Children and Testimonies

guest sacrament meeting, testimony 31 Comments

Today’s post is by Andrew C.  This past Sunday, we attended a different ward for a relative’s baby blessing. This particular ward is located in a newer large development along the Wasatch Front, and was filled with young families and children (this one has three primaries. Three). There was a constant drone of babies and toddlers that very nearly drowned out anyone at the pulpit. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

After the baby blessings and the administration of the sacrament, the bishop stood up and bore his testimony. As he closed his testimony, I was quite surprised to hear him say, “We turn over the next 10 or 12 minutes to the primary children who wish to bear their testimonies. After that, the remainder of our time will go to the young adults and adults for the bearing of their testimonies.”

As soon as he had closed his testimony, about 20 primary age children filled the choir seats, waiting for their turn to bear their testimony. About 10 more found their way up to the dais as their peers were sharing their testimony. The majority of the children standing up seemed to be no older than eight.

We then heard these children repeat stock phrases in that sing-songy way that seems to be as universal as the Church: “I’d like to bear my testimony; I know the Church is true. I love my family, and I know President Monson is a prophet.” There were a few children, of course, who had a little bit more or less to say than this (and some who couldn’t really be understood at all).

At first, it was kind of cute. It takes a lot of courage to stand before several hundred people and say what you believe. But after about the, oh, fifteenth testimony expressed in very nearly the same words as those preceeding it, the egan to strike me as a very strange and even disturbing. I began to wonder what my relatives’ non-member family members were thinking, because I knew what I’d be thinking in their situation – because I was thinking it already – that this whole scene was getting a little too Jesus Camp-y for comfort.

After about 12 or 15 minutes of hearing the same phrase over and over, adults and teenagers finally began making their way to the pulpit. I admit it: I was relieved.

Following the meeting, I spoke briefly with my relative about his ward’s approach to the testimony problem. He said that limiting the time for children to bear their testimonies had been the best solution so far; before that, there were several testimony meeting in which primary children had taken up the entire meeting.

My wife and I discussed ways to deal with this problem. The bishopric could state that the remaining time was for the sharing of testimonies by those over age 12 and that the primary children would have their own special primary testimony meeting. Or the bishopric could say, “All children who know the Church is true, please stand. All children who love their families, please stand. We turn the remainder of the meeting over to adults and young adults for the bearing of testimony.”

OK, The second suggestion is probably a little too flip for sacrament meeting.

But how does a bishopric and ward deal with this problem? On the one hand, it would be terrible to quench the enthusiasm of so many young children. On the other hand, it’s unsettling to watch 30 children under the age of about 8 share their testimonies in the exact same way – even down to the inflection – one after the other, to say nothing of leaving inadequate time for the adults to share their testimonies.

How do you balance these competing needs? What would you do if you were the bishop in this situation?

Bonus questions: where does the phrase “I’d like to bear my testimony; I know the church is true” even come from? Is there something in the Primary Presidency’s Handbook of Instructions that says to teach the children to bear their testimony thus? And why is it children bear their testimony with the exact same voice inflection all over North America?

Comments

comments

Comments 31

  1. I think it is a question of spirit vs. substance. The children are cute and there is a good spirit involved when they get up and bear their simple testimony. Their testimonies are usually almost completely lacking in substance, though, with the same words repeated by each child and with many of them not really understanding what it is that they are saying.

    Spirit vs. Substance? The church has been trending toward spirit and away from substance for a long time. This is appealing to some, but hollow to others.

  2. I think children DO need to be encouraged to share their testimonies–in their classes. On fast Sundays, I think it would be perfectly appropriate for primary teachers to spend time with their class allowing SOME (not all) of the children (say 1/3 to 1/2 dependent on class size) to bear their testimony.

