Sitting in Council: First Sundays

If you’re like me, last Sunday was your first experience with the new third hour curriculum. Rather than a lesson, or even a General Conference talk, the first week of the month is “presidency’s choice” of topic. The second and third weeks are discussions on General Conference talks assigned by the presidency, and the fourth Sunday is on a topic assigned by the church (“Sabbath” for six consecutive months–kill me now). To me, switching from the Teachings manual to selected talks from the last General Conference is an upgrade for a few reasons. First, we spent more time on Howard Hunter than he actually spent in the role of church president. Some of these manuals were a little thin (his was pretty good, though). Second, we have a little more control on what talks we choose. Lastly, while I don’t love every General Conference talk, I figure those talks are more relevant to someone else, and there’s always something there for everyone.

Basically this gives us license to talk about what we want to talk about, which is steering into the skid since that’s what’s going to happen anyway. It feels more open.

I was teaching Youth Sunday School when the Come Follow Me curriculum was launched, and that was pretty rough in my opinion as a teacher. It’s still the approach for the youth. The difficulty I had as a teacher was keeping the attention of my 12-16 year olds on the 3rd, 4th and 5th consecutive lessons on the same topic (e.g. “Priesthood” or “Restoration”), especially since they were getting these exact same topics in YM / YW. Man, that was a tough pull. Those kids were playing a lot of whatever they were playing on their phones back then during those weeks. That doesn’t bode well for the six consecutive 4th Sunday lessons on the same exact topic, but we’ll see.

For me, this new approach to the first Sunday of the month felt like a pretty big change, especially since despite being in the Relief Society Presidency, I haven’t attended Relief Society in my ward for over a month due to a mix of travel, business emergencies, and back pain, and I’ve only been in this ward a little over a year due to a stake realignment–I’m still trying to pretend I know people’s names. I hadn’t even gotten around to reading the curriculum launch notes on lds.org in advance. So, with a new year dawning, and a very welcome meeting time change [1], I entered Relief Society wondering what it would be like.

We formed a circle, as suggested in the article on the changes. That alone wasn’t easy since Relief Society is a huge group, about 40 women in my ward, and we’re in a smaller room (Priesthood meets in the 3rd overflow in the gym). Our ward skews older, so EQ only had 7 in attendance, and they had plenty of room to make a circle. The HP group is bigger, maybe 30 in attendance. A circle of 40 is frankly a little unwieldy, but that goes to the heart of my general complaint that EQ/HP are two separate groups whereas all women are apparently one big woman with no separation by age.

From the article, Sister Bingham said:

It is recommended that, if the group size allows, we make a circle with our chairs so that each person feels like they have an equal voice. Those who are facilitating the council should watch for those who have not made comments or who look like they would like to make a comment but are too shy to have done so. Include everyone.

My first impression of the circle was that it felt a lot more interactive. Sometimes a cosmetic change like this can be powerful, like Mr. Keating telling the boys to stand on their desks to see things from a different perspective. There may have been about the same number of comments, and probably from the same people, and maybe they were even the same types of comments, but there was also more connection and non-verbal communication. I found it much harder to play Candy Crush or shop on Amazon with all those kind eyes boring into me. People were connecting because we could see each other’s faces, not just the backs of hairdos. At one point I wondered if this was a practice “council of the gods,” a group meeting to discuss and make decisions about actions. However, another comment was made that it reminded someone of AA or one of those groups in the 70s where people share feelings and do trust falls. To each her own.

Our chosen topic was new year’s goals individually and collectively, as a Relief Society. In typical fashion, nobody wanted to suggest a goal for all 40 of us, so the very first hint of a suggestion (a story about the YW reading the BOM together) was glommed onto as something actionable for all of us to take on. I’m still a bit skeptical about group goals, but whatever. Not my rodeo. There was a lot of back and forth about how to do it. Read the whole thing? Have a number of pages per day? Count it even if they just read one inspiring verse? Let each person choose for herself? The sister sitting next to me leaned over and said, “We’re not really going to do this, right?” The woman who sort of accidentally suggested it was subsequently put in charge of the group goal’s execution, so she was probably kicking herself for speaking up.

