I recently read a piece by Jana Riess on Beliefnet.com “Why Are Mormon Church Meetings So Dull?”. I intended to write an extensive rebuttal on her piece because, frankly, I don’t agree with it.
It’s not that I disagree with everything she wrote, it is the implications of some of her points I have a problem with. And, in a point I think is extremely critical to discuss: Is the meeting itself dull or the people who attend it making it dull for themselves?
So, rather than a point by point rebuttal, I offer up a few of my own observations.
We now live in an over-stimulated society. First, there were those of us who grew up with Television. We could sit and watch the box for long periods of time. But TV didn’t take the place of reading books and newspapers, playing outside and doing other activities. Second, came the MTV generation. Music became visual and news went 24 hours a day. This began the gradual decline of other sedentary activities such as reading, playing board games, puzzles and just sitting. Parents heard more and more from their children, “I’m bored.” Outside activities were also beginning to wane and obese children and adults are now more common.
Then, we ushered in the Internet, cell phones, video games, and VCRs. This just compounded the problems I noted above. Unsuspecting parents were turning their children and themselves into couch potatoes and anything less than flashing lights and extreme movement was just plain dull. And, finally, we are now at the Text/Twitter generation, where anything less than instantaneous everything is slow. Where folks, especially young people cannot be away from their mobile device for a second less they miss an important “k” or some other cryptic message. In fact, most sleep with their devices and the thought of turning it off for any period of time, like a 70 minute church meeting is unheard of.
We expect to be entertained 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In fact, many Church Services have become more like a show than a worship service. Even the Catholic Church has modified its mass to try to accommodate this trend. And many so-called mega-churches, loud bands, modern music, loud preachers and a loud congregation have been the norm for the folks who even bother to go. And they dress as though they are going to see Miley Cyrus rather than worship God and Jesus. The idea is we’d rather have them here at Church, such as it is, then sitting at home just drinking beer and watching football on Sundays.
The LDS Church has not succumbed to these trends and its worship service, the Sacrament Meeting has largely remained unchanged for many years. In Ms. Riess’ assertion that “we no longer expect spiritual manifestations,” she confuses a massive outpouring of the Spirit like that experienced at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple with the manner in which the Prophet Joseph always taught about how we generally commune and hear from God, by and through the still small voice. She seems to assert that Latter-day Saints outside the US are having dramatic manifestations of the spirit while American Saints do not. Yet, I have attended a number of Sacrament meetings outside the US and it always seemed like a normal Sacrament Meeting to me. No angels appeared, one writhed on the floor, spoke in a strange language or danced with snakes while I was there.
Yet, I have heard members say and I have often felt the presence of the Spirit at countless Sacrament Meetings, so I am not sure what she is talking about when she says, “we don’t truly expect God to show up” at our meetings. It is one of those things that people often pray for at the beginning and end of our meetings.
It is incredibly important to know why we are there at those meetings. We are at Sacrament Meeting to worship our Heavenly Father and His Son and partake of the Sacrament. That’s it. That is why we are there. The talks and business conducted are secondary to that purpose. So, I probably agree with Ms. Riess that that purpose needs to be reinforced with members, as do the purpose and manner of talks as well.
For the most part, I love the music of Zion. Ms. Riess thinks it is “funereal.” And, it can be. But I also notice that many people in the congregation cannot be bothered to sing the hymns. They chat, stare off into space or have to deal with fussy children (a legitimate excuse, in my book). With more people singing, the music would be better.
The final point I’d like to address are the talks. She says, “Our talks suck.” Again, it is a matter of perspective. We know that most of our folks are NOT professional public speakers. They are moms and dads, many of whom have other full time jobs and responsibilities. So, they sometimes struggle to find the time to properly prepare talks for Sunday. That is no excuse. For the once in a while opportunity to teach the congregation, more time and effort could be made, for sure. But, we need to cut these folks some slack. Even so-called professional clergy can be just as bad and dull as any LDS member giving a talk. These are our Brother and Sisters. I think we can forgive them their speaking inadequacies and learn to hear the message rather than the delivery of the messenger.
In conclusion, any meeting or activity that is not well understood can be perceived as dull and boring. If I took many of you to a Jewish Sabbath day service, with its three-hour rote liturgy, all spoken in Hebrew, you might think that is dull, not having a clue what is going on, what is being said and the purposes behind it. Most Jewish services have little music, no screaming or yelling and the entertainment value is low. But, the devotion, respect and worship are there.
And that is the same way I feel about Our LDS Sacrament Service.
I guess the message I got from Jana on spiritual manifestations (from her article and from her interview on Mormon Expression podcast) was that this seems to limit God in modern times in a way that he (apparently) was not limited in times past. It isn’t to say that the still small voice isn’t great and good, but I think her point about the past is valid. (As far as other countries, I think the point is very overstated.)
Her discussion mentions something that I thought was interesting. At LDS church meetings, we expect things to be “safe.” Our encounters with the God are “safe,” quiet, warm. So, I’m sure people feel the presence of the spirit, but do they have a sense of awe (in the non “totally tubular” sense)? A sense of Godfear?
What do we do to worship Heavenly Father in Sacrament? Jana’s point is that instead of worshipping God (which we should be doing), it seems that more often we are learning about God. The difference, she says, is that worship should include more of our being. (This spills over into her later claims, such as singing).
Her point about music is not to scrap the hymns we have, but rather, like you have said: encourage people to sing, and sing out! Sing at proper tempo, with proper energy for each song.
She made another point on the podcast that I thought was interesting with respect to music though. For musical numbers, our expectations about “appropriate” reverence with musical instruments are as limited as our expectations about the encounters with the spirit. So, trumpets are banned because they are “too prominent.” OK, OK, that’s all fine and good, but shouldn’t there be occasions — Easter, for example — when we want prominent music to proclaim the most prominent and great events?