    Additionally, I think it would be appropriate for a Bishop to say, in these circumstances, “Brothers & Sisters, due to the large number of excited young voices who would love to share their testimonies, we have prayed about it, and come up with a solution that, while it does not permit every child to bear their testimony, does allow us to hear from a few more who have a bit more time to say something special. I’ve asked them in advance to think about their testimonies, which they will share. After which, I will allow time for another few children who just can’t wait…perhaps two or three, no more…to bear their testimony. Any remaining children who wish to share their testimony will be given the chance to do so in their primary class after sacrament. After this the remaining time will be given to those whose ages unfortunately no longer permit us to attend primary, no matter how much we might wish to.”

    That might work out, but it would need to be very carefully controlled. In a former ward we had a young man who had downs syndrome who would bear his unintelligible testimony every month. No one ever tried to stop him. Why not? Despite this, it was clearly sincere. He often said embarassing or inappropriate things, but he also was clearly trying to express his love for everyone out there. Which made it all okay. He has no pride, and I respect that a lot.

  3. I like your suggestion Benjamin O — the Bishop asking some children in advance. It’s nice to hear from them. It’s sweet. It could get to a point where too much “sweet” is not a good thing. It detracts from the Spirit.

    What about having a testimony meeting in the primary sharing time (where they are all together)? The kids could all get up and still bear their tesimonies, if they want, within the primary. The kids might have a lot more appreciation for the words of their peers.

  4. The First Presidency put out a letter officially discouraging children bearing testimonies in sacrement meeting and encouraging them to do this in the home or in their classes. Does anyone else remember this? It was probably within theh last year. They read it in church.

    But old habits die hard. Actually, it typically takes about 5 years just to get the message out then another decade to kill the old tradition. This only happened within the last year, so you will have to grin and bear it for another 14 years.

    1. I think the small children should be taught to bear their testimonies in primary or other classes…. that is the way it used to be.
      I don’t think parents should stand up with them and prompt them in every word… some are not even three years old… think what visitors who might be investigating the church …… I have even had comments about this…… they feel the church is forcing them to do this, when it is the parents , even bribing them …. Yes i have heard the letter read in Sacrament meeting about not having the young children bare their testimonies until they are able to do it by the spirit…….One letter was read in just the past two or three years .. No one listens… it should be sent out often until we all get the message or even in the Ensign……..

  5. As I reacll, when was I lad, we had children’s testimony in the now-defunct Junior Sunday School (I think we even had the sacrament in there, too). In this way, kids got all of the positives associated sharing their feelings, without turning Sunday into a free-for-all. While I certainly am not calling for a return to the pre-block-meeting schedule, I think JSS is a good idea for lots of reasons.

    Yes, Bruce, I remember the letter. To my great surpise, it actually worked in my ward, effective immediately. Rarely do we have kids get up and, I have to admit it, its a nice change. Although I must admit that hearng from a child would be nice to shake things up a bit every once in a while.

  6. There is testimony sharing time set aside in primary, which is the most appropriate place for this. Personally, I would do away with the children (under age 8) bearing testimony in Sacrament Meeting. Let it be a rite of passage after baptism to be able to get up in front of the congregation (for those little rising stars out there).

    Our bishop actually referred to it as “open mike” time last fast Sunday, which I thought was pretty funny (and accurate).

  7. This is an on-going, never-ending problem that will never be fixed because any bishop will never be able to get the parents to understand that it needs to be fixed. Holding an 18 month old baby up to the microphone last Sunday was more than stupid, but that’s what happened in my ward. Parents have to be smarter than the kids and they never will be. I’ve seen everything tried. Limiting children to Primary didn’t work, as well at 10-12 minutes either before or at the end of the meeting didn’t work. So every fast meeting is a race to dare each other to come up and voice their testimonies…which we all know is far from a reason to do so. And it does not help with they get up there and say their teachers ‘challenged’ them to come up. F&T is a joke. I play the organ so I usually take a book to read on that day. It helps.

  8. #7 “never-ending problem that will never be fixed because any bishop will never be able to get the parents to understand that it needs to be fixed.”

    So very true.

    Plus parents only get offended when a Bishop (ie me some years back) tried to change this and had all children go up and say the same testimony all together at the same time! Only worked for 2 Sundays, then it was back to normal (Ok, maybe a bad idea)

    Then we tried the primary sharing time only rule but parents started to take them up themselves during the meeting, at the start, near the end and in between.

