So is that the Church I want to join?

I took two of my children to a Black Baptist church last year, bribing them with the possibility of some great music. It worked. They both accompanied me, and they loved it. My son could never remember the name of this other church, but he’d later ask me, “What’s the name of that church where they play the drums and guitar?” And sometimes, “What’s the name of that other church I want to join?”

He frankly does not enjoy Mormon church services — and I believe his feelings should be considered. He represents many others. The stats are rather depressing. We are losing our youth. Good, wake-up music would help us retain some.

Nonetheless, we are not in church for the music.

So, for my son, this is what I would say:
Son–I admit it. We could do better. But, there is in the LDS Church a vision of you as an eternal being which you find in few other churches. (Those that believe in your eternal life tend to think you spent some time as an insect.) Our doctrine suggests that before you were formed in my belly, God knew your spirit, and that you knew your Heavenly parents and understood that mortality would be a time of essential growth in a timeless span. Some have called it a test. I call it PROVING GROUND. You will prove to God, to yourself, to your family (the one you’re in now and the one you will have) who you are. You will become greater than you had ever imagined. In the midst of your current growth spurt, those ever-demanding high school classes, and church meetings which feel like a long recording of scriptures by someone who apparently graduated in the study of monotony, you aren’t feeling much “proving” in the works. But there will come a time when you will need to know that because Jesus Christ accomplished the atonement, the resurrection will happen. So far, you’ve gone through funerals and even served as a pall bearer, but you haven’t been brought to your knees by the news that someone you love has died. You will.

You have been ordained to the priesthood, but you don’t yet understand it. Since I have seen your father grow in his own understanding, I fully believe you will do that as well. When you were small, you got very excited about our start-of-the-school year blessings. The idea of being like the rest of us was fun. You sat on the chair with your feet dangling eight inches above the floor, and your dad set his hands on your head to bless you. It was so cool that you had to contain your giggles. Now, it’s just another, “Aw, do we have to?” ritual. But my dear son, I have felt your dad’s hands on my head and sensed power which I know came from beyond him. He has told me things in blessings which I were answers to prayers I had never shared with him. He has blessed your brother and your sister in the midst of their pain, and the pain has instantly subsided. It doesn’t always happen that way, but I have seen it happen too many times to deny.

You’ve said you think all Christian churches are true. I agree. Every church which acknowledges that we all will eventually recognize that Jesus is the Christ is telling the truth. But I choose the particular vision of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I choose the vision of our own potential godliness–that we can literally be co-heirs with Jesus Christ of all the Father has. I choose the reality of continuing revelation, growth and repentance, for us as individuals, as a family, as a church, as a nation, as a world.

I want you to serve a mission, and for that mission to be only the beginning of a habit of service. I’ve taken you to places where you’ve seen poverty–but the poverty wasn’t nearly as important as what I showed you in its midst: JOY. You have met great men and women who happen to be very poor. You know their stories. I want you to know the stories of other great ones, and a mission puts you in position to do that and to develop the pattern of doing it.

As you imagine the divinity of a baby in swaddling clothes surrounded by barn animals, you can also imagine the possibilities of a child with AIDS in Africa, of a homeless man in Chicago, of a hare-lipped baby in Guatemala. Beyond seeing the nothingness of ourselves and our neighbors, true Mormon doctrine tells us that we all are the work and glory of God. I know of no more magnificent doctrine.

It’s no surprise that you aren’t thrilled by the prospect of three hours of recycled talks and lessons. But the truth is, you haven’t sensed your need for the Savior yet. Sometimes, your heart must be broken first. I remember seeing my brother–who was a lot like you–weeping as he partook of the sacrament. It was in the hospital, and he had survived an accident doctors said he couldn’t survive. It took months before he was strong enough for us to wheel him–IVs intact–to the hospital’s sacrament meeting. His hand was weak as he lifted the bread to his mouth, and I wondered if I should help him. But he managed, and I saw the tears come down his cheeks. I hadn’t ever seen those kinds of tears from him.

Be patient, Son. I’m guessing you’ve had glimmers of recognition that despite the monotony and slow hymns, we’re about something very important. If you continue, the glimmer will widen into a radiant circle, embracing you and everyone you love. Eventually, if you grow in love and charity, your heart, like Enoch’s, will spread “wide as eternity.”

That, to me, is the gospel at its core. Hang in there.


  1. Very nice.

    For me, however, the church that played pizza-parlor music on a big ol’ theater organ would have a strong attraction.

  2. Great post. Thanks.

  3. Rameumptom says:


    Sunday meetings only show which ones have the best musicians. To help your son figure it all out, take him to funerals. Have him see a few Christian funerals, especially some of the black church funerals. I attended several in Montgomery, and the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that occurs, makes one forget that this is a Christian funeral that should generate some hope for the dead person’s future.

    Then go to a few, random, LDS funerals. Let him compare the message.

    I recall when my grandfather died in 1975, I was sitting in the hearse with my brother and 4 cousins, preparing to haul the coffin to the gravesite. One cousin sniffed, “there’s got to be a better way.”

    Twenty years later, when my sister died of cancer at the age of 35, I stood as a pallbearer with my 4 brothers and 2 b-i-ls. One b-i-l, who is not a member stated, “this was the most comforting funeral I’ve ever attended in my life.”