Re: talks. I think she has some bias (having gone to school to be a preacher for a while), BUT I like her general point.
Mom, dad, child, amateur or professional, EVERYONE must know fundamentals of speaking. Because everyone *will* speak. You do not need to be a professional public speaker to know certain things (don’t introduce by apologizing for how you’re really a terrible speaker. Don’t introduce by saying, “Well…the Bishop called me and gave me this topic”…and don’t follow that by saying, “I really haven’t prepared enough for this, but here goes nothin!”
I think the issue is people automatically assume, “hey, we speak every day, so if I ask you to speak, then you should be able to give a great talk without any training.” But this doesn’t work out in any area…so we need to encourage some way for people to be trained in speaking. They don’t have to be pros. But there are some basics.
President Kimball said that he never attended a sacrament meeting that he didn’t learn something. That is a humbly statement. I learned from that statement that I need to be prepared to feel the spirit and look for the spirit in any talk, testimony, etc given during sacrament meeting. It is not easy…
If you think about it, Sacrament meeting is the only ordinance we do as a family. That always brings the importance of the meeting back into my mind.
Wasn’t it one of the prophets that stated he had never sat in a dull sacrament meeting?
(Disclaimer: said quote is possibly apocryphal. I don’t know, and can’t be bothered currently to find out. Maybe some other time.)
I think that sacrament meeting is largely about what you bring to it. Personally, and bluntly, I don’t bring much to it right now…I’m just hoping that my kids let me hear even one of the talks uninterrupted. I hope that I get to take the sacrament. I hope that I am in the room for all of the prayers and hymns. Usually I am not, and I miss the sacrament about every 2 of 3 Sundays. Bluntly put, I don’t find it dull, just tiring. I will be glad when all the kids are able to sit still. That should be about the time they turn 25, so I’ve only got another 22 years for the youngest, about 6 or 7 of which it won’t really be my problem–and at some point, I’m sure I’ll just be glad to get them TO church.
Are some of the talks dreadful? Sure, but there are things to be learned even from that. Some talks, while well presented, well-meaning, and well-prepared, are still terrible. Some talks are unprepared, silly, and disorganized–and still wonderful because the person is so sincere.
Sometimes my son takes his pants off and runs around the ward building half-naked (that was a particularly rough Sunday). Sometimes I wish I could be so free of embarrassment, inhibitions, and worry about what others think.
I don’t sing so well as many others that I know, but I sing enthusiastically. I don’t really care if I’m off key any more, I just want to sing and enjoy the spirit of the hymn. Sometimes I’m on key, and some days I’m not. If anyone has a problem with it, they can tell me so, but it’s highly unlikely to get me to change. If someone who was terribly annoyed by my singing wanted to help be improve, I’d be fine with that.
In essence, I feel that sacrament, like almost everything else in the church, is dependent on your attitude.
I agree with Jana Riess (as represented by Jeff).
By today’s standards, our meetings are dull.
Talks may be a secondary purpose of sacrament meeting, as Jeff suggests, but they still take up the majority of the time of sacrament meeting. Thus, if the talks are dull, the majority of the time of sacrament meeting will be dull. And most of the talks are mere recitations of scripture and doctrine (= dull).
The fact that speakers are not professional does not make them not dull. It’s an excuse, sure, but they’re still dull. I do agree that we should be charitable and polite to speakers, and glean from talks the truths that we are able, but none of that makes the talks non-dull.
I agree with Jeff re: music. If we would sing out, it would feel fuller and more lively. But we don’t, so the music often sounds dull. However, with most hymns, I find that as long as I am singing out, the hymn is meaningful and non-dull, whether or not others are singing out.
Found the quote:
Spencer W. Kimball – “But I say we do not go to Sabbath meetings to be entertained or amused; we go there to worship the Lord. It is an individual responsibility, and regardless of what is said from the pulpit, if one wishes to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, he may do so by attending his meetings, partaking of the sacrament, and contemplating the beauties of the Gospel. If the sacrament meeting is a failure to you, you are the one that has failed. No one can worship for you, you must do your own serving of the Lord.” � “Conference Report,” April 1944, p. 145
In making assumptions about someone else’s perspective you made quite a few assumptions of your own.
As someone who was raised on beautiful, rich hymns of a Protestant faith, and was a regular attender of a “so-called mega church” before joining the LDS church I take issue with your assumptions about other churches and their motivations and the spiritual understanding of their congregants.
Shall I assume you think one’s spirituality and understanding of the atonement is based on wearing a dress or suit? I hope not.
You stated, “In conclusion, any meeting or activity that is not well understood can be perceived as dull and boring.”
It would seem that any meeting or activity that is not well understood by you is perceived as full of spiritually lazy, attention deficited slackers.
You asked, “Is the meeting itself dull or the people who attend it making it dull for themselves?”
You could have skipped everything else you said about other churches and people because your answer was in this statement:
“It is incredibly important to know why we are there at those meetings. We are at Sacrament Meeting to worship our Heavenly Father and His Son and partake of the Sacrament. ”
I agree. However I would replace “we are” with “I am” and focus on my own personal worship, not someone else’s. None of us are in a position to know the spiritual motivation of others or judge how they conduct their relationship with God.
I think that the way we talk about our meetings says a lot more about us than it does about the meetings. Sure, there is a grain of truth in it, but like with everything else, setting a good example of change is more effective than kvetching. I see her article as the latter.
But I might be biased. I’ve not had a dull sacrament for years, particularly lately. But then, I’m a single mom with a four year old and a one year old. I’d be grateful just to hear a complete sentence in the talk, boring or no.