The action item focus is new, although vague application questions have always been a staple of our lessons. From the article, Sister Bingham explained:

One of the beautiful things about this council meeting is that you actually come up at the end of the meeting with an action plan. You choose an action individually, and possibly as a group. Then, in the next week, they have an opportunity to briefly report: What was the effect of what you chose last week? Did it really make a difference?

It seems a bit ambitious to me to think we are really going to change accountability in this way, but we’ll see. Most of what I see is that people will only ‘fess up if it’s positive, not if they didn’t do anything, and half the time, the comments are just personal stories that don’t move the ball forward anyway. Some people just like to talk. But I’m prepared to be surprised.

The article had suggested a possible first topic for wards struggling to figure this new format out:

For example, the topic might be “How can we increase the unity in our Relief Society [or quorum or group]?”

This was the exact topic our ward’s Elders’ Quorum chose, unsurprisingly, which is kind of funny when the purpose is to give local leaders and ward members more personal say in what’s done and create more accountability for our discussions. These should reflect what we as ward members know to be our priorities or feel impressed is important right now, not just something handed down arbitrarily from Salt Lake. As Sister Bingham said:

The point I’d like to make is that they are not lessons anymore. They are facilitated spiritual discussions.

Honestly, I thought they were always spiritual discussions more than lessons, at least in Relief Society (less so in Gospel Doctrine, although it depends on the teacher), but this gives us permission to do what we already were doing. Whew! Because we really don’t stick to the manual in Relief Society whereas I’ve often heard the men are literally passing the manual around and reading chunks out of it, without a doily or silk flower in sight, or even a table to put them on. We like to freelance on the lesson content, but with props.

Sister Bingham describes what she hopes the outcome of the change will be:

I would hope that in a year, the members would feel more united, they would feel more in tune with the Spirit, they would feel more supportive of one another, and they would actually feel that living the gospel of Jesus Christ makes a difference in their daily lives.

I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I’m optimistic that sitting in a circle, more than anything else, was a successful change. What were your impressions?

  • Did your group sit in a circle? Did you like it or not? How many are there in your RS/EQ/HPG?
  • What topic did you discuss for this first one?
  • Did people come away with action items? Was it a group goal? Do you think it’s going to happen?

Discuss.

[1] We got the sweet 11:00 start this year.

Comments

  1. As someone who is wrestling with her faith, “circle time” was excruciating. I felt totally exposed.

  2. OregonMum says:

    We sat in a circle, which had about 30 people in it. We wore name tags which seemed dorky at first but it was quickly realized that the majority of the sisters only knew maybe half the names of those around them. Our discussion was just talking about the new curriculum structure, answering questions, discussing the motivation behind the changes, etc. It was actually pretty great. I found out that the conference talks were chosen specifically by our RS presidency and that each group (RS, EQ, HP) chose what they felt to be the right talks for their group. I went into it under the impression that the stake presidency would be the ones deciding talks, or at least the bishopric council. To know that the women who lead our group are the women praying and deciding what we should be discussing was so cool!

    All in all I’m very pleased with this new turn. I’ll withhold judgement about the six months of Sacrament discussion for now. I know I wasn’t the only one feeling confirmation from the Spirit that this was the right direction for us to grow. I hope it encourages the quieter sisters to give their valuable input.

    We discussed how the goals could be big far reaching things or smaller. You could tell the idea was a bit of a stretch for some of the sisters, so we kept it simple and set a goal to read the assigned talk for the next week and highlight sections we found important. We also decided to post the weekly goals on the RS FB group page so sisters not in RS can participate too if they wish.

