Extreme make-over: sacrament meeting edition

EmJen’s post of yore about a suggested ban on electronic devices and food in sacrament meeting inspired a great many comments, most to the effect of “We’re only surfing our phones and eating crackers because church is so frigging boring!” Some commenters argued that if you find sacrament boring, you need an attitude adjustment because you get out what you put in, etc. It’s a common refrain in Mormonism: “If you have a problem, the problem is you.”

Well, sometimes the problem is you. Actually, I’m a big believer in first assuming that the problem is you. Whether this is healthy or not, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe I’ll ask my psychiatrist next time I see her. At any rate, looking at yourself first is usually a good idea, given that the only behavior you can control is your own. Even when something isn’t your fault, what can you do about it? Yes, exactly the right question–what can you do about it? It all comes back to you, in the end. There’s not much getting around that.

We do have a reverence problem in our sacrament meetings, and it’s not just because we have children swinging from the rafters of the chapel. It’s also because the adults themselves are not engaged in the proceedings—some because they are wrangling their young children, and others because they are distracted or just plain bored. There are things we grown-ups who are not wrangling children can do to improve our own worship experience. We should probably practice more mindfulness. We should prepare ourselves during the week, before Sunday arrives, for a spiritual sacrament meeting. Ashmae’s recent post was an excellent reminder on this front: sometimes what we really need is an attitude adjustment.

At the same time, what is the likelihood that the problem is always you? And is it really so impossible that the problem could actually sometimes, in very fact, be something other than you?

I admit that my standard MO in sacrament meeting is to drift off into my own thoughts. (Unless I have to leave the chapel with my oldest because she’s having a meltdown, in which case my standard MO is to talk with her about her thoughts. Mine are more interesting, but there’s no reason I should be less bored during sacrament meeting than my average co-religionist is.) Am I unable to pay attention because our speakers are terrible? No, I don’t think so. Well, I’m sure I wouldn’t know, since I so rarely listen to them. To be perfectly honest, when my children were younger and more disruptive (in the typical ways young children are disruptive) and I literally couldn’t hear any of the speakers, I got into the habit of living inside my own head for that hour. I am sorry to say that I was not meditating on the spiritual. I was just trying to distract myself from wanting to wring my kids’ necks. (As bad as it is to think about anything not Jesus during sacrament meeting, I suspect plotting against one’s family is one of the bigger no-nos.)

Let’s stipulate one thing: sacrament meeting is not for children. Not really. I mean, you can argue that it teaches them that going to church is important and it’s good practice for learning to sit quietly or whatever–but it’s not designed to engage children. It is completely indifferent to the needs of children (other than the imagined need to practice sitting quietly even before they are developmentally capable of doing such a thing). You think Angry Birds is a distraction? Try Angry Toddlers. Toddlers Who Haven’t Had Their Naps. Toddlers Who Didn’t Eat Their Lunch Because You Served It at 10 a.m. So You Could Get to Church at 11. Toddlers Who Don’t Want To Sit in a Confined Space for 70 Minutes Because Who Does? No One. It’s not a fun game.

Some believe this problem has a simple enough solution: provide a nursery for the children, and let the adults attend their devotional service in peace. After all, this is what countless other churches do and it seems to work for them. The kids are happier, the adults are happier, and the chapel is actually quiet. Win-win-win.

But this obvious solution has several practical obstacles. [1] I was going to talk about those, but that’s not what I want this post to be about. The bottom line is this: as horrible as children are, I prefer a church culture where they are welcome in what is supposed to be our communal (if adult-centric) meeting. I would rather focus on making sacrament meeting more enjoyable (or at least less painful) for everyone, including the fully-grown.

