An Unscientific Poll

In your Ward, does the organist play a couple of lines of the Sacrament Hymn while the deacons are going back to their seats? If so, do you remember when the practice (re)started in your Ward?


  1. I’ve never heard of that practice. I’ve lived in a ward in San Jose, CA, a ward in Fremont, CA, and I served my mission in the Charlotte, NC area, where I was in three wards and a branch.

  2. No. She tried to play Chariots of Fire once, but it was frowned upon.

  3. No. Don’t know that I’ve seen this since Junior Sunday School.

  4. In all the wards I’ve played in as organist the last 10 years, I’ve never seen this practice. About a year ago, the bishop asked the organists in our ward to continue playing the sac hymn if the priests hadn’t finished with the bread before the congregation finished singing.

  5. No, not in any ward I’ve lived in.

  6. Researcher says:

    Yes. It started about three years ago at the suggestion of our former bishop. It used to drive me absolutely batty until I started to use the Sacrament Hymn Introductions written by Franklin Eddings and that somehow distracts me from the fact that I find the practice of having a “recessional” not particularly Mormon.

    We are in the very fringes of the suburbs of a large East Coast city. I don’t know where the practice spread from, but the wards in my German mission (early 90s) used to do a similar thing.

  7. I remember that from some ward. Can’t say which. It isn’t done in our ward here in New York.

  8. nesquik405 says:

    I once lived in a Midwestern ward that did that . When they called me as organist, I “forgot” to do it every week. After I left, I came back for a visit and they were doing it again. The practice disappeared when a certain bishop got released.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Interesting. I’ve never experienced that myself.

  10. Nope.

  11. Yep. In this ward, and as far as I can remember, in my last ward too.

  12. esodhiambo says:

    An organist in my parent’s ward does that; she grew up in UT and has lived on the east coast for the last 20 yearsish. It was stopped by a certain bishop, but she outlasted him and it is on again.

    I wonder if some of the difference is between “real” organists and piano players who play organs?

  13. esodhiambo, I don’t know why that would explain the difference, unless you assume that “real” organists are used to playing in other churches?

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Based on the comments there seems to be some evidence that this is an east coast phenomenon.

  15. Researcher says:

    I would also like to know what a “real” organist is.

    I called this bit of postlude a “recessional” but I am not too familiar with worship services in other churches. Do other churches use music like this to close religious ceremonies? Protestant churches? Catholic churches? It wasn’t used in the Mennonite services that I recently attended.

    The bit of music does serve the purpose of covering the sudden increase in noise that comes at the end of the sacrament as people stir and deacons return to their seats and it does replace the bishopric member saying “We’d like to excuse the deacons to sit with their families.”

  16. If I’m remembering correctly, the organist in one of the wards I was in when I was a teenager in Southern California used to play a few bars of the Sacrament hymn immediately after the deacons had sat down, but before the bishopric member excused them to sit with their families.

  17. I’m something between a “real” organist and what most wards have (and yes, there is a difference – a big difference – and it shows something about our culture and worship services that most mormons don’t know that.)

    I haven’t seen or heard of this practice now or in the past (but I’m relatively young at 32). It sounds very odd indeed and I would consider it in very bad taste if it was ever suggested in my ward and push back as hard as I could without being released (ward organist is seriously the best calling ever, and I’d hate to jeopardize that and risk getting called to something terrible like EQ president.)

    That said, a professional organist who is used to playing in other services or is otherwise preheated to the idea of a “recessional” might find the idea appealing, though I can’t imagine anyone with good taste letting it past the first sanity filter…

  18. No, not that I can ever recall.

  19. They did it in my Vienna ward last year while I was there, but not here in Pleasant Grove, UT.

  20. It was actually common practice mid-century. So common, in fact, that some old songbooks have sacrament hymns specifically arranged for this practice, with an extra variation of the melody or theme printed especially as the post-sacrament music. So it’s not NOT Mormon, it just hasn’t been common for some decades, and it’s interesting (to me, at least) that the practice is being revived in some places.

  21. Kristine, the only place I’ve ever seen it is in my singles ward in Boston. I wonder if it is a Boston area practice?