    Very different than one African American Christian funeral I attended, where the lead singer broke into a wailing cry and ran off the stage in the middle of her song.

    It isn’t in the daily realm that our Church shines for the youth. It is during those times of extremity, when life and death is at hand, that it matters. It is when your son sees someone receive a blessing by the priesthood that comforts and heals, or someday will see that same power seal families together eternally, THEN he will realize just what is important about the Church.

    Gerald Smith

  4. Thomas Parkin says:

    The other day I was listening to Yesterday, the Beatles song. I was so struck by the loveliness of the music, then those first words … “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away …” What I realized was not that it was beautiful so much as that it was true. I thought, “goodness, no wonder there were so many hippies. This is one of the most true things I’ve ever heard.” Without, at all, jettisoning standards, or commandments, and also without adding pop culture – I’m not suggesting different kinds of music in our services – we need to be able to speak with more truth to our youth: more acknowledgment of woundedness and the deep reality of everything they experience. We need to do more than paint a supposed picture of righteousness and say, ‘be this.’

    I’m not sure what this means. As much as I love and admire the generations now passing away – for their goodness and dedication – our generation, and those following, are going to do better. For one thing, our obedience is as sure without being quite so hampered with neurosis. ~

  5. Some agreement, and some quibbling.

    First, I believe a great many youth DO like the structure/music/format; however, I agree, that there are many who don’t. I don’t really know what to say to those who don’t. Drums and guitars are exciting, but there a lot of today’s youth who really do like organ music, ward choirs, and all that. Short of having two separate churches based on music preference, I don’t see any easy solution.

    But I agree — we’re not there for the music.

    My wife and I have been involved in “Girl’s Cub Scouts” (Activity Days) for awhile now, and we’ve discovered that many of the children don’t really “get” why there’s a significance difference between different churches. They haven’t grasped yet concepts like authority, ordinances, etc. (Yes, and we’re only dealing with 8-11yos, so maybe that’s to be expected).

    But, I think we do a disservice to the youth when we don’t focus on what’s “different” and “unique”. We spend a lot of time focusing on the commonalities with other Christian groups. We give them language to help them bridge the gaps. We spend too much time, sometimes, glossing over what’s different and controversial.

    This isn’t just the youth, though. I submit this has been happening for awhile. All of those members who were *shocked* at how our Church was treated or perceived during Romney, the FLDS, and Prop 8? (The holy trinity of ignominable conduct towards Mormons…)

    It’s been oft-said by recent prophets, perhaps no more vocal than Hinckley, that all churches have elements of truth, and our message to the world needs to be what’s new and great and _different_ (I’m paraphrasing a prophet, but I believe I’m doing it faithfully).

    So how can we expect the youth to get it if we don’t do it with them? Yes, their friends’ brands of Christianity are great and awesome and wonderful. But so is ours. And it’s great that they sing Amazing Grace and other great gospel songs. But it’s also great that we sing “We Thank Ye O God For a Prophet”, even if Sister Jones can’t play the organ very well and the woman behind us can’t warble on key. It’s great that the can wear shorts to their meetings. But it’s also great — and amazing — to witness our sacrament being prepared and blessed.

    Yes, our doctrine is confusing at times, seemingly contradictory at others. It’s also, in a sense, *complete*, in that we can lay out the entire purpose for being here, where we came from, and where we’re going (even if we don’t YET understand some of the finite details and are forced to speculate).

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    But…but…drums and guitar!

    Seriously, this is excellent. Are you actually going to share this with him, or is it hypothetical for our benefit?

    Boy, your son’s not alone. A couple of years ago I taught the youth SS class, and those kids were bored silly. I did everything I could to engage them, but I fear it wasn’t enough. Three of those students have left high school and have dropped out of Church, and for the others I fear it is only a matter of time and moving away to school away from the parental units. My own children did the same. It’s beyond frustrating.

  7. From the father of an already-bored nine-year-old, I really loved this post. Thanks very much.

  8. It’s no surprise that you aren’t thrilled by the prospect of three hours of recycled talks and lessons. But the truth is, you haven’t sensed your need for the Savior yet.

    Truer words have never been spoken.

    In my ward yesterday, we had no priests. I’m not sure of the reason, but it was unplanned. The YM president and another high priest blessed the sacrament — and while I’ve heard the prayers thousands of times — it resonated differently. Their actions were deliberate, focused. Their voices paused in the right places, gave emphasis in others. You could that those administering recognized their own need for the Savior and were honored to help officiate, because it was so important to them.

  9. Margaret Blair Young says:

    Kevin–This probably comes out of my sense that my children don’t hear me bear my testimony very often. My missionaries hear me all the time. Yesterday, our ward had testimony meeting because next Sunday will be Stake Conference. (I go to the MTC first, then to my home ward with my two at-home children.) I took the opportunity to bear my testimony because I wanted to adjust the balance. But this wonderful kid isn’t quite ready for this post. It’s on record, however, and the time will come when he WILL be ready. I’m just waiting. He did say yesterday, “What’s the name of that church I want to join?” Hence, the post.

  10. #8–What if we had 1 Sunday a month where we let the old guys do Sacrament? I think that would help set a nice example for the younger ones, and also strengthen the older guys as they relive and renew their connection to that aspect of priesthood service. Maybe not a good idea for wards with so many priests that they rarely get to have a turn administering. But I haven’t been in such a ward in a very long time.

