Mother’s Day 2014 -2016

This post was written by long-time BCC friend and bloggernacle participant Theric.

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Mother’s Day is fraught. Just make a search right here at BCC and see. And it’s been rough for a long, long time. As part of my current calling, I’ve been in charge of planning sacrament meeting on Mother’s Day since 2014. I relished the opportunity. To me, Mother’s Day is an obvious opportunity to celebrate one of the most unique (for now) Mormon doctrines: our Mother in heaven. My thought was we start with women in the scriptures and, by year three, we straight-out do Heavenly Mother. It hasn’t quite worked that way. Here’s how it has worked (note that the Primary has sung each year, though I haven’t mentioned it):

2014

The first four speakers were told to tell brief (brief!) stories and let the congregation assign meaning to them, rather than to moralize thereon themselves.

These four speakers were

a female youth speaker on Deborah

a male youth speaker on Huldah

a married couple that split a list of lauded women that appear in Acts and the Epistles (they had the option of covering them all or as few as they desired, so long as they told stories)

The thinking was that true stories told truly can mean whatever the hearer will have them mean. No preaching needed.

It was fairly successful. Even though I gave them all almost three months to prepare, that . . . didn’t quite happen. Two of the speakers included lengthy asides about how awesome their momma be. Which I hadn’t doubted.

The final speaker was LDS theologian Sheila Taylor who spoke about the women Jesus interacts with in Luke. (As sacrament meeting should be Christcentric, this seemed a good way to end.)

Overall, the program was a definite net gain. And if you’ve ever had Sheila in your ward, you know that rumors of her speaking or teaching can get people in pews who might normally be slipping out for coffee.

And if those folk come this year, maybe they’ll return next year—?

One more note: I had hoped to have some music, probably an older LDS poem about Heavenly Mother, sung either by a small group or the congregation.

Martin Pulido, in connection to his A Mother Here work, has set some of these old poems (and some of the newer ones, including one of mine) to traditional melodies. I sent these to our ward music chair who is a professional in the field and, I’m sorry to say, was perplexed by the songs. She liked the Mother-in-Heaven theme, but the words and notes didn’t align in ways that made sense. The meter was fine, but the important words didn’t match up with the important notes. So . . . the songs never happened. I need a composer. Know a good one?

2015

I spoke first, making this introduction:

Some things are stupidly radical. Do you know what I mean? Radical because no one else is doing them; stupidly because WHY IS NO ONE ELSE DOING THEM???

One of Mormonism’s radical—if stupidly radical—doctrines is belief in our Heavenly Mother. According to a 2011 article in BYU Studies, Heavenly Mother has been spoken of dozens—maybe hundreds—of times in official settings by the Church’s general leadership. I’m aware of maybe a hundred poems by LDS poets about or mentioning our Heavenly Mother. And, as the Article of Faith says, we believe that many great and important things are yet to be revealed, so it’s reasonable to expect more insight regarding our Heavenly Mother going forward. But what apostasy led to this need for restoration?

It’s a more complicated question than the simplified answer I’m about to give, but almost three thousand years ago, much of what we call the Old Testament was molded by a group of scribes now called the Deuteronimist. Among other goals, they attempted to excise from the record any mention of the divine feminine. They were largely successful. Hence the Article of Faith stating we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. Hence the need for a Restoration.

Now we come to our stupidly radical plan for today: to rejoice in our Heavenly Mother. Yet, notwithstanding dozens—maybe hundreds—of mentions in General Conference and official statements, including the proclamation on the family, or the heartfelt statements of our poets (or of our own hearts), what do we really know?

Now, when knowledge of the Messiah was slight, we relied on types. Moses was a type for the coming Christ. He delivered his people. He raised a symbol of grace, that all who looked upon it might be saved. Adam is a type for Christ. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Through similarity and contrast, through magnificence and plainness, the scriptures set up mere mortals to teach us of our Savior and of our Heavenly Parents. Today we will examine three great women and consider what we can learn of our Heavenly Mother through them.

[Our first speaker] will speak of Eve, the mother of all living, and a type for our Heavenly Mother.

[The next speaker] will speak of Deborah, a mother in Israel, and a type for our Heavenly Mother.