    I’m a pianist, but I did take couple organ lessons. Basically, “real” organists are trained to sustain a note until the next note is played. Pianists are used to lifting up their fingers, and it comes across as sounding choppy on the organ. It requires particular fingering to do this, and as a pianist, I found it awkward and difficult. Also, pianists don’t know what to do with the pedals. It also requires sustaining the notes instead of lifting up between then, so you kind of have to dance heel/toe across the pedals. Again, I found it very difficult. (Admittedly, I haven’t had much practice)

  22. It has not always been Boston-area practice, and it’s not uniform now. (It’s not even uniform in my ward–we have three organists, and only two of them do it).

  23. i remember that being the practice in at least one ward in germany a little over two years ago.

  24. I live in the Dallas area and my ward does that, I don’t know how long the practice has been going on.

    The other two wards I’ve attended in Dallas did not…

  25. StillConfused says:

    i am not sure what you mean. Do you mean that they keep playing while the bread is cut (always done that i remember) or after the sacrament is served and the boys are going back to their seats with their families (never experienced that)

  26. After we finish the Sacrament song, I repeat a short final phrase as the chorister returns to his/her seat and the deacons approach the Sacrament table. But after the Sacrament is passed, the deacons return to their seats in peace and quiet — including NO pro forma thanks from the Bishopric. I am very grateful to not have that ‘ritual’ in our worship service.

  27. this only occurs in our ward when the bishop takes the sacrament with his left hand – otherwise, the deacon’s are left to make their solitary march without background music

  28. My previous Oregon ward does play the “recessional”.

  29. Interesting, all the no’s. All seven wards I have lived in in Alberta have had recessional music, as far back as I can remember.

  30. I’ve never heard of the practice.

    As the husband of our ward’s piano playing organist, she has found the calling stressful, trying to play a somewhat same in appearance musical instrument but different in technique. An accordion has a keyboard too.

    After a number of year in the calling she was released, given another calling, but asked to continue to play until a replacement was found. No replacement was found for a year when she was again called to be the organist.

  31. I have been in two or three wards that have done it, which caught me off guard. The other 12-15 wards I’ve been in during the last 10 years didn’t do that. I have found it is usually with the more serious organists…the ones who will turn up the organ during prelude to try and get people to be quiet in the chapel.

  32. A relevant anecdote from Ezra Taft Benson, in the book “A Labor of Love” about his 1946 mission bringing aid to post-WW2 Europe: at one point he details the worldly practices that have crept into church services during the war years, in absence of Priesthood leadership — such things as only ordained Elders giving prayers, the use of candlelight, changes in quorum and branch titles, and the like. The final entry on his list is:
    “Congregational singing in many places was completely eliminated, and in other cases choristers or song leaders have been eliminated. In the British Mission it is a universal practice to stand for a minute of silence at the end of the prayer while the organ plays.
    The above will be enough to indicate some of the practices which have crept in during the war period. I am sure that all of them can be corrected in the spirit of kindness and love without any serious offense.” (p. 100)

    So no listening to organ music in our services !

  33. Haven’t seen it in my wards, including when I’ve been organist. Sounds like an interesting idea. :)

  34. I’ve never seen it.

  35. #32 I wish they’d eliminate the chorister. what a pointless position.

  36. Saw in the Rhyl, North Wales ward on my mission. That’s it.

  37. prairie chuck says:

    I’d never seen this practice until about 8 yrs ago, when a newly called organist (a real organist, not a piano-player-playing-the-organ–yes! there IS a difference.) started the practice. She’d recently moved into the ward, having lived most of her life in the Midwest. All the other organists since her (and they’ve all been the piano-playing-type) have done the same. Maybe because they think that what real organists do?

  38. Anon for this says:

    vaguely remember it from childhood (Indianapolis), pre 1980 consolidation (I may be remembering the Sacrament Gem or some variation thereof, though). Haven’t seen anywhere since, though.

  39. I think I’ve been spoiled and always had real organists in my wards. Then again, I’ve only been in two wards.

  40. I’ve only seen this practice in a ward in Maryland. When I substituted on the organ one week I just didn’t do it because I found it so jarring and annoying. (The organist would just play the last line of the sacrament hymn and it was always way too loud.) Afterwards a
    YM leader got on my case and told me that without the music, there was no way for the deacons to know when to sit down.

