“From the crossroads of the West”

John NilssonCulture, general, LDS, Mormon, mormon, music, religion, sacrament 20 Comments


Years ago, my wife and I skipped our ward meetings to attend Music and the Spoken Word and thoroughly enjoyed it. We made a date out of it by staying the night before in the old Inn at Temple Square. It was a fun experience eating breakfast Sunday morning in the hotel restaurant (Pavilions?) and walking across the street to the Tabernacle to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir do what it does best. Every Sunday, even before General Conference, the Choir provides music to inspire and a spoken word to uplift.

I got to thinking recently about all of the times I’ve been to a sacrament meeting and the only inspiring thing was the sacrament itself. Maybe it’s just me, but here’s my idea: once a month, the LDS Church set aside a sacrament meeting where music predominates, with one short general uplifting sermon, modeled on Music and the Spoken Word. Think of all the benefits. Thousands of short, tasteful, Church-approved pre-written sermons to be drawn upon since the days of Richard L. Evans. One safe Sunday for missionaries to bring investigators to. One short sacrament meeting. The benefits could spill over into the other meetings of the day. With a shorter sacrament meeting time, say 40 minutes, the other meetings could last a little longer to delve into scriptural and other topics more heavily than normal. Or we could all go home early, refreshed, and inspired.

Again we leave you, from the shadow of the everlasting hills…:

Comments 20

  1. Post


    I had written this post already when I ran into Card’s post. I disagree with him entirely. On the subject of musical sacrament meetings, our ward has done it three times in the last two years and people are looking forward to the next occasion. Much different than his statement that “this is a once-in-a-lifetime meeting”, or that people would get tired of hearing the same songs over and over again from the same people. Huh? Has he attended many fast and testimony meetings? Do people ever move in or out of his ward? To be fair, my idea is slightly different from what he was attacking, but I can now say I enjoy neither Card’s fiction nor his non-fiction.

    Usually the most uplifting part of a meeting is the music, when it is done halfway decently. Isn’t that why we have a hymn directly precede the administration of the sacrament?

  2. Two points:
    1- musical sacrament meeetings are enjoyable because they are rare. Once a month would be too much. It would turn into high council Sunday.

    2- You want a “safe” sacrament meeting to bring investigators to. What happens when they come to an “unsafe” sacrament meeting? Do you think they might feel hoodwinked? Reminds me of the story of the missionaries that glossed over the law of tithing with some investigators. The investigators ran into the bishop at church and wanted to know how the church could afford all the buildings and their upkeep. He mentioned tithing and was met by blank stares. He then threw in FO and ward budget (this was back in the day), and welfare assignments, etc.

  3. Music and the Spoken Word reminds me of the Anglican/Episcopal Evensong service. They really are one of the glories of Anglicanism. An Episcopal priest acquaintance I know called them “a low impact Church service. Perfect for bringing the unchurched into a church setting without scaring them away.” Musical services would be good but they would have to planned at least as good or better than the sacrament service they would replace. Even evensong is not all singing, you have your lessons (readings) from the scriptures and a short(!) homily. In the LDS context, I couldn’t see it done more than once a quarter at the very most though.

  4. Post

    Yet Another John,

    Did you take your handle from the title of my first post at Mormon Matters? Hmmm…

    1. This would be a short sacrament meeting. I believe that most people would rather listen proportionally more to music than to the spoken word. We could do a survey to establish what is “too much.” Right now, we have too much of the “spoken word” in our 3 hour block, if you look at it as an entirety.

    2. I am all for openness of missionaries with investigators. That is not the point of our meetings, though. The point is to worship. Sunday School and the Gender-Segregation Hour can be spent doing whatever is done right now. The point for me in speaking about cultural change with our meetings is that this change would likely have an impact on the wider church culture (which is also why it is not likely to happen, in my opinion.)

    One safe sacrament meeting a month would be enough for some folks who have not been around for a while to attend once a month and qualify as active according to the Church’s definition of activity. One safe sacrament meeting a month would send a powerful message that the Church as an institution is trying to find common ground with people of good will in other religions by occasionally preaching sermons on the local level which encourage moral behavior, reflection, and appreciation for God’s gifts without resorting to maudlin sentimentality, travelogues, or “space doctrine.”