And [our concluding speaker] will speak of Mary, the mother of our Lord, and a type for our Heavenly Mother.

And so they did. And these three women killed it.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

The original three-year plan was that, having eased into things, in 2016 we would have a meeting focused directly on our Mother in Heaven. The timing seemed ripe: Numerous folk on the Twitter felt that a more inclusive sense of deity was projected at the most recent General Conference, and when I was with the youth at a recent temple trip, the temple president spoke of returning to “our Heavenly Father and Mother in Heaven.”

And yet. . . . that doesn’t really seem a fair topic to assign. Besides the recent gospel-topics essay—barely enough information for one talk—what “official” sources can speakers go to?

With those other two Mother’s Days, I gave the speakers well over two months to prepare. This year, with less than a month to go I still didn’t know what to do. But stupor of thoughts aside, there must be a sacrament meeting! Returning to last year’s program so soon would be no good and returning to the 2014 program would seem like a step backward.

2016

In the end, I decided to go with an idea I’d long flirted with: women of Church history. I wanted to go international, but I hadn’t left myself enough to time to figure out how to get good sources to the speakers.

I asked three women again this year:

The youth speaker’s talk tracked pretty closely with this video (I gave her another source as well, but I can’t remember if it was this one or this one). Although it was as short and matter-of-fact as you might expect, it was a moving talk. I got a little blurry-eyed.

The next speaker was a convert of five years who spoke a bit about the strangeness of someone of her political leanings becoming Mormon three weeks after her 21st birthday. But first she read quotations from an essay by Blanche and a diary entry by Emmeline. Blanche spoke of women’s need for self-reliance from men. Emmeline of her loneliness as her husband neglected her. The irony is that these two women are both Emmeline B. Wells.

I’d also asked her to look at Susa Young Gates with the idea that she could speak on either or both. She spoke of both. And terrifically. Although pioneer stories had always felt a bit distant to her, she found something to identify with here.

She ended with this passage from Isaiah:

O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.

Our final speaker was where my stupor of thought overcame me. I ended up waffling and asking her too to speak on the history of sister missionaries, but then I emailed her a couple days later and told her to feel free and adjust the topic however the Spirit led. I had no idea what she should be speaking on, just that it should fit in with the theme.

She ended up focusing most of her remarks on a personal ancestor, Mary Ann Miller. Before joining the most notorious handcart companies, she had given birth to conjoined twins. They, of course, died. And when she was carried on a stretcher on board a ship for America, the captain called her fish food.

Later, on the plains, having prayed gratefully for being spared so many times, she found the strength to follow the blood-stained path rejoicing.

She then shared a Sheri Dew talk and managed to put some Jesus in the talk (which I, having been rather last-minute about things, had failed to arrange).

Because I had such a rough time figuring out Mother’s Day this year, I didn’t know what my introductory remarks were going to be. As the sacrament was being passed, I figured it out on the face of the bulletin:

msday_bulletin_zpsvajpspul

 

Each week, the sister who puts together the bulletin includes a quotation from a current or former presidency member of one of the so-called sisters’ auxiliaries. Usually it’s much more contemporary than Sister Snow, but it’s never bad to go classical.

In essence, what I said is that for all the many, many phrasings of our Heavenly-Mother doctrine, this is the one we all still know best. It touches us in ways no other phrasing has. (Although, like the unprepared dope I was, I said she called her poem “A Devotional to the Eternal Father and Mother . . . Maybe.”)

In her time, Eliza R. Snow was called a presidentess and prophetess and poetess—terms that haven’t aged all that well, but get to her significance to the Church. What she said was heard. What she said mattered. And although she never had children she was, vitally, a mother to the Church. Today we will look at some of the women who made the Church into what it is.

Or words to that effect.

2017

I don’t know what next year’s focus will be yet (suggestions welcome), but there was a song set for 2016 that . . . didn’t happen. I’ve been assured it will happen next year. You should check it out.

 

Comments

  1. I’m not a fan of one person, no matter their good intentions, micro-managing a sacrament meeting as much as you are describing. Give them a broad principle and let the speakers govern themselves.