  11. Antonio Parr says:

    My teen-age son, upon attending a funeral at an evangelical Church, commented afterwards that their music didn’t sound dirge-like, in spite of the fact that it was a funeral, whereas music at LDS worship services sounds like a funeral, even when it is not one.

    There is quite a bit of beautiful, worshipful music that will never make it to LDS meetings, which is a shame. By way of example, Catholic monk John Michael Talbot (founder of Mason Proffit, one of the first country-rock bands), has some stunningly beautiful, reverent music that would set a worshipful tone at our Sacrament meetings. However, since JMT is both (a) a Catholic monk; and (b) still alive, his music will never be given consideration by whoever it is that selects our music for our services.

    The correlation of worship music has not produced the best that there is. And what if Carole King or Jimmy Webb or Brian Wilson or Bob Dylan were to join the Church? Would we really make them sing a Janice Kapp Perry song instead of their own creative works of a faith-centered nature?

  12. Thanks, Margaret. This is one to which I will be linking in the future.

    It’s such a struggle to help part the veil a bit and help our children catch a glimpse of eternity and just how amazing the depth and breadth of the Restored Gospel really are. I also agree that too often (the collective) we fail to be direct enough about the differences between our theology and that of others out of concern for giving offense. I believe completely in identifying similarities and appreciating the good in all churches and religious traditions, but I also believe completely in the vital importance of what is unique and ennobling and exalting.

    I’m not sure we pay enough attention to teaching the depth of those differences – that we really understand enough about what else is out there to fully appreciate what is in here.

  13. Antonio Parr says:

    I forgot to mention how much I appreciated this beautiful post, and how it strengthened my appreciation for the Church.

    Thank you.

  14. Margaret Blair Young says:

    We sing St. Francis of Assissi (“All Creatures of our God and King”); we sing Cardinal Newman’s “Lead Kindly Light”–which is likely an account of his conversion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. We sing Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress.” And those who last selected hymns for the LDS hymnbook later expressed regret that they didn’t include “Amazing Grace” and that they removed “Come Thou Font.” I happen to like “Our God is an Awesome God,” which my oldest daughter thinks is really funny, since she learned it at a Baptist summer school we enrolled her in. But we do have Gladys Knight. Let’s pray that she be called as the next head of music. And please note that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is preparing an album of traditional spirituals. They’ve been singing them during “Music and the Spoken Word” for awhile now. I think “I’m On the Battlefield for my Lord” would work as well as “Called to Serve” in the MTC.

  15. When I came to the church, my most recent church experience had been with a little Pentecostal church with an African-American friend. The music was so good. It was just amazing. The choir was full of Aretha Franklin voices, and the congregation sang with just that much spirit and feeling. The whole thing was improvisational with call and response, and voices weaving up and around in the most soaring spontaneous way, always making a harmonious whole. The music alone made my hair stand on end and tears spring to my eyes. They raised the roof on that little church every Sunday.

    I love our church and our doctrines, but I don’t see why we can’t have better music. I think we should let Sister Knight’s prayers be answered.

  16. @10 – I know SLC really dislikes anything that excuses the YM from exercising the relatively few responsibilities they have. I know that some wards let the MP do priesthood once a year. Depending on the number of youth, the weekend before or after scout camp can decimate the AP numbers. Same with a high-adventure trip. Most wards, though, are not allowing youth to travel on Sunday so that the youth can be in Church.

    I don’t know that we really need the MP regularly administering, to teach the AP to act with respect. Most times, it’s a magical mystery nostalgia trip for the MP.

  17. I love our church and our doctrines, but I don’t see why we can’t have better music. I think we should let Sister Knight’s prayers be answered.

    Unless you have Sister Knight in your congregation, your music won’t necessarily be better. And plus, I don’t really think you’ll find much support, Church-wide, for the idea that the music is terrible.

  18. Margaret Blair Young says:

    Queno–Have Steve put it to a vote:
    Our music is
    A) Better than yours
    B) Tolerable good, but could be better
    C) So slow you can fall asleep between verses
    D) In desperate need of revitalization
    E) Something we need to seriously examine if we want to better involve our youth

  19. I’m happy to read that there are Latter-day Saints who acknowledge that the music could use improvement (or a diversity in music styles wouldn’t hurt). Usually when I bring it up, the response that I get is, “We like our music just fine and we don’t need opinions from outsiders, thanks.” While I dislike having to try to explain the reason for the many different denominations in my faith, one of the advantages is that if you don’t like the music at my church, there’s another church nearby that will teach the same core doctrines and can offer a different style of worship. The ability to adapt to different cultures (music and all) is definitely something Latter-day Saints could do better.

  20. I would go with B.

    In all my years in YM I have never heard a YM complain about music in church. They complain about other stuff and sound like teenagers while doing so but never about the music.

    To be honest its the LOC and the WOW that is the biggest reason that teenagers go inactive.

    here is a common pattern for YM.

    meets up with girl
    gets sexually active
    starts missing church more and more as they get deeper into the sexual part of their new relationship
    Stop going entirely.

    repeat with a similar pattern with WOW

  21. iguacufalls says:

    If anyone thinks our music is slow, they should visit Brazil, where they sing each song so slowly they only have time for one speaker for the whole meeting. OK, not really but it’s easily 1/2 the tempo indicated in the hymnbook. Seriously, they could make “The Lord is my Light” feel dark and dreary. And don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Brazil (hence my handle), but this is one quirk I would definitely change down there.