I am, thank heavens, past the stage where I am wrangling young children every week during sacrament meeting. True, I still sometimes (often) have to wrangle my 17-year-old, and my 10-year-old still likes to sit on my lap, but for the most part they are no longer crawling under the pews, dancing in the aisles, hitting people (mostly me, but sometimes each other), or whining or crying or screaming during the whole meeting. This is not a function of my children being brought up correctly; I assure you they were not. It’s entirely a function of them not being as young as they used to be. (This is where someone comes along who claims to have raised six kids who always behaved appropriately in sacrament meeting without relying on snacks or crayons or duct tape, to which I say, congratulations, now start your own blog.) I will say this: children are savages. However, it is true that they are capable of sitting in a pew (or a folding chair, mayhaps) for short periods of time. The exact period of time varies in length depending on the child’s age and personality, but one thing is certain: it will not last seventy minutes.

We always talk about the sacrament being the most important aspect of our weekly worship, but the structure of our chapel service does not suggest that this is so. Sacrament meeting is seventy minutes long. (Why 70? I have no idea. I know it used to be 90, but they shortened it when they switched to the three-hour block schedule, and I guess cutting it all the way down to 60 would have made us look like sissies.) My own ward is a large one, and the sacrament portion of the meeting—including the hymn—takes maybe fifteen minutes. And it doesn’t feel like the central part. It feels like the thing we do after ward business and the part we have to get through before we can get to what takes up the bulk of our meeting: the talks.

In our ward we usually have two youth speakers followed by two adult speakers. In my opinion, this is at least two speakers too many. And yes, sometimes the talks aren’t very interesting. Then again, how would I know? It’s so easy to tune them out. Not because they’re so boring (although maybe they are), but if you miss one, you can always catch the next one, right? Imagine how it would be if there were maybe only one talk. Or maybe there could be two talks, but instead of lasting 40 minutes combined, they only lasted, say, 20 or 25. I’m just thinking out loud here. I understand that I sound like a 21st century weakling. Our pioneer ancestors probably had four-hour sacrament meetings where the speaker(s) used really big words that none of us today would even understand and everybody dug it [2] because they could afford to take four hours out of their 170-hour week to show God a little appreciation.

Then again, our pioneer ancestors had to spend their weeks working sunup to sundown (or longer), plowing fields and churning their own butter, making beeswax candles and whatnot, plus they were probably not looking forward to the twenty-mile walk back home uphill in the snow, so why wouldn’t they want to stay in church for four hours? I don’t think this is just MTV-generation me not having the attention span for 40 minutes of someone else talking. I mean, it is that, but it’s something else too. Seventy minutes of sacrament meeting (without food or electronics) is not a particular hardship for me at this stage of life. I do it every week with little to no ill effect. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling like proportion matters. If the sacrament is less than a quarter of the time you spend in the chapel (and one-twelfth of the time you spend in church period), I think it’s understandable if you forget that’s what it’s all about. Obviously, it would be silly to spend more time passing the sacrament. It only takes as long as it takes. I do think that both children and adults would have a better sense of the meeting being about Jesus if most of it were taken up by Jesus.

I’ve long been of the opinion that sacrament meeting would be better if it were more like the annual Primary program: more singing, less talking. There is a fat segment of the hymn book that, in my observation, almost never gets used because it’s all hymns of praise, and sacrament meeting hymns are usually chosen to coordinate with sacrament meeting themes, and we don’t usually have meetings devoted to topics like praising God. (It’s one of those things we think should be implicit or go without saying.) Maybe in addition to opening and closing, sacrament, and rest hymns, we could have a weekly “praise” hymn, for no other reason except singing hymns of praise is cool. Depending on the hymn, that’s two to five additional minutes that a) you won’t have to listen to a boring talk and b) you can actually participate. It wouldn’t always have to be a congregational hymn, of course. It could be a choir or other special musical number, depending on the talent you have in your ward. You couldn’t call it a “praise hymn,” of course. That sounds like something evangelicals would do. We would give it a more Mormony name like “bonus hymn” or “second opening hymn.”

Of course, there are other, non-musical options for breaking the monotony adding variety to the meeting. Taking another cue from Primary, maybe we could have a scripture-sharing time where someone shares a favorite scripture and briefly (briefly!) tells what it means to them, like a mini-(mini!) testimony. This would be different from a talk because the person would actually have to reference the scriptures.