The question I’ve had, which was raised by commenters to Jana’s piece, is this: What is Sabbath worship? More precisely, what is Sacrament meeting worship? Jeff’s OP says, “We are at Sacrament Meeting to worship our Heavenly Father and His Son and partake of the Sacrament. That’s it. That is why we are there. The talks and business conducted are secondary to that purpose.” If the talks and business are not worship, then aside from partaking of the Sacrament, precisely what do we do on Sundays in the first hour that constitutes worship?
The quote in #5 suggests “contemplating the beauties of the Gospel.” I’ve got no problem doing that during Sacrament meeting–it’s what I do when I read my scriptures or meditate on the speakers’ topics. But given that I could do the same thing at home, substituting the Ensign for speakers, I’m not sure that I’m clear on the concept.
I feel so much from a piece of uplifting music that my heart sings and my soul actually feels full. My job as a nurse working night shift in a children’s cancer ward are very quiet, there is plenty of time to feel the spirit in any form. So when I go to church I want to rejoice and praise the lord. I’ve been a mormon for over a year now and not once hAve we EVER rejoiced in song or praised or worshipped. No foot tapping, no clapping, no shouting amen or hallelujah l! I asked and was politely told the music or way the messages are delivered would never change. It’s very sad.
Andrew S, Chad, and Spencer W. –
Even if I pay attention and get things from sacrament meeting talks, and even if I feel uplifted by what I’ve learned, the meeting may still be dull, which is what Jeff said Jana’s point was. If I have a choice between learning gospel truths from a moving and engaging talk or from a dull and dry talk, I choose the moving and engaging, and I think as a people we should learn how to teach in an engaging manner.
A dull meeting is not necessarily a failure; it’s just dull.
Yearning for more engaging teaching is not a criticism of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s not a failure on the part of the learner. It’s a worthwhile goal and a valid constructive criticism.
adam e, I agree. However, if a dull meeting discourages investigators or new members, then to that extent, I would say that is a failing on our part. I disagree with the people here who have said, “it is a failure on the part of the learner,” because blaming the “victim” will cause them just to leave quicker or sooner.
I agree though that we should be taking these things as worthwhile goals and valid criticisms.
Andrew S. –
My comment was particularly intended to rebut, or at least present points of view not considered by, the commenters who seem to argue that no meeting is dull if we are spiritually in-tune (this is just a short-hand paraphrase; I understand their arguments were more in-depth). As such, I mistakenly addressed you instead of Benjamin Orchard.
#10 There’s the investigator/new member aspect too. Three wards ago, meetings were so terrible that we had several investigators lose interest after attending Church. It’s one thing to ask longtime members to magnify their calling and seek the Spirit in all places, but if the impression we leave with (potential) converts is one of underwhelming dullness, that’s not positive–even if it’s not true in all wards or meetings.
I think that the quality of talks has suffered over the years for several reasons. In the days of my youth MIA still had speech festivals and when Sunday School was in the morning we had two 2 and 1/2 minute talks. Now there’s not as much on the job training that prepares a person to speak in church and as a result some do well and some don’t.
Another problem is that in our stake and I expect in others every speaker is assigned to speak either on the same topic or given the same conference talk on which to base their remarks. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to produce new or different insights but just repetition of the same points.
I admit that when I read Ms Reiss’ satirical piece in Sunstone and then her current one on Belief.net I was pretty offended which is a bit odd given the state of my belief or lack of it. I guess it was what I perceived to be her attitude and the fact that I was glad I’m not in her ward. I mean can you imagine being asked to speak knowing she’s out there dieing spiritually because of you woeful inadequacy. Mercy.
Br Jones, I completely agree (of course). I guess of importance would be discussions at New Cool Thang on increasing member retention. Here and here.
The discussion at NCT has been far more comprehensive and ambitious in relating to investigators and new members, and so doesn’t focus that much on sacrament meetings at all, but it’s just another thing to read/think about.
I find that most talks and music are inspiring when the speakers share pure testimony and when congregants sing with sincerity. My problem with Sacrament Meeting is the lack of reverence among those who attend. In our ward, before and after the meeting it sounds like we’re attending a sporting event. We are a social church and care deeply about others. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the block schedule, we do a lot of our socializing in the chapel. It is hard to worship the Lord effectively when it is so noisy.
Jeff, I’m with you. I read the post you reference, and all I can say is that she never came to my ward. More often than not we have excellent, well-prepared and well-delivered talks. Yes, once in a while we have a ‘repeat-the-conference-address’ talk, but those are the exception, not the rule.
We also have outstanding music in our ward, blessed with a number of near-professional instrumentalists who contribute to the worship service from time to time. Yes, our choir is small and less ambitious, but just last week a rendition of I Know That My Redeemer Lives was the spiritual highlight of the meeting according to many in the congregation.
While we do not have speaking in tongues or angelic appearances, it would be foolhardy to suggest our sacrament meetings are not rich with the spirit. I have observed it myself sitting on the stand and from my seat in the congregation.
Are our meetings simple? Yes. But not the simplest. I recently read on another blog (was it Segulah?) about meetings of the Quakers, which make our meetings boisterous by comparison.
We call them sacrament meeting because that is where we participate in that ordinance. We’ve long been counseled to make the sacrament the center of that meeting. (And I believe that charge is to those who attend, not necessarily those who coduct the meeting). When we come to the sacrament table hungry for spiritual nourishment, we’re more likely to be fed.
Thanks for the post, and for your perspective.
The beginning brought to mind Joseph Conrad’s tribute to the Torrens, a sailing passenger vessel he served on as the world was turning to steam. “The world contains, or contained then, some people who could put up with a sense of peace for three months.”