  22. Beautifully written, thank you.

  23. What a beautiful post!

    I don’t think it is the music itself as much as it is the passion that goes along with it. The drums and guitars and choir robes and spirituals all speak to a level of passion that I rarely hear at Church. We talk about how music can be a prayer to HF, but I rarely see or hear the passion in our singing that exists elsewhere.

    I don’t know how to fix that…

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    Hey Jack, just wanted to say “hi” to you. Thanks for popping in!

  25. Good to see ya again, Kevin. BTW, don’t you live in Chicago? I’m applying to TEDS in Deerfield. If I’m accepted I may be moving there in August.

  26. Margaret, beautiful again. Thank you.

  27. “Mom I want to go to the church across the street.”
    “Because they have nachos and a bounce house.”
    “Honey,remember Trunk or Treat? They even had cotton candy.”
    “But they have the nachos and bounce house every Sunday and Wednesdays too!”
    “You can visit.”

    So when I need a ceremony fix I go to my mom’s church. When I need lively worship music, I go to the local mega-church. And when the monkeys want to bounce they cross the street.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    That would be awesome, Jack! Deerfield is a northern suburb, and I’m in Hoffman Estates, which is northwest. But we could certainly get together if you came out here. Good luck on the application, and let me know how it turns out. (Sorry for the threadjack.)

  29. I also don’t hear many complaints about the music. It may be an issue, but I think it is small in comparison with the recycled lessons and teachers people who have callings but have learned they can do half-assed jobs and not be emotionally connected and that there isn’t any consequence for that.

  30. Well, I was going to say something about music, but then I remembered that I just loved this post, and the reasons had nothing whatever to do with the music. So I’m just going to say how much I loved it, Margaret, and how inspiring I think it is.

  31. Bro. Jones says:

    #29 – Amen. I’ve come to accept the lousy music (as performed, not always as written) in LDS chapels. It really doesn’t top the list of things that dissatisfy me with Sunday services–when I’m dissatisfied, that is. My new ward is kickin’, full of smart and engaged and diverse people that all have something special to share (and the confidence to share it).

    It’s a bit like complaining about the elevator music when you’re on the elevator to some place you don’t want to go to. Sure, the music for the journey could be better, but if you have boring, inconsequential classes awaiting you at the top floor, the music is the least of your worries.

  32. I’m not one of the crotchety (“Get off my lawn”) types, but do we really think that changing music styles will keep the youth (and not alienate the adults)? I love my Blink-182 as much as the next guy, but there’s something awesome about a lot of songs in our hymnbook. And I don’t think that music is the panacea to saving our youth. Throw in a spiritual or two, but I just can’t see “Gladys and the Osmonds” rocking out in the Conference Center before Monson’s keynote speech as the way to move forward…

  33. Martin Willey says:

    My preteen son told me he did not want to go to Church for the first time yesterday. I think it might have been a bad day, but the boredom issues you identify certainly play a role. This is really beautiful, Margaret. I plan to think a lot about what my version of this statement will be to my son. Thank you.

  34. I have had a lot of the YM I know attend services with friends at Evangelical churches. They seem to have a mixed reaction to the music. Some like it and some do not. I think that most find it a bit off-putting because its a style that they are not really used to.

  35. Margaret, this is a very sweet post and shows a lot of love for your son, but I think you may be disappointed in what your son will or won’t do.

    You have this hope that one day your son will get it – but what if he already does? Really, I hardly think that funerals and missions are going to convince someone that believes that church has no claim on truth (AND its boring and demanding of your time on top of that, not exactly points in it’s favor when it has no authority) that it does.

    You hope he will see these things the way you do, but its quite likely that he won’t. Its quite likely that funerals and missions and tragedy will just solidify his current belief. I say this not to be mean but as someone whose parents hoped the same thing for me (and whose husbands parents for them) and they were quite disappointed. I don’t think its really fair to write off the thoughts and feelings of your kids as the misunderstanding and ignorance of youth. If he was a non-member wanting to join the church, certainly you would be trusting his judgment then.

    Nothing you write is an exclusive claim of the LDS, nor is it very fair to tell your son he only doesn’t believe because he doesn’t need it yet. Its not a convincing argument really: once someone you are close to dies or you yourself almost do – then you will see! Except for maybe he won’t, maybe he will see interpret these events of life a little different than you do.

    But good news is, his life will probably still be dedicated to service and helping others and maybe even to God. But just not in the same place as you.

    (though obviously you do know your son better than I, so take this for what its worth)

  36. Julie, the son I referred to still goes to church. His older brother does not. I love both of them and place no conditions on my love. And they know it. But I am, in my heart of heart, a missionary and one who loves missionaries. Now, the truth is, I love all missionaries, even non-Mormon ones. But I recognize unique gifts which Mormon missionaries have. Since I serve in the MTC, I get to see these young men come in and learn how to give a blessing. It’s like watching a baby take its first, uneasy steps. I’ve seen them learn to discern and appreciate something beautiful and precious which they have taken for granted or even rejected earlier in their lives. I not only believe in the gospel, I love it. I come to it in the fullness of light, completely aware of every argument anti-Mormons have ever advanced and of the flaws of our leaders, past and present. But I know the gospel brings joy. I bless the worn out shoes of those who preach the gospel of peace.

