Church-Hacker #4: The Fifth-Sunday Swap

This week’s Church-Hacker idea comes from BCC reader Chris Gordon:

We make it a tradition on 5th Sundays to swap presidencies in Elders Quorum/Relief Society. The RS president comes to priesthood to teach and vice versa.

The focus is generally on something family-oriented, but it’s been fun and enlightening.  The best, though, was in an early iteration when it was done in lieu of a first Sunday presidency message.  The visiting rep from the RS wrapped up with 10 minutes to spare for testimony time.  The class enjoyed 10 minutes of crickets chirping as the brethren stared blankly at this development.

Think your ward could benefit from this leadership swap? Already doing it? Enlighten us with a comment.

If you’ve got your own Church-Hacker idea, please submit it! (the church-hacking guidelines are here).  See all entries in this series here.


  1. That would be more novel and potentially enlightening for members of the priesthood than for members of the Relief Society. After all, we already spend most of our meeting time on most weeks listening to men.

  2. I’ve always wondered how the RS gets away with an opening hymn, a lesson, a testimony meeting, and a closing hymn. Perhaps it’s because they don’t have to worry about a combined meeting at the beginning of the “hour”? Our Priesthood meeting stars at 11:10; by the time we get through the opening hymn, prayer, and announcements, it’s generally about 11:30. The elders quorum meeting thus starts around 11:35, announcements run until about 11:40, and we have 15 minutes for the lesson before breaking at 11:55 (which never happens, but it’s supposed to).

    We’ve had the occasional testimony meeting on the first Sunday, but it’s been *instead* of presidency instruction, not in addition. Funny how different the two organizations are, in some ways.

  3. That’s a very good point, Ardis.

  4. Matt W. says:

    Ardis: In my ward, Gospel Doctrine is always taught by a woman, and we typically have at least one woman speak in Sacrament, which is only really 35 minutes of teaching, broken up into something like 5, 15, 15. So I am thinking in our Ward we get 45 minutes of female perspective in Gospel Doctrine, 15 minutes of female perspective in Sacrament… I guess this is one of those “your mileage varies by ward” kind of things…

  5. I agree with Ardis in that I’m sure the priesthood would get more out of it than the Relief Society. I am invited to teach the Relief Society once every 3 months already.
    However, I fully intend to try this idea out. I’m sure it will be enlightening for some of our brethren.

  6. Perhaps this is more useful if, instead of teaching a lesson, the visiting dignitaries are sharing their experiences and asking for specific assistance. I’d think the EQP and RSP would have some real insight to share–does the ward have needs that aren’t being addressed? Are there programs/processes/tactics utilized by the RS or EQ that might be beneficial to the other group?

  7. ldsbishop (no. 5), remember that an elders quorum president has keys, and it goes beyond a bishop’s authority to remove him from his quorum…

  8. Matt W. says:

    ji- re: priesthood keys, see here.

  9. ji (#8)
    From Handbook 2:
    Fifth Sunday
    On a fifth Sunday, the bishop determines the subject to be taught, the instructor (usually a member of the ward or stake), and whether Melchizedek Priesthood holders and the Relief Society meet separately or combined.

  10. ji, as an Elders Quorum President, I remember that while I may hold and exercise priesthood keys, they are exercised under the direction of the Bishop, who is the presiding High Priest (read: President of the Melchizedek Priesthood) in the ward.

  11. It would seem that making the men and women exchange rooms (rather than the presidencies) may improve the desired effects even further.

  12. I think it would be interesting to hear women commenting in an environment where they don’t feel that the man speaking has any particular authority over them, especially on their “turf”. In many church settings women tend to feel hesitant, even apologetic about sharing their thoughts. Even when the bishop visits RS there is a lack of equal footing, since he is the presiding authority in the room. But having the EQ president visit RS would provide an interesting space for women to converse with a man equally, seeing that he is a visitor only, with no actual authority in that RS room.