    So eventually one gets tired and just leaves things as they are (so the next guy can fix it).

  9. I am fortunate in that children in our ward have been banned from rambling in our testimony meetings for a few years. Our former bishop was very direct about it, and the letter from the FP helped reinforce what he had been saying for a while.

    We occasionally have a pre-12 testimony, but each one has been sincere and unique – not a rote regurgitation.

  10. I was beginning to think that the counsel from the Bretheren about children bearing their testimonies was common knowledge, so this was really surprising that the Bishop actually ASKED the children to come up. I wonder if he ended up having second thoughts…

  11. Wow. The pre-12 kids very, very rarely go up to the mike on our Fast Sundays, and usually it’s with a parent. I’ve been in the ward 19 years and I can’t recall it ever being an issue there. Does that say something detrimental about the way we’re raising our children?

  12. As we only have a about 12 or so primary children in our whole ward this has not been an issue. Yes, occasionally a primary child does get up and bear their so called witness. Some are more spiritually mature than others. Some are very Spirit filled but that is fairly rare.
    Of more concern for me is what I see happen with the young men and women. They will be challenged by their youth leaders to get up and bear their testimonies and then they will just line up and bear their testimonies. Problem is that alot of them are up at the pulpit only due to peer pressure and haven’t thought about what kind of a testimony they have. They often parrot each other as well. Yet the brethren do remind us that it is in the bearing of ones testimony that the testimony is strengthened. So it is a tough call at times as to what to do. I guess that is why we have leaders and just need to follow their counsel.

  13. We discussed this in a Bishopric meeting and turned to the Church Handbook of Instructions for guidance. As I recall the handbook said that little children should neither be encouraged nor discouraged regarding the bearing of testimonies in sacrament meeting. If there was an edict such as Bruce described, it didn’t match that and I don’t remember it. It also stated that testimony bearing should NOT be a part of primary–except for those testimonies accompanying primary talks. Will double check my CHOI when I get home. I honestly wish we had the “problem” of having more families with young children in our ward. The “empty nesters” group is probably bigger than the primary. Fortunately, when my 4 year old son bears his testimony in Sacrament meeting, he is usually the ONLY child to do so, and the congregation thinks it is sweet…which OF COURSE it is, as he is awesome!

  14. “I’d like to bear my testimony; I know the church is true” even come from? Is there something in the Primary Presidency’s Handbook of Instructions that says to teach the children to bear their testimony thus? And why is it children bear their testimony with the exact same voice inflection all over North America?

    We don’t have that going on at all with our kids in our meetings. Maybe one or two a meeting, if any at all. Who knows?

  15. Andrew great post

    Over here in the UK at least in the wards I have been to its a problem I would think the bishops want to have. The wards in the london area are dwindling because of house prices are to pricy for younger families to move into. It could be a phenomina in the wards farther out. Sounds to me like its isolated to the wards that surround Salt Lake ie Sandy Bountiful etc.

  16. Most children don’t say “I’d like to bear my testimony” they say “I like to bear my testimony” because they have no idea what they’re really saying, they’re just parroting. There are a few other sentences they don’t get quite right but I can’t think of them at 1 a.m.

    In a ward with three primaries–I’ve also been to baby blessings in such wards in Utah Valley and south Salt Lake Valley–I’m even surprised there was any time for testimonies, I’ve seen 7 or even more babies blessed on a given Sunday and NO time for testimonies.

  17. Many have commented on how the children tend to ramble on and on when bearing their testimonies, but have failed to mention how many adults can ramble on and on as well. Is it alright that adults do this in testimony meetings? Perhaps the children learn this from the adults they are watching. It seems that in many places and with many people you must have a long-winded story to tell or else your testimony is not worth sharing. This is not true. In fact, we should, as adults, practice sharing our testimonies, not our travel logs and daily activities from the past month. If you have a short, brief experience that enhances your testimony then share it, but listening to stories of peoples vacation experiences and family faux pas may not be the kind of speeches that invite the Spirit. If we, as adults, can master ourselves and keep our testimony sharing to just that perhaps our children will be more likely to learn this as well. In this way they will know what a testimony truly is and when it is appropriate to share it. Remember, our children are watching us and it is our behavior that they learn to imitate. Let us make sure we are teaching them, through our behavior, what is appropriate and what is not.

