Building Zion. In Two Hours Per Week.

We’re weeks away from the end of the three-hour block. Implemented in 1980, the three-hour block was, in part, a response to the energy crisis, in part a recognition that as the church expanded, the time it took to get to church (over and over) could potentially be burdensome. And (in reasoning that reflects the current change), it was meant to reemphasize the importance of individual and family gospel study.

Now, I was super-young in 1980; I have vague memories of going to Primary on weekday nights, but, on the other hand, I was young enough that I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what a weekend was, so maybe I’m retroactively imposing memories on the shift. It’s fair to say, though, that I don’t remember what the reaction to the shift was, or how well it met its goals.

And I’m pretty much as happy as anybody about the change. (Okay, not as happy as anybody; my kids are past napping, so three hours doesn’t risk imposing on nap times and making everybody in the house grumpy.)

That said, I see some potential pitfalls in the new, shorter schedule. They’re avoidable, but it will take work to avoid them, so we need to recognize them.

Building Zion

This, to me, is the big potential issue. Family is important, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a ward where the nuclear family has been underemphasized. But strengthening our families is only one of our communal obligations. We should be actively working to build Zion, a society where we are of one heart and one mind, and where there are no poor among us.

We can build Zion on several levels, but if we limit our Zion-building to our own homes, we’ve abdicated our responsibility to the larger body of Christ and the larger world around us.

I mean, the two-hour block gives us an extra hour each week that we can serve our community. But it takes away an hour we spend with our co-congregants. For some (the extroverts, those who live in Mormon-dense communities), that may not be a problem. If you interact with your ward members outside of church, dropping an hour of formal interaction probably affects your community-building marginally, if at all.

But not everybody is an extrovert. Not everybody live in a Mormon-dense community. I’m an extrovert, so I can’t speak from experience about introverts. But I can speak to Mormon density. Most weeks, the only time I see or talk to a Mormon who isn’t in my immediate family is at church. There are all sorts of reasons underlying that (age, place in life, level of extracurricular activities), but one significant one is, there aren’t a ton of Mormons who live near me. I have kids in three public schools here in Chicago.[fn1] Between the three schools, only one has any Mormon kids who aren’t my kids, and that other Mormon kid is probably seven grades ahead of mine. There are no Mormons who work where I work. Or who work where my wife works. Or who are on my kids’ sports teams. Or who live nearby.[fn2]

Building community—building Zion—requires love, which requires interaction. And we now have about fifty fewer hours of ordinary interaction every year. That’s not necessarily a bug, but it’s something we need to recognize, and something we need to actively take into account as we work to create a Zion community.

Home Gospel Learning

As Mormons, we do pretty well on our religious knowledge.

Part of the reason, I suspect, is that we spend at least three hours a week at church and, as abysmal as the teaching can be, we’re at least exposed to some degree of religious discussion. That we also rotate teaching can’t hurt, either.

Now, we’re spending an hour less a week in formal religious discussion (and, as my bishop pointed out, we also will have fewer callings to go around, so we’ll likely spend less time preparing lessons). I can’t help but think that’s going to impact our collective religious knowledge.

Not for everyone, of course. Some of use will definitely use the extra hour we have to study on our own, or with our families.

But not everybody will. Not everybody has the skills or knowledge base to productively teach themselves religious topics (and, based on my quick skim of the new manuals, they are abysmal).

And not everybody can. I mean, I’ll be able to—my wife, kids, and I attend church and share roughly the same religious convictions. But not every family does. I’ll go so far as to say, some families are hostile toward the church and religious discussion at home. Those individuals—and those who aren’t married, are divorced, are widowed, or otherwise don’t have immediate family to study with—are left without the community, without the discussion, that they enjoy at church.

Again, there are ways to deal productively with this. For some, maybe they get together with other likeminded folks (though that means that they’ve had to not only add a church-equivalent meeting, but they may have to spend extra time traveling, taking them effectively to a pre-consolidated block schedule). Others, though—I’m thinking of individuals with hostile family members—aren’t going to have that as an option.