  3. Cynthia H says:

    We also had a pretty big group, about 40 sisters, and we made a circle, but with a double row in the back because we weren’t fitting very well. I actually thought that was great since it let people who just want to sit and not feel so exposed do so. We talked about how it’s okay for someone to not want to sit in the circle and how we should be respectful of those feelings, anxieties, whatever. I thought that was great since some people might peek in, see the circle, and just turn around and leave.
    The counselor leading our discussion said the circle should be a place where we could share without judgement. Another sister piped up and said that was maybe an unreal expectation, and we had a discussion about listening with compassion and I liked the direction our discussion took.
    I’m optimistic about the first Sunday at least. I feel less optimistic about 6 Sunday’s of lessons on the Sabbath. One month my ward focused on that all month in Sacrament meeting and by the last week I felt so sorry for the speakers because the subject had just about been exhausted.

  4. We did the double circle as well. We went over the new curriculum and then made a list of topics that we might like to talk about on future first Sundays. Lots of interesting ideas were generated: getting the youth to date, getting the youth to go to activities and have friends, getting the young adults to stay in the church (and date/marry), how to deal with mentally ill family members, how to protect our children from homosexuality (cringe worthy moment there), needing FHe ideas, needing VT ideas for hard to visit sisters, etc. I was impressed with just how practical and day-to-day most people’s interests were.

  5. ReTx: Very encouraging, minus the record-scratch moment about protecting kids from homosexuality. Uhm, what about kids who ARE homosexuals?? That’s what I would have asked.

  6. We didn’t end up going this week, but the way my RS has set it up, we’re reading several conference talks and discussing, which is…basically how every other week is set up? This doesn’t really help my undesire for RS in general, but discussing “how to support our husbands as priesthood holders” in February is definitely a no for me.

  7. J. Stapley says:

    I was EQ pres over a decade ago, and we moved to circling-up for lessons. I haven’t moved and the ward has kept the tradition. I’m a pretty big proponent, and have instituted the practice when subbing, etc, in smallish groups. I hadn’t thought of folks like Sara above. Makes sense that it wouldn’t be everyone’s favorite.

  8. I haven’t experienced this in HP group yet, but we will continue to have a sort of double circle. No other seating arrangement is possible in the high council room. It hasn’t yet accomplished anything like the stated purpose and I don’t see that changing unless the teachers (including myself) develop better discussion leading skills. A partial solution to the 4th Sunday boredom of the same topic for 6 months — Being the teacher previously assigned to the 4th Sunday, I informed the HP group leader that I wouldn’t do it, that the best approach I could come up with consistent with instructions, was to have the teachers previously assigned to 2d, 3d and 4th Sundays have a rotating schedule, taking turns on 4th Sundays so that we can at least have different approaches to the same topic. He agreed. I hope it works.

  9. Brazil girl says:

    I facilitated the RS discussion this week and we sat in a circle in a back room with no a/c )(several gripes about that) instead of spread out in the chapel. I immediately liked the effect of the circle and the conversation it encouraged. The topic was how to increase unity and I had each sister write on a post it what one thing they needed the ward for. It didn’t fully go as I hoped and I forgot to set up the action items but it’s a work in progress.

    I’ll mention that there was a suggestion to do more integrating between the locals (half of whom are related somehow and have been in the ward for decades) and the American expats. “Where are they?” one sister asked. “Running Primary and YW.” The American sisters (except me) were all missing from the discussion, which highlighted the need for everyone to have a calling. I agreed, suggesting that the sisters accept the requested interviews from the bishop when asked, not to mention accepting the callings extended in those interviews.

  10. Your average Mormon says:

    I’m 2C in the RS and we actually did sit in a circle. I’m in a small midwestern ward, so we only had about 15 in attendance, which is normal for us. We did use the topic unity but it was a deliberate choice as we have a lot of divisiveness in our ward (from people having long histories with each other). We did not assign a group goal, but encouraged each person to make their own personal goal.

    For our ward, it was an incredibly positive experience. We had sisters share some of their hard experiences with RS and offer ways to help them (or others) overcome these experiences. We had sisters who usually don’t comment make lots of comments and share their feelings, which frankly, is quite helpful to us as a Presidency so we can recognize their needs.