    It is not only the change in itself I am interested in, it is what the chain reaction it would set off would do over time in the Church.

  5. I am for anything that can change the “routine.” In spite of all words that have been spoken about how important Sacrament Meeting is for the saints, if people sleep, talk, read, etc. during the meeting, then it is not fulfilling its purpose. We all agree that the main part of the meeting is partaking of the Sacrament and if we just did that each week, we’d be in compliance with the purpose. I am not advocating that, but recognize that things should change from time to time. The hymn singing idea is a great one. I may have mentioned that I investigated a ward who was doing a “hymn sing” Sacrament meeting on the fifth Sunday and reported back to the Stake President that it was ok after the Bishop of the Ward explained how it worked. I thought it was a great idea.

    If you’ve ever watched the LDS Church Services on BYU-TV, you can see how formulaic our meeting is, when viewed as an observer rather than a participant.

  6. My only fear is that it would turn into a Primary Program for adults. As much as I love the Primary Programs, I have two little ones that take part in them and I look forward to them, adults need something different.

  7. John,
    No I didn’t. I’ll have to go look up your first post. No, it was in response to a comment made by “a random john” when I first started posting. I didn’t know there were so many johns floating around the bloggernacle.

  8. MoTab and special music are not for everyone. I enjoy it, but my wife doesn’t. I would not want a calling as a ward music director responsible for creating a music program every month. It’s painful listening to our ward choir as rare as they perform. I would suggest letting the ward organist (depending on the skill level) play on the organ during the meetings WITHOUT singing from time to time. The church invests in these nice organs for the chapels, and they are essentially used to be a generic background for hymns and could be replaced with a push button soundtrack. I also agree that a musical sacrament meeting benefits from shortened time. I remember one Christmas Day sacrament meeting where, instead of the full block, they decided to have a lengthened sacrament meeting with several special numbers with talks in between. (Seems everyone wants to perform at Christmas time). When the conductor announced there would be yet ANOTHER special number, it got to be way too much. Thankfully, the kids wanted to roam the halls and I did too.

  9. I think John is on to something. We’ve had a number of LDS friends and family come and visit our church, and _everyone_ responds and praises the upbeat, music-driven worship atmosphere. And everyone compliments on how well-prepared and engaging our teaching pastors are. Now, not every LDS visitor has agreed with our doctrine — which is understandable — but they respond to the worship being upbeat and well organized.

    So many LDS people do not consciously acknowledge how bored they are. Look around at how many are reading other material, sleeping, doing the kids’ activities along with their kids, etc. OTOH, this may often be a reflection on the traditional nature of many wards: members may just accustomed to how things are having grown up in the faith, so they may have just become understimulated. Whereas at our church the staff deliberately try to “shake up” format from time to time, the culture is more laid-back and consensually-driven, and also no one has grown up their whole life in this church. So there is just a natural and more deliberate freshness to the experience. Given time, if everything stayed the same, it might be argued that our congregation would get understimulated or bored, too. (Of course, if one does, there is no shame to go seek out a new worship experience with a different Christian congregation.)

    Whatever the explanation, a good number of LDS, in my experience, are not engaged, emotionally nor mentally, at LDS sacrament services. But look how many love the annual Primary program, or the usual music-driven Christmas service. I think John’s suggestion would be happily embraced. What if instrumental or oral music performances (not just congregational Hymn singing) could get worked in more strongly with the monthly “open mic” Sunday? Maybe this could help testimony meeting not drag, and keep it as “right brained” as possible, as music is a great tool for helping people access spiritual memories and experiences. ‘Course it wouldn’t hurt to kill the organ and switch in a few more energetic songs, too, but first things first: LDS services would benefit having the right-brained musical worship experience become a more dominant feature of their sacrament services. Once a month is a great start.

