that caffeine is a “habit forming substance” and thus not kosher then it is reasonable for them to eschew Coke. However, they cannot impose that interpretation on the rest of the membership.

  6. Ronan, I agree. The addition of this new section is major leap forward, esp. in terms of what I believe the handbooks have been designed to do from the beginning.

  7. Aaron,
    I’d like to hear examples of times when the handbooks have been unfriendly. I’m sure there must be, but as a bishopric, I don’t think we have encountered one yet. I initially thought the disbanding of the activities committee would be a pain, but the WC has ably stepped into the breach. Our last ward activity was “sponsored” by the RS and was a great success.

  8. Only unfriendly to me. Although in fairness, that is probably a good thing. Moreover, all of these are small things and in general I find the handbooks to be good.

    We wanted to eat fish-and-chips while watching the world cup last year (USA vs. England) and we found a chippy that supply the whole ward for £1 per person. This caused a stir because the handbook prohibits stipulating a cost for an activity.

    Music has been an issue. We had a trio sing an original version of ‘I am a Child of God’ that reflected the cultural roots of some of our members (and a missionary). Some people did not like it. Other suggestions I have made people have refused to sing because they thought they were contrary to the handbook.

    Joint youth activities. We have 3 per month (we only have 6 youth) and the handbook asked us to only have 1.

    I run a discussion group in our ward and there has been some concern with this because of the symposia policy at the back.

    Now I admit that many of these are matters of interpretation but the addition to the new handbook have made it far more friendly to sensible adaptation. One larger change I would like to see, though I admit I am probably in a minority, is the possibility of including baptismal services into our sacrament meetings. The handbook specifically forbids this.

  9. Food: couldn’t you pay for this out of the budget?

    Music: the section has a lot of room for liberal interpretation, more so than people realise. In this case, the handbook is useful.

    Mutual: joint activities are “normally held once a month.” I think this is crying out for local adaptation, especially if you have a small youth. Indeed, I think that is exactly what the spirit of the handbooks demand.

    Symposia: they are only warned against if they “disparage” sacred matters or “injure the church.” I presume your group does none of that.

    So, again you can apply the handbooks like a good lawyer and permit yourself plenty of adaptation. Of course, there’s church common law and one can fall foul of a judge’s (bishop’s/stake president’s) idiosyncratic interpretation. And there is no court of appeal in the church. I agree that things are more difficult than I am suggesting.

  10. Though it may be more difficult in practice, I do believe that the handbooks reduce that difficulty substantially.

  11. Andrew H. says:

    In the ward I was in when the handbooks came out last year the Bishop did an excellent job in using his Ward Council. For instance, he stopped filling out “Bishops Orders” once the new HB came out, he dividedthat up between the RS Pres, the EQP, and the HPGL. He used them and the rest of the WC a lot more as well. It may have helped that he was young, I doubt he was past 30. May be easier for young Bishops (out of necessity, in some ways) to adapt then for older Bishops.

    I had a bishop a few years back that was in his 70’s when he was released, tried to do everything himself, the WC, which I was on, were barely even gophers.

  12. I agree that this handbook is a great chance to reset. Our stake has long had the tradition of checking the handbook (with our former stake president and our recently called one).

    Our ward council has improved. All though the concept of broad participation is not new, it has been great to have it retaught so much so that newer members of the council realize they can speak up. Our bishop has been quite good about seeking others’ views first before offering his, as well. We’re quite fortunate that way.

    I also agree that it’s good to see the opportunities for local discretion in certain matters, and this iteration of the handbook seems to be clearer in that way, too (although Elder Perry taught the need for this years ago in one of the very first Worldwide Leadership Broadcasts).

  13. The new handbook has been wonderful in our stake.

    I live in a fairly large ward, and the Bishop has used the handbook to emphasize what he needs to do and what he doesn’t need to do, for example. One of the smaller branches in our stake has felt empowered to streamline and change much of what they historically had tried to do, being a ward previously, which has reduced the stress overall tremendously.

  14. Peter LLC says:

    See, that’s what I like about this stuff: it gives people permission to act reasonably in different ways.