Or, speaking of Primary, maybe we could get really radical and have a segment of the meeting that is actually geared toward the children. Not to go full sharing time with  flannel boards and games, just to give a short (short!) talk that is intended to engage the children particularly. You could do it right before the sacrament to get their attention and make them think, “Oh, right—Jesus” just in time for the part where we expect them to sit still and think about Jesus.

I think we can have a shorter sacrament meeting and structure it in such a way that the actual sacrament is obviously the raison d’être, rather than something we squeeze between ward business and a whole bunch of talking that may or may not have anything to do with Jesus. I don’t know about anyone else, but when my kids were young, it was always the last fifteen minutes of the meeting that were the killer. If sacrament meeting only went 60 minutes instead of 70, I think it would make a big difference. Maybe instead of the sacrament being the first thing we do (after the announcements), it should be the last thing we do. I’m not married to that idea or anything. It’s just an idea. (Yes, children are more squirrely at the end of a meeting than at the beginning, but if the meeting were 20 minutes shorter, maybe they would be slightly less squirrely. Or maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe children just suck.)

We could also make sacrament meeting feel more like a worship service and less like a business meeting by doing less business. I think there’s some official guidelines out there somewhere that says we’re supposed to avoid making announcements in sacrament meeting and instead refer people to the bulletin, but let’s face it, sometimes you have to make announcements. So what if we made them after sacrament meeting, before Sunday school? (On the plus side, those who are late to church won’t miss the announcements. On the minus side, maybe all the kids will be screaming and everyone will miss the announcements.)

Another thing: maybe sacrament meeting would feel more consequential if we didn’t consider it so insufficient for our spiritual welfare that we needed two additional hours of church to make up for what sacrament meeting lacks. I’m not arguing that we ditch all the auxiliary meetings. I think the auxiliary meetings are useful. I also think anticipating those auxiliary responsibilities is part of what distracts us in sacrament meeting and also what contributes to that “let’s get through this part so we can get to the next part and then we can breathe” feeling. Don’t worry–I will not suggest that we do sacrament meeting last. I will suggest that instead of doing Sunday school and our sex-segregated meetings (priesthood quorums, Relief Society, Young Women) every week, we have one or the other on an alternating or rotating schedule. Yes, it would be harder to get through all of the Old Testament in a single year with fewer class meetings, but so what? Maybe we could do one half of the Old Testament one year and the other half when it comes up again in four years. It wouldn’t kill us. (Of course, we would have to get different PH/RS manuals; if the Teachings of Brigham Young had taken four years instead of two, I probably would have killed myself.) [3]

It could be that all of these ideas are stupid and wouldn’t work, or maybe they would work and still be stupid, but can you do better? What do you think would improve the quality of your sacrament meeting?

———————————

[1] Namely: Who’s going to staff it? (Please don’t choose me.) How do we justify people missing the most important part of their week so they can work in the nursery? What if the kids don’t want to go? What if the parents don’t want their kids to go because they don’t want them exposed to germs or allergens or viruses or plastics or whatever? Anyway, just give it up, it’s never going to happen.

[2] Especially the children because otherwise they would be DISCIPLINED, something I understand is rarely done with children today.

[3] And yes, this means there would be only one hour of Primary. I’m sure the 10-year-olds will be disappointed, but the Sunbeam teachers will thank me.

Comments

  1. I love music, but every time I’ve brought up having more music in Sacrament Meeting in these comments I invariably get shouted down with people saying that our music is terrible and actually drives the Spirit away from them.