  10. Post

    Thanks Quix,

    I attended even a relatively stodgy Lutheran service which was more energetic than the majority of LDS sacrament meetings are. I once heard CoC historian Paul Edwards refer to this syndrome as “Christ-centered boredom”!

  11. Rigel Hawthorne said, “MoTab and special music are not for everyone. I enjoy it, but my wife doesn’t. I would not want a calling as a ward music director responsible for creating a music program every month. It’s painful listening to our ward choir as rare as they perform.”

    Excellent points. Since I am a singer, and my wife a music teacher and member of one of our worship teams, I care a lot about this subject. I think the core of opportunity to improve LDS worship revolves around a few things that could do well to change:

    a) The parochial notion that “MoTab” style music is the only acceptable way to show piety for and worship in Christ. There are many valid and respectful cultural expressions of worship through music. Here, Christianity has the leg up — but I believe Mormonism will catch up. Many churches cater to different tastes and demographics through the musical experience. Some do it by having different services for different age ranges, like a choral-driven service for congregants who tend to be older; traditional Hymn-driven services for more traditionally-raised congregants; or contemporary, upbeat music for worshippers who tend to be younger. Some churches are so ethnically segregated that the musical worship experience is also very culturally distinct, like in traditionally Black churches. It is unfortunate that even where LDS have very ethnically distinct wards or branches that they have yet to openly embrace new culturally diverse music and lyrical Hymn composition. A wise bishop, even in a predominantly mixed-age White Utah Mormon ward, could musically reach his congregation better by deliberately seeing that choral and contemporary performances alike were performed. Why shouldn’t a Singles Ward have a contemporary band if that fits?

    b) An unwillingness to recognize the worshipful value of many different kinds of instruments. While our church skews young (and the young at heart) with our use of a more contemporary instrumental ensemble: drums, guitars (electric and acoustic), keyboards, etc., we also try to occasionally attend a different church who skews more choral in their presentation. And our teams do perform acoustic, quiet or mellow arrangements at times, too, when the occasion calls for it, like during communion or during a closing prayer. There is no good reason for LDS to be prejudiced against “rock” instruments, brass instruments, upbeat arrangements or ethnic arrangements. Traditional “LDS” preference for acoustic piano or organ, or “elitist” Western symphonic instruments have their place [thankfully our church doesn’t have an organ 😉 ]. Seriously, the traditional preferences have a place, but shouldn’t be the only “holy” voice allowed.

    c) The reluctance to operate consensually. We have three musical worship teams, each about 10 vocalists and musicians, who rotate weeks in order to keep down the time burden. Plus we have a worship team comprised of youth for the Wednesday night youth worship service. Our congregation is not a puny but not huge either. Only those who want to play or sing with a team do it. It makes a HUGE difference. Since a choral-driven music worship style is admittedly more demanding, it really only should be pursued, IMO, where there is willing, skilled leadership, willing participants, and regular local culture of practice and dedication. It fails when people don’t have the desire nor skill, and feel “forced” to do a calling. We’d love to have a choir, but we’re not yet blessed with a leader who wants to take the lead for creating the necessary culture. I’ll tell ya, though, an upbeat focus can solve a lot of problems, even where choral participants may not be the most gifted performers!

    d) Meetings can be quite stodgy when they strictly disallow any worship music that is not in the Hymnal — which is the most common trend. And of those LDS Hymns that are Christian in origin, it doesn’t help diversity of worship that most are more Methodist in nature.

    e) Lay leadership who doesn’t tend to coordinate worship services well. Not only do talks tend to be unpredictable in their quality or effectiveness, but music is rarely planned and coordinated to reinforce the talks/sermon. We actually call our song, right after the sermon “the Congregational Response” — an affirmation of faith that we believe and endorse what has been preached. I like that our worship teams have some good songs in their repertoire that they will sometimes spontaneously change plans to lead a congregational song that reinforces the message better than originally planned. (‘Course I would’t know that if my Sweetheart weren’t in one of the bands; they’re pretty smooth.)

    f) Prayer tends to be constricted: there is a time and place and way to say a prayer. At the beginning and at the end of the meeting. It is great, at many Christian churches, that prayer can be more spontaneous, as the Spirit leads, which is often between or during musical numbers, or during the sermon. After all the D&C says “a song of the righteous is a prayer…” Why not start singing from the heart, in all its excellent variety, and pray from the heart whenever one is moved?

    g) Reluctance to use audio-visual tools. Not only does it make worship interesting to have the occasional, well-chose video piece, but it helps retention that the pastors use AV slides effectively during sermons. And it especially helps that the lyric to songs are projected so that people’s gaze (and voice) is directed forward rather than buried in a Hymnal.