  13. Matt, I don’t mean to provoke a man vs. woman thing, entirely, but women also hear men conduct business in Sacrament meetings, and see men administer the Sacrament, and watch blessings and confirmations, and in Sunday School, even when I teach, men are providing well over half of the discussion (many women simply are uncomfortable speaking in front of men — hence the opportunity to bear testimony in RS). In our ward, the combined 5th Sunday meeting is almost always (exclusively? I’m trying to recall an exception) presented by a man, and our SS presidency was increased to four so that one member can preside in each GD classroom to call the class to order, call on pray-ers, and to monitor for false doctrine (not that *that* is successfully done, mind you). Then there’s Stake Conference and General Conference and firesides and singles activities and and interviews and settings apart and virtually every meeting (except exclusively RS ones) which are conducted by men. We even used to have a member of the bishopric address us in RS board meetings.

    The conducting and presiding and priesthood ordinance-ing probably is so normal that it escapes notice as instances of women being directed and instructed by men, but you’d certainly notice the overwhelming sound of female voices if somehow the roles were reversed for a while.

  14. even when I teach, men are providing well over half of the discussion (many women simply are uncomfortable speaking in front of men — hence the opportunity to bear testimony in RS).

    So is that the fault of the men for creating a culture in which women fear to speak, or should women shoulder the blame for that?

  15. #13: Rock on, Ardis. Well said.

  16. aRJ—both men and women should share equally the blame.

  17. I had the opportunity to teach our ward RS on Mother’s Day. The idea was to have the men teach all classes that day in primary, RS, and Sunday School, so the women didn’t have to prepare any lessons. My wife, who is the RS president, suggested I teach in RS. I’ll turn this around a bit on Ardis, but it was somewhat intimidating for me as a man to teach an audience of over 100 women, and no other men. There was little reticence to making comments from most, but I certainly felt a little off balance in that circumstance.

  18. > t it was somewhat intimidating for me as a man to teach an audience of over 100 women, and no other men.

    Interesting. Working in a male-dominated field, the reverse happens to me at work quite regularly.

  19. Cynthia, that was kind of the point. Helpful for me to be in that situation, I think, and gain a little more sensitivity. However, I hear anecdotal evidence that IT and engineering in general may be somewhat more dismissive of women than most other fields requiring that level of education, which is disturbing.

  20. SilverRain,

    Why is that? I know that it sounds nice to spread the blame around, but what has caused the dynamic and who perpetuates it? If RS didn’t have testimony time as an outlet would women be more willing to speak in F&T meeting? Who is to blame for that?

    My ward’s executive secretary has a detailed list that he keeps for arranging prayers in Sacrament Meeting. More than half of the active women in the ward refuse to pray in sacrament meeting when asked to, and many have asked to not even be asked. Whose fault is that?

  21. aRJ, I don’t *blame* anybody for the reality of the situation. It is a difference in styles between genders that has been observed across generations and across cultures. For whatever reason — and it needn’t be a deliberately oppressive reason, as suggested by the word “blame” — many women hesitate to speak as freely in the presence of men as they do in a group of women.

    Regardless of the reason and without any element of blame, it still results in women listening to men more often than the other way around.

    kevinf, I’ll bet that you did fine, and that a good deal of the intimidation came from the novelty (to you) of the situation. It wasn’t nearly as novel for any of the women, though.

  22. Ardis,

    I appreciate your response. If there isn’t any blame (I think that you are actually blaming cultural traditions rather than individuals, despite the fact that cultures are made up of individuals), does that imply that there is nothing wrong with the situation? Or are you saying that there is something wrong with it and it can be addressed without needing to concern ourselves with root causes the implication of blame that such an examination would imply?

  23. Honestly, aRJ, I didn’t intend my introduction of this element to be in any sense an accusation that “those mean old patriarchs are keeping us down.” It was meant as a completely neutral observation.

    Kyle’s OP reported that his ward found the teacher-switching to be “fun and enlightening.” I interpreted that fun and enlightenment to come from listening to a teacher of the opposite gender in an unexpected setting, not from merely hearing from a different teacher. It was the novelty of the gender that seemed to matter in this setting.

    I only pointed out that women are far more used to hearing from men in a church setting than men are used to hearing from women, and gave examples. I’m not saying there is something wrong about that, or that anyone is at fault, or that anything should be changed (that’s a different issue, and I’m not raising it here). I’m merely observing that the novelty is more one-sided than Kyle perhaps had realized.