  37. Yet Another John says:

    Putting it to a vote (re #19) would let you know what the bloggernacle thinks (some of them anyway), but not the majority of the church. I’m still surprised by the number of people in my admittedly conservative rural southern Utah ward that have no clue you guys exist! Sorry.

    Now, having said that, I really enjoyed your post.
    My last child is now fifteen and is exceedingly bored by church (sacrament meeting). I have had much the same conversation as you mention, although not nearly as eloquently.

  38. Margaret, with your permission, I’m going to read your post to my kids at FHE tonight. It’s what I’ve been wanting to tell them or trying to tell them for a while, but you have done it so much better than I could.

    And after reading this entire thread I just want to shout AMEN and AMEN to your comment 36. You are one of my heroes, Margaret. Thanks so much for this. It’s just the gift I needed today.

  39. Beautiful post. Thank you.

    Yesterday during sacrament meeting, I overheard a conversation between a pre-teen boy and his dad. The boy was clearly sick of sitting still, felt claustrophobic in his tie, and resented being there. “If you have that attitude, you’re free to sit in the foyer,” the dad lectured in a yelling-toned whisper. “Fine, I will,” the boy replied as he bolted from the chapel in the middle of the sacrament. He stayed in the foyer the remainder of the meeting, obediently, but grudgingly sitting on a chair.
    A little background: The parents are divorced and when it’s the dad’s weekend, the boy comes to church. Otherwise, he doesn’t. His mom doesn’t attend LDS services much herself and occasionally, takes her son to another church where they have entertaining, casual services with plenty of teen-appeal music. She told me the youth leader of this congregation and the other members welcome her son with open arms and he loves going there. But I don’t think it’s just the music or the snazzy programming. I suspect it’s the warmth, love, and safety the kid feels that draws him to that church. I couldn’t help but wonder if things would be different if this boy felt that kind of love and acceptance in our ward — from his dad, especially, but also from the other ward members. I don’t think our youth would complain nearly as much about boring talks and sober music if they felt known, needed, accepted, respected, and truly loved for who they happen to be at that moment (not just for who they have the potential to become). Margaret’s son is lucky to have a mother who regularly showers him with exactly this. Wouldn’t it be great if he and all the other youth felt an avalanche of similar love and acceptance from his peers and other adults every Sunday. . .

  40. We struggle with boredom in church with our kids too, but I’m afraid that being of European descent, the one time we went to a Black Baptist church with some neighbors was a very strange experience :-).

    I am troubled by your statement to your son that:

    “You’ve said you think all Christian churches are true. I agree. Every church which acknowledges that we all will eventually recognize that Jesus is the Christ is telling the truth. But I choose the particular vision of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

    Where is your testimony of Joseph Smith as the prophet called and sent by God to restore Christ’s church (including the priesthood) to the earth, that Thomas S. Monson is God’s current prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true, and that the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the *only* church that is fully empowered and authorized of God?

    I don’t mean to accuse you or denounce other churches, but Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints really is unique and wonderful! The Spirit bears witness of it. We are trying to help our kids live worthy of and recognize the Spirit. They must have their own testimonies, but we hope to provide the spark.

    I personally like “gospel” music, but I think it tends to drown out the Still Small Voice. I’m grateful for the silence during the sacrament and the gentle music of the LDS hymn book, but I know it doesn’t strike everyone’s fancy (indeed I hate “Called to Serve”).

  41. StillConfused says:

    I spent the weekend with my best friend who is Jewish. One of the things that we talked about was how the Mormon church is structured. Basically it is set up as a one size fits all. You attend a particular congregation based on your address rather than your particular religious feelings. In Judaism, there are many different flavors: reform, orthodox, reconstructionist, etc. So you can align yourself with a congregation that is more in line with your particular goals/needs/desires. Same with the Protestant religions. I don’t have enough information on Catholics to know how they come out on this (though I believe that different Catholic congregations have different styles).

    As it currently stands with Mormonism, it often feels like an all-or-nothing deal. Why can’t there be a Mormon congregation that has instrumental music? Why can’t there be a Mormon congregation that has shorter meetings? Why can’t there be a Mormon congregation that allows powerpoint presentations during sacrament talks?

  42. I consider the lack of powerpoint one of the clear signs that the church is inspired. Seriously, do you want sacrament to sink to those depths of boredom?

  43. I’m going to use this for FHE! Beautifully expressed. My kids are bored at church and this gives such nice take on why it matters and why boredom is not a reason to give up all good things about the church.

    My mission president only allowed Mormon Tabernacle choir and for two years I listened to nothing but the church hymns everyday. It permanently broke me. I can’t hear them with any enthusiasm or meaning even. Another friend had a MP who opened any classical music and he came away with a great love and appreciation classical music. I always felt a little robbed. Just a note for mission presidents who might be listening.