    I liked the circle idea. One sister put it this way, “I like the circle because then I don’t have my back to anyone”.

    I will also add that we put up three conversation guidelines: 1)Limit your contribution to 3 minutes or fewer, 2)If you use someone’s name, use it to build up and not tear down, and 3) this is a time to share feelings and not a time to vent personal grievances. (We were a little concerned about some of those histories being brought up in public.)

    All in all, it was a win. The sisters felt heard, we did a lot of listening and learning, and I personally came away with a better understanding of some of their struggles.

    For me it was a positive personal experience too, because our teachers relied very heavily on reading from the manual (something that makes a bit anxious about the quality of the lessons under this new curriculum) and it was nice to actually get something out of RS.

  11. Primary for me. And not only did we talk about Jesus, but Kylo Ren and The Flash too.

  12. Shel Bailey says:

    We have had a VERY small (but mighty) ward, and we have always had a circle in RS. But we had like 15 people on a good day. We were combined 2 weeks ago with another ward. (Which was great because I got released from the RS presidency, lol.) Now it was tougher, but we did concentric circles, and our topic was unity, but its a real concern. We talked about what we could do to get to know each other better, and to help our ward feel like one ward instead of 2 that are meeting together. We will see what our new RS Pres does next month. My presidency went to lunch to celebrate that it’s not our problem, lol.

    I am with you on the 6 months of one topic….ugh. I am glad its no longer my rodeo, lol.

  13. Who picked the image to go with this article? It’s a photo of a prenatal class and it looks like it was clipped instead of properly downloaded. It still has the watermark! Let’s do better.

  14. A swing and a miss in my ward. Elders and HPs met together. The discussion was about doing the council next month and how the new 3rd hour would function from now on. Most already knew the info. Leadership was unprepared.

  15. NotRachel says:

    I came in late because my daughter was being set apart. Everyone was sitting in a circle, and I came in… and sat outside the circle. No one made room for me. I tried to not be offended, but I’m the crazy sister in pants every week who no one sits by anyways, so whatever.

    We also talked about ways to create more unity as a relief society, which is really needed. My ward was dissolved a year ago and absorbed by this other ward, and there are still clear demarcation lines of people from the old ward and people from the new ward, and never the twain shall meet.

    It was interesting how many people talked about having anxiety, both general and social, and how difficult it was for them to meet new people let alone sit and converse with them or heaven forbid go visiting teaching. It was relieving to hear, in a way, because I realize I’m not alone in that; and also that it’s probably their anxiety rather than my feminist cooties that keeps anyone from really talking to me.

    Suggestions were requested for people’s ideas to create more unity. Nothing really of substance was brought up, but I wrote on my post it and submitted anonymously that I’d love to do a legitimate service project as a relief society. And also that I think it would be fun to sit in this circle once a month and tie a quilt while we talk. We could give the quilt to whoever had a baby recently, and it would give the people who are anxious about looking others in the eye and talking something else to look at, as well as a distraction for their hands!

  16. Our Dry Priests group meet in the chapel so the best we could do was sit in the choir seats. We had a council about councils, which was redundant as everything covered was discussed last month. In general, was the focus as I understood was how we would help the less active with the selected topic.

    Meanwhile, our sisters counseled together on reverence and respect.

  17. In EQ we had a circle. We’ve done that in the past, only 10 of us this week. Worked well. Topic was “How to get more out of my personal scripture study”

    My wife tells me that the much larger RS tried to do a two row circle, but some busy-body older ladies decided that was a bad idea and made people move to make a single circle that was too crowded, awkward, and caused several women with anxiety to leave.

    The RS Pres, EQ Pres, and HPGL had decided in our ward to coordinate the first Sunday topics, at least for the first six months, so that spouses could talk about the discussion afterward.

  18. I’m amazed that the Come Follow Me program has persisted this long without changes. The kids know the routine by heart: January = Godhead, 8 lessons on one topic, here we go again. Surely we could at least come up with 24 distinct Gospel topics so we could have a two-year rotation.