  2. Broad principles are great, depending on the speaker–but almost all Sacrament Meeting talks are “micro-managed” these days. “Speak on this talk,” etc. etc. Which leads to meetings like my ward’s recent Mother’s Day meeting, where the speakers were assigned to speak on talks that had nothing to do with Mother’s Day, or on women at all. Assigning talks on women in the scripture and women in church history–and on pioneer or convert ancestors, when applicable–sounds awesome. Lots of those pioneer women were incredibly strong women, and we all benefit by learning their stories.

  3. Tim, as I said already, I’m not a fan of micro managing sacrament meeting speakers, no matter what the topic. Which means I’m not a fan of “Speak on this talk” topics either. I don’t see how doing more of it on Mothers Day, even with good intentions, makes things better. And women in the scriptures, women in church history, pioneer or convert ancestors, all sound quite broad and worthy of assigning. But I get the sense from this post that BCC Admin is doing much more than just giving out broad topics and letting the speakers go at them. Plus, I’d be willing to bet that there were more than a few people absolutely relieved to have Mothers Day lie fallow in your ward for one year and just avoid the angst and hoopla. It doesn’t seem to be the trump card for micro managing that you want it to be.

  4. Mary Bradford says:

    Theric–are you in Berkley CA–My granddaughter in law gave one of those talks–
    I love our post!

  5. I feel the opposite KLC. Wish we had more management over the talks in sac mtg. My favorite meetings are the ones with clear themes, organized structure, maybe coordinated hymns to go along with the talks. Love it. When the speakers just do what they want, you end up with a disjointed meeting touching on random subjects that may or may not have anything to do with one another.

    Bring on micromanagement in all meetings, please! (As long as the manager is up to the task)

  6. I also feel the opposite of KLC. This sacrament sounds wonderful. I love the idea of giving speakers topics / people that are out of the box to push them a bit into doing research. The speaker gets a learning experience and the audience get an out-of-the box lesson. I mean, how many times exactly do we need to regurgitate Conference Talks (which is what way too many of my ward’s talks do)?

  7. I also have to disagree with KLC. I think open ended subjects are great in theory, but some speakers just go crazy. I was in a Christmas meeting once where the speakers were instructed to give Christmas talks as directed by the Spirit, and one guy decided to talk for half an hour about the conception of Jesus via physical intercourse with God. Good times. I just don’t trust people to not give terrible and/or wildly inappropriate talks if left to their own devices.

    These Mothers’ Day programs sound lovely, though.

  8. “I don’t know what next year’s focus will be yet (suggestions welcome)”

    If you are looking for suggestions, I have one for you. The source is a site that I usually am not a huge fan of, but this talk given on Mother’s Day in another Ward was (to me) measured, balanced, doctrinal, and something that would seem worthwhile to hear in any Mother’s Day program. FWIW.

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2016/05/heavenly-mothers-day/

  9. This meetings sound pretty good to me, though I think sacrament meeting really does need to revolve on Christ and gospel principles. Celebrating women/mothers should be peripheral. Which is why I think certain sacrament meetings and individuals need to be micromanaged.

  10. In the hierarchy of holidays/commemorative days I would place Mothers Day closer to 4th of July than to Christmas. I can’t see anyone not being upset with having a Christmas Sacrament meeting that doesn’t talk about the birth of Christ, but I can see many people (in the US) being OK with having a sacrament meeting at the beginning of July that didn’t talk about America as well as many people being OK with a patriotric tone to the meeting. I can likewise see many people not object to not hearing anything about Mothers Day or to object when the invitation to speak on Mothers Day contains such specific and detailed instructions about precisely what they want them to say.

    And are you all really in favor of micromanaging itself or just in favor of micro managing when it creates outcomes you favor? What if the counselor in your ward comes to you in June and asks you to speak in early July. He then outlines your talk as one that deals with specific conservative political topics with firm ties to conservative LDS culture. Are you going to embrace that kind of micro-managing? I’m pretty sure your enthusiasm for direct intervention by those in authority to shape and define your message is directly proportional to your agreement with the message they want you to deliver.

    I’m not asking for open mic at the pulpit, but when someone highlights as a failure that members of his ward he had called to speak had the audacity to include lengthy asides “about how awesome their momma be” in a *Mothers Day* talk I think we’ve crossed over the boundary that separates helping members speak coherently about a topic and stage managing their words. A sacrament meeting talk isn’t a play or a dramatic reading and the member of the bishopric or other person assigned to ask people to talk is not a director. I believe that if we give people specific direction while still allowing them wide latitude to deliver their message instead of ours they sometimes disappoint but more frequently they reveal parts of themselves we haven’t seen before.