    In my current ward (SF Bay Area) we have the unusual practice of having the organist play a short interlude piece (1-2 minutes long) after the sacrament, after which the bishop excuses the deacons to go sit with their families. I understand that the organ interlude is an old tradition in our ward and has stayed in place through the 2 bishops and 3 organists that have come and go since I’ve lived here.

  41. I saw it done one time in a ward that I was visiting- yeah it was in the East. In my case, hearing that sort of startled/scared me as I have an embarassing startle reflex & wasn’t expecting it

  42. Never seen it. All my wards (save those in Québec) have been west of the Rockies. And I don’t recall seeing it in the wards I’ve attended in London and Reykjavík.

  43. Alan LeBaron says:

    Fwiw: Church Handbook of Instructions 2006. On page 37 in the section “Blessing and Passing the Sacrament” , ” Vocal solos or instrumental selections may not replace this hymn” (referring to the sacrament hymn). On page 38 in the same section it says ” No music should be played during the prayers or while the sacrament is being passed”. I see no references to the practice being discussed here. I think continuing the music while the Priests finish breaking the bread is fairly common, but where I live now, the Priests only need 1 verse to finish the bread.

  44. One of our organists does, the other does not.

  45. I’ve never seen it in any of the wards I’ve attended in various places in the US, the UK and Europe.

  46. No. But i have seen it done.

  47. The ward I grew up in did this, so I always thought it was “standard” until I moved into new wards that didn’t do this. Given the handbook’s instructions (as described by Alan LeBaron in #43), my wife and I were a bit surprised when our current ward re-instituted the practice about a month ago.

    Guidelines aside, whether this can be done in in a way (musically and spiritually) that compliments the sacrament is another question altogether (it is doable, in my opinion). Given that it is completely dependent on the organist, or a strong music chair who might be able to coach the organist(s) (yeah good luck with that one), I’d just as soon not play those odds, and think the church guideline makes sense.

  48. Never happened in any of the wards I’ve attended.

    I’m puzzled by JamesM’s comment–there is nothing in the handbook sections quoted by Alan LeBaron that speaks to the issue of playing a brief recessional after the sacrament has been passed. (Is this how unwritten orders get started?)

    Re woodboy (#35)–I’m sorry to hear that you’ve never been in a congregation with a good chorister. Or, if you had one, that you never paid attention.

  49. This was the practice in Arlington (VA) about 1975. It was eliminated at the same time as another practice I’d not theretofore witnessed: a sacrament meeting talk directed specifically to children – who were invited to sit on the front rows of the chapel.

  50. esodhiambo says:

    Kristine–yes, either because they are used to other church services OR because they are comfortable enough with the organ to play the recessional very softly so it is not at all jarring, as so many here have found it.

  51. I have no clue. I don’t even open my hymnbooks to sing anymore (it interferes with saying, “Shh, shh, shh, shh” incessantly).

  52. Not in any ward I’ve been in.

  53. Yes indeedy.

  54. I’ve never seen or heard it growing up in California, and I’ve also not seen it in New York, Northern Virginia, or Chicago wards I’ve been a part of. And those wards run the gamut from “real” organists to piano-players

  55. Never seen it in the multiple wards I’ve been to in California, Oregon, or in the ward I’m attending in Missouri. I wish I could remember if we did it in Georgia.

  56. Or in the two wards I attended in Washington state.

  57. I’ve seen it done in a ward I visited in Las Vegas, but I’m glad my ward doesn’t do it. I was jarring to me also.

  58. Well I feel sheepish. You should be puzzled, Mark, since I didn’t bother to read the handbook excerpt closely enough. Sorry about that. I could see people interpreting it in ways that supports a recessional and ways that does not support one (and I don’t care much either way from a policy standpoint).

    However, my main point still stands – pulling off the recessional in a way that compliments the ordinance isn’t something I’d leave to chance, and I wouldn’t trust most people to pull it off well, regardless of what the CHI says.

  59. There’s very little about church music that should be left to chance, or to amateur volunteer musicians, and yet…

  60. If you think the amateur volunteer musicians are bad, just take a look at the dilettantes that call themselves Mormon clergy.