    I personally liked the concept of the “Teachings” manuals, except that the implementation was to pick a “standard Gospel topic” for every week and then force-fit the teachings of President X to them. (Like, two years of Brigham Young and not one mention of polygamy?) So in that sense, picking conference talks at least feels more up front. I’m worried, though: most people don’t know how to take a talk as a springboard and make a lesson (or “discussion”) around it, so I think the risk of just rehashing conference one week at a time is high.

  19. At a stake meeting about the new councils on a Sunday night, (going to bring up meetings as something not good to practice as sabbath observance in my first council), a member of the stake presidency said these councils will be “more intellectually stimulating”. I’m sorry, if having the restored gospel to talk about in class all these years hasn’t reach a high level of intellectual stimulation then moving the chairs from a square to a circle probably won’t do much. Just think this is all much ado about nothing.

  20. Bro. Jones says:

    We had a great experience in EQ. We meet in the stake high council room so we always sit in a rough circle anyway, but there was also a second back row. We talked about how we wanted to avoid having “councils about councils” and instead wanted to increase 1) dialogue 2) action. We talked about choosing timely discussion plans and also using the time to put together activities that would either 1) strengthen our bonds as an EQ or 2) help us reach out and serve others. Eventually we hope to actually get out of church on occasion to perform acts of service. The EQ president said he welcomed input as we move forward.

  21. As a HP Group Leader I welcome these changes. First, I have always hated our RS/PH manuals. I won’t rehash it here, but those lessons of quotes sewn seamlessly together, stripped of all context (which is what makes their predictable words interesting) have been painfully boring, manipulative, and occasionally misleading. Good riddance.

    I don’t believe that this is “much ado about nothing.” Because the “church” is letting go of a lot of control. No more idiotic questions. No more repeating the same things over and over. Unless the teacher himself or herself chooses to do so.

    I see much more freedom in this new system, and it will be used to good effect by some, and possibly wasted by others.

    Finally: I didn’t see that we will be talking about the Sabbath day for six months. From the church website: “The topic until the next general conference will be the Sabbath day.” Thus, I believe that we will be talking about the Sabbath day for January, February and March. Come April we should have a different topic.

  22. In RS in my ward we didn’t do the circle. They did rearrange the chairs into a better format – I think. Our room is long and skinny so now we have maybe 4 rows of chairs going the long way instead of a zillion rows going the short way resulting with people in the back half being very far from the teacher in front. We also did not have a council meeting but instead a lesson on one of the conference talks. To their credit the presidency picked the strongest teacher to do this first discussion lesson so there was a fairly good discussion – by a limited number of people though. Really it’s going to take a couple months for me to decide if it’s worth staying for the third hour or not. Maybe people will warm up and more will participate, maybe the other teachers will rise up and do better with this format rather than handing out pieces of the lesson for others to read. I hope it’s better.

  23. Bro. Jones says:

    sch – We talked about the 6-month topic and our consensus after reviewing all the text we could find was that while they’ll present a new topic in April conference, that new topic won’t take effect until July. So, as we understood it, we are indeed talking about the Sabbath day for 6 months.

    In the spirit of some of our other discussion, we hope to use one Sunday for visits or a service activity in celebration of the Sabbath. Works for me and means only 5 months of lessons on the Sabbath. :)

  24. My EQ has been doing the circle thing for a couple of months now, and I think it works reasonably well – it at least forces someone to sit next to me ;) We have 20-25 in EQ each week which I think is about the limit for a circle; with 40 people in a circle, won’t people on the opposite sides be 30 feet from each other? We usually have one or two guys sitting outside the circle, either because they came in late, or have a small child with them, but we also had one or two empty seats in the circle, so it was clear that there was a space for them.