  11. .

    Wow. I managed to become a villain in record time today!

  12. Theric, hardly a villain, I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed all of the Mothers Day meetings you helped create. I also agree with and applaud your efforts to foster thoughtful speaking in church about women, who are so frequently overlooked in our patriarchal organization. But that’s why I decided to make my comments, which were only preferences and not condemnation. It’s easy to so completely agree with the message that we overlook the means that achieved them. You were just a little too involved for my taste, obviously others disagree.

  13. Morthodox says:

    I must say that as a woman and as a former member of the writer of this post’s ward, I appreciate more than I can say his careful planning of Mother’s Day sacrament meetings. If you have some issue with this careful planning, please ask yourself why so many people opt to stay home on Mother’s Day. I, for one, am ECSTATIC to hear that someone in some bishopric, somewhere, anywhere, cares about presenting a better Mother’s Day! Men in leadership positions are listening to what we’ve been saying about how traditional Mother’s Day sacrament meetings make us feel! I appreciate the writer’s efforts to include intellectual, spiritual, historical, scriptural, and artistic means to explore the earthly experience of womanhood, motherhood, and the divine feminine. I always loved that about this ward.

    You must admit- it’s better than hearing “‘I Love You Mother,’ Said Little Nell” for the ten thousandth time! :)

  14. Wow, I’m so envious of your ward. So well thought out and inspired.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

  15. Speaking of poems, I haven’t been asked to speak on Mother’s Day since I was a kid but I always thought it would be fun to share The Lanyard by Billy Collins

    http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2008/01/26

  16. KLC – good point, and I think you’re right on some level that the content of what is micromanaged matters. If the person doing the micromanaging does a bad job, you’ll get a bad result.

    I’ll still stand by the general idea of sac mtg management though. I think meetings are best when they have a clear theme (including the music) with topics that work together to emphasize the theme. When each speaker is left to her own devices, I think you get some pretty disjointed meetings where the three talks are unrelated and the meeting suffers as a result.

    So, there’s some middle ground there. I’d like to see more of it.

  17. .

    (I love The Lanyard.)

    Not to worry: I wasn’t offended. Fwiw, my general policy is to give a topic and trust the speakers.* Mother’s Day does seem like a special case, but I’m willing to be wrong on that point.

    *(at the risk of making this all about me, here is some bitty writing I’ve done on other sacrament meetings I’ve planned: http://j.mp/1Oz2NqV )

    Planning sacrament meeting is one of the most gratifying things I’ve done for any Church calling. The challenge of making it new and interesting and aesthetic and Christ-centered never gets old.

    One of my favorite stories in Women in Church was of the woman called by her ward to plan the sacrament meetings. Opening up this service to more people seems like a pretty good idea to me.

  18. Martine says:

    The lyrics of “Children of Our Heavenly Father” (Hymn #299) are a much better fit when you switch all male references to Heavenly Mother. Try it. My bishop lets me do pretty much what I want with the music but he won’t let me have the congregation sing my version.

  19. I am responding to the comment by KLC. ” A sacrament meeting talk isn’t a play or a dramatic reading and the member of the bishopric or other person assigned to ask people to talk is not a director. I believe that if we give people specific direction while still allowing them wide latitude to deliver their message instead of ours they sometimes disappoint but more frequently they reveal parts of themselves we haven’t seen before.” I agree that there is some truth to this statement. However, maybe there should be some more room for inspiring performances or dramatic readings in SM. As much as I am not a fan of the annual primary program, at least it captures my attention. The current SM program seems much to formulaic – F & T meeting, High Counsel Sunday, two to three talks a hymn or two and break.

    I suppose that the best outcome is a measured balance between directing a theme and dictating the words.

  20. .

    The purpose of sacrament meeting is to let us worship together. To bring us to Christ. Together. Other things (eg cultural expectations of “talks” and “themes” and whathaveyou) need to serve that purpose. There’s no single path here, even if we’re narrowed down the options over the years.