    Exactly.

  15. Naismith says:

    “However, they cannot impose that interpretation on the rest of the membership.”

    Amen. This is exactly where the trouble starts, on a wide variety of issues.

  16. I wonder whether some of this local adaptation emphasis comes from Clayton Christensen. I’m delighted by it in any case, but I know he’s been pushing for local innovation for quite some time.

  17. Craig M. says:

    Didn’t the last handbook also talk about local adaptation, albeit in a shorter section?

  18. I think the new handbook is great, but it works against the way most members of the church have experience authority, and so it will not be implemented as such.

    The new handbook emphasizes the power of individuals to receive inspiration and encourages them to act on that inspiration rather than only operate under the auspices of their higher-ups. However, most people on a ward council have been on missions and learned about how the church works on those missions where the authoritative model generally reigns supreme. Encouraging proactivity and operating outside of the direct hierarchy is a challenge. If church culture will change, it all has to change.

  19. Chris Gordon says:

    As an anecdote, our bishop sure has been trying to take advantage of an opportunity to reset. He’s aware of his strengths and of his weaknesses, and to his credit has been making the most of an opportunity to improve. He’d never been one for follow-up, meaningful agendas, etc., and now he’s much better at not only delegating tasks, but mentioning by when he’d like to get a report on those tasks, writing it down, sending out reminders, etc.

    I also very much appreciate that in our stake, those who sit on the ward council are encouraged to consider their calling in two ways–as the head of such-and-such auxiliary AND as a member of the ward council. I think that for the younger leaders this has been more effective than for some of the vets, but so be it. I’m 31 and can only imagine what it’s like for someone who’s been in and out of leadership callings their whole life in the church. It’s probably not unlike those last 6 months of missionary service where you get a little tired of every batch of AP’s telling you that they’ve found the new secret to finding/baptizing/what have you.

    I’m not sure any iteration of the handbook itself will be enough of a deterrent against bad cultural trends, hedges about the laws, etc. I don’t mean that to say that the effort is a wasted one, and while I have some discomfort in feeling like an attorney in my church life (I’m already one in my professional life), it is always nice to have authorized, reasonable ammo with which to combat the noise.

  20. My thoughts? The Law of Moses continues to get bigger and bigger with each new edition of the handbook.

  21. I would watch a remake of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying as a Mormon musical, with the handbook as the book. I call redhead MoTab guy as narrator, David Archuleta as Pierpont Finch, and that short-haired Divine Comedy actress as Rosemary Pilkington.

  22. However, most people on a ward council have been on missions and learned about how the church works on those missions where the authoritative model generally reigns supreme. Encouraging proactivity and operating outside of the direct hierarchy is a challenge. If church culture will change, it all has to change.

    This is a good point. But I do have to say that my mission president was all about self-government by the missionaries. (Cebu Phillipines, No Phones probably forced a lot of the self-government. But he also was against the idea of Senior Companions, and killed that immediately upon his arrival). Maybe that’s why I am not much of an authoritarian. Anyway, I just wanted to say a mission doesn’t necessitate an authoritarian model.

  23. I agree with the expression that “some of the best kept secrets in the church are in the Handbook.” As a Bishop, I made it a point to know the Handbook inside and out, and it was great at helping me avoid problems. I am constantly surprised at how many sitting Bishops are clueless as to what is included. The longer I served, the less gap I saw between the “letter” and the “spririt” of the law.

  24. #20 – “The Law of Moses continues to get bigger and bigger with each new edition of the handbook.”

    The new ones are MUCH shorter and less specific than the older ones. The differences really are striking.

  25. I have only seen one change in our ward as a result of the disbanding of the ward activities committee. We haven’t had an activity since. We have a couple in our ward who are really in to ballroom dancing. They taught a class twice a month, pointing toward the ward’s Valentine’s Day dance. Only because we didn’t have an activities committee to plan it, we didn’t have a Valentine’s Day dance.

    In fact, the only activity our ward has had was the Relief Society Birthday Dinner, which was, of course, only for the women in the ward.