So how do we deal with the problems of building Zion and of getting enough religious instruction? I don’t know, but I’d be curious to hear your ideas. What can we do individually? What can our wards and stakes do? What can the general church do? It seems to me like a pressing issue, one that risks getting lost in the celebration of a church schedule that better matches our internet-destroyed attention spans.[fn3]


[fn1] Long story about how public schools work here.

[fn2] I mean, there are probably one or two within a couple miles, but at urban density, that’s a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the people who live near us.

[fn3] Or maybe our television-destroyed attention spans? I mean, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what destroyed our attention spans, just that they’ve been destroyed.

Comments

  1. My biggest concern is not getting to have Relief Society every week. I find Sunday School emotionally exhausting and like I need to speak up and contradict bad information and redirect away from “us v them” discussions in a way I don’t with other women. I will miss interacting with and hearing from my sisters every week.

  2. Not a Cougar says:

    I asked about a stake-wide adult Institute class. There’s just not enough people who could attend on a regular basis to make it work at the ward level; however, it would definitely be doable on a stake level (and our stake is geographically compact enough to make it work). The stake president pleasantly dismissed the suggestion out of hand. Sigh.

  3. My biggest worry is closely related to what you’ve said about Building Zion, Sam.

    One of the biggest things I’ve learned as a church leader (not saying a good or one) is the value of the church as community. Like you, I’m in an area where member density is low. There are a couple kinds of families I’m already worried about in our ward (a little stereotyping here to make the point):

    Family X is an affluent family with a big house and all the amenities that go with it. They are active, and (as we all should) they prioritize family over church–but for them, this means that club sports trumps YM/YW, any family activity trumps any church activity, and a calling that would cut into family time (including club sports, etc.) should not be accepted. They are well-liked in the ward, but they just aren’t part of the community and their kids are rarely there to support or be supported by the other kids.

    Family Y has a large extended family in the area, and they all live within a few minutes’ drive. They gather regularly at one of the homes, and when they come to ward activities, they all sit together. They are active and consider themselves the backbone of the ward, but are a little on the fringe when it comes to callings that require them to really move out of the shelter of the family. The cousins are best friends, but have no close associates among the other YM/YW/primary kids.

    Family Z is almost totally inactive in the eyes of most ward members but good church members in their own eyes. Their home looks like a typical LDS home with temple photos on the walls and “families are forever” plaques, but they haven’t been to sacrament meeting in at least a year, and none of their kids knows the other kids in the ward. Their kids are home-schooled, and the family is truly and completely the center of their lives.

    While LDS doctrine clearly teaches us to be full participants in both our church community and our bigger community, Mormon culture is not immune to — in some ways feeds — the us-and-them polarization of today’s U.S. society. Will less time at church and more emphasis on “family-centered, church-supported” push us toward becoming silo-ed in our families?

  4. Not a cougar, With the current authorization/encouragement of study groups beyond the nuclear family home, it would seem there is no reason why such an institute “class” could not be organized to take place in someone’s home AND no reason why it needs stake president approval. Why not just find a teacher/discussion leader and do it with invitations privately and by word of mouth rather than through the church organization? Your experience reminds me of hearing President Marion G. Romney tell the BYU student body that it is easier to get forgiveness than permission. It reminds me of the story I heard from some who served in the Switzerland Zurich mission long ago. It seems those who were in areas near the temple in Zollikofen often did temple ordinances rather than proselyting. Since ineffective tracting was essentially the only proselyting method then permitted and the local brethren could not keep up with the temple ordinances done by the local sisters, it seemed a good idea. Then suddenly word came from SLC that no full time missionaries were permitted to go to the temple. On inquiry, it appeared that a new Mission President in Hawaii had asked whether it was permissible and someone in SLC decided that, since not all missionaries worldwide could do temple work, none should. By that same logic no member anywhere should do temple work! So, if you don’t want permission denied don’t ask. Don’t ask if you can do a good thing, just do it. Could that approach work for you?

  5. Sam, you’ve articulated much of what I’ve thought about the possible unintended effects of this change. As I said in a comment at T&S soon after conference, I asked a woman in my ward, never married, no immediate family close by, and retired, what she thought about the change. She said, “That’s just one more hour a week a week I have to spend alone.” If this were 1950 and we all had large, extended, Leave It To Beaver intact families, maybe reducing by one third the amount of time we spend together in church and instructing us to rely on those families would be simple and effective. But more and more church members fall outside of that demographic, which makes doubling down on family seem to be problematic solution.