  18. 18. Agreed. We recently had a couple of older ladies who honestly took 80% of the time in F&T meeting, without anything uplifting or redeeming being shared – quite the opposite, in fact. The larger issue is that many people don’t understand what is appropriate in that meeting. Maybe by not “cracking down” on the kids and teaching them what it’s really about, we create these rambling, unfocused adults.

    I thnk most members generally share the feelings we’ve been expressing in our responses here, the problem is that ward leadership often lacks the guts to effect real change. Kudos to CarlosJC for even making the attempt. I’ve been in on lots of meetings (as part of a bishopric and otherwise) where this issue is discussed, and I find a lot of bishops get really squeamish at the prospect of upsetting ANYONE.

  19. The post by Rigel Hawthorne is correct. According to instructions from the Church, children are not to be encouraged nor discouraged from bearing their testimonies. Nor is it appropriate to set aside time during Primary for the bearing of testimonies. Since children are still learning and gaining spiritual experience, they often are just parroting what they have heard their parents, teachers and leaders say. This is why the most appropriate place for children to bear their testimony is in the home, where their parents can help nurture this tender testimony and help it grow. We have discussed this many times in our ward’s bishopric meetings. The solution we have arrived to was to encourage parents to give their young children time during Family Home Evening to bear their testimony, and when they are able to give their testimony on their own, they are invited to do so during Fast and Testimony Meeting.

  20. I’ve been in on similar meetings with similar solutions agreed upon. But the delivery of the solution and the ongoing education is generally where it falls apart. And I get why it does. If someone bears a clearly inappropriate testimony, who’s going to do the dirty work of correcting them? And what is the fall out?

  21. I have to say that we had a bishop several years ago who discouraged the parents from bring kids to the front to bear testamonies and I was sad, since growing up in Utah I loved to hear the young primary kids bear pure tesimony and not story telling like some of the adults would do. But I had the sweetest expierience the fast Sunday after the passing of President Hinckly as I attended another ward in our stake as part of a stake visit for my calling. As soon as the bishopric member sat down I think all of the primary went forward and bore their testimony at how much they loved President Hinckley and they shared thoughts of how he had touched their lives and the fact that they would miss him a lot but would love the new prophet when he was called. There were many tears shed and the meeting went over by 15 minutes and there were only a few adults that bore testimonies, but I have never felt the spirit stronger then that day when those young primary kids cried over loosing thier prophet. As a mother of 7 I have allowed and encouraged my children to bear their testimonies any time the spirit directs them. Hearts are softened and lives are changed when the spirit bears wittness and it might be for the one speaking and it might be for the one listening.

  22. Thank you Jodi! I was thinking the same thing as I read the other posts. I served my mission in Provo, UT (really)and my companion and I used to DREAD taking investigators to testimony meetings for that reason. I remember one sacrament meeting in Payson where almost everyone bore their testimony about girls camp (it was fun, the food was good, the leaders rock, etc).

    I think all of us need to remember what we are baring testimony of. I am from NYC and the first time I walked in to my little branch, I heard testimony of how the love of the Savior changed the lives of the members. That is what moved me to come back after 15 years of inactivity! I wonder how my life would be different if I heard testimony of how cool girls camp was that day?

  23. I wonder sometimes if we have the Spirit in our testimony meetings. The Spirit prompts members to share sacred experiences and testify of the Savior. Could it be that enough of us are out of contact with the Spirit that our testimony meetings are human inspired the majority of the time, instead of Spirit inspired.

    Prosperity as this generation has known may leave us spiritually anemic.