  24. Ardis, your point is valid. Once again, I think we men all suffer from a little myopic vision concerning these kinds of situations. And you are also right that the intimidation was all on my side. My wife and kids remind me often of how non-intimidating I am.

  25. Ardis,

    I didn’t mean to imply that you were making an accusation. I’m sorry if I did. I was just asking a “Why?” to try to get behind your observation. I agree with your point about disproportionate novelty.

  26. This is probably as good a place as any to reiterate my EQ Uncertainty Principle: A woman may attend EQ, but her act of observation (well really her mere presence) changes it into something else, and thus she does not observe EQ.

    In other words: men act differently if there is a woman around.

  27. Women seem to be bimodal when it comes to standing before the congregation. It seems there is a large fraction that won’t do it, yet the people who will share testimony in the sacrament meeting are mostly women.

  28. Raymond says:

    Interesting thought, John Mansfield. I’ve discovered this bimodal phenomenon among women elsewhere in the church. On my mission, the Mission President provided me past mission records asked me to tally exactly how many baptisms each missionary had been a part of. (We did not publish the tally to any other missionaries. It was only meant to aid the Mission President in making assignments. He wanted to pair missionaries who had seen many conversions with missionaries who had seen few or none.)

    As it turned out, the missionaries with the very highest baptizing rates were women (by a wide margin), but the missionaries with the very lowest baptizing rate were also women. There were few, if any, women in between the two extremes. The elders, on the other hand, were all over the map. I have no explanation. Any ideas?

  29. Raymond,

    I noticed the same thing on my mission, except we were publishing the numbers every week. We eventually put a stop to that as it was harmful. But it was very clear both in terms of numbers and in more general ways (I spent a year in the office) that our very best missionaries were sisters. Also, our very worst missionaries and biggest cause of headaches were sisters. I could speculate on why this is, but it would get me in trouble. Elders, as you imply, were distributed in a much more bell-curve fashion.

  30. Raymond,
    My musing…
    A woman is either hot or not. Men are all over the place.

  31. So when the men have testimony time their meeting they get to sit there and enjoy 15 minutes of peace and quiet? Doesn’t sound too bad.

  32. I think it would be absolutely awesome to have the RS presidency periodically teach in priesthood meetings. Turning it around might not be such a good idea, though. There’s a minority of women who’s favorite thing about RS is that the men aren’t there.

    And, I’d actually be afraid that arJ’s uncertainty principle wouldn’t hold. I’m not sure the RS leaders would appreciate the friendly razzing that generally occurs in EQ….

  33. aRJ—I made the comment tongue-in-cheek just to be silly. But to take your question seriously, I believe that the dynamic is the same that makes 1 in 4 women emotionally abused.

    Namely, speaking in VERY BROAD generalizations, men have a tendency to draw a connection between desire and acquisition. In other words, they see something they want and feel entitled to do what it takes to get it. Women have a tendency to be more socially aware of the repercussions of trying to attain what they want. This has the codependent effect of men taking (or say) what they want and women being afraid to offend AND to attract attention (in case they become the next target) which makes women more fearful socially and physically.

    While these tendencies are in NO WAY rules and there are boatloads of exceptions, there is still enough tendency to affect social interactions. Sure, it would be easy to say, “women need to just speak up more and be less timid” but there is an actual REASON for them to be timid. It would be similarly easy to say, “men, be more attentive and encouraging and less predatory” but it would be really slow to change such an ingrained habit, especially when it is so hard to pinpoint exactly which mannerisms and affects lead women to have cause to be afraid.

  34. Stephanie says:

    I think Ardis nailed it.

  35. Thanks Ardis for your comments.

    I really hate it when the subject comes up of sister missionaries being either super or really bad. In my mission we had no more than a dozen sisters or so at a time compared to the 150 or so elders. It’s hard to get a clear picture when the numbers are so disproportionate.

  36. The refreshing part of this idea is that it is different. Most leaders are stuck in the box and simply use the time to lecture.

  37. An interesting idea. In our ward, typically a member of the bishopric teaches a combined 5th hour — some are great and some are so-so. I think having sisters teach in PH can be enlightening for the men and like the idea. I was invited once to teach RS (actually, I had a 10-minute part of a longer lesson). The sisters were polite, but clearly not overwhelmed by the novelty of having me there (so reported my wife afterward).

