Two Quick Questions About Attending BYU Devotionals

My memories of BYU are nearly 30 years old, so I am seeking more recent information. I teach Friends University, at a small Christian (originally Quaker, now non-denominational) liberal arts college in Wichita, KS, and the university community hosts, for most of the academic year, weekly chapel services. Those chapel services have evolved a great deal over the years, and will no doubt continue to do so. In times past, a certain amount of attendance at chapel meetings (which has gone by various names; when I arrived here in 2006, it was called “Faith and Learning”) was required of the student body; that stopped a while back, but now it looks it may be coming back. I am part of a committee attempting to design attendance policies, and at our last meeting, another faculty member–one strongly opposed to any required chapel whatsoever–surprised me by citing, as part of his comparative research, BYU’s devotionals, attendance at which is not required.

Thinking back to my years at BYU (1987-1994, with a mission in there), I agreed with him–but also felt it important to emphasize that everything locked down at BYU when there were devotional speakers in the Marriott Center: the library, the Wilkinson Center, everything. Such a total shut-down of campus during devotionals is not something that has been seriously considered as part of the discussion about required chapel here at Friends, and since my colleague brought it up (and since I think, given the disposition of our Board of Trustees and the administration, I think the return of required chapel is probably inevitable), I’d like to explore it further. But I need better information to do so. And hence I seek input from the BYU-attending and BYU-graduated readers of BCC. Specifically:

1) Is my memory correct, and if it is, does that policy of the entire campus–offices, food court, buildings, etc.–locking their doors and closing, with all employees being released for an hour, during devotional hour continue today?

2) If my memory is correct, and the policy does continue today, how rigorously, in your subjective judgment, is it enforced? (My memory also includes an understanding that if you, for example, got into the Harold B. Lee Library before devotional hour, that of course you wouldn’t be kicked out; the copy center–it was in the library back then–and the check-out desk would be closed, and if you left the building you wouldn’t be able to get back in, but there would no effort to shame the folks at their desks or shoo people away from computer terminals or the book stacks.)

Thanks in advance for your assistance!


  1. I never attended a devotional in the Marriot Center and so had to find other places around campus to wait it out. Nothing was “locked” but every service was closed; I could get into/leave the Wilkinson Center, for example, but the bookstore and food court were closed. I was never chided for staying or encouraged to leave any of the spaces I waited in.
    Instead of lockdown, two factors really contributed to campus-wide participation: nothing else was “officially” scheduled during that time. Ever. No classes, no tutoring, no labs. Nothing. And, the devotional was broadcast in one or two alternate locations (most often the large lecture hall in the Joseph Smith Building). That made it possible for those who could not/would not walk all the way over to the Marriott Center to attend. Based on how many straglers I routinely encountered, this accessibility made an impact on participation; I was definitely in the minority. Nothing was mandatory, but every logistical support imaginable was put in place to strongly encourage it.

  2. Left Field says:

    In my day, (1977-1986, including two degrees and a mission), they had devotionals and forum assemblies on alternate Tuesdays. Forums featured more academic topics, often outside speakers. I remember Sandra Day O’Connor, for example. For most, if not all the time I was there, all campus services continued continued during the devotional/forums. I remember at some point hearing that the library was being closed during that time, but I don’t recall if that was at the very end of my tenure as a graduate student, or if I heard about it after I left. It seemed to me that the events were fairly well attended, even with the library being open.

  3. That is such an interesting question. In my memory, there were no classes held during devotionals and forums, but I don’t remember everything else being closed. And I don’t remember that I went to many forums or every devotional but I can’t remember where I went — maybe the library? I was there from 1971 – 1975.

  4. HokieKate says:

    Early 2000s. Everything shut down, but buildings were open. Student employees clocked out. Offices and services were closed.

  5. My memory from early 2000’s was that just classes weren’t scheduled. No TA hours, no professor office hours, but everything else was open for business. The devotional was broadcast in all of the larger classrooms.