“Don’t introduce by saying, “’Well…the Bishop called me and gave me this topic’…”
I used to feel that way, but I’ve come to enjoy the ritual of it, like myth telling that must always begin at the very beginning of creation to arrive at the particular matter under consideration.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard it phrased like that…
I would agree with you about reverence in the chapel. When I’m at the church building on an off-day for whatever reason (like an activity), I like to sneak into the chapel and just sit there and contemplate. It’s quiet and very peaceful and a great place to feel the Spirit. But during church hours, it’s hard to feel the Spirit there because I am one of those contemplative, introverted people. I know people who feel the Spirit in large groups of people, but I guess I’m not really one of them.
Church meetings are dull sometimes, but if you try, you can still extrapolate spirituality. This is a very biased and circumstantial claim, but I feel that American society is not very musically oriented. At least for me, while growing up, singing was not considered “cool” or “masculine” and most of the young men went through a dearth of singing in Church. My father is the branch president of the local Korean branch and whenever I go, despite the fact that their branch is small, they’ve out sung almost every ward I’ve been in (including Utah wards with upwards 500-700 people).
I’m not sure if it’s a Korean cultural thing where music is more appreciated, but I suspect so. While serving a mission in Oklahoma, I had the opportunity to sit in on a Church of Christ devotional at one of their private campuses. Color me surprised and incredibly impressed when the whole lecture hall of several thousand students burst into beautiful a capella, with parts and harmony and everything. No notes on the screen, just words. I felt I was at a concert – this was their run of the mill opening hymn. Sometimes I wonder if their whole “no instruments” thing contributes to that kind of culture that appreciates good singing. I am inclined to believe it does.
Ok, here goes,
#1, Andrew S. I haven’t listened to Jana interview yet, but I take the article at face value. My biggest concern not expressed in my post is what others will perceive from it not members. She may have turned off a whole lot of people to attend our service because of what she says in the article.
#2,5, Chad, Thanks for the quote. i had thought about including it in the post, but decided to leave out scriptures and GA quotes. We tend to know where they stand on the issue.
#3 Ben O. All parents of little kids have to get a pass for Sacrament Meeting while the kids are young. It is a real chore sometimes to keep them still AND pay any sort of attention to the meeting. The question is: Do the parents ever recover after the kids are better behaved and not outside the chapel?
#6, Ren. Feel free to take issue with everything I’ve said. My observations were not meant to impute anyone else’s genuine worship or knowledge of the Gospel.
#12, Bro. Jones. Never said talks are not worship, only that the primary reason we attend is to partake of the Sacrament. Talks can be just as spiritually uplifting as the Sacrament itself.
I also suspect that LDS members are better prepared to give talks than the average church goer.
Thanks for the comments, keep them coming!
I agree that the Sacrament is the center of our Sabbath worship. Add hymns (fortunately, in my ward, picked by someone who shares my taste — my mother, as it happens — and conducted up-tempo), and you’ve got a meaningful worship service. The sermons — well, they’re hit or miss, but you occasionally get a good or even a great one, and you treat that as icing on the sacrament/hymn/prayer worship cake.
I think part of the reason some people consider LDS meetings “dull” is because they’re compared to some of the other ways in which we spend our time, where we are conditioned to expect novelty, or else we’re bored: television, movies, sports (I suppose SEC football — three yards and a cloud of dust, rinse & repeat until the final gun — may get repetitive), and so forth. Megachurch worship services try to play into society’s expectation of novelty; unfortunately, it often leads them to embrace theological fads, which looking back can seem as dated as most self-consciously avant-garde architecture. (Boo, hiss International Style.)
In contrast, you have (or had) the traditional Catholic liturgy — a ritual more or less unchanged for centuries upon centuries. It’s something timeless, whose sameness can have the counterintuitive effect of allowing each person to have novel experiences upon encountering it in different stages of life and faith. I view our Sacrament service in a similar way (to the point of whispering to myself the Savior’s words when he first administered the Sacrament — sometimes even in Latin, just to borrow some High Church gravitas if the chirping of children all around me tempts me to greater casualness in the ordinance).
The problem with dullness arises, I think, because the contemplative part of Sabbath worship is so relatively short — not in comparison to the Sacrament service itself, but to the entire three-hour block, which I’m sorry, but I just can’t stand. It’s hard to sustain a contemplative mentality through two and a half hours more of increasingly informal activities, much of which deals more with ecclesiastical logistics than with worship.
Jeff, I guess I’m just more concerned at the reach of the vast majority of wards in the world to turn people off of Sacrament meeting over one article from Jana Riess. I understand that wards can vary (just like any church body can), but if Jana is describing sacrament meetings as they actually are (and, to this point, you don’t seem to be disagreeing…), then that is its own worst problem. I’d imagine that the people paying the most attention to this article are members, for whom this article has been furiously circulating. As such, it gives *us* an opportunities to evaluate these criticisms and improve our meetings.
Alternatively, we can shoot the messenger and insist that it is members, nonmembers, and new members who must improve themselves.
I agree with the OP that Sacrament meeting depends a lot on us. That being said, I perceive it as more boring than it may be for several reasons:
1) In our ward, Sacrament meeting is last. I’ve already been sitting through 2 hours of meetings. I’m getting tired by that point. To then sit through another hour of people talking can be tedious. If, like in other denominations, Sacrament mtg was the main/only meeting, it would be much “fresher” even though nothing really changed about the meeting. So some of it could be perception.
2) At least along the Wasatch Front, speakers tend to go into “Church-voice” mode. There is the occasional speaker who maintains an interesting presentation, but the majority are boring. And this isn’t just because of the “lay” nature of the meetings. The same bland style of speech fills general conference and seems to be emulated from the top down. These are people who have tons of personality in other situations, but for some reason, our Church encourages “Church-voice”.
3) Some topics tend to be much less interesting than others. A good talk about Christ or charity or helping my neighbor always gets my interest. Something about a program of the Church turns me off. And a “guilt” talk about home teaching or something else makes me want to get up and leave, or at least read my scriptures if I stay so I feel encouraged.
