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.  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  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.) 
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?
 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.
 Especially the children because otherwise they would be DISCIPLINED, something I understand is rarely done with children today.
 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.