  26. In our ward, unfortunately BKP’s “Unwritten order of things” still trumps the handbook on a few things, notably a Priesthood holder giving the opening prayer. Our Stake President specifically told us, I know the handbook says this, but I want you to do it this way. Grrr…

  27. it can be hard to turn on a dime with how ingrained in lds culture it is to defer to the bishop in ALL things… i find great comfort in the updated direction in the handbook and modeled ward council meetings from the training sessions. it will take some time, but at least we have a goal to work towards now instead of ward council attendees just showing up to find out what tasks the bishop wishes to assign.

  28. Ronan, the description you give about cola and the Word of Wisdom was worded the exact same way in handbook # 1 when I was a bishop from 1997 to 2002. It is also now in handbook # 2 in section 21, as well as in volume 1. Same goes for the tithing explanation, I’m just not remembering which section in handbook # 2 where that is.

    All of these areas of policy and procedure that used to be hidden away is now available via the internet for all members of the church, which I think is a good thing. So when a SP as in Matt’s # 26 makes that kind of a statement, members can ask him why when the policy in the handbooks obviously says something different.

    Our ward council has improved, but it’s not where it needs to be yet, and unfortunately, our activities have pretty much dried up since the end of the activities committee. But overall, I see the new handbooks, and especially the public availability of handbook # 2 as a positive.

  29. Overall I like the new handbook. It makes a whole lot more sense, and with its being available to all members with internet access–everyone knows the rules.

    The one thing I found creepy though was that the new handbook seems to have a lot of “family centered” things worthy of a sit down with the bishop. IE: Think you’re done having kids? Well before your husband gets snipped better talk to the bishop to ensure it’s right.

    Did the old handbook have the same viewpoint? Doesn’t that part of the handbook go against the current view that child-rearing is a family decision and not something the church has dominion over?

  30. The old handbook all but prohibited vasectomy. No room for discussion at all. Fortunately, no one knew about what the handbook said :)

  31. Agree with the OP…I wasn’t familiar with the old handbooks, but in getting to know these new ones (because of a new calling), I’ve been surprised how much wiggle room we have to administer programs the way we want to on a local level.

  32. The 1999, 2006, and 2010 handbook statements regarding surgical sterilization (including vasectomy) are nearly identical.

  33. #25 – “I have only seen one change in our ward as a result of the disbanding of the ward activities committee. We haven’t had an activity since. …”

    Are some wards concluding that no activities committee = no activities?
    I thought the point of disbanding the activities committee is so that you don’t have the same few people planning every activity. Instead, the work and the fun can be given to different ad hoc assignees or volunteers for different activities. To me, that’s an opportunity to increase creativity & variety of activities.
    Also a great opportunity to involve new converts, less-active, and even nonmember spouses in one event at a time, without giving them the burdern of planning everything for the whole year.

  34. Thanks, Justin. Some of us have to rely on memories of illicit glimpses of the old ones :)

  35. I always thought a chippy was a prostitute. If you can find one who will service the ward for one pound each, that’s quite a bargain.

  36. Zefram, I don’t know if concluding is the right verb, that makes it sound like a deliberate decision. More likely is that everyone knows that activities are good and are needed, but I’m running a dozen classes in the Primary and you’re coordinating 20 Home teachers and welfare assignments and Sunday lessons and she’s corralling 30 teenagers on Sunday and Tuesday nights so activities get postponed for some time in the future…which translates into never. But this is an improvement, or so everyone says.

  37. Zefram,

    I think KLC’s example is why our activities have all disappeared. When the only thing you have to do is plan an activity, you can find time to plan an activity. If you are already overwhelmed, the last thing you want to do is add to the list.

    The other possible reason conld be a correlary to the “freeloader” principle: when everybody is in charge, nobody is in charge.

  38. interesting points, KLC and CS Eric. But aren’t there other unspoken assumptions involved here – such as (1) someone on the ward council must take charge of the activity, or (2) an existing group represented on the ward council, such as a quorum or Relief Society, etc., must take charge of an activity. Are these assumptions specified in the handbook?