  6. In smaller branches, I imagine they will use the extra time to do more meals and get-togethers after church. That’s something the smaller branches in our stake already do more than the wards do.

  7. I’d have to go back and read it, but I thought Elder Anderson actually mentioned that in his conference talk.

  8. Elder Andersen said that informal study groups were okay. Here’s my concern, as a member of a YSA ward in the American Midwest: it’s going to be really easy for people to fall into the cracks. We’ll still have church and FHE and institute classes available, but I think study groups are going to be critical for ward socialization and gospel learning. And those groups require knowing people in the ward with compatible schedules. We’re really going to have to stay on top of ministering to make sure people don’t get ignored. Maybe I’m just a cynic, but I don’t think it’s going to be an easy adjustment, especially for those without family nearby.

  9. JKC, what Jessa said. I’m not trying to argue for or against the 2-hour block: it’s a done deal. But I am trying to highlight some disconnects that could happen. They won’t inevitably happen, but I think we need to recognize them and affirmatively guard against them.

  10. The emphasis on building Zion? I think a problem with that idea is that to many members, it’s already an exclusionary idea. By this I mean that for some reason, “building Zion” seems to be code for “let’s build a church-centered community exclusive of the secular communities with which we also associate” (which is not the same thing as recognizing that within our ward/branches/stakes, we do have opportunities to support each other, included in Alma’s teaching to those he baptized, as found in Mosiah 18. But what if building Zion actually means bringing “Zion,” whatever that means to each one of us, into the communities which we are also part of that aren’t the same as our church community? I get that there are reasons why some will miss 3-hour church. I just think lamenting that without it, we can’t build Zion, misses the point of actually creating whatever Zion is supposed to be, since I clearly don’t believe Zion is supposed to be a an exclusive enclave, literally or figuratively, for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

  11. Oh for sure. I was just noting that I think this will play out very differently in the large wards and the small branches.

  12. Allison, I don’t think I’m lamenting that we can’t build Zion without three hours of face time at church every week. What I think I’m doing is pointing out that decreasing out time in church introduces new challenges to supporting our religious community, and that we need to actively account for those challenges, not assume that everything will stay the same when our time at church changes.

  13. Ryan Mullen says:

    “Building community—building Zion—requires love, which requires interaction. And we now have about fifty fewer hours of ordinary interaction every year.”

    I appreciate your focus on building Zion, Sam. That is my favorite part of the Latter-day Saint take on the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, I suspect those 50 hours you’re referencing haven’t done much to build Zion. My suspicion is grounded partly in the pragmatic—why would Pres Nelson & co. change the schedule if it was working—and partly anecdotal—I’ve sat through a lot of poorly taught lessons in which I’m mentally checked out.

    Not a cougar & JR, I am starting such a study group. I’m first working through the leadership chain, just because I think it will be easiest if I can announce it at church. But if that doesn’t work out, I’ll do it by private invitation. I read tons of biblical scholarship and church history anyway. Might as well do it in a group.

  14. Are people in YSAs really attending all three hours of church to begin with? I’m much more concerned with some of these other groups, but as someone who attended a variety of YSAs in a variety of states over ten years, two or one hour church was the norm. A lot of people showed up for sacrament meeting and then left. Overall I agree with your point, I’ve just always been puzzled when people say this is going to hit YSAs the hardest.

  15. J. Stapley says:

    I agree on both points, Sam. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and only have some tentative ideas about how to proceed.

  16. it's a series of tubes says:

    However, I suspect those 50 hours you’re referencing haven’t done much to build Zion. My suspicion is grounded partly in the pragmatic—why would Pres Nelson & co. change the schedule if it was working—and partly anecdotal—I’ve sat through a lot of poorly taught lessons in which I’m mentally checked out.

    Bingo.