  61. :)

  62. ‘Real’ organist vs. ‘fake’ organists – yes, there’s a big difference. For about the first five years of my LDS organ career, I was terrible, a classic case of piano-player-playing-the-organ-very-badly. Eventually I decided to magnify my calling by taking organ lessons from a ‘real’ organist, and learned that the piano and organ are completely different instruments, and that playing them require completely different skill sets.

    The organ is a wind instrument, has anywhere from one to five keyboards for the hands (manuals) and a keyboard for the feet, and an almost infinite number of sounds, created by pulling ‘stops’ in different combinations (called registrations). Playing the organ is quite a logistical feat, because you are constantly switching between keyboards, your feet are playing notes and controlling the volume, and you are also managing changes in registration by pulling stops or pressing pre-set buttons.

    As a “fake” LDS organist, I would show up five minutes before church started, flip the on switch, pick a pre-set and play that day’s hymns as prelude music. No pedals, no change in registration, no foot pedals. A couple of years into my organ lessons, I took a job as an “organ scholar” at a high-Anglican (Episcopal) church in my city and became a ‘real’ organist, or a ‘trained church musician.’ As a real organist, I had to play four hymns per service, with foot pedals, and with a registration change at each verse. I would have to go to the church during the week and program the registrations into the organ’s memory. Additionally, I had to have prepared repertoire prelude music, communion, voluntary (postlude). I had to be at church at 9:30 sharp, with my organ shoes on, for the choir rehearsal. I had to start my prelude at exactly 10:20, and play until I got the signal to start the procession. I had to accompany the choir in the psalm, mass setting, and anthem. I had to know the liturgical cues inside and out so I knew exactly when to come in, and was NOT allowed to make any mistakes! God might forgive me, but the priest would definitely not. It was stressful and a ton of work, but bar-none, the most rewarding musical experience of my life. (It helped that I was well paid.)

    So… the short answer is, no, I’ve never played hymns while the deacons return to their seats. But having been trained in a liturgical organ playing, I can see where the temptation would arise.

  63. Meredith, I sing in an Anglican choir, so I know the difference between real organists and not; I’m just skeptical of that difference as an explanation for the “recessional” practice. The organists I’ve seen do it have varied backgrounds, but none were professional church musicians.

  64. Not in our ward. Not only that, but the bishopric recently discontinued the practice of thanking the Aaronic Priesthood and dismissing them to go sit with their families; in other words, after the sacrament, the conducting member of the bishopric now gets up to announce the rest of the program, while the deacons silently get up and go to their families. ..bruce..

  65. It was done in one of my Provo non-student family wards, a rather musically talented/dominant ward, which may or may not be related.

  66. Thanks for your responses, everyone. If a definitive policy is announced, we’ll know the spies from the Church Office Building are reading BCC :) (and I’ll feel a little bad–I think local color is fine on this).

  67. I had never seen it except in my current ward in DC, where the principal organist does it (though I don’t think the other organists generally do). It seemed very strange and distracting at first, but I’ve gotten used to it.

  68. I haven’t seen the practice that I can recall since the block program began, and we didn’t have it when I began passing the sacrament, a few years before that. But we also didn’t go back to sit with our families — we sat back down on our own bench and the program went on.

    49 — I have given a Sacrament Meeting talk directed at Primary children. I was given the topic of the Ten Commandments two weeks after it had been covered in Gospel Doctrine (and all the other courses 14 and up), so I decided it would be more than a little odd to direct the talk to the adults, and directed it at the kids instead. Among other things, I taught them a mnemonic to remember them in order, which was quite the hit in Primary from what I heard.

  69. .

    My ward plays an entire song, generally a hymn, but not necessarily so. I don’t know how long it has been going on but from what old-time members say, I assume decades.

    It’s a very popular practice and something visitors and returners to the ward frequently comment on.

  70. .

    Oh: and the deacons aren’t sent back to their families till AFTER the interlude.

  71. alextvalencic says:

    They do not in my ward. They started doing so in my parents’ ward a few months ago, and the result has been quite positive. I would suggest it to my ward organist, but I don’t know if it would go over well or not. Perhaps I’ll suggest that the Bishop suggest it.

  72. .

    (Having now read through the comments, I want to add that I’m in the same ward as Nikki J #40 and that it is a great way to ease from the contemplation of the sacrament to the talking-oriented parts of the meeting.)