    Our EQ Pres sent out a “survey” during the week asking for suggestions about things we should “counsel together” about. (In general, the number of times the verb counsel was used is starting to weird me out. It just isn’t a word that we use except in church and so it feels like we’re not quite sure what we’re supposed to be doing.) The survey was a web form or something so that results were anonymous, which was a good thing. Not that I received the survey, because I don’t think I am on the EQ email list as no one in the EQ Pres knows my name. (with EQ it’s always hard to tell if you’re not getting the communications, or if there just aren’t any communications to get).

    We talked about how to encourage spiritual moments and conversations with our kids, and I thought the discussion was generally pretty successful.

  25. I have been wracking my brain to think of a “topic” that could sustain (with any modicum of usefulness) six consecutive discussions/lessons. It is certainly not “keep the sabbath day holy.” That topic is barely sustainable for 45 minutes once a year (IMO).

    Maybe “church history from 1820 to 1844?” Maybe the book “David O McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism?” ;0)

  26. I was skeptical about the new format. This kind of discussion could quickly descend into chaos. We’ve had spats between sisters during RS in the past. But this Sunday was surprisingly great.

    It helped that our RS president set a ground rule of no cross talk. She suggested that in order to show respect for one another no one speak when someone else was speaking. This made a huge difference. (It’s the same rule that’s used in AA and group therapy.)

    There were about 25-30 sisters. We sat in a large semi-circle. Our topic was loving one another. That led to a discussion on forgiveness, specifically the actual process of how you go about forgiving someone. People shared examples from their lives and the whole discussion felt very organic. I am optimistic for the future. Although talking about the sabbath for six months in a row still sounds excessive.

  27. my attempt at 6 sabbath-day lessons (just spouting ideas, haven’t actually thought through how long each topic might take in class):

    1- our Mormon understanding of the Sabbath
    2- how other religions observe the Sabbath/ day of rest
    3- teaching children about the Sabbath–what do you remember from growing up, what was good or bad, what are current challenges as a parent
    4- how to prepare for the Sabbath throughout the week
    5- deciding for yourself what good Sabbath activities are, while not judging what other people do
    6- applied Sabbath–service, such as visiting a nursing home, or no class, to allow people to study the scriptures or spend time with family or rest or whatever.

  28. I was in Primary so didn’t attend the council. But based on the weekly RS email, and comments from people who were there, I understand the topic was unity (which is a little funny to me, given that on any given Sunday about 30 women are in Primary and YW and miss RS altogether, but whatever). Apparently there was a lot of discussion, and a lot of comments from people who are normally quiet and, somewhat unexpectedly, the theme that emerged was that a lot of people feel alone, or feel that they need a friend, or feel that friendships in the ward are already long established so it’s hard to integrate.

    I understand they did the circle thing, which may be why they had more than the usual comments from the usual people.

  29. BB,
    What is “no cross talk”? Is it just not talking when someone else is speaking, or does it have something to do with responding to other’s ideas?

  30. I’d love to do a lesson called “When your ass is in a pit” on Sabbath observance, just because the phrase “ox in the mire” is not actually used in association with Sabbath-keeping in the scriptures, but somehow that’s become a Mormon phrase. It’s actually ox or ass in a pit.

  31. Angela C,

    I’ve got a two year-old and an infant. My ass is in a pit seven days a week, but the sabbath is especially delightful. You can’t put three hours at ANY point during daylight hours and not interrupt a nap or a meal.

    I’m a fourth Sunday teacher, and I’m definitely tempted. ;-)

  32. Aside from a few hiccups because of the newness of the program and the cluelessness of the facilitator (me) I thought it went pretty well. However, my daughter said, “It was weird”. Change is always that way at first. However, I’m excited to think about how this could unify our ward as we are all searching for ways to help and support each other. We did put our chairs in a large oval and faced each other like every other council I have been part of. A concern was raised that the introverts won’t get a chance to contribute as only the dominant voices will feel comfortable enough to share ideas. Another sister suggested a box out in the hall so that sisters in YW & PRI as well as those not willing or able to share in a group setting could write down their feelings, so that will be implemented.
    Our topic for January was UNITY. We took it from the first line in the hymn “As Sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together.” ACTION: We then challenged the sisters to “work together” with another sister in our ward this month. Make a meal together to take into another sister, take a class together (self reliance sign-ups are going on right now),or just do something with another sister in our ward, no matter how small. The bishop stopped in at the end and said he could feel a nice spirit in the room. Everyone was respectful and excited without going off on their personal agendas, so hopefully that will continue?