One of the nice things about Jana’s remarks are that they come out of her own experience in different churches. I tend to be on the grumpy side lately, but I can’t really make the same comparisons, so I don’t really know how to accurately compare our services to those of other churches.
I think Jana’s piece was directed toward making our Church services more appealing to potential members of the Church.
Before Vatican II, part of being a Catholic was learning to tolerate or even find spiritual nourishment in regular services in Latin. If you didn’t find spiritual nourishment, and you couldn’t tolerate it, you were welcome to stay home.
For better or worse, nowadays, part of being a Mormon means learning to tolerate or even find spiritual refreshment from sitting through three hours of meetings on Sunday of, what to many, are repetitive classes and less than stimulating discussions and talks.
It is wonderful that so many others, like President Kimball and many commenters here, can find an otherwise boring talk or lesson interesting. But, in comparison with other religions, this aspect of our worship services may be less than attractive.
I find myself usually spiritually refreshed from Sunday services. But it is something that takes a fair amount of effort to learn how to do–it did not come naturally (at least to me).
Just as before Vatican II, the appeal of Catholicism was in spite of the Latin mass, so for Mormonism, the appeal to investigate the Church is in spite of the services’ length, relative dullness, and repetitiveness.
Jana asks, legitimately, does it have to be this way? Would it be better or worse if meetings were more interesting in ways she describes? Maybe, maybe not. But I think they are fair questions.
I mentioned a long time ago that I thought there would be more of a sense of worship in sacrament meeting if the sacrament were last rather than first. In other churches everything in the service builds to the eucharist whereas in the LDS service it’s almost like we’re getting it over with so we can get on to the sermons/talks.
#20 Thomas –
“I think part of the reason some people consider LDS meetings “dull” is because they’re compared to some of the other ways in which we spend our time, where we are conditioned to expect novelty, or else we’re bored”
Speaking for myself, the primary reason I consider LDS meetings dull is because many of us are afraid, or do not know how, to speak from the heart. This goes for singing, too, I suppose. Many speakers follow a formula such as: 1. Define charity, 2. share scriptures about charity, 3. talk about how we can be charitable to each other, 4. bear testimony of charity. This is the format I see most often in my present ward and stake and in my past wards and stakes.
This format is dull. And it is safe. The speaker doesn’t need to show any emotion or life, and doesn’t need to show us their personal feelings or experiences. They are in no danger of laughing, crying, expressing love, or anything else, and consequently, their words generally do not cause me to laugh, cry, feel love, or anything else.
I like what Mike S. said about “church voice”. I’ve noticed that too, the inclination to use general conference as a template for our sacrament meetings. But conferences and worship services are two different things and we might begin the process of tweaking our meetings by emphasizing the differences instead of commingling them. Maybe we could start by injecting a little color, requiring men not to wear white shirts for instance, what do you think Jeff? (imagine the smiley emoticon after that last sentence, I just can’t bear to actually type one in, it’s like dotting my i’s with hearts…)
I would probably feel more inclined to try harder to overcome the overwhelming dullness of sacrament meeting, if self-assessment and personal responsibility weren’t the insant response to every legitimate Church-related concern.
“Church isn’t boring — you’re just not trying hard enough!”
“Church history isn’t problematic — you just need to show more faith!”
“The YM president isn’t exercising poor judgment — you just need to sustain your leaders!”
The seeming one-sided direction of effort and accountability becomes exhausting at times. (“It’s not one-sided — you just need to look harder for the other side!”
Our speakers would improve if we passed the plate and the speaker got to keep the collection!
On a more serious note, I have struggled with staying engaged with the sermons. My pet peeve is READING the talk in a monotone voice, never making eye contact. I believe that high councilmen (with the responsibility to speak every single month) should set the standard for good speaking.
General Conference addresses could also be dramatically improved (compare Elder Holland to Elder Scott, for instance).
#29 Dr. Pepper, you have a point. Hans Christian Andersen had something to say about this dynamic.
29, speaking for myself, and not trying to suggest you do the same thing, I will say that when I’m confronted with boredom or concern, the only person I can change is me. So for that reason I need to ask myself what I will do. I cannot make the speaker change, nor can I make the YW president change. So I do personally tend to apply the principles you’ve cited.
One thing I’ve seen done in some wards is that the bishopric might provide some instruction when giving assignments for talks. (One ward went so far as to have an instruction letter given to speakers.) That’s a great place to remind people, for instance, that they are not to read the conference talk to us, but rather use it at a starting point for researching the particular subject of the talk. That letter can also suggest that members use other scriptures and personal experiences to share their message.
This past Sunday, we were to study Elder Oaks’ talk on Healing the Sick (and I was teaching in HP). Our concluding sacrament speaker had exactly the same topic (a poor coincidence, I believe; not correlated planning), and he basically reviewed Elder Oaks’ talk in his SM talk. Not the most exciting SM talk to be sure, but when my lesson came, I didn’t need to spend any time summarizing the talk! (Always looking for how that glass is half-full…)
Here’s another thing I’ve seen work in our ward: we will often have three speakers of 10 minutes each instead of two, one of whom goes on for nearly half an hour. Shorter talks seem to put reluctant speakers more at ease.
In another ward I attended, we often invited newer members (we had quite a few) to fill the role of “youth speaker” and have 2-5 minutes to give a short talk, and we’d invite the Ward Mission Leader or one of the ward missionaries to help the new member to prepare.
Another thing that seems to help the quality of talks is to give ample time for preparation. Giving someone two weeks’ notice will not guarantee that they won’t procrastinate, but at least it gives them a fighting chance.
I agree that reverence is a real issue. I wish I knew the magic formula to make it improve.
