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?