  6. Alumni class of 2005 here. I worked for continuing education and we did NOT shut down since our customers were mostly not BYU students. I worked during devotionals some years. If I recall, sometimes they would play the devotional while we worked via the building speaker system (except in the call center as that would be distracting).

    Otherwise I recall buildings being open but services being closed. You could study in the library or any classroom.

    Are the devotionals now streamed such that students can simply watch on their devices from anywhere? Or does BYU still want the student body making the pilgrimage to the Marriott Center?

  7. Pontius Python says:

    Ditto to what jader3rd said, for the years 2013-16. Many people went to devotional in the Marriott Center, but certainly not all, and the overflow broadcasts in places like the JSB weren’t large enough to accommodate everyone who didn’t go to the Marriott Center. No office hours, no TA hours, no classes scheduled during devotional hour, but all the buildings were open. Lots of people studying in the library, packed computer labs in the engineering buildings. Whether or not the Cougareat and the Bookstore were open during devotional hour isn’t a detail that I specifically remember.

  8. HokieKate (7:25am) describes my memory of 2015 practice (last time I was on campus as an official person).

  9. I attended devotionals during the ’70s. No classes were held, but I do not recall any services closed. Many went willingly. There were lines to get in and the spiral walkways over the road were filled coming to and going from the Marriott Center.

  10. Thanks for the comments so far, everyone. Basically, I’m seeing evidence that back in the 1970s, nothing was scheduled and most (if not all) offices closed during devotionals, but all the buildings were still open, and then during the 2010s, once again nothing was scheduled, but neither was anything locked. So either my memory is wrong, or there was a stretch of time–during the 1980s to the 2000s, perhaps (the Holland/Lee eras)–when the administration went further and actually locked doors. I really feel like my memory of library doors and Cougareat doors being locked being devotionals is accurate, but obviously it may not be.

  11. I was at BYU from 2009-2011 and worked at Student Services in the ASB for most of that time. We would shut down during the devotional hour on Tuesdays, which meant if you had a Tuesday morning shift you lost out on an hour of work.

  12. almost at the last says:

    Fun fact, if you had a job as a student parking enforcement officer, you continued to keep working. We’d either finish up our patrol shifts/assigned areas and then be on hand to help man crossings from the Marriott center as thousands walked backed across the roads. Or they would have a couple of us at various entrances in the Marriott Center and locations around the center during the devotional, especially when a Q15+ came to speak. Great times.

  13. Left Field says:

    My memory of the late ’70s/early ’80s is that no classes were scheduled, but you could still check out books, dine in the Cougareat, go bowling in the ELWC, make purchases in the bookstore, etc. I think basically if you had a job staffing an office, you were supposed to be on duty. My recollection corresponds to Adele’s. Devotionals were quite well attended. Forums usually not as much. If he was able, the president of the church always gave the first devotional of the academic year. That one always filled the seats in the MC.

    At the time, I don’t think the forum/devotional was broadcast anywhere but the Marriott Center. They might have been televised on KBYU, but there wouldn’t have been a place on campus where very many students could watch TV. In the summer, the forums and devotionals were held in the de Jong Concert Hall in the HFAC.

  14. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    I think it’s a nice wrinkle to have a few weeks of the year featuring the Forum format instead of a Devotional. There’s still some gospel foundation to the address, but we get some very impressive presenters more focused on their area of expertise.

    Last week happened to be one, featuring Dr. Paul Cox. In my BYU experience, he was the most impressive professor I ever sat in the room with. He preaches a lofty ideal for caring for the earth, and is one of the very rare people whose practice measures up to it.

    Link not included as it often disagrees with the spam filter, but would be worth your time.

  15. My daughter who is currently at BYU says the library is open during the devotionals, just the help desks/front desks shut down. So you can’t get assistance but you are free to come and go. Also the food courts still shut down for the devotionals.

  16. Current BYU library student employee. Buildings don’t lock, but the desks shut down fifteen minutes before it starts. Food court also shuts down.