  44. Thank you, Margaret. I frequently have the same tears as your brother’s during the Sacrament — although it’s been a decade and half since I’ve been able to take it. As you noted, the broken heart opens appreciation for the jewels we have.
    Just last night, my recent-convert fiancee (you may remember us from last year’s San-Diego film festival) and I were talking about music — she’s from the Black Baptist/Evangelical churches. We agreed that “Amazing Grace” has beautiful music but she said she didn’t believe Christ looks upon us as “wretches” like the hymn claims. I explained the prior life and conversion of the author, to her surprise.
    I then offered what I consider the LDS answer: hymn #117, “Come Unto Jesus” with it’s comforts like “by sin oppressed” and “His love will find you.”
    She said the lyrics were as she would say the message but felt the music was too quiet. I answered that’s the attraction for those of us who’ve been caught in the whirlwind, hail, and mighty storm — the gentle peace Christ atonement offers.
    I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell. – 2 Nephi 33:6

  45. #42 John C,
    Unfortunately that hasn’t translated over to the Church Office Building where hundreds of power points are given daily…zzzzzzz

  46. Interestingly enough, we’ve had some recent investigators in our own ward who were specifically turned off by the guitars, drums, etc., in the Evangelical mega-church they were attending. And, of course, there are the Catholic investigators who feel that our services are too noisy and irreverent. The grass is always greener, and all that.

    #13: What if we had 1 Sunday a month where we let the old guys do Sacrament?

    We do this on a regular basis in our ward; not once a month, but every time we have a ‘fifth’ Sunday. I think the deacons are particularly amused watching all these elders and high priests trying to figure out the passing patterns.

    All that said, I fully agree that we need our absolutely best teachers in YW/YM and Elders Quorum, because that’s the age where we lose most of our youth. I was fortunate in that I had a very challenging teacher (Brent Erkman) when I was 15 — he made us study out of The Articles of Faith and Jesus the Christ — and when I was 16, I started attending the 17-year-old class, because the teacher there — Pat Guffey — was so much better than the Course 16 teacher. ..bruce..

  47. Bruce, where did you live when Bro. Guffey taught you? I know a wonderful man who might be related to him.

  48. We took our kids to a Hanukkah Messianic service last December. We joined a small congregation with half the room filled with visitors. Afterwards my 11 year old daughter said, “Wow that music is different than ours. It was really good!”

  49. Analisa (39) you are so right. That “right hand of fellowship” is often missing, and the joy of community can be swallowed by the printed program. I thank God for good youth leaders. We’ve had a few.
    Tom D (40): I hope your comment was a bit of irony and not really serious. That sort of thing–providing the template testimony and deciding if another’s expression is adequate or inadequate according to how well it goes down the list–is unseemly. Joseph Smith himself said our religion is based on Jesus Christ and him crucified, and everything else is an appendage. And there’s far more I left out than what you listed. I didn’t, for example, testify of tithing.

    For those of you who used this for FHE–cool! We didn’t. (My son would be appalled to know that right now, with him sitting across from me, I am writing on a blog all about him.) We watched a lovely DVD about the creation of the photographic exibit “Visualizing Christ.” I highly recommend it. Available wherever LDS books are sold.

  50. This post is wonderful Margaret. I am a professional jazz saxophonist and think a lot about this issue. I feel that our general concern with being in the world but not of the world has left us with music that sounds like Shaker furniture – functional, uniform, beautiful when masterfully executed, but deliberately muted in virtuosity, passion and expression.

    As a side note, when I was serving a mission in Vegas I was asked to say a prayer at one of sister Gladys Knight’s mega-fireside chapel performances. It felt so good to see members moving to the music, clapping and singing along. These acts can be extremely inviting to the spirit.

    Regarding your comments about Amazing Grace… Amen and Amen! I see no reason for it to be excluded from our hymns and was blessed to hear it performed last sunday in sacrament meeting by a Seattle Opera tenor.

  51. Nate Brown–I love your simile/analogy. Thanks. I’d love to hear you play the sax.

    Also, I gave the wrong title for the DVD we watched for FHE. The real title is “Reflections of Christ.” There’s a book of the photographs and then a DVD about the creation of the exhibit. Very worth it.

    TomD- I was a bit harsh, I think. I do feel strongly that it’s important to value anyone’s expression of faith and testimony and not insist that it fit a prescribed form. I think we get into real trouble with our youth if they feel our expressions of praise are scripted. But I can tell you are bubbling with a sweet testimony and that you share it joyfully. It might be better to phrase it as your own reflection, however, rather than a judgment of my words–something like, “If I were speaking to my son, I’d say a bit more. It would matter to me that he understood what I believe about…” The rest, of course, would be yours to compose.

  52. We have Church at home. Frequently on Sunday mornings we can hear the local, raucous pentecostal congregation singing, worhsipping and then making its way, past our house, down to the beach for baptisms.

    Our daughter, who is approaching baptism age and has never witnessed an LDS baptism, is very curious about the goings on. The images in the Primary lesson manuals haven’t had near the impact of her seeing crowds of people on the beach, waving their arms over their heads as lines parade in and out of the ocean dressed in white.

    For a kid there is a lot of novelty and excitement (for some adults too, those progressive Mormons who can’t say enough about the tranquility of the Quakers, the liberalism of the Unitarians or rituals of the Orthodox but at the same time can’t seem to hide the derision they have as they seem to imply that LDS worship is too pedantic, too dry or jejune.)

    My adult convert mom, who grew up attending Protestant churches, met us in Europe a few months ago for first time and we toured I don’t know how many Churches. Her comment again and again was that they just lacked substance beyond the style. I have the similar sentiment when I am exposed to the drum and electric guitar services.

  53. That said, while I was on my mission we didn’t have access to music so all the hymns were sang unaccompanied. Over time the small branches there had really sped them up and could sing even the most dirge-like hymns in the hymnal with a little bit of pep.