    I don’t think so. I just checked it, and I found this:
    “When an activity is for the entire ward, the bishop may assign responsibility for it to one or more organizations represented on the ward council. He may also assign responsibility for an activity to other individuals or to a committee, working under the direction of the ward council. Normally these assignments are temporary for a specific activity.” The second sentence would seem to hold the answer for wards whose leaders are already too busy to handle anything else.

  39. Like #26, MattG, our stake presidency is steeped in tradition that goes way back and things like no women offering the opening prayer in Sacrament Meeting continue even these many months after the handbook. I specifically brought it up and the Stake presidency said its important that a Melchizedek Priesthood holder open the sacrament meeting because its the most important meeting of the church. So, I am Grrr’ing also.
    On other issues, the ward council does seem to be more effective, but the poor activities committee chair never got thanked for her last efforts, wasn’t even released officially. On music, there is also still a heavy-handed approach that “some general authority who visited our stake a while back (as in many years ago) asked us to stick to the Mormon hymns for all music, and so that’s what we do.” Also on music, the handbook got MORE specific (tending towards that Mosaic law thing) that ONLY certain well-known hymns are to be sung in Stake conference congregational singing. That easily translates (for those OCD types) into the choir can only sing Mormon hymns. I feel both blessed and cursed by the new handbook.

  40. Re: 39,
    “So, I am Grrr’ing also.”

    Or, instead of Grr’ing about the prayer issue, you could go to the leader in private, and say something like, “I’m confused, and I want to make sure I understand clearly. You’re saying that the first sentence of Section 18.5 in the new General Handbook doesn’t apply to our stake?” Then let him answer you.

  41. Re: #40 — or, if you’re afraid of retribution from the SP (hopefully not, but if they’re ignoring the handbook…), then you could ask your bishop to ask for you — or better yet, call the Stake RS president and have her ask. :-)

    As for activities — in our last ward council the subject of activities came up. THe council (with very little input from the bishop) agreed on four activities a year and divided them among the organizations represented, with the counsel to involve new members and otherwise not-involved or less involved members in the planning of the activites within the organization.

    What I expect: The RS will invite a committee of sisters to plan their activity. The youth leaders will plan theirs. The Primary presidency will get their husbands to be the muscle behind theirs (with the presidency doing all the planing), and the Melch PH leaders will forget about theirs until two or three days before. Just a hunch…

    But all that’s ok. Each organization leader volunteered to take it on; no one was assigned or even invited to volunteer, and the bishop did ask more than once if they were sure they wanted to take it on.

  42. Women get to pray in my ward now, but still giving closing prayer in Stake Conference and still not praying at all in General. The handbook says church meetings doesn’t it? I didn’t see any “except for” listed.

  43. Left Field says:

    The handbook now specifies that deacons can walk to their stations while the presiding officer receives the sacrament. The practice of waiting at the table until the bishop took the sacrament had become ubiquitous in the church, but it always bothered me a bit. We never did that when I was a deacon in the early ’70s. The handbook says the presiding officer should receive the sacrament first, but it never said you had to draw attention to it or make a big production of it. I was glad to see my ward abandon the practice.

  44. Hmm. In many of our wards in the last few years the “ubiquitous” deacons waiting at the table has not been the norm. Since they serve the priests first (before moving on to the rest of the congregation) in our present ward, they wait.

  45. But is not having ward activities a bad thing? When was the last time you actually came away from one feeling spiritually enriched? We stopped going to them because it wasn’t worth being embarrassed by my kids’ bad behavior, having to sit at a table by ourselves (a family of 5 can’t share a table for 8 with anyone but the missionaries), sitting through awkward musical numbers, bringing food that no one in the ward touched… I could go on and on.

    I still socialize with members of the ward. But we do it on our own time (and our own dime). It’s much more satisfying that way.

  46. Activities are a great way to get less active members, part-member families, etc. to meet the LDS community. Not having them is absolutely a bad thing. It’s not about feeling spiritually enriched. It’s about a feeling of community, and reaching out to others.