    Less I be misunderstood, I am not being critical. I’m wondering. Is it possible to be a commandment keeping people and be spiritually anemic?

  24. #25 – Yes.

    Fortunately, I have been in a ward that is a wonderful spiritual refuge. Your description, Apace, of that branch in NYC is exactly what happens in my ward weekly (in testimony meetings, in Sunday School classes, etc.) – and it’s truly amazing.

  25. As a ward chorister on the stand, I love to watch the kids come up and ours don’t “monopolize” the time.
    I have been concerned that they are repeating the same phrase with the same inflection which sounds like recitation at school. I don’t think anyone teaches them the opening phrases. I think it’s just heard so much all over (I live in Georgia) that it self-perpetuates. Again, let’s have them try at home and emphasize to them to follow the Spirit.

    I liked when our bishopric reminded the congregation while conducting Fast and Testimony meeting to keep the messages “Christ-centered”. I have seen our bishop reach up and tap a shoulder when they had monopolized the time with a less-than-Christ-centered “lecture” and ask them to wrap it up. Then I saw that leader lovingly call that member in to talk right after the meeting and the lady seeemed calm in the 3rd hour. This does have to be handled carefully and sensitively. When I was a child, I could predict who would talk in this meeting and I dreaded it in my intermountain West ward. I was pleasntly surprised as a young adult when I moved to Louisiana for work and attended a smaller ward with mostly converts and I heard very inspiring testimonies and not “organ recitals” or travelogues and endless thank-a-monies. I think gratitude to the Lord and even our families is good but without witness of the truth of the Gospel and the Savior, it’s not “filling” enough.
    “Empty” spiritual calories 🙂

  26. I posted this on another thread about Testimonies but thought I would do so again here since its also been discussed and I’m struggling with this:

    I am really struggling with the no kids thing in our ward. I have an 11 year old and she not only had never born her testimony in Sacrament Meeting, she has been expressly forbidden from doing so. Our ward has a strict “no one under 12” policy. Of course none of our youth ever get up either so not many under 12 have seen kids near their age bear anything either.

    I’m also struggling with the continual reminders that our testimonies should not include any personal stories or experiences at all. I’m not exaggerating here, we are encouraged before each testimony meeting with reminders from the Bishopric not to say anything other than “I know”, “I testify” or “I believe” sort of statements. I find it ironic that the reason being given for the kids to not get up at all is to avoid the vain repetition sounding testimonies and yet I’m being told I should basically say “I know the Church is True, I believe the Book Of Mormon, ITNJC, Amen”

    Here is our May Bishopric Message from our ward newsletter:

    PURE TESTIMONY
    The counsel to bear testimony of the Savior and the truthfulness of the gospel has always been with us. More recently we have been reminded that during testimony meeting we should keep our testimonies pure and to refrain from making it a forum to thank others,
    express love to others or recount travels or experiences. One might ask what is wrong with these. Especially to thank and express love seem to be good things. While they
    are good, the bearing of one’s testimony is not the time or place. There are more appropriate forums.

    Some have followed this counsel willingly and with valor. Some have had a more difficult time for various reasons. Some have not understood or accepted the counsel. I fear that there are some who worry that they may say the wrong thing and question
    whether what they say is acceptable. I wish to give some counsel and advice that I hope will clarify the counsel we have been given and instill in those who fear that they may
    say the wrong thing the courage to bear pure testimony.

    In October Conference of 2004 Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “Our testimony meetings need to be more centered on the Savior, the doctrines of the gospel, the blessings of the Restoration, and the teachings of the scriptures. We need to replace stories, travelogues, and lectures with pure testimonies”. If one simply stood and shared with the congregation
    their feelings, belief and knowledge of the Savior, the doctrine, the restoration and the scriptures: this is a pure testimony.

    What many may secretly fear is that they will be saying pretty much the same thing all members who bore their testimonies prior to them said. If they do not add some “flair” (a story or experience) they will be viewed as unimaginative and uninteresting. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact one of the key purposes of testimony meeting is to feel the spirit and the Lord has said that where two or three are gathered together in His name there will He be also. If we all were able to stand a bear similar testimony of our
    knowledge of these things, how wonderfully strong the spirit can be.