    I personally really enjoy hearing from our bishop on those 5th Sundays. We have a very thoughtful and humble bishop who really tries to listen to the spirit as he prepares and teaches and it’s evident in his presentation.

    I was thinking if you’re going to swap RS & EQ leaders for that meeitng, it would be interesting to do an open Q&A as part of the meeting. It would be interesting to see what questions the RS might have for quorum leaders (like, “What do I have to do to get home teachers?”).

  38. Raymond and random John, this calls to mind double diffusion gradients. The mixing of a layer of colder, fresh water with another layer of warmer, salty water is complicated since temperature and salinity both affect density. A possible result is a thermohaline staircase of layer upon layer with homogeneous salinity within each layer and discontinuity between layers. I think a similar process occurs in embryo development, with diffusion of multiple species laying out a segmented body plan: a chain of vertebrae, zebra stripes, limbs at certain nodes, and such.

    Interesting to think what may diffuse through and stratify the body of the church.

    good thermohaline double diffusion link for the interested reader:

  39. I’m not really sure what to say about a discussion which draws on the time-honored dichotomy in which women are either very good or very bad, whereas men are morally complex creatures who have the freedom to be in the middle (without their behavior being interpreted through the lens of a desire to classify them as one or the other). Except, ouch.

    But I like the OP–it’s an intriguing idea. In my ward, someone from the RS went to teach the priesthood when the lesson was on the restoration of the RS. We did not however, do the converse when the lesson was on the priesthood, which I think was a good idea; a man coming to RS to teach about the priesthood would be in a really loaded situation.

  40. Chris Gordon says:

    @ As Sistas in Zion, there’s no such thing as testimony time in EQ/HP, so that’s what made it awesomely awkward.

    On a related hack, I’ve seen RS’s periodically invite (or accept the offer to receive) a priesthood holder for a short visit to talk about ordinances and even to consecrate oil. The thinking was that it would be a benefit to sisters who don’t have a worthy or active priesthood holder readily available and so might have some basic questions. Other than to actually perform the ordinance, I don’t see why a priesthood holder is necessary to do the explaining, but such visits were generally well-received. What say you, ladies? Valuable or condescending? Or somewhere in between?

    @Paul, one time the RS president visited the quorum it was scheduled to be a Q&A. Very good experience.

  41. Mark N. says:

    We can’t allow the RS Presidency to come into where we hold Priesthood Meeting! They’ll see The Big Board! (apologies to George C. Scott)

  42. Raymond says:

    Please know that my observation had nothing to do with sister missionaries’ “being either super or really bad.” Apologies if that’s how it came across. I’ve just always remembered how odd the results of my tally were (I think there were around 25 sisters, admittedly a small sample size). John Mansfield’s #27 made me hypothesize that women might be more likely to be either very outgoing or not outgoing than they are to be fairly outgoing. Of course, my evidence is much too sparce to draw a conclusion, but it seems plausible to me. I’m speaking with zero expertise, however. If someone wishes to correct me, feel free.

    #38 “Interesting to think what may diffuse through and stratify the body of the church.”

    So you would guess that the possible stratification of our sisters’ outgoingness is limited to Mormon women (i.e., not true of women in general) and is due to pressures/prejudices within the Church?

  43. Some sister missionaries at the MTC told us that there were three types of sister missionaries: the ones who really want to serve, those who go on missions because they aren’t married yet and have nothing better to do, and those that were just plain crazy. To be honest, I never met very many from the second or third category, but the one crazy sister I knew was far worse than any of the elders.

  44. Chris (#40), I think it would be really interesting to have someone come and talk about the kind of nuts-and-bolts of how ordinances work, and even how priesthood quorums function. (The area where I can see more potential trouble would be someone coming to teach the stuff in the manual about how amazing it is that God has entrusted his sons with the priesthood–I imagine that could be awkward on both sides.)

  45. Stephanie says:

    So how about instead of swapping RS/EQ for teaching, the RS President teaches the combined 5th Sunday lesson every other time (swapping with the Bishop)? I could go for that.