  47. Left Field says:

    I think it’s been 30 years since I remember seeing the deacons leave the table before the bishop takes the sacrament. Sometimes, the priests wouldn’t even hand over the trays until the bishop had received the sacrament. Occasionally, I’ve even seen them wait for the bishop even if the stake president is there and takes it first.

    As far as the priests receiving the sacrament, I’d say it’s been evenly split between giving them the sacrament with everyone else on the stand, and giving them the sacrament at the end when the trays are brought back to the table. I can’t recall ever seeing them receiving the sacrament before the deacons leave the table. It does seem sort of odd if *all* the deacons have to wait at the table while one of them gives the sacrament to the priests. That seems to run counter to the spirit of the instructions in the handbook on a couple of counts. The presiding officer is supposed to be the only one who gets any priority.

  48. Aaron R. says:

    Tim, I see this move as an extension of Elder Packer’s drive to streamline the Church and to reduce emphasis upon community while focusing upon family. Although I agree with your general point, I think there is a tendency among Mormon communities to become insular and activities, most often, merely serve to reinforce those boundaries. Sometimes people get brought into those activities, but that seems rare.

  49. “Sometimes people get brought into those activities, but that seems rare.”

    My experience is different. Our weekly church attendance is low (60-65), but our ward activities typically bring out 10-15 people who don’t usually make it to church (some less-active, some non-members), and sometimes more. Of course, our ward council focuses on getting these people to the ward activities, usually through invitations from home/visiting teachers. And we’re not quite as good at reaching out and fellowshipping once they get to the activity (although we’re working on it).

    I think ward activities should serve to expand the Mormon ward community to include those on the border–part-member families, less active families, and so forth. If a ward’s not using activities for this purpose, the ward’s missing a big opportunity.

  50. Aaron R. says:

    Tim, again, I agree in principle (and I think it is great that you have been successful); although I suspect that if your situation was common then we would still have activities committees. Further that people do not friendship when people are there, in my mind, actually reinforces my point; insider-status is magnified rather than diminished in such scenarios.

  51. Aaron,
    I think activities are great. I’m not sure what the importance of a “full time” activities committee is relative to them.

    Would it not make more sense for the ward council to use an activity to support the things they are work together on? Someone in the council says, “this would be great to have an activity to support this goal”. And someone else says, “how about we consider a few individuals to head up and organize that activity” and another says, “Julia comes to mind and she would be great because of ABCDEFG”. Then they can even take the step and pray about and then properly extend the request for Julia to do XYZ letting them in on the vision of why the council feels its important to do.

    That was my impression of how activities should be used and it is frankly how I figured they were always best used. It’s too easy for the activities to become “something else” that is done in addition to whatever the ward is working toward. But now the door is open to organizing activities which fit the needs of the quorums and auxilliaries as they try to apply the ward/stake vision.

    Case in point, I’ve had several activities I proposed to the activities chairman, which were the result of direct revelation and would help out in different situations. and the acitities chairman said, ya that’s a nice idea, but we are already planning on doing ABC, which is kind of like that, so why don’t we just combine them.

    Now I’m not saying they were not inspiried, but in this case you have an activities chair deciding what direction a quorum is going to go and it may or may not be in line what what the rest of the council needs and is working on. I’m beating a dead horse, but the opportunity is now there for more focused activities, which contribute to overall goals of the council. And it allows council members to recive revelation, and invite others on a frequent basis to be a part of also receiving that revelation and applying it to a direct task.

  52. Wondering what impact/effect anyone has seen with Handbook 2 being published on the internet?

    Our SP has made great efforts to teach from the HB and utilize it in Stake Meetings.

  53. Chris Gordon says:

    RE: Activities, we’ve got a ward that enjoys the same batch of activities that have always been done. They’re relatively easy to plan as they’ve been working from the same template for years. The transition to no activities committee has been a fairly simple one for us.

    This brings me to an observation and I’d like to hear if anyone else has been getting this vibe in trainings the last decade or so. Activities aren’t a huge priority in terms of leadership training, so this hasn’t been a huge point of emphasis, but it’s been there. But I’d understood that in activity planning there’d been increased emphasis on doing the opposite of what my ward is doing–activities for tradition’s sake or “just because.”