  17. When the writer states, “We should be actively working to build Zion, a society where we are of one heart and one mind, and where there are no poor among us”, is it to be implied that non Mormons are not to be in Zion? Doesn’t this extra hour give everyone an opportunity to get out and about in their community? To build Zion?? I grew up in an area around Seattle where myself and my 2 sisters were the only Mormons in our grade school, junior high and high school. Not a Mormon neighbor to seen. My Father didn’t work with any Mormons and my Mother did charitable service with the neighboring Catholics. We went to their weddings and funerals and everything in between. It did us great good to have close relationships with people who differ in their religious opinions. It was an eye opener to see what other churches were doing.

    Also, those 2 sisters of mine never married and are single in their 50’s. They told me that extra hour will give them time to visit elderly neighbors and help at the local soup kitchen since they both work full time. I think members need to get out of their bubbles and meet the public head on Our local Baptists currently go to church for 70 minutes and then open up their food bank and counseling service area. I wish the LDS church did stuff like that.

  18. +1 JasonB, but I think the observation doesn’t apply only to YSAs. Lots of people bail out after one hour. My hopeful view is that reducing to a 2-hour block will entice some people to stay an hour longer than they customarily do.

  19. Sara K., I expressly mention developing Zion in our communities in the OP.

  20. Not a Cougar says:

    JR, thanks. You are correct that no permission is needed and we did seriously discuss such an arrangement but we came to the conclusion that we would need a deeper pool than word of mouth would get us (it’s surprising how few of us know very many people outside our ward – and Jessa’s point above also plays into this) and the fact that no one in our ward really wants to host in his or her home on even an occasional basis.

    We also acknowledged the weight that a stake presidency endorsement of such a group would carry in making members comfortable showing up. Maybe these all sound like excuses but similar previous attempts in our ward didn’t fare well.

  21. A BCC post by Carolyn (10/16/18) quotes Elder Cook re: these groups, seemingly for those without a current tradtional family unit and using the Come Follow Me manual.

    We had a special meeting on Sunday in my ward to discuss the manual, which encourages use in FHE and individual and family scripture study sessions.

    It’s not unrealistic, six months from now, to imagine a First Pres letter read in Sac Mtg redirecting us and discouraging the freewheeling study groups everyone is so excited about.

  22. I feel bad for the people that this change is hard for. We had several people upset in fast and testimony meeting. For me, personally, attending all 3 hours is an obedience test. I remember reading that Joseph Smith Sr. felt like he got more spirituality from nature than attending the local methodist meetings (I think he felt more positively about LDS church). I sympathize with that, it is how I feel. I can’t imagine enjoying 3 hour church and am so relieved for the bit of reprieve.

  23. Chet, That is possible. On the other hand, the Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families is the basis for Sunday school class for which an additional manual is provided including the instruction to teachers:

    “As you discuss doctrine from the scriptures, what verses, quotations, experiences, questions, and additional resources might you share?”

    “Additional resources” is a rather broad term (to say nothing of “questions”) and there are plenty of such resources to consider. The letter you imagine would be inconsistent with this instruction, but certainly not the first inconsistency in church policy or doctrine for that matter. I don’t think I’m ready to presume that such study groups need to be “freewheeling” in any negative sense in order to be able to study in much greater depth than what will be possible in a family with a wide age range or in Sunday school. I think I’d rather look at this as an attempt to motivate taking responsibility for such study. If it gets shut down somehow in the future, so what?

  24. JasonB: I think an extra layer of difficulty regarding the study groups as currently suggested which is exacerbated in YSA wards is the need for consistency. YSA wards have a pretty high degree of turnover (marriages, school schedules, job changes, etc) so the unit has to readjust every 4-6 months. This is going to make meaningful and regular study tricky. Obviously family wards have changes all the time too as people move in and out, but there’s not the widescale restructuring 2-3 times a year. It’ll be difficult across the board but there are elements that make it harder for wards like mine.

    Loursat: I think the approximate percentage of folks who stick around for the last two hours is the same in my parents’ ward and my ward. But we’ll see how that holds up a year from now.