#22, Andrew S
“Jeff, I guess I’m just more concerned at the reach of the vast majority of wards in the world to turn people off of Sacrament meeting over one article from Jana Riess. I understand that wards can vary (just like any church body can), but if Jana is describing sacrament meetings as they actually are (and, to this point, you don’t seem to be disagreeing…), then that is its own worst problem.”
Well, it appears you misunderstand my intention. I do not agree with her that the meetings are dull. there are some issues from time to time, but in general I enjoy are meetings and am uplifted by them. I am concerned that investigators or potential investigators might get turned off by the article and not even see for themselves. I fall down on the side of the responsibility for dullness begin with the person attending then the meeting itself.
Let me give you an example. In the mid-70s I played drums for a Gospel group. We were playing in a church in North Las Vegas and I was the only white guy in the place. And I can almost guarantee I was the only Jewish person in the place. I was enthralled by the experience because I never saw anyone worship in that manner. As I stated the Jewish service is much like the LDS Service. I totally enjoyed playing for those folks and being with them. But, it did not speak to me spiritually in the least. It was entertainment to me. Not to them, by any means. That is why I know that more has to do with our attitude about the experience than what actually goes on.
So, I do not accept Jana’s premise. perhaps, she is the one with the problem.
Does anyone have access to the beautiful McConkie quote on “Sermons” from the 1st edition Mormon Doctrine?
at #33For some reason I doubt the article will get much circulation among investigators or prospective investigators.
It is interesting to see what kind of topics here get the most traffic. It seems that everyone wants to weigh in on certain issues.
I don’t like the article very much, and I don’t like the tone of the article. I find it pretty condescending. But I think there are some things in there which are worth giving a second look. I like the idea of having some kind of class or something about giving a talk in sacrament meeting. Personally I think it is something which the ward missionaries or a home teacher or (imagine this) a friend might want to carefully guide a member of a new member on the manner and pattern of such an undertaking. It’s not a big deal, but speaking is a skill, and everyone can get better by practicing a bit. I think there ought to be more preaching, teaching, scriptures, and testimony in sacrament meeting, and less stories, analogies and quotes from people who really don’t matter. I remember those silly books “especially for mormons” and gag thinking about them. That’s the kind of stuff we need to purge from our meetings.
Similar to the speaking, people ought to become familiar with the hymns. There are great hymns in the book, but people need to sing loud and with feeling and become familiar with them.
I was a missionary when they made the switch from doing confirmations right after the baptism to doing them the following Sunday in sacrament meeting. I remember people talking about the prospect of having so many new members at once that the whole meeting would be confirmations followed by the sacrament. I thought that was a good idea.
I can’t help but root for those speakers every week – they are our friends or our friends’ kids or someone new we don’t know. Not every talk knocks me out of my seat (although there is usually one a week that is very good), but I still enjoy the people who are giving it a go. On the upside, our talks tend to include personal stories and anecdotes, even jokes. And there is a lot of variety in experience levels. On the downside, some are too nervous to do more than retreat behind cliches and Mormon-speak, but I chalk that up to nervousness. The other thing we tend to lack is knowing what the heck we are talking about, and unfortunately, that’s been true at General Conference as well. We have a very practical approach rather than a scholarly approach to the gospel. I find that irritating at times.
I recently listened to some sermons that were posted on Bath Abbey’s site. The thing I noticed was that some of them were outstanding: humorous, scholarly, thought-provoking, spiritually uplifting. But others were as dry as Melba toast. Just like at our church.
When I say you agree with Jana as to her description of the Sacrament meetings, I’m not saying you agree with the conclusions. But it isn’t like she’s describing something totally different. Instead, you’re saying, “Yes, this is what she is describing, BUT the problem isn’t with them. it’s with us.” When we fix ourselves, we will be uplifted (or recognize that the meetings aren’t about us in the first place.
But I’m saying that blaming the sacrament attendee doesn’t exactly encourage them to continue to come.
Consider: what if Jana were still an investigator, or if Jana had not had such an experience with the Book of Mormon that allows her to appreciate and accept the doctrine despite the meetings. Your saying, “perhaps she is the one with the problem” would not encourage her to continue coming.
Just to touch on one point made in the comments, I’ve often wondered why we don’t actually use some of our Sunday School or Priesthood and Releif Society classes to occasionally have sessions on public speaking in some form. I must admit, I started teaching fairly young in Primary and Sunday School and was often called on to talk in Sacrament over the years. It transitoned into a career in training and public speaking so it stood me in good stead.
But I think some people could benefit vastly by a few pointers or techniques and we never seem to do that in any formal way. Just a hit and miss process of practice and more practice – and watch everyone else and copy. Given the LDS religion is quite focused on sharing testimony and seeking converts, we sure don’t lay too much groundwork for that sort of structured speaking within the congregation. (And I’m not including missionaries and their specific training here either.)
“Consider: what if Jana were still an investigator, or if Jana had not had such an experience with the Book of Mormon that allows her to appreciate and accept the doctrine despite the meetings. Your saying, “perhaps she is the one with the problem” would not encourage her to continue coming.”
My experience with attending other churches, Baptist, United Methodist, Black AME, and Catholic has not been so terribly different than an LDS Service. The huge difference is that lay people run the show and provide the sermons. I even attended a mega AoG church once, but it was to see the Godmakers.
so, I do not think the LDS Service is unique in the way things are done, in my experience. But I haven’t gone to a church service with a blaring Rock Band and a Holy Roller type preacher. Watched them on TV, but that is about it.
Now back to your point, it might be true that an investigator coming to an LDS Service for the first time, with no preparation of what to expect might find it a bit subdued, to say the least. But after some instructions and teaching on the intent of the meeting might understand the subdued nature.
My first LDS service was a fast and testimony meeting and I was both amazed and impressed that folks got up from the congregation and bore their testimonies and their innermost thought to everyone. It was a Single Adult Ward so it was deathly quiet. After we were married and went to our local Ward (I was not a member), I couldn’t hear a thing for all the children. I got used to that after a while.