  33. Mortimer,

    I probably used the wrong phrase. In AA/Al Anon/ACA “no cross talk” means no commenting directly on what someone else has just said. This is a good rule because it avoids arguments and keeps people focused on their own lives. But our Relief Society president just asked us not to talk when someone else was talking. (Our RS tends to have quite a bit of chatter so Sunday was an improvement.)

    I think I used the phrase cross talk because someone up thread mentioned that the new improved RS reminded them of AA. I have no personal experience with AA, but it did remind me of Al Anon and ACA in terms of the depth of the discussion. Kind of intense and upon reflection I’m wondering if I can do this every week. ;)

  34. That old teacher development manual needs to be changed to; Facilitation: No Greater Call. Stephen Covey has finally made it to the inside track.

  35. I was in primary therefore didn’t attend; however, our RS precisdency emailed out the notes which I appreciated. I’m still trying to figure out why the bishop facilitated the discussion?

  36. I teach in the Elders Quorum and we always sit in a circle. On low days we’ll have eleven people, but on some days with visitors it’ll be close to 40 and the circle takes up 1/4 – 1/3 of the cultural hall. Except for the lessons from the Gospel Topics Essays. For those, the member of the presidency has usually wanted a chalk board, and the ability to get through all of the content. Discussion could wait for the end.
    When setting up the chairs I make an intentional effort to not have a “back row”. I can’t help but wonder if it drove one member to move. His family moved in, they were active, I started making sure that there wasn’t a back row, he stopped showing up and a few months later the ward was caught by surprise when they moved to a different ward in the Stake. Am I giving myself too much credit? probably. But I wonder if it was a contributing factor.
    My last two Elders Quorums have always been doing discussions. They’ve generally been the best lessons that I’ve had as an adult in church. Sometimes I feel that we miss out on quotes from the manual, but not most of the time.
    Last month in teacher training, it was the instructor, myself and three Relief Society teachers. They were freaking out about not having perfectly prepared, scripted lectures to follow. The idea of class consisting of discussion really made them nervous. I was more focused on the same subject six times in a row – given the fact that I’m the fourth Sunday teacher. The instructor said that perhaps we (as a people) are doing the Sabbath wrong and maybe with six lessons on it, we’ll do better. He then asked what I thought we were doing wrong, and I started to tell him. I think he was uncomfortable with my answer because he changed topics before I could finish.
    But now I think I’m up for the challenge of preparing and delivering six lessons on the Sabbath.
    It will be interesting to see how much “return and report” comes from the first Sunday initiatives. We had Stake Conference last week, so the EQ Presidency gets a few more weeks to figure that out. But they also need to figure out six months worth of General Conference talks to go over. I suspect that those are going to be scheduled about a week a head of time.
    The only time that “cross talk” has been an issue was when I taught in November. A class member made a comment a long the lines of “the president of the church isn’t infallible.” Then three or so class members made comments pointing the needle towards “the president of the church is infallible” – not using those words of course – and wouldn’t let it go until the first person conceded his point. He never did.

  37. Senior sister says:

    The Sunday before the first meeting the RS President announced that we would be talking about self improvement. She asked each of us to go deep into ourselves and find the thing we most wanted to change and share that. We would also be sitting in a circle of chairs which she would ask the brethern to take care of after GD class. She got a huge amount of push back from “we are not supposed to share personal information (including our own) and this feels like an AA meeting. We did sit in a large circle crammed tightly together which the sisters arranged themselves as none of the brethern responded to her request for help.. (40+ sisters) She modified the discussion to ideas to help us motivate ourselves. It basically turned into a discussion of what can we do to motivate ourselves to read the Book of Mormon daily. The same conversation we have been having for over 20 years. No action plan was decided upon. I hope next time we do better.