  73. Yes. I’m pretty sure it’s been happening since I moved into the ward (about a year and a half ago).

  74. I recently moved from near the U of U to Rose Park, and our organist plays what seems to be the marked “prelude” from the hymnal after the bishop dismisses the priesthood (though our ward could probably get by with just the Aaronic, they supplement every week with elders and high priests).

    And regarding choristers–the ward we left had an amazing chorister. Now, not so much. I loved that the previous chorister would, if the ward was singing lethargically at the beginning of sacrament meeting, stop us, rebuke us, and get us to sing with gusto. Also, I finally learned about a month before we moved that if the song had more verses than were printed in between the staffs not to close the book, ’cause, baby, we’re singing them all.

  75. No, I’ve never noticed this practice before.

  76. The practice is widespread in the Cleveland Ohio Stake, at least for the last 5 years.

  77. Interesting, Dave. In the Kirtland Ohio Stake, I’ve not run into this. For those of you not familiar with the geography, Cleveland and Kirtland stakes adjoin each other.

  78. I’ve never seen this practice before (based on experience including, from the past ten years, Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Illinois, and now Kansas).

  79. Karen H, you’ve hit the nail on the head about the most basic differences between an organ and a piano, but being a “real” organist is something else entirely.

    There is the issue of skill on the instrument, as you said keyboard skill (piano) is only part of the equation. I am fairly skilled on the instrument—I have a fair amount of organ training (4 years of lessons at BYU, enough for a BA in music if I finished the rest of the requirements.)

    But what I don’t have is the liturgical training that Meredith described so well. These are the people I call “real” organists, though the better word is professional organist (yes, it’s a job—a full-time job.) By necessity with our lay clergy and lay musicians we can’t and shouldn’t expect this from our organists.

    I think we can and should expect more skill and service-appropriate training from our organists, and I enjoy providing guidance to that effect to any pianist who expresses interest wherever I go (I’m in Santa Clara, CA right now, hit me up!) I also think it would be wonderful if we as a people would learn to appreciate that beautiful instrument more and encourage our youth to gain at least a fundamental skill on it as we do with the piano (as complicated as the organ is, it’s still much more like the piano than any other instrument is and makes a great second instrument—and it improves your piano playing as well.)

  80. The ward that I used to live in (which is adjacent to Theric’s ward) engages in the same practice of playing an entire song after the sacrament is passed. Sometimes this is even done on the piano rather than the organ (and if on the organ, it was usually played rather softly and slowly) and sometimes it is played by a member of the congregation rather than the on-duty organist. In some cases, youth played a piece (usually simple arrangements of hymns or primary songs and as I recall, not every verse — just one go through of the verse and chorus).

    I liked it. Like Theric said, it made for a nice, reverent transition out of the sacrament and in to the rest of the meeting. Of course, it helped immensely that this ward was rife with musical talent.

  81. Ward Organist says:

    I live in Maryland, and in our ward I am the ward organist and have been for some time. I play the last line of the sacrament hymn after the Deacons are done passing the sacrament to the congregation and before the conducting bishopric member dismisses them to sit with their families. (Yes, we get the whole parade!!!) I personally don’t like the practice but it was started quite a few years ago in our ward and continues comes rain or shine.

    I was a piano major at BYU and subsequently took organ lessons so that I could play both instruments well. Yes, I’m afraid I have to tell you all that there really is a difference between a trained organist and a piano-player-who-tries-to-play-the-organ, as several readers have already said.

    I also am from a Protestant background and remember playing all kinds of processionals and recessionals, so this practice shouldn’t surprise those of us who are converts.

  82. anon in norcal says:

    Our ward did the the post-sacrament music (we called in the interlude, I think), until our Stake President specifically directed us that we should not do it. I thought it was a weird thing to get worked up about, but we don’t do it anymore.

  83. aloysiusmiller says:

    I have a relative who has moved into two wards where this had been done, was called as ward organist and stopped it immediately.

  84. Glenn Smith says:

    We do not have post-sacrament music in my ward although the sacrament hymn can also continue being played while the priests* finish up. The deacons* are not ‘excused’ in our ward – they just go sit with families after sacrament is finished.

    *Demographics caught up to our ward. We have only one deacon and one priest. Elders and high priests help with sacrament. (And only four young women.)

  85. Amen bill! the chorister is a redundant position. no other church has it.