  17. I was at BYU from 80 to 85 and my memories pretty much tally with what’s already been said – devotionals on alternating Tuesdays, forum assemblies on the other Tuesdays (I too remember Sandra Day O’Connor – Boyd K. Packer, who was conducting, explained that we call each other Brother and Sister and welcomed her as “Sister O’Connor” – also Elie Wiesel and Bruno Betelheim, among others). The devotionals were generally better attended than the forum assemblies; although there were no classes scheduled during that hour, I don’t remember anything being closed. Definitely not locked.

  18. I was just there for education week. Bookstore closed and Food Court closed for business. The most surprising thing to me was that the power outlets in cafeteria seating were turned off!

  19. Left Field says:

    Brother Packer also made note of her title of “Justice,” saying that it was appropriate, since justice is an important principle of our religion. “However, should I ever appear before your court, Justice O’Connor, you should remember that we also have equal reverence for the principle of mercy.”

  20. I’ve been on campus more or less continuously for a quarter century. As stated above, everything practical shuts down, including food courts and library services, but nothing gets locked. You can stay in any building, including in the testing center if you’re in the middle of an exam. And nothing is to be scheduled during that time under any circumstance–no meetings, classes, labs, etc.

    One perk: This means that there are basically no classes scheduled on Thursdays 11-12 either, even though everything is technically open, unlike on Tuesdays. So the Thursday timeslot is widely used for scheduling talks by campus visitors, as well as for faculty to schedule TA meetings. It’s handy having a timeslot for scheduling visiting speakers without worrying about whether students will have class conflicts.

  21. Current faculty member here. I happily use that unscheduled hour as an unposted office hour, and students are delighted to take advantage of it.

  22. There used to be one class that took place during devotionals. The pencourt is operated as a lab class and those assigned Tuesday Thursdays have lab from 9-1 without a break for devotional. Or at least they did in the early 2000s. I’m also assured that many computer engineering labs remained open during the same time period

  23. My wife worked on campus–secretarial, mainly–during her student years (1972-76) and never attended a devotional or forum assembly, because she was at work. She finally attended one in fall 1976, a few weeks after our wedding, because my father was the forum speaker.

    And, speaking of attendance numbers, Pres. Oaks leaned over and mentioned to my dad that the attendance for his speech was the largest ever–except for the time that Spiro Agnew came and made a political speech in fall of 1972.

  24. Russel, your recollection is correct. 1980-85, fora and devotionals alternated weeks. You could still go into and out of the library and the Wilkinson Center, although services were curtailed. Classes were not scheduled at that time. Classroom buildings were locked — you could remain if already inside, and could exit, but couldn’t get in during the devotional hour. I recall leaving the MARB one time and turning around because I had forgotten something, and couldn’t get back in until the devotional was over. Another time I had to wait outside a classroom building (Kimball Tower I think?) to get in for a class right after the devotional, because whoever was responsible for unlocking the doors was late/distracted/forgot.

    I also recall much hand-wringing about the comparatively poor attendance at the devotionals/fora. Devotionals got somewhat better attendance if an apostle was speaking. But unless President Kimball showed up, only a small fraction of the Marriott Center seating capacity was used for any given Tuesday event.

  25. Fwiw, my spouse, who was there during approximately the same period, confirms the classroom lock-downs, but believes the library may also have been closed to entrants.

    We suspect that the campus may have experimented with a number of attendance strategies during the period, intended to coerce students into exercising their free agency to the administration’s liking.

  26. Agree with others on the shut down of offices. Early 2000s the devotionals were broadcast on tv. One year my schedule worked out best to do laundry (no competition in the laundromat) during devotionals, and I would watch from my apartment.

  27. I was on the track team for a couple years and it’s funny how rebellious we felt for practicing through the sacred Tuesday devotional time slot. The cultural push to attend (or watch a broadcast in one of the classrooms) definitely felt connected to the campus shut down.
    As a side note we sure gave the coach grief by intentionally running through campus back to the Smith Fieldhouse in our sports bras and short shorts right as the devotionals would end and the attendees were walking back. Only at BYU.