  12. John (14): You’re welcome.

    BTW, that term “Christ-centered boredom” — brutal! Ouch! I think a more upbeat, uplifting, music-driven worship atmosphere, just as you suggest, would not only alleviate boredom, because each bishop/BP should shake up the traditional status quo as his congregation needs. I also thank it would skew the meetings a little more Christ-centered than they are because most of the favorite Hymns, and other songs chosen, usually revolve around Christ. I also like your suggestion for having brief devotionals assigned. This would work great for the flow of the meeting, as well as give an opportunity to participate to those who may not otherwise give a well-prepared talk (which is most congregants). I also like your suggestion to wrap up early, either to just get out early (something everyone loves) or devote that extra time to more in-depth study.

    We generally attend church for about 1.5-2.5 hrs on Sunday, with our choice of three times, depending on our desire and schedule for the day. Worship is about an hour. And when we stay longer for a class, that’s also about an hour. The rest of the time is socializing, the kids playing games in the cultural room, or having a coffee, etc. Some wards and branches in the LDS church do a “linger longer” which is tremendously helpful for allieving stress and building rapport. Unfortunately after 3 hrs at church it can be harder to stay longer, especially if one has kids. In addition to a content-rich and uplifting worship atmosphere, it makes for a stress-reducing Sunday to have flexibility and choice in attendance and where one serves, the opportunity to socialize, but also a culture where it’s okay to cut out early if one needs or wants.

  13. Personally, I think the focus on hymns and little instrumentation is a position taken in opposition to what is perceived as over-emotionalization in worship – a substitution of emotionalism for what we perceive as spirituality – a perception of emotional manipulation compared to encouraging the still, small voice.

    I wish we were more open to expanding our musical experiences in church, but I also believe there is truth in the concern. That belief is reinforced every time I see the commercials here in my area for the Solid Rock Church – the ones where 5-year-old kids are shaking wildly to the rock band’s music as they are “moved by the Spirit of God”. I think the brethren really do understand the concern, but I also think I understand their hesitancy to loosen the reins officially – especially when the actual CHI guidelines allow for MUCH more than most members realize.

    Imho, if the CHI was understood better (especially the difference between “should”, “may”, “some”, etc. and “shall”, “must”, “never”, etc.) and followed more closely (especially the constant call to follow the Spirit in making real-life decisions), it actually would loosen up the Church in many, significant ways. That’s a different thread, however.

  14. My husband actually dislikes hymns. He’d much rather not pay attention to the speaker than not sing the hymn. I like hymns and often find them uplifting.
    People are individuals. They have different ways that they prefer to worship. They feel the spirit differently.
    Our church has quite a bit of variety in its 3 hour block. Its not going to be everyone’s idea of perfect, but hopefully it covers something for most people.
    Of course my husband has been known to say on Sunday mornings “Ideally, church would start at 10:30 and last an hour.” And so I’ve pointed out to him “If that were to happen, you’d just think–why bother going….its only an hour anyway.”

  15. Why not teach members the art of persusasion (i.e., public speaking)? We read in the 1886 book Teaching and Public Speaking by Prof. Nielsen, Brigham Young Academy, that “We take it as a sign of the true church that members continue attending despite the public speaking.”

    1) High counselors twice per year.
    2) Youth speakers speak, not in sacrament, but during opening exercises of YM & YW.
    3) Two music numbers.
    4) Metronomes for the chorister and orgaganists.
    5) Keep the chapel temperature under 72 degrees.
    6) More speakers, kept to five to seven minutes.

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