    Contrast starting with an activity in mind with a bullet point to that activity being, “And how are we going to reach out to less-actives, non-members, etc.?” as part of the larger planning scheme with starting with a group of less-actives, or non-members, with an activity being one of many options to fellowship and uplift those individuals. We’ve tried to do this on a quorum level and have had better results (in terms of quality turnout) with less time wasted in planning logistics as we’ve tried to do so.

    I could see the new handbook’s setup as trying to create an institutional setup to facilitate a cultural shift towards the latter planning model, but I recognize that it’s a huge leap. In theory, less activities could be a positive if those activities aren’t serving larger purposes of real fellowship, service, etc., and can be better used for those purposes when planned with specific individuals in mind either to head up or heavily contribute to the activity or with a mind towards inviting them to it.

    We talk a lot here about the relationship between culture and institution and this is no exception.

  54. #40 Zefram, when I said that I brought it up, I mean I met in private with my bishop and I referenced the new handbook and he said he would take it to the stake presidency at his next meeting with them. Then, he reported back to me that they said it would still stand here in our stake that melchizedek priesthood holders offer the opening prayer in sacrament meeting because, according to the bishop retelling me, the stake feels that sacrament meeting is the most important ordinance meeting and therefore needs the blessing of melchizedek priesthood. So, that’s why I’m in a conundrum over it.

  55. 54. wow.. that’s interesting.. sort of a microcosm of life and the pride cycle.. I’ve observed that quite often local leadership is entirely too overwhelmed by the volume of tasks associated with leadership that some of the nuanced details fall by the way-side, and instead there is a constant deferral to tradition or to the stake, rather than an individual consideration of the concern which may lead to a place with a divergent opinion. And in your situation, bringing something to their attention appears to have them dig in their heels rather than humbly accept change. Seems that following the handbook is a course to more often a peaceful place than is continuously defending the indefensible.

  56. “Our weekly church attendance is low (60-65), but our ward activities typically bring out 10-15 people who don’t usually make it to church (some less-active, some non-members), and sometimes more.”

    Our experience is similar. A lot of non-member spouses and parents who wouldn’t be caught dead in a sacrament meeting will come to activities. At our Halloween and Christmas activities somewhere between a quarter and a third of attendees are non-members or less actives.

    Does anyone ever take attendance at such activities to know what their impact is? Without data, there is no way of telling whether Tim’s and my wards are typical or outliers.

  57. #54 – I echo #55’s wow.

    It sounds like your stake leaders may have not carefully read the new handbook’s Section 17 on “Uniformity and Adaptation.” Under Section 17.2, “Circumstances That May Permit Local Adaptation”, there is no mention of prayers.

    Rather, one of the entries under 17.1 (“Where Uniformity Is Required”) is 17.1.2, “Sacrament Meetings and the Sunday Meeting Schedule”. This entry contains a direct cross-reference to a different part of the handbook, Section 18.2.2 (“Sacrament Meeting”).

    Section 18.2.2 is part of Section 18 (“Meetings in the Church”). A few pages later is Section 18.5 (“Prayers in Church Meetings”), of which the first sentence is: “Men and women may offer both opening and closing prayers in Church meeting.” Since the Uniformity principle is specifically applied to Section 18.2.2, I would think it applies to everything else in Section 18, including the directives on prayer in 18.5.

    (sorry if I’m being pedantic, kevinr. I’m just trying to make the issues clear for myself, as well.)

  58. “On women praying in sacrament meeting — “Men and women may offer both opening and closing prayers in Church meetings” (Book 2 18.5).”

    Does the handbook mention anything about General Conference and why sisters don’t pray? (besides RS/YW General meetings).

  59. Kristine says:

    General Conference instructions were in the lost 116 pages…

  60. #59 Along with Elder Cook talk in GC? (edited in both video and online version) when he said:

    “From our earliest history both men and women pray, perform the music, give the sermons, and sing in the choir, even in sacrament meeting, our most sacred meeting.”