  2. 55 minute Sacrament Meeting:
    Opening hymn + prayer = 5 minutes
    Announcements/Ward Business = 3-5 minutes
    Reading of scripture + brief testimony (emphasis on topics related to the atonement and the life and teachings of Christ): 5 minutes
    Sacrament Hymn/preparation: 4 minutes
    Passing of the sacrament: 10-15 minutes
    Post-sacrament musical interlude (non-vocal): 2-3 minutes
    Talk/Testimony: 5 minutes
    Congregational hymn or musical performance: 4-5 minutes
    Talk: 8-10 minutes (none of these 15-20 minute sermons)
    Closing hymn and prayer: 5 minutes
    Passing time: 10 minutes
    Sunday School: 20 minutes (lessons adjusted so they cover less ground — don’t cover an entire book of scripture in one year)
    Passing time: 10 minutes
    Opening Exercises: 10 minutes
    Relief Society/Priesthood/YM/YW lesson/discussion: 30 minutes
    Post-church socializing/visit arranging: 20 minutes (the one issue here is that it might be too noisy to have that in the gymnasium since another ward would likely be in the chapel)
    Total = 140-150 minutes (current total = 180 minutes)

  3. Jared vdH – Yes, I know. That’s why I suggested non-musical options as well. Although I do think that if the music in one’s ward is so bad that it’s driving the spirit away, maybe it’s time for an intervention. Maybe a special Sunday school class everyone is required to attend.

  4. A Motley Vision – I quite like the idea of a post-sacrament musical interlude. Of course, this only works if you have someone with enough musical ability not to drive the spirit away.

  5. In thinking about the problems in our worship I am drawn to Rebecca’s suggestion that the problem is me. Just this morning I re-read the section in Terryl and Fiona Givens’ Crucible of Doubt, which says in part:

    …the purposes for which we go to church should be to reenact, in microcosm, the motivations and objectives that Jesus had in laying down His life for us. By coming together in community, serving and ministering to each other, sacrificing selflessly and loving unfailingly, we grow united, sanctified, and perfected in the family of Christ. As the moral lesson without parallel and the basis of our own salvation and the world’s hope, the Atonement fittingly serves as the focal point of our Sunday worship.
    What if we saw lesson sand talks as connections to the sacrament rather than as unrelated secondary activities? What if we saw them as opportunities to bear with on another in all our infirmities and ineptitude? What if we say the mediocre talk, the overbearing counselor, the lesson read straight from the manual, as a lay member’s equivalent of the widow’s mite? A humble offering. perhaps, but one to be measured in terms of the capacity of the giver rather than in the value received.

    So in this church we have to deal with other people’s crap. Rather than stew about how their behavior chaps my hide (surfing ESPN and playing solitaire in sacrament meeting, giving ill-prepared lessons and talks, not to mention all the strife generated from working in callings), I can make the path to improving Sabbath worship a personal one. As Steve mentioned in a comment, children aren’t the annoying part of church service, they are the service. Worship is not enjoying sacrament, talks, and lessons. Worship is, as the Givens put it, about what we are prepared to relinquish—what we give up at personal cost. It is a communal effort to see others through the lens of the Atonement—to forgive, minister, and serve despite ineptitude and weakness.

  6. Molly Bennion says:

    To make matters worse, our ward is now preassigning the same topic to all, in our ward, 3 speakers. They do not coordinate so the talks can be quite repetitive. The last speaker often feels compelled to thank the previous speakers for saying what he would have said. Are we outliers or is this a trend?
    We tried a special musical sacrament meeting with numerous solos, groups, instrumentalists, congregational hymns and a member saying a few words about each hymn’s meaning. Wouldn’t want to do it all the time, but it was a well-received experiment to reduce the boredom.

  7. .

    We had a sacrament meeting a few months ago where all (all) the talks were directed at the kids. The kids liked it. The adults liked it. Don’t know that that would work every week, but as a once-in-a-while, it works great.

  8. Well, if you’re going to bring up the old days with 1 1/2 hour long Sacrament meeting then I’ll remind you that in Sunday School back then we used to have the “Sacrament Gem” – after the announcements but before the hymn someone read a scripture to get us back on track. I’m all for bringing something like that back to Sacrament meeting.

    I also like the more music idea but I think most wards need a metronome and a way to force the director/organist (whomever really leads the tempo) to use it because most of our hymns aren’t written to funeral dirge pace though they’re presented that way.