I’m glad that your experiences at other churches has not been so terribly different. But the thing is that others’ experiences have. Whether it is Jana Riess or the person whose book she alludes to early on, or others who go around to different church services.
At the very least, people recognize a difference. They may have different preferences from the many options, but they don’t say, “Well, these are all similar.”
We don’t go to church to be entertained; church service has a higher purpose than that; we haven’t succumbed to the temptation (that so many other churches have) to make meetings entertaining… Those are the same explanations I heard twenty years ago.
The thing is that that line of reasoning implicitly acknowledges the fact that the meetings are, in fact, dull. The rhetorical question “Is the meeting itself dull or the people who attend it making it dull for themselves?” merely adds insult to injury. (Unless the rhetorical answer you meant was: “It’s the meeting.”)
Sometimes it’s the actors, sometimes it’s the script. In this case, we have a script that was originally designed (a few hundred years ago) to allow for a lot of improvisation — that is, to allow for new and original ideas to come from anyone in the congregation, and to spark discussion. Since correlation has set in, that script doesn’t fit. Assuming LDS meetings have a purpose, and that purpose isn’t “to discuss advanced meat-of-the-gospel doctrinal/theological points and learn new things that we haven’t already heard,” then it’s reasonable to ask if there isn’t, perhaps, an alternate meeting format that would work better at fulfilling the meeting’s actual purposes.
I just had a flashback to the past when I was a youth in the church. I remember a specific Sunday School lesson telling us how we should compose and give talks and I distinctly recollect them telling us that we should follow a very strict format and that using dictionary definitions were not only allowed, they were encouraged. Did anybody else have this similar experience?
“But the thing is that others’ experiences have.”
Yeah, so? What difference does that really make? That in and of itself does not make our meetings dull except to those who think it they are.
What makes something beautiful? For someone to perceive it as such.
What makes something dull? For someone to perceive it as such.
“The thing is that that line of reasoning implicitly acknowledges the fact that the meetings are, in fact, dull. The rhetorical question “Is the meeting itself dull or the people who attend it making it dull for themselves?” merely adds insult to injury. (Unless the rhetorical answer you meant was: “It’s the meeting.”)”
Quite the leap you’ve made there. We are talking about dull depending on whose standard. But the standard of the MTV/video game.text/tweet generation, almost everything that isn’t in motion is dull and boring.
I never thought they were dull.
“What makes something dull? For someone to perceive it as such.’
So are we unable to disagree with that because of that distinction? So, you can’t have an opinion or express an opinion because someone else might have a different opinion?
We can disagree and we can express opinions; it just requires discounting someone’s perception.
I just think that if we’re going to discount the perspectives of 1) people who want to improve the church’s allure to outsiders and 2) those outsiders themselves, then that is not entirely constructive. I think if the membership locks down and says, “There’s nothing wrong with our meetings! There’s only something wrong with the world/the new generation/people with low attention spans,” then we’re also going to have to deal with the side effect of not being able to reach out to the world/the new generation/people with low attention spans, and we’re ultimately going to have to deal with irrelevancy.
“There’s only something wrong with the world/the new generation/people with low attention spans,” then we’re also going to have to deal with the side effect of not being able to reach out to the world/the new generation/people with low attention spans, and we’re ultimately going to have to deal with irrelevancy.’
Well, it appears we have to disagree on this. The way of the world is not the way of God. And because the world continues to get more and more wicked does not mean we should embrace it. The Lord wants those who are ready to accept the gospel. I doubt the Lord wants us to lower the standards just to attract more people.
If we disagree, it is not in one of us wanting to “lower the standards” or “embrace” the “wickedness” of the world. If we disagree, then where I disagree is that I do not think the meetings as they currently are are ideal, and I disagree that changing them would be “lowering standards.” In fact, I think that someone who challenges the status quo of the meetings (as Jana has) and calls upon each member to reconsider his or her worship of God in every facet — including the way he or she even sings or speaks and not just the way he or she “contemplates” the status quo of Sacrament meeting — is *not* calling for lowered standards or for more wickedness, but for *higher* standards and more fulfilling, divine worship.
I can agree that members need to take their worship on Sunday more seriously than perhaps they are. That, as I agreed with the article, the singing can be better, the talks can always be better and we can be better prepared and more attentive. But, I do not believe we need to change our worship services to accommodate potential investigators or visitors who might be used to or require a more “active” worship service to feel the spirit and not be bored or think it dull.
51, Jeff, you’re right. The constant claims that those who don’t see a problem are wrong is as hurtful to them as claiming those who find the meetings dull are to blame.
In fact, in Jana’s article she lists five issues. In my sacrament meetings, none of those five issues exist.
In my pre-LDS days, I found church pretty dull in my traditional protestant service (but then, I was eight years old). But my parents, who chose to go and worship, did not.
It’s ok to expect people to cultivate a certain taste for a new way of doing things. It’s ok to have a simple meeting.
I agree that it is disheartening to go to a sacrament meeting with mediocre singing and ill-prepared talks. But those meetings will be improved one-by-one, not by some great format change from on high. (If the simple format fails, why would we assume that a more entertaining format would succeed??)
I also agree that it’s disheartening to go to a meeting where youth and adults are so rude as to disrupt the reverence of the meeting. Little children we welcome, with all that they bring. But I have little patience for squawking deacons (including my own son) and chattering adults. Again, those issues are not going to be resolved by some format change. They’ll be resolved one-by-one through teaching and persuading as detailed in Section 121.
FWIW, I do not think Jana (and I would not be) was advocating turning Sacrament into an Evangelical rock concert. I am not advocating, as Paul said re 51, a “great format change from on high.” It’s not about completely changing everything. It’s about taking what unique things we have (e.g., our classic set of hymns, our lay ministry) and doing the best we can with them.