  46. Regarding the question of missionary performance, I suspect that elders fit into a nicer distribution because men are required to go and women choose to go. Sure, not all men go even though they’re told to, but lots of them do. So because a broader range of men go, it is not surprising that the distribution of their ability/willingness to put up with petty and arbitrary rules/whatever is cleaner than the women’s distribution, given that only a self-selected and therefore less representative group of women go. Kind of like what Tim was saying in #43, although I don’t know that I can necessarily buy into those specific categories.

  47. Also, Ardis (#13), excellent point. Isn’t it typically the case that a minority group will be more familiar with the experience of the majority group than the majority group is with the experience of the minority? It seems like this is a particular instance of that general rule.

  48. Why leave the High Priests out of the fun?

  49. High Priests/Fun are mutually exclusive.

  50. That’s funny, Tim.

    Some elder missionaries at the MTC told us that there were three types of elder missionaries: those who really want to serve, those who go on missions because their girlfriends won’t marry them unless they do, and those that were [sic] just plain addicted to sucking up to authority, bragging about their incessant bashing with the JW’s, and generally ordering other people about. To be honest, I never met very many from the second or third category, but elder[s] I knew [were] far worse than any of the sisters.

  51. You have obviously not met our High Priests.

  52. ZD Eve,

    I knew some elders in that second category, and quite a few in the third. Way too many elders are power-hungry and too focused on numbers. The average quality of the sisters was far better than that of the elders, and would have been far higher without the one crazy sister dragging the average down. Of course my experience is purely anecdotal, and there are probably elders out there that are just as psycho (although I doubt they last the full two years). There just weren’t any elders quite that crazy in my mission.

  53. We had an elder make up a song that started, “Sisters are useless, they’re totally stupid . . .” sung to the tune of “I Often Go Walking”. He would sing it every time he saw a sister at zone conference. Even sang part of it once in the presence of an Apostle.

    It’s hard to top that.

  54. Despite having contributed to several threadjacks here, let me just say that I love Kyle M’s idea of questioning why we do certain things out of habit in our meetings and why we can’t do things differently. I think we often have all sorts of blinders on (elsewhere too, but especially at church) and this type of re-examination can help remove or at least reposition them.

  55. ZD Eve,

    When sisters were “bad”, they caused non-stop problems for 18 moths. When elders were bad, they were sent home. So bad elders were certainly “worse”, but if you were in leadership they were a one time bad problem.

    A lot of this is a matter of perspective as well. Nobody heard about bad sisters outside of the office and their companions, but it is pretty hard to hide the fact that Elder A. Hole just vanished from the mission.

  56. Thanks, a random John. Would love your own contributions if you have any ideas!

  57. Back to the original idea: is it a good thing to swap RS and EQ presidencies for instruction once a month, such as a 5th sunday? Most of the posts that addressed that issue directly assumed that the Elder’s would benefit from the experience, but the RS members would not (either because the women already get too much instruction from men, or because the elder’s presidencies must be poor instructors). If that is correct, and both groups cannot get good benefit from it, then its a bad idea to do it in the first place. It would be more of a social engineering experiment than something designed to truly benefit the members of the church.

  58. Naismith says:

    “elder missionaries at the MTC told us that there were three types of elder missionaries: those who really want to serve, those who go on missions because their girlfriends won’t marry them unless they do…”

    Elder Scott falls into this latter group. And then he had to wait while his wife served a mission. But he turned out okay.

  59. Naismith says:

    “So how about instead of swapping RS/EQ for teaching, the RS President teaches the combined 5th Sunday lesson every other time (swapping with the Bishop)? I could go for that.”

    We’ve done this for years and years, I thought it was the policy!

  60. Stephanie says:

    That’s cool, Naismith.

  61. My last YSA branch did that sometimes on 4th Sundays for lessons about dating or marriage. It was a very small branch, and many of the members were related (thus there wasn’t – and couldn’t be – a lot of dating happening), so the dynamics were very different from what you might think of when you hear YSA branch. It might not have worked nearly so well in a huge YSA ward where people don’t know each other well or there was a lot of pressure to date, but the idea was to get insights into dating from members of the opposite sex, and it was always really interesting. We did it sometimes for non-dating topics as well, but the dating lessons were always the most interesting.

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