    One ward I was in had an annual “favorite hymn and scripture Sunday” where members got up and briefly shared their favorite of either. Hymn sharers lined up on one side and scripture sharers on the other and we alternated. Probably the most well attended Sacrament meeting of the year. People loved it because they were engaged. If we can’t greet our neighbor or kneel and stand or whatever like other churches we need to find ways to engage the congregation somehow. Sitting and listening just doesn’t do it for any age.

    Also, as someone who has served in Primary nearly all of her adult years I’d totally get behind a 1 hour primary. Now if you could just work on dumping the mandatory scouting program…

  9. This is great! Elder EchoHawk recently spoke at our ward conferences and talked about taking our sacrament meetings apart, analyzing what works, and then putting it back together. And I think this sort of thinking is what we need more of.

    These comments about…how do I put it…how sacrament is supposed to stink and it’s supposed to be a sacrifice and it’s supposed to be awful because then it’s suffering and suffering is good because then we’re like Jesus, etc etc. I can’t believe this. I refuse to believe that sacrament is MEANT to be awful and then we can feel the Spirit because we’ve endured something awful.

  10. In our ward we have had a youth centered sacrament meeting once a year in addition to the primary program sacrament meeting. Additionally, for both Christmas and Easter, we had a special program with musical numbers, scripture readings, etc, and no talks at all. It was wonderful and the Spirit of those holidays were so strong.

    While I think many of the suggestions we have here are needed, I think a simple thing we could do to help immediately, easily, and without entire church overhaul is have more themed/alternative sacrament meetings.

  11. FWIW – one of the points of the current sacrament meeting training is to encourage bishoprics to engage the ward council with planning sacrament meetings. It isn’t intended as a wholesale delegation of responsibility for sacrament meeting topics, speakers and music, but to solicit suggestions and ideas along the lines that have been mentioned (and I’m sure more will come through comments.) Hopefully, bishoprics will solicit ideas, and ward council members will freely offer up some things that can be implemented.

  12. Sacrament’s not supposed to stink, but we do, unfortunately. Worship helps remove the stink and the suffering that comes with it, because we were never really meant to do either.

  13. *whoops, italics unintended

  14. Bro. Jones says:

    I attended services at a Lutheran church once, and they had a “Youth message” that was a 5 minute mini-sermon directed at the kids. I was informed that this was a regular part of their Sunday worship. I think this would be a fantastic addition to our Sacrament meeting.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Before we went to the three-hour block, when I was a boy we had Sunday School (including junior SS) and priesthood/relief society Sunday mornings. Then we would come back in the evening for sacrament meeting (like at 5:30 p.m. IIRC). I understand why we went to the block, but having sacrament be it’s own meeting made it feel much more special and worshipful. (Primary was on a different day altogether; Saturday mornings, as I recall). People could actually greet each other and socialize a bit both before and after the service, and doing it in the evenings just seemed to give it more gravitas.

  16. In our singles branch, we have assigned just one topic to all our speakers for the last five years: preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know it’s only 750 data points–3 talks x about 50 Sundays a year–but the speaking part of Sacrament Meeting is much, much better than in meetings in other wards that use the over-planned assign-everybody-a-specific-topic model (or worse yet, assign them a General Conference sermon to “talk about”).

    And we never make announcements in Sacrament Meeting. Never. Nobody pays attention anyway. We send announcements to the members in the weekly email. They may not pay any attention to them either, but at least we’re not wasting time in sacrament meeting.

    We had one Easter Program where there was no “conducting” by a member of the branch presidency. If we planned better, we could do that more often (and it would be a good step–it keeps members of the BP from spending time at the pulpit and detracting from the purpose of the meeting).

  17. Many years ago, the organist played hymns during the passing of the sacrament. The organist was served the sacrament first so that he/she could get started playing. What would you prefer, music or silence?

  18. As I recall from my Catholic days, they made announcements at the end of mass. A service that’s under an hour with announcements at the end–they’ve got the magic formula!