    Elder Ballard goes on to say that “To bear testimony is “to bear witness by the power of the Holy Ghost; to make a solemn declaration of truth based on personal knowledge or
    belief” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Testify,” 241). Clear declaration of truth makes a difference in people’s lives. That is what changes hearts. That is what the Holy Ghost can
    confirm in the hearts of God’s children”. This brothers and sisters is the key. If I tell you how thankful I am for someone, a story or travel experience unrelated to my belief,
    then the Holy Ghost cannot and will not bear witness of the truthfulness of what I say. It is unnecessary for him to do so. If I bear witness of the knowledge that I have of the Savior and his gospel, then this is the Holy Ghost’s mission and calling and all may be edified by it. Especially if many before me have borne similar testimony of Him prior to me bearing my testimony.

    May I offer a few suggestions for the bearing of testimonies in testimony meeting:
    1. We are counseled that it is most appropriate for children to bear testimony in the home and in primary. Testimony meeting may not be the best time for them to do so. Teach them pure testimony and practice it in the home.
    2. Make definitive statements about what you believe and know to be true. Use phrases such as “I testify that…” or “I know that…”
    3. Pray for one another during the meeting that we may share and be edified by pure testimony.
    4. Forget yourself and have charity for others. Do not worry that your testimony is too basic or simple. The gospel IS simple. Testimony meeting is just a time to share our
    knowledge of these beautiful and simple truths. If we do not put the focus on ourselves and how others may view us, but on others and how the spirit may work in their lives all may be edified together.
    5. Know that when you stand to bear your testimony, the members of the Bishopric are
    behind you. Not just literally, but in spirit and prayer. The love I feel as your Bishop for each of you as you stand to share your most sacred and a special belief is immense and indescribable. I say a prayer for each of you as you come to the podium.
    6. Practice, practice, practice. If the only time we bear our testimonies is in testimony meeting then it is natural to be “rusty”. Take opportunity to bear testimony to one another in lessons, visiting teaching, home teaching and in the home. Not only will it edify and change lives, but we will be more adept at bearing pure testimony when the spirit prompts in sacrament meeting.

    I love you brothers and sisters. I marvel at your goodness and light. It is a pleasure to serve you and I desire all the best for you and your families. It is my prayer that we will continue to love, serve and edify one another. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
    With my love, Bishop

    I agree with the theory behind this in many ways but find it really difficult to bear my testimony in our ward now.

  27. I would find it hard to bear my testimony too, I’d start to wonder if while I’m talking from my heart, if my heart is expressing the “brethren approved” message…which would just push me to never getting up again.

    I understand their effort, trying to keep testimony meetings focused on real testifying, but I think your description has shown they have missed the mark. Teach the people correct principles and let them govern themselves, not age limit bans or lists of does and don’ts … that’s an old testament mentality.

    Elder Haight:
    “speakers should be urged to relate faith-promoting experiences, to bear testimony, to expound doctrinal subjects, and to speak in a spirit of love and brotherhood. At the same time, they should be urged to avoid travelogues, argumentations, criticism, and the discussion of controversial subjects which have no direct bearing on the saving principles of the gospel”

  28. Fwiw, MakeGuy, there is no official injunction against brief stories or experiences that highlight the concept about which a testimony is being focused. The core concept simply is to be brief (as much to allow many to speak as to strengthen the Spirit of the meeting) and to focus on Christ and the principles of the Gospel. The issue is when a story shared becomes a talk given rather than a testimony, and that is an important distinction – a line I have seen crossed regularly.

    I almost always focus on one specific principle, explaining very briefly what caused me to reflect on it and bearing testimony of it. I never recite a laundry list of “I knows” or “I believes”. My personal feeling is that if you can’t beat a testimony in two minutes or less (and generally a lot less), you probably didn’t think about it first and/or are rambling at least a bit.

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