  28. At BYU 1974-79 (bachelor’s and master’s). Sometimes I headed up to the Marriott Center for devotionals and forums (fora?), especially if I was already on campus and/or had a classmate, friend or family member to go with. (When my brother was in the MTC in 1978 the missionaries attended the devotionals and my sister and I would arrange to see and talk to him there.) However, I often walked back to my dorm or residence and listened on the BYU radio station, which always broadcast them live. Depending on my schedule, I ate while listening, or did cross-stitch embroidery (a hobby), etc. I was very faithful at going to (virtually or in-person!) ALL the devotionals and forums, even if I wasn’t particularly interested in the speaker or topic. One of my professors told us that some GAs refused to speak at devotionals either because they weren’t “top” names or that popular, and/or weren’t that captivating in speaking, and didn’t want to be embarrassed by a small turn-out. President Kimball, “VIP” GAs like Ezra Taft Benson, and those popular with youth (like Paul H. Dunn before his downfall) always drew big crowds. On a related note, General Conference was held for 3 days vs. 2 until 1977, and on the non-weekend day classes were cancelled and although I don’t recall that places like the library actually closed, the campus was pretty much deserted.

  29. J. Mansfield says:

    I have a question about the BYU devotionals and fast-Sunday firesides that perhaps other readers can help me with: When did standing for apostles become a thing?

    My time at BYU ended in 1991 (Holland and then Lee). The single time I can remember standing in deference to the speaker was when Ezra Taft Benson, president of the church, spoke in ’87. It looks like I was there for three talks by Gordon Hinckley, counselor in the First Presidency, and I cannot remember “entrances” or “exits” with standing for him or any of the quorum of the twelve. Am I remembering this right?

    A stake conference around 1999 comes to mind as well, with Henry Eyring, then an apostle, presiding at the Los Angeles Santa Monica California stake. My memory has him milling around the aisles of the chapel before most had arrived. It seems like the first time I experienced an entrance and “stand for the apostle” was a conference of the Frederick Maryland stake around 2007.

  30. Russell, I was at the Y from ’71 to ’77 (two-year mission from ’72-’74) and I believe, back then, attendance was required at both the Devotionals and the Forums. Every semester you were awarded a half-credit for faithful attendance. Those half-credits and a dollar would get you a cup of coffee—except at BYU, of course—and nothing more.

    Attendance was not taken at these events; rather, you simply self-reported (i.e., honor system). Every Tuesday I dutifully sat in the upper reaches of the concert hall in The Harris Fine Arts Center where it was dark and I could sleep. I busted my butt for seven years while at BYU and at Georgetown’s Law School, focussing almost exclusively on academics and general reading. Hence my need for extra sleep. I had virtually no social life and my church attendance was spotty. As a result of my choices, I’m sort of anti-social and not very spiritual. But it was worth it.

  31. I was also at BYU from ’71 to ’77 (with a gap for a mission) and attendance was not required at either Devotionals or Forums. But you could, as Eric Facer said, sign up for a half credit per semester for attending the Devotionals, at least. I don’t remember whether credits were awarded for attending the Forum assemblies. Back then, Devotionals were held every Tuesday and Forums every Thursday.

    I think you could receive a maximum of two credits (for attending four semesters of Devotionals) and that would fulfill one semester’s religion requirement.

  32. The BYU Library building is open during devotional, but all the services points are closed. At 10:30 and 10:45 we announce that services are closing for devotional at 11:00. Student employees are required to clock out and are encouraged to attend devotionals. The help desks and some offices, such as the library administration office, post signs that they are closed for devotional and encourage everyone to attend.

  33. I attended BYU Idaho from 2014-2018 and it had the same policy of shutting down campus during devotionals, which used to happen on Tuesdays. Since then, the devotionals have been rescheduled to Sundays, making it a part of the Sabbath day experience for the entire community.

%d bloggers like this: