Guest Post: How Would You Have Reacted?

guest church, Culture, meetings, Mormon, music, sacrament meeting 31 Comments

Introduction: The following is from a post by Reuben at SingleSpeed titled “Harmonica at Church”.  He has agreed to let us post it here, with some questions for discussion:

“My 3rd favorite thing about the LN Ward is Brother P. He’s a tall, slender old man whom I’ve never heard say two words, but he plays the harmonica beautifully. He’s at church every week – just him and his harmonica. He teaches the 8-10 year olds in primary, and they allow him to play his harmonica along with the songs each week during singing time. Sometimes when I don’t feel like going to sunday school, I stand right outside the Primary room and listen to him play along with the singing. One of the kids in his primary class, a smiley, roundish 10 year old brings his own little harmonica to church as well, and the two of them play together.

It warms my soul to watch this unlikely duo play the harmonica together. Both strike me as being a little on the lonely side, and I thank the Lord for providing them with the opportunity for friendship. About a month ago, we had our annual Primary program in Sacrament Meeting, and I cried when I saw the two of them together playing their instruments. I continue to thank the Lord for a bishop who allows reverent harmonica during sacrament meeting.

One of my slowest healing wounds is a memory of my childhood bishop telling an old man he wasn’t allowed to play his violin during sacrament meeting. John was my non-LDS violin teacher with whom my mother had arranged to play a special musical number along with me during sacrament meeting. He and I were seated behind the organ player on the stand in the chapel. As we began to sing the sacrament hymn, John stood up and began to play along, reading the music over the organist’s shoulder. The bishop stood up, walked over to the old man, and asked him to stop. I still remember the look on John’s face, as my bishop told him that his violin playing – his gift to God and the LDS church that day – was inappropriate. I have never forgiven my bishop for hurting John’s feelings.

And that is why it warms my heart to hear old Brother P. and the smiley 10 year-old playing their harmonicas in sacrament meeting.”

Both of these situations occurred in Sacrament Meeting, and both involved a decision made by a Bishop in the administration of his calling.  What to you think of each decision?  Was the Bishop correct or incorrect in each case?  Regardless of your answer to the first question, was he justified or unjustified in each case?  Is there anything about each situation that makes it different than the other – that would make the validity of either choice different than the other?

What guidelines do you think should govern the music that is shared in Sacrament Meeting, and why?  Are there any situations where basic guidelines should be set aside and ignored – either to allow music that otherwise would be disallowed or to disallow music that otherwise would be allowed?

Comments

comments

Comments 31

  1. How would I have reacted? In the case of the violin player I would have flinched in embarrassment, for all the parties involved.

    But the Bishop is not in the wrong, as the presiding officer if he feels it is inappropriate he is responsible to intervene.

    Why wasn’t the violin discussed with the Bishop prior to the meeting? Seems like the failure to do so is what instigated the unfortunate incident.

  2. Seems odd to me since Violins and other such stringed instruments are allowed in Sacrament meeting. But that may have been before those rules on what instruments are and are not allowed were established.

    Since I am a percussionist, I cannot play any of my instruments in the Chapel for Sacrament Meeting even bells or a triangle. But, poor violin playing or an out of tune flute is acceptable.

    I am thrilled to hear that your Bishop allowed the harmonicas. I’ll bet it was great.

  3. Church guidelines do not prohibit stringed instruments in sacrament meeting. I don’t know if that has always been the case. An experienced Bishop knows that musical mishaps occur from time to time. To avoid this, the music chairman can provide the list of music to him in advance. If that isn’t done, you never know what you get. As to “why wasn’t the violin discussed with the Bishop prior to the meeting?” If the bishop has stringent guidelines, why didn’t he ask what was on the program in his own meeting? The bishop owns this regrettable incident.

    Having been a counselor to three bishops, I know bishops make mistakes all the time. Unfortunately this one unnecessarily publicly embarrassed a non member.

    It’s a good thing my wife wasn’t there. She would have gone ballistic.

  4. Let me point out something just to add to the questions at the end. The following is a quote from the post, and one of Reuben’s comments on the original blog post clarifies it even further:

    “As we began to sing the sacrament hymn, John stood up and began to play along, reading the music over the organist’s shoulder.”

    This was **unplanned** and not part of the Sacrament Meeting program. The gentleman was there to accompany a special musical number, but he stood up unannounced and unexpectedly and began playing along with the Sacrament Hymn. The Bishop had no warning that it would happen and didn’t expect it at all. It was a complete and total surprise to him.

    Does that change the scenario or anyone’s response to it?

  5. Having never been a bishop (knock wood) but having been a counselor to two fine bishops — I’m still not sure how I would have reacted to the violin player. The issue here for the bishop may well have been that it was the Sacrament hymn, and I believe that Church policy is that the Sacrament hymn is not to involve special musical numbers, instruments, etc. (I seem to recall a post somewhere in the ‘nacle in the last year or so talking about all the different variations on music + sacrament preparation predating the mid-20th Century.) I suspect that if it had been the opening or closing hymn, the bishop may well have reacted differently. ..bruce..

  6. I hope I would always error on the side of someone’s heart. I think the spirit should be the guiding factor, not a handbook. But that is just my thoughts. Although I don’t know why a Bishop wouldn’t be given the courtesy of a heads up regarding any musical number. Also, we frequently have a sister do a violin number in my ward.

  7. I wasn’t the bishop, but Ray’s point seems a valid one. However, it seems that a gentle correction following the hymn (perhaps a note walked over by one of the helpful deacons at a less conspicuous time), might have been more in order. There might have been a different standard at the man’s church. But, he being the bishop, and this being the sacrament hymn, I suppose it is his prerogative. That seems like the issue, not the type of instrument or the fact that the man was not a member.

    I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for growing up a bishop who appreciated the incredible spiritual value of music. The first time a young man, whose life had gone off track for many years (incidentally, as a musician), came back for the first time when he played piano for a vocal duet in our ward. In the months to come it became clear as he cam back to church that he felt the spirit very strongly. The bishop let a young girl play a classical guitar number in a Christmas program, and it was a very powerful time. He has used music as a source of spirituality for the youth in a time when kids are surrounded by all sorts of degrading music.

    I know that church regulations and standards are there for a reason, and great care should be taken if bending them, but I do firmly believe that bending some rules, guided by the spirit, can make a huge difference.

  8. I’ve observed many a bishop who have endured sitting through musical numbers and testimonies that were not appropriate. Confronting them would have been tactfully difficult and involved loss of face. Who knows why this bishop thought a line was crossed. I could only imagine this action taking place if someone began playing an electric guitar without warning. I don’t think it is necessarily a member/non-member issue per se, but I recall a ward inviting a college choir to do a special number in Sacrament Meeting where members of the ward were in the choir. They sneaked in a surprise performance of Ave Maria after the closing prayer and the Bishop was not happy about that. That is an example of how music appropriate to one church culture may not be optimal for another.

  9. As to the non-member question, it is different. Don’t we all treat guests in our home differently from family? All jokes aside, there are obvious reasons for this.

    I do remember in one ward, we had a non-member play for us once a month. We live in a small town and he wanted to use our organ to practice. He was a music teacher for the local high school. The bishop told him he could use it but hoped that he would share his musical talents with the ward (wink, wink) once a month. All agreed. He replaced the ward organist once a month. The first week, as the sacrament was being given to ward members, he started to play some accompanying music. That week, the bishop was out of town. The presiding counselor quietly went over to him and told him how things worked and he quit playing. Here, there was an existing relationship (he wasn’t just here for the first time, etc.), so there was no problem created.

    One question to ask in a situation like this is “What is the worst that can happen?” Offending a non-member with whom there is no relationship or basis for understanding might be a bigger problem than a purist’s view that only the organ should be playing.

  10. As to “the worst that can happen?’ asked in #12: I think that not being able to forgive the bishop would rank right up there. I’m not saying the bishop was right or wrong to handle it the way he did. I am saying things like this can canker your soul to the point where the original hurt has been eclipsed by bitterness and hardness that are all out of proportion to the orginal insult.

  11. I actually wrote on a very similar topic (http://tiny.cc/5WUeG)a couple of weeks ago–regulation of what we actually call musical performances in addition to what can be performed. My opinion is that your last question is the issue–what is the worst case scenario? My opinion is that a horrific piano solo is easily forgotten, whereas stories and memories of a horrific trombone solo could possibly live on in infamy for generations.

    Maybe as similar to the Word of Wisdom–intended specifically for the least able to perform nicely.

  12. Ray is right – the violin playing during the Sacrament Hymn was unplanned and unexpected. Nobody told the bishop about it because nobody knew he was going to do it. John not being a member of the church is only insignificant in that I imagine the scenario left him feeling more confused, rejected, and possibly hurt than the same experience might have left a long-time member of the church feeling.

    bfwebster – I’ve also heard that this is church policy. I have attempted to verify this with several additional bishops throughout the years, and have received conflicting answers. Some say it is policy… others say it is not.

    To clarify, although I struggle to forgive this bishop for that day, I should clarify that he was both a good man and a good bishop. I have never spoken with the bishop (or John) about what happened or asked him why he asked John to stop. Chances are, I’m the only one who still remembers this ever happened.

    I also blogged about it once with a slightly different perspective here.

    The most noteworthy part of my experience may very well be that such a small incident has had such a profound impact on my life and how I view the church.

    Thanks for reading.

  13. As a simple matter of cost/benefit ratio, bishop made the wrong call. Even though it was a surprise, whatever “damage” might have been done by playing a violin as accompaniment to a sacrament hymn (heavens!) was far outweighed by the damage and offense given to a non-member. The congregants testimonies can stand up to violin music (if it’s in tune–poorly played strings lead to apostasy!); however, would the visitor ever be interested in the church again?

  14. What would Jesus have done? Probably would have dressed down the bishop. Blessed are the meek. We have far too much unrighteous dominion in this church. Give a man a little authority and pretty soon he is lording it over everyone. What possible harm could it have done to let the man play? I’ve heard pretty sorry performances in meetings, but so what? Are our practices so fossilized that any variation in what we are used to is heresy? Where do the scriptures specify exactly how the sacrament song is supposed to be done? Does anyone really think the Lord is going to be upset if it isn’t just so?

    I think it is a real shame that African Saints were told they couldn’t use drums in their meetings. They would have a lot to teach us about how to praise the Lord, I’ll bet.

  15. The story also reminds me of a story from Elder Nelson’s biography involving a newly called Stake President (or maybe it was a Bishop) who, after Elder Nelson had spoken and sat down, stood up to announce the closing hymn and prayer, but also bore his testimony before doing so. Elder Nelson took the man aside after the meeting was over and explained that when the presiding authority has spoken, the meeting is “over” and nothing else is to be added, unless said presiding authority asks for additional commentary.

    What does this have to do with the story above? Elder Nelson waited until the man was done and the meeting was adjourned before PRIVATELY gently rebuking the new Stake President. A public rebuke–either mid-testimony or afterwards–would have destroyed the new Stake President’s credibility with those he was just called to lead, and Elder Nelson understood that.

    In choosing to publicly rebuke a person–whether he was justified or not according to the rule book–likely destroyed any presence of the Spirit during that meeting. Whether the violin was distracting or not is not the point: the Bishop’s actions guaranteed that no one was thinking about the sacrament hymn anymore. Good policy? Maybe. Bad execution? Definitely.

  16. Our current (new) bishop recently didn’t let a brother play his french horn at his sister’s baptism. The brother had practiced, etc. and was ready to go, but when the baptism came, the bishop, who was conducting, indicated he couldn’t play the primary number. What makes it bizarre in my mind is that the service was only for their family–no one else was getting baptized.

  17. 19. Let us know if same Bishop does that again 4 years from now. My bet is that he won’t, and he’ll always remember that as one of the “learning” moments of his early days as a Bishop. Maybe not.

  18. In the violin situation, I would have hung my head in shame. Publicly embarrassing someone whether they are a member of our church or not is wrong. The bishop should have pulled the guy aside after sacrament meeting and spoken with him privately. Was there a legitimate “threat” to the sanctity of the sacrament? From what I read, I don’t think there was.

    When I was in college after my mission, many of my friends were evangelicals. I went to one of their Wednesday night meetings. They were singing along with a full band consisting of drums, guitars, saxophones, etc. The spirit was so strong during that moment because of the sincerity of faith of the participants, you could almost taste it.

    I can’t wait for the day when we as a church throw off the dogmas traditions of the elders which have no basis in celestial law or purpose in salvation. If it brings the spirit, it’s not a bad thing. Decisions should be made along these lines.

