Testimony Meeting Reflects Our Equality Before Christ

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I don’t often bear my testimony in Church, but when I do, it’s about Christ’s love.

This last Sunday, I bore my testimony because I was struck by how beautiful the practice of fast and testimony meeting is.  I know we often crack jokes about it being “open mike Sunday,” where our fellow congregants make some of the kookiest statements.  But for me, the fact that every single member is invited to speak about faith and struggles and answers to prayers is what makes each first Sunday so refreshing.  It’s the favorite meeting of my Catholic fiancé, too, because it so starkly contrasts from high-church liturgy and Priest-perfected edicts.

I find testimony meetings beautiful because they’re so imperfect.  We talk about the Church being “true,” but what resonates as most “true” to me is the frank acknowledgment of community imperfections. 

We try to cap congregation sizes around 300 so that everyone knows each other.  We have a lay clergy and calling system so that everyone serves and teaches each other.  We have “ministers” who love and befriend each other.  Ordinary speakers give powerful sermons, and members give impromptu testimonies about the workings of the spirit amidst our flawed world.  We are a complete mess of imperfect people who sin and don’t really have systematic theology and make human errors constantly, yet at our best we set that aside to build the body of Christ by forming ward families that love and lift each other up.

I feel the spirit most strongly in testimony meetings, because it is often there that we set aside canned statements and call-and-response answers and instead lead with raw emotions.  It’s where we hear about divorce and job loss and doubt and pain; healing and forgiveness and conversion and joy.  We build Zion through shared suffering.

This Sunday, the Spirit bore witness with my spirit, that we are all the children of God.  Our testimony meeting was perfection.  There was never a silent moment, and those bearing witness of Christ ranged across young and old, male and female, immigrants and citizens, black and brown and white, converts and lifelong members.  Each and every testimony helped me love them, their stories, and their contributions to our ward family more.  Each and every testimony invited the spirit and filled me with gratitude for Christ.  In sharing testimonies, I realized, all are equal before God.

After this spiritual feast, I snuck out of the building because I’d been asked to help guest teach a relief society lesson in another ward.  As I drove across town, my spiritual joy suddenly morphed into malcontent.  I couldn’t understand why, so I started praying.  And then I realized why.  The testimony meeting I had just experienced?  That’s what I wish General Conference was like.  Instead of hearsay about General Authorities’ experiences with widows and orphans and divorcees and refugees and LGBT youth (etc.) – what if we heard the raw testimonies of those widows and orphans and divorces and refugees and LGBT youth firsthand?  Zion is found in their experiences and pains, and it is their direct voices I long to hear – just like is modeled every month in my ward.

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash

Comments

  1. I’m glad your F&T meeting was so fantastic, but the takeaway is that it was so wonderful it left you malcontent with General Conference? I’ve been at some fantastic F&T meeting, and I’ve been at some really bad ones, but I’ve never thought of F&T meeting and General Conference having the same role.

  2. I think the deeper desire is I just wish our globally televised speeches, etc. reflected the full depth of the global church.

  3. A new approach to a day I dread as embarrassing disaster. From your perspective it’s actually just the opposite even when, or especially when, it’s an embarrassing disaster. You have spoken the overlooked obvious – a valuable thing, thank you.

  4. I expressed similar sentiments about a testimony meeting, recently. I got some strong pushback reminding me that much depends on the culture of the Ward. I’m in a place where real people express real feelings and experiences. Enough so that I could write a similar piece. But there appear to be many places where the local cultural expectations squeeze everybody into stock phrases or silence. I would not enjoy that.

    Regarding General Conference, it is understandably provocative to criticize, but I follow in the sense that if I could have more testimonies (an apostle about what he really believes and experiences, in his own words) and less instruction, I would vote for that and I believe *I* would be more motivated, learn more, and end up a better person.

  5. @christiankimball: Yeah, the dark underside of the strength of our culture is that the communities can quickly morph into insular and shunning, rather than open and welcoming. But I try to respond to that with hope and painting a vision of what we can be.

    I also would love, as an interim step, more apostles telling raw personal stories about serious doubts and struggles and depression of their own.

  6. Timely post.

    So what do you all think of using Fast and Testimony meeting as a platform to vent your (nonward member) spleen with regard to misconduct by a ward member?

    Especially when accompanied by a cameraman who specializes in hidden camera Temple videos?

    Does your answer depend on if you agree with the cause being espoused?

    Jb

  7. I suspect that feeling is because the talks at General Conference are always prepared and read off a teleprompter, and designed (artificially) to showcase Mormonism to the world at our “best” (someone’s idea of what our best is anyway). I agree it feels somewhat rehearsed and corporate and dull at times, although the only strong criticism of General Conference I feel is when the 70s who are asked to speak or give prayers feel (to me) like they are auditioning for a promotion. That’s not all those talks by a long stretch, but some individuals come off that way to me, particularly the prayers (which are always about 56 minutes too long), but also an occasional talk.