    :D

  61. Scott B. says:

    I can’t wait for the GC when a woman gives the opening prayer. And I can’t wait for the awkward silence that comes over the bloggernacle, as it loses one of it’s favorite and most-chimed piano keys. And I can’t wait for the silence to be broken mere seconds later by reminders that the woman was only allowed to pray because a man said she could. It’s gonna be great!!!!

  62. Scott B. says:

    Suz (60),
    How was it edited? It looks the same to me as it was when he said it, though maybe I am incorrect.

  63. ScottB, taking into consideration that 181 years passed, we may well see it in another 181 years…they have internet access in the other side? :)

  64. #62 Mistake on my part. It was edited in the video, not in the online version (I checked the day it was available so I don’t know now).

  65. Suz,
    Better check yer stuff again. I just watched the video, and it’s the same as it always has been.

  66. #62 I just checked the video and it’s fine to me now! So I stand corrected. I was either drunk with Pepsi that day or I don’t know what the heck happened.

  67. Given the amount of attention that talk has attracted and how much it’s been scrutinized, I’m going to vote for drunk with Pepsi.

  68. #62 At first I thought they removed it because well..it’s not entirely accurate to say that women from our earliest history prayed in sacrament meeting. But now I realize that something was going on with my computer or my eyes.

  69. #68 LOL

  70. Ackshually…it’s not the “from our earliest history” part that is problematic historically. It’s the (unstated) assumption that “from our earliest history” implies “and in every time period since without a break” that gets us in trouble.

  71. #71 It’s funny because for most members who don’t know much about Church history or lurk in the bloggernacle it won’t make a difference. Heck it won’t make a difference to a lot of members who do know church history and lurk in the bloggernacle. I would like to find out out of curiosity more than anything else because it seems like nobody can give me an answer. I contacted a missionary online to ask them about it (I know!) he said the reason women don’t pray in Conference is because of the Priesthood (their responsibility is to preside over the meeting) So I asked, how come women pray in Sacrament meeting even though the Priesthood also presides there?. A long paused followed and then a short “We don’t know the answer”.

  72. I think it’s been 30 years since I remember seeing the deacons leave the table before the bishop takes the sacrament. Sometimes, the priests wouldn’t even hand over the trays until the bishop had received the sacrament. Occasionally, I’ve even seen them wait for the bishop even if the stake president is there and takes it first.

    I was first a deacon, oh, 28 years ago and I’ve never seen it where deacons didn’t move until the bishop was served (even in Utah). I remember instructions when I was a deacon that we didn’t pass the tray to the members until the presiding authority was served, but those were gone by the time I was a priest. Maybe that died with Kimball.

  73. So in the new handbooks, the presiding authority does not receive the sacrament first? I thought he still did — it’s just that the deacons now don’t have to wait at the table until he got it before moving to their positions.

  74. I downloaded the update for the Gospel Library for Android to my mobile phone this last week, and I just wanted to point out that in addition to the scriptures, most of the manuals, and magazines, you also can download the entire text of handbook # 2. I would assume the same is true for the Gospel Library app for the iPhone/iPad. Certainly having it literally in the hands of lay members is a good thing.

  75. Thankful says:

    I agree that activities are vital, whoever plans them. My husband is not active, and other than 1 kind but inconsistent home teacher, he is completely ignored by the ward. He needs friends like everyone. You won’t catch him in sacrament meeting. But he does go to activities. The result of this lack of fellowshiping is that he fills his needs for friendship with those who reinforce disbelief, rather than otherwise. Of course, no one wants to feel like a “project,” and that’s exactly why activities are important. You can meet people and develop friendships without being singled out as one who needs to be “fixed.” However they happen, I hope they do.

  76. It's Not Me says:

    Unfortunately, our stake presidency continues to enforce some “unwritten rules” and ignore some things that appear to be clear in the new handbook.

    We have to check with a person’s bishop re worthiness if they’re singing in sacrament but not a member of our ward.

    Also, we cannot hold ward council on Sunday mornings, despite Section 18.1 of the new handbook.

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