    Everytime I hear Scatter Sunshine I want to sing it double-time and in French.

  54. Antonio Parr says:

    While I do not like even a little bit the Evangelical mega-church rock band version of worship music, there are other forms of “contemporary Christian music” that are truly sublime. Some of it comes from the “CCM” industry, and is hit or miss. However, there are a host of singer-songwriters who have written stunningly beautiful songs, with lovely music and inspired verses — Rich Mullins, Michael Card, Amy Grant, Sara Groves, Fernando Ortega, John Michael Talbot (and many others) — that pass the LDS standard of reverence, and would very much feel at home in a Sacrament Meeting.

    If there is anything, lovely, virtuous or of good rapport . . .

    P.S. Amazing Grace and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing deserve to be in our Hymnal.

    P.P.S. “Lord I Would Follow Thee” is the best of all modern LDS hymns. Very wise, very moving.

  55. GatoraideMomma says:

    to # 21 Could we add to the poll the following choices ?
    – —none of the above
    —–b-e are true

    I think part of the boredom issue is 3 hours is too long.
    We regularly have 4-5+ hours involved in getting to church, meeting and then pulling everyone and everything together, socializing a little and getting home.
    It’s a long day for everyone and we’re often just glad “it’s over” for that day…and sometimes there still more firesides/meeting/practices to go back to.

    I say shorten the 3 hour block and it won’t seem so boring and there will be more time to welcome and fellowship those attending.

    Cut it down to 2 1/4 hrs: an hour for Sacrament, 15 min break/socialize/welcome/hugs, etc/ the and alternate PH/RS with Sunday School every other week and combine the 5th Sundays. Primary kids would learn more in 1 hour and look forward to returning each week which would strengthen their desires to come to church and carry over into when they are teens.

    No matter how great the Talks/music by the time it’s all over I am too frazzled to recall much of it and just want to get the heck out of dodge, oops, not really that bad, but I just am tired and it has started to feel like another work day instead of a spiritual respite.

  56. daveescaped says:

    Excellent article. I loved it. But then…

    …but then as much as I agree I also don’t know that I see a solution. Speaking as someone unfamiliar as yet with teenagers, but completely familiar with 30-something “kids, I can see a reason for concern but not an easy answer. My best friend (30 year old male) was called to the primary with his wife. If he were to be honest, he hates it. “It’s boring”, “The kids aren’t disciplied and I don’t want to be the one to start teaching them discipline”, etc. A few weeks back as the New Year started he bascially walked away from his calling. He isn’t negative or angry, just bored.

    And then you have folks like me. I joined this church 15 years ago in large part due to it’s sober, reserved nature which I took as a sign of confidence in doctrine (it wasn’t the “show” that was going to convert me). I like organ music and hymns.

    And what are you supposed to do for folks like my friend who gets bored playing Wii and surfing the net while listening to music all at once. So many young people are like him.

    Well, I think what you do is you write article lik the one above. and you entreat others to look deeper – to consider what it means to have a lay ministry. To tkae the best sacrament service and hold it up as a standard.

    Who among us can’t think of a service (quiet, reserved and all) where the feeling stayed with you even until today. Where unique truths told with sincerity rather than drama cut through all that seems shallow and trite in our world and gave you a hope of something beyond yourself that grew into a testimony. And that testimony carried you through countless gratitudimonies and hackneyed 70’s Mo-pop songs.

    That is what we should tell our kids. And thanks to this author for the reminder.

  57. Beautifully moving post, Margaret.

    Regarding sacrament meeting music, I’m not sure what impact he had on the youth (if there even were any in the Manhattan ward), but D. Fletcher playing the piano did wonders for my enjoyment of LDS services. He showed me that significant improvement in our music is possible within the confines of current policy. Now, if we could only replicate D.

  58. Margaret (51),
    Thanks for your patience with my comments. I hope to improve with practice. I was trying to express rather inelegantly my testimony that the LDS church is not just another christian church. It really is THE Church of Jesus Christ. The only church with the power to bring us all the way to Christ in His kingdom, the only church with the authority to join our families together for eternity, and much else that is quite wonderful and unique. I’m expect that you know this.
    How to share this pearl of great price with ones kids, however, can be quite a challenge. Some kids seem to pick it up quite naturally. Others struggle. All must choose for themselves, but it is mighty frustrating seeing such a great gift as the fullness of the gospel ignored. I am cautiously hopeful that my kids will receive the pearl for what it is worth, but it pains me sometimes to see them completely ignore the speakers in church or me reading the scriptures to them. On the other hand, I remember doing pretty much the same thing at their age. I don’t remember ever *not* having a testimony, but it has grown and deepened a lot over the years as has my activity level.
    I was touched and a little scared reading of how President Kimball struggled with one of his sons who apparently rejected the gospel. It seems to have been one of the great frustrations of his life. I hope not to face that, but everyone must be free to choose for themselves.

  59. What a beautiful post. I served my mission in Chicago and was invited to preach in black churches on a few occasions. Those services count as among my most cherished mission memories and sparked a lasting love for the spirituals I heard in their meetings.

    Even with all the warts and things I sometimes struggle with, I do just love the church. It can be easy to loose track of the important things. Posts like this remind me.