  38. Great prompts and great responses. I was hopeful for a few seconds when my wife first told me we were dropping the old manuals, but discouraged as soon as she filled me in on the new curriculum. Given that nowadays all our sacrament meeting talks are based on conference talks (to go along with TFOT 4th-Sunday lessons up through the end of last year), I was already—LONG since—brethrened the heck out. In HPs last week, we talked about unity, and it turned into planning a barbecue, so that was okay. (I’m bringing a spicy potato salad.) Today, the lesson was on a Jeff Holland talk—“Be Ye Therefore Perfect, Gradually”—so it could have been worse. With 23 more of those GA lessons to go this year, and more of the same for who-knows-how-many years in the future, we won’t always be so lucky, and I’ll probably be volunteering to help out a LOT in the nursery.

  39. Jack Hughes says:

    Just prior to the beginning of the year, our stake had a special teacher training meeting about the new curriculum. The main takeaway was “less teaching, more facilitating discussion”. Unfortunately, some teachers in my ward are using this guidance as permission to prepare less. The result–less substantial material to talk about, but more time for talking about it, so the discussion is vapid and unfocused. Or just long stretches of dead air. So far, the new way isn’t working for us.

  40. Sharon Hodges says:

    We used our 1st Sunday as a “How this is going to work” discussion and even discussed what topics our sisters felt we needed to work on. One problem we have is sometimes we don’t feel the spirit in our meetings because of opinions expressed or attitudes shown (yes, i’m afraid we’re human!) I’m 2nd councilor in our presidency and have the opportunity to work with our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Sunday teachers. Our 4th Sunday teacher and I discussed the “Sabbath” topic and think it’s actually a good idea- she has so many directions she can go under this topic- it doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be about the Sacrament, for instance, EVERY Sunday. We discussed looking for things like- What can/should we do on the Sabbath? That opens up a whole world of topics like scripture study, family history, missionary work, etc. As far at the circle, ours looks like my kindergarten class fixed the chairs. :-) We have about 30 sisters each Sunday in a not-so-large room, but we will do our best to follow the council given…..

  41. Jessica Paramore says:

    I am not a fan. I am not going to make comments in a group of 40 women, and it will be the same ones saying the same things most of the time bc they like to talk and ‘share’. We were told we would report next week on what we did to help someone this week, which I would never do. “Listen to what I did for someone this week”- no thanks. I sisn’t feel like I learned anything or that I left inspired, which I know is a personal thing but my personality isn’t going to do well with this format. I also wish RS was divided into groups then it could be more of a discussion format.

  42. Holly damron says:

    I can’t help but notice many are not using the 4th Sunday Sabbath topics provided by the first presidency the are in the November ensign and lds.org

  43. Sharolyn Murray says:

    We have done the circle for 3 months now, overall very positive experience! Most of the women liked it. We have had a couple problems, though I would love sooner insight if anyone else has had similar problems.

    1st- several women can’t hear comments being made. Which actually happens in any setting, but how do you get a discussion going if people cant hear other comments? Any suggestion would be great to help that.

    2nd- How do you approach setting up the circle in the start? We are the 9:00 ward (first in the building). Sacrament is first, Sunday school 2nd, RS last. We have been setting up the chairs before sacrament, which means the Sunday school class is in the circle setting. It seems to distract the setting for this class and teacher, as well as there are more people in that class then RS women so the circle is harder to do. What are others experience or suggestions with setting up the chairs in a circle?

  44. Karen D Woodruff says:

    Sharolyn, we have 9am church with the same schedule. The brethren from Sunday School help set up the circle before the leave for priesthood. As far as women not hearing, maybe have the person facilitating sit near those who are hard of hearing and restate what the person in the room just said if they have a quieter voice.