  19. Definitely more music! But along with that, we need a huge push for wards and stakes to support more and better music training for organists, music directors, ward music chair people, and choir directors. In most of the wards I’ve lived in, the leadership don’t have any sort of
    vision for what music can be like and how it can impact the worship experience. We are so accustomed to dull music that we’ve accepted it as the status quo. And–it is not fair to call people to callings that really do require a certain level of skill without providing any way to help them acquire those skills. I have a master’s degree in organ performance. I know how inspiring congregational singing can be. I also have the training and experience to teach others how to make that happen. Yet in my last stake, where I lived for 10 years, the stake presidency refused my numerous offers to provide stake-sponsored organ classes. They simply were not interested–yet the organists in our stake *needed* help. The answer I got about why they wouldn’t sponsor a class was “people are too busy, we don’t want to add one more thing to their plates, nobody will come”. Yet a neighboring stake sponsored a class and had 20 people complete the 8-week course. In the stake where I currently live, I’m quite sure my stake presidency would support music training, but the travel distances involved make it not feasible to do anything stake-wide.

    I spend a good part of my sacrament meetings each week thumbing through the hymnal wanting to cry over all the wonderful hymns that we never get to sing. Amen to the idea of having a “praise hymn”! Those are the very ones that it kills me not to be able to sing. (Yes, I can and do sing them at home, but it isn’t the same.) I also think it would be nice if we could stand for every hymn. Other churches have many more opportunities for congregational participation, responses, etc. I know we try hard to avoid that sort of ritual, but maybe we could learn something about the idea of having the congregation DO something, rather than sit passively the entire time.

  20. On improving sacrament, I got nothing. I think the church is very concerned about people not getting a lot out of sacrament meeting because it has been the focus of a lot of recent leadership trainings. My guess is setting the agenda for sacrament meeting is something that bishoprics were failing at (generally speaking) so now the direction from Salt Lake is that the ward council should weigh in.

    My main reason for commenting is to say that I love Rebecca J’s posts. Just one example: “Well, sometimes the problem is you. Actually, I’m a big believer in first assuming that the problem is you. Whether this is healthy or not, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe I’ll ask my psychiatrist next time I see her.”

    I mean, seriously….that’s gold.

  21. Oh, and more special musical selections. Even in my rather small branch, I believe we could have one almost every single week if the branch music chair person would arrange it. The last two units I’ve lived in, the music chair people pretty much don’t do anything with the calling. I’m not sure they realize they’re supposed to.

  22. In crowded buildings, we solve several problems by doing things more like other churches. You have “traditional services”, “modern worship” and ” family worship” sacrament meetings. There are nurseries for the first two, and they are strictly 12 and over. Family worship can be the meeting for those who enjoy fighting with bored toddlers, but then maybe they could gear it more like primary, with more songs–children’s songs, more breaks, more visual aids, more active and child oriented.

    We skip the ward boundaries and allow the people of the three wards in the building to attend the services they like best. Instead of the other ward having primary (and everything else) at the same time you are having sacrament meeting, your own children could be in primary, freeing you up to actually listen. The small children are no longer bored during a meeting that is not engaging for children. The youth leaders could also attend their adult meetings, because they just select one at an hour where they are not busy. The nursery can easily be provided by those attending one of the other meetings. Staffing can depend more on which meetings you attend than where you live

    The adults like their meetings better because they can chose one that better fits their interest and it would be more reverent because no toddlers. Those who hate tired drug to death hymns can attend the modern service where there is more upbeat music, and is possibly geared to a younger crowd. People would engage more because they could choose. If you want sacrament meeting at ten, then take the children home for lunch and a nap, then return at four for primary and RS/PH, you can do that.

    Sometime on Sunday, they could have an optional social hour where people just mingle in the cultural hall, with punch and cookies.

    You can fit church into your family’s needs, instead of trying to fit your family into the church’s structure.

    Alright, I can dream can’t I?