    And I’d love to hear our music expand. I think there are many ways to feel the spirit that aren’t “still and small,” such as joyful and enthusiastic. Elder Holland has been appealing to that with his sermons lately, having our music do so too would be wonderful. I’d love to hear the spirituals. I’d also love, for example, to hear more of Bach’s sacred music. And less musical numbers drawn from sappy vocal compositions written in the seventies. Oh well. Still, I’ll go every week and feel grateful to do it.

  60. And what if… Jimmy Webb… were to join the Church?

    Cool! MacArthur’s Park in Sacrament Meeting!

    That’ll help us fill up the time fast.

  61. Antonio Parr says:

    Jimmy Webb is much more than “MacArthur’s Park” — “Wichita Lineman” is brilliant (“And I need you more than want you; and I want you for all time“), as is “Galveston”, as is “If These Walls Could Speak”; etc. Webb is one of the greatest of all modern songsmiths.

  62. I’m not a teen, but a nearly 70-year-old life- long member, bored outta of my goard at church meetings. The problem with the music? No passion, as someone mentioned. The hymns are beautiful, meaningful, instructive scripture. But, if we sing at all, we sound like we are the corpse at our own funeral.

    Talks, instead of being real experiences with real gospel principles, are often a dull recitation of dry doctrine. It adds up to emotionless, irrelevant boredom.

    Churches which must compete for members thru their “holy entertainment” (Rick Warren’s plan for growing your church) spare no effort in pleasing the people in order to fill their 20,000 theater seats.

    I’m not saying we follow that ploy. But we need to do better with what we are called to do. We are losing many people because our meetings don’t get the job done: Make people, especially our youth, feel glad they came to church.

    There is often a huge gulf between the pulpit and the pew.

  63. I was an Evangelical for more than a year before LDS, and though the worship is incredibly spiritual and at times emotional, the environment is at times… over-intense. Overdramatic, I guess. People kind of want to show how deep their faith is and raise their arms higher, sway sadder or force out “tongues”. I like hymns better than contemporary Christian music… ahah.

  64. My computer messed up. I didn’t get to finish. But there is this calmness and peace in our hymns. I feel more inspired by it than Christian rock. Maybe that’s just me though.

  65. Jimmy Webb is much more than “MacArthur’s Park”

    I know. I just have a soft spot for that big ol’ instrumental section in the middle of the song.

    And actually, I erred up there — there should be no apostrophe-ess after “MacArthur” in the title.

  66. For those that think the Church isn’t trying to get the youth a little more excited need to view the music they performed for the new year youth theme kickoff called “A brand new year” held in the conference center. One of the kids that performed made it through to hollywood on this years American Idol competition.

    I have to admit that I thought a lot of it was a little cheesy, but you can’t say the performance wasn’t well done.

  67. The current disatisfaction with church music is part of a larger trend in our society of dumming down. Many of our hymns are more than a quick jolt of feel-good emotions that I’ve heard in some other Christian services, but words that can be pondered, lyrics and melody that can promote reflection. Like candy that is sweet to the taste, there is a place for emotion provoking music with a good beat, but a diet of only candy? I suppose that sounds like a “good thing” to some, but will leave you malnurished.

  68. Steve Evans says:

    “dumming down”

    The ironicometer just buried the needle.

  69. #66 Eric–good point. My wife (a young women’s president) has downloaded all that music and it’s pretty catchy. That guy who made it on American Idol sings the main solo on my favorite song: “Say Yes [to happiness]”. It’s fantastic.

  70. Robert Starling says:

    Dear Margaret,
    Your post started a fascinating thread. I grew up LDS in Georgia and felt our hymns were more reverent than some of the “gospel” music I heard on the radio there in the “old days”, but I’ve also enjoyed some of the CCM music I hear today. Amy Grant’s “Fat Baby” is a favorite – do a search for it on YouTube, you’ll love it. And I appreciate Sister Knight’s comments on the need to liven up our music.

    That said, I still weep with love for my Savior when I sing “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” or “Hope of Israel” and feel the spirit of those hymns “rock my soul”. I can appreciate other expressions of love for Christ in various faiths, but I also appreciate my own. (And I’m REALLY glad they added “How Great Thou Art” to the latest edition of the Hymnbook.)

    If my son were to express a desire to join another church, I guess a heartfelt talk about his reasons would be in order (you’ve probably already done that, being the great Mom that I’m sure you are). I like the phrase “just because you don’t like the fish doesn’t mean the restaurant is bad”.

    Thanks for stimulating some good thoughts.


  71. My favorite hymn growing up Lutheran was “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”
    (…with grief and shame weighed down,
    Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
    How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
    How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!)
    I would get booed by my third grade class everytime I requested it.

    I’m love anyone’s hymns as long as that is what is reserved for the chapel. I remember the first time I went to Mutual and gathered in the chapel for opening exercises, the music included “My Hat, It has Three Corners.” I thought for sure we were going down in a hail of fire and brimstone.

    After I joined the Church(in spite of that experience), I often wondered if that practice had something to do with the lack of reverence in our meetings.

  72. I must admit, I fail to see how anyone could find hymns like “The Spirit of God,” “How Firm a Foundation,” and “There is Sunshine In My Soul Today” boring and monotonous.
    Suggestion: if it’s not too far away, take your kids “tunnel singing” on the BYU campus on a Sunday night. Nothing beats singing hymns at the top of your lungs in a tunnel with an echo.

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