  25. ‪I disagree on few points: 1) Zion should first be established in the home (DC 88). And this means more than being nice to each other (every once and a while), it means posseing charitable love, which few of us have and does mean completely removing contention from the home. One way of doing this is by studying the word together as a family. I think having an hour to do this alone is helpful and sets on the right track. Plus, each family can learn based on its needs. 2) Having “religious knowledge” does not equal knowing the mysteries of God, with the later being knowledge that brings about Zion. Moreover, religious knowledge does not = a Zion disposition. The Pharisees were very knowledge pertaining to the scriptures, looked out they turned out. 3) There will still be time to meet with each other. 1 hour less is marginal. Plus, extroverts can pray and ask the Lord for people they can help. 4) Last, I think Church has become to involved in our life’s and we have relied too much on it for instruction and learning.

  26. So how do we deal with the problems of building Zion and of getting enough religious instruction?

    Zion can only be built by both doing and teaching the things the Lord commanded us to do and teach (Matthew 5:19-20 [compare JST Matthew 5:21]; 3 Nephi 12:20; 3 Nephi 15:1 [see also vv 2-10]; 1 Nephi 13:40-42).

    Luke 6:20-49 can be covered in under an hour, and 3 Nephi chapters 11-14 can be covered in probably around two hours. This is the law of the celestial kingdom (Luke 6:29; 3 Nephi 14:12) and the principles, or unbreakable rules of conduct (JST Matthew 16:27), which spring from it, and only upon these can Zion be built (D&C 105:2-5).

    Upon this law and these principles none of us will call anything we possess our own, and thus there may be no poor among us, for we will not withhold from any (3 Nephi 26:19-20; 4 Nephi 1:3; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 4:32).

    This is the path to Zion.

  27. Not a Cougar says:

    Jessa, I’m honestly curious. Does Institute fill some of the need you are talking about or are you in an over-30 ward?

  28. Jessa, one way to extend the word-of-mouth reach is to send an invitation via email to each of the RS presidents in your area and asking them to send it out on their email lists. They can put a disclaimer on it, making sure everyone knows it’s not church -sponsored, but that you’re interested in forming a study group (add a quote from a Gen Conf talk mentioning that they’re kosher) and that may get you some interest. I think you only need 3-5 committed attendees to make it worth it. If it’s too big, it’s hard to make it feel like a discussion group.

  29. I was really hoping there’d be a calling “church supporter of home based church”? I think it would be really interesting and challenging to help families and individuals take advantage of the resources available. Sending out email reminders of what the lesson that week is, adding links to applicable videos and stories from the church online library. Suggesting discussion questions. Sitting down with people who want a little help figuring out how to adapt to the new curriculum and make it work for their family, etc. There is so much material that the Church has put online over the past few years, but very few are aware of it, or how to find it.

  30. jes, a relative of mine appears to have received a calling in which he will promote and support home study of the gospel. It seems to be an idea that his stake president came up with.

    That leads me to a couple of other thoughts about Sam’s excellent post. Like most things in the Church, the success of the reduced meeting block will depend on local initiative. We often think of Church “programs” as Church-wide and centrally controlled, but that way of thinking is a trap. The execution of the idea is everything, and all of the execution happens within wards and branches. Success depends on us, not on the people in the Church Office Building. If we’re serious about improvement as we move to the new meeting schedule, we will not be shy about initiatives that are tailored to the needs of particular wards, neighborhoods, and individuals.

    I don’t see the change to a two-hour schedule as a loss, largely because I don’t think we’ve been using the three-hour block very well. For me and for everyone I know, the three-hour schedule has become stale. In terms of gospel learning and worship, I think we can accomplish just as much in two hours as we have been doing in three. The tiredness of our meeting schedule means that the challenges that Sam identifies in the OP have existed for quite a while; our meetings have been falling short.

    The new schedule is not creating these challenges, but it gives us a great opportunity to tackle these challenges in fresh ways. Having fewer callings available is a blessing if it means that we are handing out less busywork. We can refocus those resources on new activities–both devotional and social activities–that build faith and build a sense of community. I can see that there will be some who miss the third hour. Wards should organize smaller-scale activities that fill that social void–and realize that we can serve people much better than what we’ve done lately with the third hour. Above, all, we shouldn’t wait for someone else to take the initiative. If you have an idea for the people you’re with, work it.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    I was 22 in 1980 when we went to the block, so I grew up with the old “The church is your whole life” approach. Gold and Grren Balls, Road Shows, camping trips, the whole nine yards. It was a great way to grow up, and quite possibly the reason I’m still activel today.