  23. marcella – Sometimes it is the fault of the chorister or organist, but other times it is the fault of the congregation. My husband is a ward organist, and he says he will start playing at a certain tempo, but eventually the congregation just drags him down with them. Recently I had to play piano for sacrament meeting because everyone in our ward who can play the organ was sick or out of town. The opening hymn was “I Believe in Christ” (yes, I know), and I was determined that I was going to play it at an appropriate tempo, regardless of what the congregation did. I learned that this was much easier said than done. Regardless of what the organist or chorister does, the congregation sings at the speed they want to sing. They don’t care if you’re a whole measure ahead of them–they really aren’t paying attention. It was a maddening experience. I wanted to get up and shout, “Do you people believe in Christ or not??”

    “If we can’t greet our neighbor or kneel and stand or whatever like other churches we need to find ways to engage the congregation somehow.”

    Yes x1000. Almost everyone loves the favorite-hymn sacrament meeting, partly because it’s different from what we do every other Sunday, but mostly because it makes them an active participant. Unfortunately there was a crackdown from up above that said we shouldn’t do things like that anymore, but I’ve always wondered what the issue was. It’s not like people would do this every week. It certainly wasn’t any weirder than your average testimony meeting, so where was the harm? (Other than people insisting on singing all seven verses of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.”)

  24. I should mention that the idea for the post-sacrament non-vocal musical interlude in my comment above comes from a (former?) practice found in the Oakland First ward (and, I’m sure, some other wards).

  25. Rebecca J–in the situation of the congregation not following the organist, I would wonder if the organ is loud enough. If they can’t hear the organ, they can’t follow it. I have noticed that many ward organists are hesitant to let the organ really sing and instead play too softly. There are other suggestions, but I hesitate to give them not knowing your husband’s background in organ-playing.

  26. Pair wards so one ward watches the other ward’s kids during sacrament, and vice versa. And we only need two hours of church. The church obviously struggles with curriculum for priesthood/RS, so why not just study the scriptures and do away with adult Sunday school?

  27. My ideas:
    (1) An absolute prohibition, almost as iron-clad as the rule against church meetings on Monday nights, against administrative meetings on Sundays. This will be tough for some areas where people travel distances to church and can’t really do it more than once a week. But I’m sticking with it: churchwide, absolute prohibition against admin meetings on Sundays.

    (2) One-hour sacrament meeting with lots of music, one talk, few if any announcements, a “youth message” like was suggested above, but mainly the sacrament, in silence. Keep testimony meetings on fast Sunday that last longer than an hour, but no RS, priesthood, or primary meetings on fast Sunday.

    (3) Bring back glassed-in cry rooms so the congregation can enjoy silence during the ordinance but parents aren’t banned from participating.

    (4) Sunday school is special, optional, and not part of the Sunday block. I imagine something like the family home evening groups some wards have. (I know, those FHE groups rarely work out, but I’m cool with that.)

    (5) Relief society and priesthood quorum meetings are 45-minute business meetings. Not administrative meetings (see (1)), but a chance to talk about our ministries, share a training message, ideas for service, share needs, news, encouragement, etc. No lesson, except the training and a scriptural thought. Charity groups are regularly invited to come talk about service and volunteer opportunities in the community (but not to ask for money).

    (6) YW are included in the Relief Society, maybe as a “junior relief society” but still overseen by the RS president, with an emphasis, like the quorums, on serving and ministering

    (7) Primary is at the same time as priesthood and relief society, for 45 minutes.

    Hanging out after church and talking is encouraged, with the kids getting their Sunday clothes dirty in the field behind the church, if there is one.

  28. Willie, I love the idea of a Junior Relief Society, as a sort of bridge into the real thing. Sometimes I feel like there’s a real gap between those who do All of the Things in RS, and those just coming in who are a bit lost. We need to do a better job at mentoring our girls and teaching them to lead.