  8. Carolyn, thanks for describing us at our best. On reading the OP I first wished my ward could experience that and then started considering whether my perceptions of my ward might be inaccurate and, if not, what I could do about it.

  9. Thank you for your comments. I concur. So much of what we are taught during Church meetings are overly scripted and correlated. But a testimony meeting often has a spontaneity and freshness from real saints, wrestling with real problems, and trying — even imperfectly — to live a more Christ-like life. I am often moved to hear that others share my doubts and disappointments, and I learn of perspectives and approaches that can help me to cope. It is the power of our shared desire to be better individuals, coupled with our shared imperfections, that make these meetings meaningful to me.

    Except for Deiter and sometimes Holland, I often have difficulty relating to our General Authorities. They are without exception Type A individuals (if not spiritually, then certainly organizationally), and as a result the Church has come to expect all of us to be Type A personalities when most of us are something less. (I recall a General Authority mentioning once that there was nothing he enjoyed more after a day at church than spending a Sunday evening fireside with his family — I’m not there yet).

    And there is always the excitement of not knowing who or what will be said next. I will quote Elder Packer who once told our Stake that “Regimentation stifles revelation.” If only that philosophy had found greater acceptance in general.

    Long live the unregimented revelation from our Type B & C saints that is often revealed in our fast and testimony meetings.

  10. Beautifully said, Carolyn. (I worry, though, that the mixed-bag spontaneity of a local ward testimony meeting could be disastrous at the scale of a conference being beamed in real-time to a global membership.)

  11. Beautiful, Carolyn.

  12. More and more F and T meeting is about “Eternal Families.” I wish I could have come to your ward where the focus was on Jesus’s love and grace.

    The eternal family worship makes me feel completely adrift. Am I the _only_ one who sees family as kind of a mixed bag? Am I the _only_ one who has mixed feelings about spending forever with these people?

    Family is a lot of tough, thankless work most of my days. And no amount of imperfect-perfect love changes the expectations we build on the family roles. Family can also be extremely isolating. It’s not just this happy idealic picture for me. It’s a mixed bag. But it’s all cake and ice cream from the puplits in my community.

    Jesus love for me is unconditional. He doesn’t expect me to wipe the poo from his bum or make him dinner or go out and earn a paycheck or schedule all the appointments or make sure that birthdays and holidays are observed to everyone’s satsifaction. I need Jesus more than I need to be a wife and mother to my people for ever and ever. More and more I feel like I’m in the Church of Eternal Familes of Latter-day Saints. But families are imperfect. They do selfish things. They can be mean and abusive. Why doesn’t anyone realize how dangerous this eternal family idolization is?

    Maybe I’m in the wrong church.

  13. Jack Hughes says:

    I can count on one hand the number of F&T meetings I’ve sat through that I would consider uplifting or enjoyable. The last one was over 8 years ago. Most of the time, I dread it. The idea of privileging extemporaneous speech as being spiritually superior is offensive to my introvert heart. It ends up being predictable and repetitive, with occasional moments of cringe-worthy weirdness that do nothing for me spiritually. I would be happy to do away with F&T completely.

  14. Amen Amy!! We often say “maybe families are forever is NOT such a good idea.”

  15. i really loved what one tough mother said this last sunday:
    “i know i am not perfect and i will always make mistakes and not do it right.
    But i will NEVER stop trying, i will always try to do the right thing.”
    simple, but it hit me with force. i need to always try to do right.

  16. jack hughes, not trying to be rude here,
    do you think the book of mormon should be tossed too?
    the whole book is people telling their testimonies, trials, spiritual moments.
    lol. just my pov.
    what do you think of Almas conversion story?

  17. Two Thoughts:
    1) Testimony meetings have the potential to become a complete disaster, but with that, a completely spiritual meeting. I would never give them up, no matter how many times I cringe.

    2) A long time ago in the Priesthood GC sessions, the occasional famous athlete or some such would give a talk. I see no harm in having the occasional other speakers, but I don’t feel the way as you do, I am deeply moved by many conference talks, and often ones that were meh to me when I heard them are spiritually uplifting when I read them later. So it seems to me you are taking an extreme in that regard.

  18. Single Sister says:

    Man, how I hate F&T Meetings. They are boring, repetitive and mostly people talking about how wonderful they are, their new boat or car or how proud they are that their kid got into medical school, etc.. Rarely anything about Jesus. When there is I sit up straight and pay attention. Unfortunately I haven’t sat up straight for a while. I now avoid them as often as I can and stay home and read my scriptures (or listen to Conference Talks) and enjoy knowing I’m not sitting in a pew getting mad. (I’m an introvert as well as Jack, so no, I don’t get up. If nothing else I might just blast the people who just finished their 10 minute “testimony” on their latest trip to Disneyland).