  19. Bless anyone who accepts the call to be Bishop. I feel sad after reading the majority of the comments. Think of all the Good the Bishop does for a ward and we are all sitting around talking about 10seconds of time. We aren’t giving the violin teacher any credit or dignity, perhaps he shruged it off. Why do we always assume the worst. People screw up all the time in their callings, I’d be devistated if someone posted somthing I had done while I was just trying to fulfil my calling. No one actually applies for a Leadership Calling, and we are counciled not to decline. Everyone is just trying to their best. I’m thankful for this post because it renews my support for my Bishop, even when the going gets tough.

  20. Everyone is just trying to their best.

    Yup. And sometimes bishops screw up. And we can learn from it. Sometimes they’re just jerks and petty tyrants, but luckily that’s unusual. What they aren’t, though, is some kind of protected class. In fact, they are (justly!) subject to higher scrutiny than average Joes, because they hold some degree of dominion over the average Joes.

    I’m thankful for this post because it renews my support for my Bishop, even when the going gets tough.

    That sounds great, but what does it mean? Is “when the going gets tough” code for “when he makes a crap decision”? There is a difference between sustaining our leaders and “my bishop, right or wrong!”

  21. 23″I feel sad after reading the majority of the comments. Think of all the Good the Bishop does for a ward and we are all sitting around talking about 10seconds of time. We aren’t giving the violin teacher any credit or dignity, perhaps he shruged it off. Why do we always assume the worst. People screw up all the time in their callings, I’d be devistated if someone posted somthing I had done while I was just trying to fulfil my calling. No one actually applies for a Leadership Calling, and we are counciled not to decline. Everyone is just trying to their best.”

    Anne that is great advice- and I think something I didn’t even consider. In our jobs and in our callings were all on a learning curve and their will be casualties along the way! Its good to have people like you around who can remind us of that

  22. “In fact, they are (justly!) subject to higher scrutiny than average Joes, because they hold some degree of dominion over the average Joes.”

    actually they are average joes. they don’t have dominion over us, but rather Stewardship. and no it isn’t code to excuse a decision that we don’t understand or when a Bishop say’s or does something that maybe deemed inapropriate to some while others find it completely appropriate.

    I am currently in a ward where the thought often crosses my mind “what is he saying?” or “did he really just say that?”. This is somewhat very real time for me. But I realise that I need to work out my negative feelings, I would love to lay the responibility at someones elses feet, but in the end all that happens is I end up with years full of bitterness.

  23. I don’t think it had anything to do with the violin. He was told he wasn’t allowed yet he stood up, looked over the organist shoulder and played anyway. If we went to a catholic church with a friend would it be prorate to stand next to the priest and bear our testimony? Right or wrong he shouldn’t have played when asked not to. Which brings me to my question. Why did he feel he could do as he pleased?

  24. RE 27: Quoi?

    He was told he wasn’t allowed yet he stood up, looked over the organist shoulder and played anyway… Right or wrong he shouldn’t have played when asked not to. Which brings me to my question. Why did he feel he could do as he pleased?

    You misunderstand the situation. Read the post and comment 15 again. The violinist began to play (not knowing any “better”), and was then asked not to. He did not continue. Full stop.

  25. #18 Please someone tell me that the story of Elder Nelson in his biography is not true. Have we totally lost the meaning of the word worship because of the letter of the law. One of the most spiritual sacrament meetings I have attended was an inner city New Orleans ward where I heard a lot of “Amens” and “Praise the Lords” throughout the service. This incident reminds me of times when a poor priest has had to repeat a prayer so many times that the whole meaning of the sacrament is obscured. Sometimes a bishop must simply exercise compassion and good manners.

  26. #29 – Hestia, fwiw, those two things are completely different in nature. One is cultural/spiritual, while the other is purely administrative (and enacted to keep meetings in our own day and age from turning into multiple-hour free-for-alls).

    As much as we might react to the Elder Nelson story, I don’t think many in the Bloggernacle (or even extremely “orthodox” members in most wards and branches) would welcome the alternative.

  27. I understand how this was unplanned, but the music is supposed to bring the spirit into the meeting. In my opinion such a disruption would disturb the spirit of the meeting.

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