  32. Great post Sam.

    Your comment about 50 hours less time per person per year to build Zion made me reach for my calculator to see how much less time that is for the church as a whole. Assuming 16 million members and a 30% activity rate I calculate that this change will mean that in a given year, collectively, we Mormons will have 240 million fewer hours to be with and strengthen one another.

    I wonder if the research they did and the pilot programs they ran before announcing this “historic revelation” were able to accurately predict what 240 million fewer hours per year will do to the church as a whole.

  33. I’m 19 and in an 18-30 ward. I also happen to be a counselor in our RS presidency (and I’ll be the first to admit that’s a daunting calling when you’re as young as me, lol). Institute definitely helps with socialization, as does a very informal D&D group where all but one of us are members and the bulk are in my ward.

    As far as fellowshipping/getting to know people goes, we’ve lost a lot of our informal events because we had nine weddings within my first year in the ward (which is highly unusual for my area). Most of my good friends got married in that period. The others are very very busy with school/work.

    I like the idea of creating my own group, except I only have a few ideas for who to invite, and it would be likely that it would end up as me, my boyfriend, and a third wheel. Awkward. This might be why neither of us has been asked to join a group? I also don’t have a car and live in the dorms, which limits my options. I’ll probably just end up studying with boyfriend (possibly alongside some family he has in town) and Skype in with my family every few weeks.

    I love the idea of a ward implementation rep, though! That jives really well with some other initiatives we’ve been pushing recently. I’ll have to suggest that to the RS pres to see if she’ll bring it up in ward council. We’ll definitely have people in need of callings come January who could fill the position, too. Thanks for the idea!!

  34. I’m not sure if we can call most of what happens at church “interaction”, except for the socializing in the chapel before sacrament meeting (which is actively discouraged) and the conversations of the hallway dwellers (who are often shamed into going to class). Even well-taught classes aren’t necessarily interactive in any meaningful sense of community building.

  35. I think there’s a serious question whether “building Zion” is part of the mission of the Church in the 21st century. Not a scriptural question, but a pragmatic and sociological question. Building up families, yes. Growing the Church, yes. But building Zion?

    Whatever the answer, I think the 2-hour block questions do and will continue to swirl around the local Church community, the Ward and Branch. In that respect, it seems likely there will be an overall loss and it will strike people differently. When I count loss, I include the hall conversations among people who are skipping out on one meeting or another. That’s a bonding, a form of community, of its own.

    Thinking back to the consolidated schedule introduced in 1980, I predict that for families with children at home, moving to two hours will relieve some stresses (a good thing) but have little or no positive effect except for the few who make heroic efforts to change their family patterns and practices. And I predict that there will be an overall loss of “community” feeling in the Wards and Branches.

    However, for the latter, the community feeling, I see some reason for hope through action. My calculus is that the activities outside the three-hour to become two-hour block need not change much if at all. Our traditional Ward Christmas party should be unaffected. Then if we substitute study groups in homes (with not too selective inclusion) for lecture mode classes in the building, we might have a net positive effect.

    There will always be the “poor” among us—in this context the lonely introverts. (A fate I am saved from only by being married to a popular and visible partner.) I’m not sure big Church programs are the answer there, whether two hours or three. I’m inclined to prefer one-on-one conversations and connections (because that’s what I prefer, obviously), and there I would focus attention back on Ministering rather than two-hour blocks or group meeting substitutes.

    To make this personal, I have two plans in mind:
    1. If we are released from teaching Sunday school (by complaint or by simple attrition) I plan to use that time to start up a study group. Tentatively, for 2019, I would discuss New Testament books and topics, but intentionally counter-program so we don’t become a commentary on the last Sunday School class.
    2. As an extended family (here I’m counting my now deceased parents’ descendants which is already many tens of adults; extending further in our case quickly mounts into many hundreds and would be unmanageable), we represent a wide range of Church activity and philosophy, but among us there’s almost always somebody preparing a lesson or a talk, or writing an essay or even a book. We’re doing more to circulate and even discuss. Communication overcoming distance, in many cases.

  36. One more note: BCC and a few other public conversations, and one or two private groups online (where people use real names) are a genuine and important part of my Church community. When I count up Zion approaching, or not, BCC is included on the positive side of the ledger. It’s important.