  29. I learned a long time ago in high school debate that if you want to be noticed, you need to be either early in the rotation or late (which is why high school debate tournaments usually have a drawing of lots to determine who speaks when). Where do we have the sacrament? Dead middle (pun intended), when everyone’s attention is waning. Can’t put it first, or you’ll have (at least in my corner of the Mormon universe) too many folks missing the ordinance they’re here for. In my case, I’d be seriously tempted to skip church altogether if I knew that because I was five (or fifteen) minutes late I was missing the sacrament.
    So that leaves the end. And why not? Do an opening hymn/prayer, ward business including ordinances (blessings, confirmations, distributing of youth awards), then a talk, a hymn, and a talk–probably aren’t going to ever get rid of Dry Council Sunday, unfortunately (however, if your droning on is going to affect the start time of the sacrament . . . might could be a good thing). At forty-five minutes in, cut off the last speaker if needed, sing a sacramental hymn, partake of the sacrament, and as the priesthood holders who participated sit down, have the benediction, and you’re done. End on a high note. (Another high school debate tip.)

  30. Lisa – Oh, believe me, my husband’s playing is plenty loud. I think the problem is that people aren’t watching the chorister. I’m pretty sure no one realizes why she (or he) is there. Also, people just aren’t that into singing, so they do it lazily.

  31. OP: “…what is the likelihood that the problem is always you?”

    http://despair.com/collections/retired/products/dysfunction

    …sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  32. Anon for this comment says:

    The current Sacrament Meeting format is also difficult in areas of the world where congregations are small. On my mission in Europe I attended more than one Branch where there were more missionaries and sometimes investigators than actual members. There the members are asked to speak several times per year and the sometimes lack of Christ in our Sacrament Meetings (beyond the Sacrament) leaves visitors confused…

    By the way, our Ward (large Mormon corridor Ward) this year literally did not have an Easter Sacrament Meeting. Not making this up. What should have been our Easter Meeting had a random topic assigned. The rest hymn was an Easter Hymn by the choir but so few people showed up to choir practice that the choir director asked for volunteers from the pulpit to come up and help the choir. My wife and I were flabbergasted and disappointed.

  33. My sense of things is that the block could profitably be shortened to 150 minutes while changing very little structure:

    50 minute Sacrament meeting, 90 minute Primary
    Sunday School unchanged (it’s already only 30 minutes long!)
    10 minutes less (40 minutes total) for Priesthood/RS/YW (we can get rid of that awkward opening exercise thing)

    That goes to 2.5 hours for worship and instruction, cuts out one or two talks in the Sacrament Meeting, and leaves 30-80 minutes of “block” time for a ward to clear the building and hold leadership meetings, such as the ward missionary meeting or BYC or whatever, while the follow-on ward has its Sacrament Meeting.

    In other words, it lifts burdens on leaders (one fewer talk to assign!) and opens meeting space on Sunday for their planning meetings (no more meeting in that space between entryway doors!) It would also constrain the planning meetings so that they stop after less than 90 minutes. Mercifully. And it accounts for new and very solid knowledge about attention spans.

    It is based on the fact that I think the 3-hour block was inspired more by logistics in a rapidly growing Church (‘way back in 1980 or whenever they moved us to the block schedule) than by any considerations of what is known about human attention spans. That 3 hour block schedule permits a stake to cram five wards into one building if needed, with the first ward starting at 8 a.m. and the last one letting out at 7 p.m. That sounds crazy but there used to be a lot more parking at the meetinghouses…

    I’m almost certain this is the case because that’s what happened in my stake when I was a teenager and it was taking a long time to get permits for two new buildings in my area. So, let’s consider human logistics now and cut out that 1/2 hour. :-)

  34. Just in case one of the Admins is reading this: What happened to the Comments capability on the following 3 posts?

  35. eponymous says:

    They locked those posts I would imagine because the current moment is too raw to allow for the inevitable firestorm that would ensue. Give it a fortnight after everyone has digested the new reality and perhaps a more rational discussion can ensue.

  36. Yup.

  37. There’s a good discussion of the new policy regarding gay marriage and the children in gay households over at Times & Seasons, if you’re interested. For some reason, they believe it’s okay to talk about this now. Go figure.