  37. “I think there’s a serious question whether “building Zion” is part of the mission of the Church in the 21st century. Not a scriptural question, but a pragmatic and sociological question. Building up families, yes. Growing the Church, yes. But building Zion?”

    I think there’s truth to this, Christian. Our articles of faith still profess a belief in the “*literal* gathering of Israel,” including the building of “Zion (the New Jerusalem).” But our concept of when that’s supposed to happen seems to push it more and more into the distant future, and more and more into the abstract spiritual realm, where Zion is not a literal community, but a state of mind.

    I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t think Zion has to be limited to Brigham Young’s United Order-style communitarianism, but I worry about the tendency to de-literalize our belief Zion, and make it less urgent.

  38. Bro. Jones says:

    I’m hopeful that we’ll double our number of post-meeting potlucks, and greatly increase our outward-facing ward service projects. And bluntly, I’m hopeful that with this increase will come a realization that our (non-Utah) ward is geographically large, and not everything needs to center around the ward building which is in the far northeast corner.

    I feel that this whole thing is going to play out very differently depending on where people are located in the world, and the density of church membership around them.

    Chet: Yup, I’m with you. I fully expect any study groups providing interesting discussion to get shut down under the “Come Follow the Manual” banner.

  39. I don’t find that the alleged 10 minutes between meetings allows for much community building. I guess if I spent Sunday School in the lobby…. :-)

    I was in YW when the change to the block happened. What I remember was the great promise that there would be fewer meetings/ fewer trips to the church building. What happened was we got a long relentless three hour block plus we kept all the weekday meetings. Instead of Mutual nights alternating between lessons and activities, we got lessons every Sunday and activities every Tuesday. How was this less? Also, I really, missed (and still miss) the hymn practice during Sunday School. Now we’re losing the hymns in RS/Priesthood so less music and I hear the practice hymn time is going to be optional so even less music.

    We had a 5th Sunday meeting the 1st Sunday and they handed out the manuals and talked about changes in the new year. The two wards in our building are going to have an hour between meetings to allow for linger longer types of activities to happen more frequently. Hope that really happens.

  40. Ryan Mullen says:

    Chris, “intentionally counter-program” What do you mean?

    Marcella, “practice hymn time is going to be optional”? I’m surprised you have a practice hymn time even now. Only 1 ward (maybe 2) that I’ve attended in the last 20 years has practiced singing a hymn.

  41. Ryan: By “counter-program” I’m thinking just as simple as reading letters while the Sunday School is reading gospels. My only objective is to avoid a study group becoming commentary and criticism of the Sunday School. Different, not competitive.

  42. Sorry Ryan, I mis-typed. Intermediate hymn during Sacrament meeting I hear is going to be optional.

  43. I suspect, in my ward, the intermediate hymn in SM and hymns in RS will be pried from the chorister’s cold, dead hands. I’ve never been to a ward as committed to singing all the hymns as this one is.

  44. “But not everybody is an extrovert. Not everybody live in a Mormon-dense community. I’m an extrovert, so I can’t speak from experience about introverts”

    Sam, I’m an introvert. I could be the poster child for introverts. I will tell you, there is very little about the LDS church that is introvert friendly. Missions aren’t, Ward activities aren’t, A lot of the callings aren’t. Sitting in circles in “council” aren’t. Revolving door of different “ministers” to have to get to know all over again aren’t. Most of my time spent actively being LDS is a question of survival. Grit my teeth and get through it so I can go home and decompress alone. Maybe I swing to the extreme, but I can’t be the only one like me.

  45. You’re not alone, cloves. I’m pretty much the same way. I can muster up the energy and play the part, but it drains me. I’m always happy to get back to being alone so I can decompress and rejuvenate..

  46. Salzgitter says:

    Living in the bosom of Zion, my wife and I find that being family-centric also means excluding others. We don’t go to ward picnics and most dinners because we end up being alone. The families gather together, interact with each other, and don’t really attempt to include those outside of their gene pool. Of course, families should be together, but we’re finding that if we’re going to be alone, we’d rather be elsewhere.

  47. For what it’s worth, my wife and I are planning on hosting our own “informal discussion groups” in our home. We’ve had several people in our ward express concern about moving down to two hours. These are mostly single sisters or sisters from less-active and part-member families. They say that the three-hour block is where they get most of their interaction with the community of saints and steady source of spiritual nourishment. So our plan is not to have a set group that comes, but rather to have a rotating invitation so that as many people as possible feel welcome and like they’re part of our community. We haven’t discussed yet how often we want to host or how we’ll conduct the discussions. I haven’t taken a good look at the manual yet, but I’m guessing I’ll be doing a lot of supplementing from other sources.

  48. The whole point here is that the church isn’t telling you everything you have to do. At some point you have to step up and decide how to develop your own self. For those who don’t have immediate family to study with, they will figure it out. Isn’t that what everyone complains about, members of the church being sheep and only doing what they’re told? So now we’re being asked to decide for ourselves what to do with that extra hour, including what day of the week we want to use it, and we’re complaining about it? Go volunteer an hour a week at the food bank or humane society. You might get to know someone and you’ll be practicing instead of preaching. Volunteer to go on splits with the missionaries if you want. Whatever, but you decide for yourself what you want to do – the possibilities are endless.

  49. It will be much easier to invite friends to church now, when our services are at a more reasonable length and comparable to that of other religions (e.g., a worship service and a class period). Three hours is a long time, and not an easy sell to invite others to attend or to join.

    I think community building does not necessarily come in sitting in a “call and response” class–Sunday School or RS/PH–which is the way many classes I have attended operate. For me, the sense of mutual support often comes afterwards or before those classes. And I think more people will be likely to hang around a little longer after church and converse and be a little less anxious to hurry home.

    I may be wrong, but as I understand it, for many years, church consisted of a sacrament and worship service on Sunday. At various times other meetings and classes were added incrementally, all for good reasons–Sunday School, relief society, priesthood, primary, young women mutual improvement association, young men mutual improvement association (and then scouting), seminary, sports programs, road shows, dance festivals. Until it became overwhelming and all encompassing and leaving little time to breathe much less participate in anything else other than church.

    The three-hour block has been an almost 40 year experiment to reduce some of this burden. In the end, I don’t think it worked as well as hoped. As others have implied, I question whether there has been an overall reduction, and wonder if there has not perhaps even been an increase in time demands and burdens since its implementation.

    This new change, along with jettisoning scouting, eliminating high priests as a separate ward group, eliminating the expectation of monthly home visits, eliminating some pageants, is a new experiment in simplification and lifting expectations and burdens. I rejoice in the willingness to try such new things. They may or may not work. I hope they do.

  50. I imagine the other recent changes go hand in hand with this.

    The new ministering program encourages members to actively minister to each other in a more robust and friendly way than what home teaching was.

    The consolidated priesthood quorums allow for greater communion among men who rarely interacted before. This created a notable hierarchy, where the more seasoned in the gospel did not regularly interact with those who needed the influence of the more seasoned.

    Now, with a reduced church schedule and home-centered church, we are to have more robust home religious instruction. We’ve already tried it in our home, and while the handbook is a decent guide (not my favorite tool), it has changed our family scripture reading from a mundane chapter-by-chapter reading, to a family discussion of the stories and principles taught in a given set of verses. It’s given me a greater insight into where each family member is spiritually and in doctrinal understanding.

    When we begin to couple that with the new ministering program and the strengthened priesthood quorums, we should be obtaining greater insights into where our assigned families are spiritually and in doctrinal understanding, where our fellow quorum members are, and we should be actively striving to strengthen all fellow members in those regards, both at church and within each others homes, as well as via technological communication.

  51. In 2021 the curriculum will be D&C/Church History. Can’t wait to see what Intellectual Reserve provides us as the “Church-supported resource” (QL Cook).

  52. I appreciate the comments about extroverts by Fred and cloves. I guess I’ll never be a mission president because I’ve always avoided sales and marketing jobs which are abundant in my industry.

  53. Sam,

    I thought there was to be a large emphasis on building community by having gospel study groups and meetings outside if Sunday church. My wife and I plan to talk more with friends and invite them to outmr home for gospel discussion. I see your point, but the vision is not to stay cooped up as families.

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