Paul, I agree that meetings will (and must) be improved one-by-one, not by some great format change on high. BUT, how can we improve our meetings one-by-one if every ONE believes that there is nothing to improve? If every ONE insists that the only thing that must change is how we look at the meetings, not in how we prepare for the meetings, how we behave during the meetings, etc.,?
“BUT, how can we improve our meetings one-by-one if every ONE believes that there is nothing to improve? If every ONE insists that the only thing that must change is how we look at the meetings, not in how we prepare for the meetings, how we behave during the meetings, etc.,?’
I think the real point is that that change has to start from within the members who attend and those that participate. Then and only then, after all WE can do should anything we done to the format itself. I listen to the Mormon Expression interview and even Ms, Riess equivocated on some of her strongest criticisms in the article.
As Forest Gump almost said, “Dull is, as Dull does.
I can see how it would be convenient to assume that the people complaining about the dullness of sacrament meeting are all ADHD-suffering video game/texting/twitter addicts that want to change sacrament meeting into a rock concert. That way you can simply tell those worldly, wicked kids to get off your lawn, to which I assume the response you might expect would be: “Up yours.” However, this is not at all representative of the larger group that considers church meetings to be dull.
I’m fine with Church meetings being livened up somehow (I vote for “shorter.”) But we need to be careful that we don’t mistake “trendy” for “lively.” Religions (especially those with conservative streaks, like ours) tend to be late adopters, and late abandoners; by the time a conservative institution gets with a trend, the trend’s already fading. It’s like a woman in Arkansas naming her baby “Jaden” ten years after the Hollywood trendsetters made it briefly cool — it just looks dorky.
I can handle dull religion, but dorky religion is right out. Stick to timeless ritual, and let people keep it timely by projecting their contemporary thoughts onto it.
I assumed that when Ms. Riess said dull she meant boring. I used to tell my kids that boredom is a state of mind. I think when we listen assertively even a poorly prepared and delivered talk can be of value. The problem is such talks require more of the listener than talks that sparkle with nice stories and witty metaphors.
There are always a lot of things to complain about. I was surprised at the idea that anyone who is a serious investigator would be put off by our worship service. We do all the things other churches do as part of their worship services. We pray, sing and listen to talks about God and Jesus and the Atonement. We hear advice about how to more Christlike lives. That is what we do when we worship.
I like our meetings and I believe that it is possible to be touched by the spirit. I also believe that visitors are not nearly as critical of us as we are of ourselves.
Firstly, no one said anything about ADHD, so don’t go there. That wasn’t the point.
“However, this is not at all representative of the larger group that considers church meetings to be dull.”
Just who is it then. Clue us in?
Stephany and Thomas,
Great comments both of you, thanks
I’m sitting through a rather dull and boring sacrament meeting while reading this. I could try and do my part to get more out of it, but to be honest the “gospel” just doesn’t inspire me to want to do that. I could take all of the blame, and I can even accept that I hold some, but I just get turned off by the idea that somehow the meeting is perfect and the errors are mine alone.
“but I just get turned off by the idea that somehow the meeting is perfect and the errors are mine alone.”
But no one has said that the meeting is perfect.
Perhaps, but the OP seems to lay all of the responsibility for the “attitude” of LDS worship services with the congregants, and dismisses the complaints about Sacrament meeting structure. Ultimately I agree with you that the majority of the burden should be with the Ward, as they run the show, but there are LDS constraints that one must work in. I would say that Church meetings are quite “efficient”, as well as much else in the Church, but the efficiency does come at a cost. The lack of individuality in Church, that is fostered by proscribed manuals and content, etc, keeps everyone on the same page – the book just isn’t worth the read.
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As I see it, there are 3 basic responses to LDS meetings:
1) They are dull and we should try to improve them by changing the format, content, speaker quality, etc.
2) They are dull, but we should not change them, because it is our job as congregants to obtain what we can from the well-settled format.
3) It is not dull. Those who think it is dull need to try harder to get more out of it.
I believe the meetings are dull. I understand that some people have a spiritual gift of sitting through sacrament meetings for 1 hour and 10 minutes without being bored for 50 minutes. I do not have that gift, and many others do not have that gift (as evidenced by the comments). I do not believe this gift can be obtained by trying harder or paying closer attention. I believe that failing to recognize those of us who lack the gift results in some of us falling away or not joining in the first place. (On the other hand, I acknowledge that changing the format may cause some who like the meetings as they are to leave the Church or not join.)
We #1’s can take solace in the fact that, although our Church seems to be have been run by #2’s and #3’s, eventually one of us may become Prophet. Then things are going to be different around here.
#53 Jeff said “I think the real point is that that change has to start from within the members who attend and those that participate. Then and only then, after all WE can do should anything we done to the format itself.”
I’ve always thought that this misunderstood and over-emphasized approach to grace was a recipe for self-loathing and fatigue. And now we’re applying it to meeting formats? Let’s just get a ward-level prescription of Prozac and pass it around with the bread a water. . .
“I’ve always thought that this misunderstood and over-emphasized approach to grace was a recipe for self-loathing and fatigue. And now we’re applying it to meeting formats? Let’s just get a ward-level prescription of Prozac and pass it around with the bread a water. . .”
Subtle attempt at some humor…….. lost 🙁
I thought this was a really good article; respectful, and keeping in line with doctrine. I really appreciate both the tone and the message.
It depends:- sometimes our meetings are deadly dull and sometimes not. I have been at some meetings which were painfully boring.
I think different types of meetings appeal to different types of people. Some like our casual, anecdotal, lay member speaking approach. Some like scholarly sermons delivered by professionals. Some like enthusiastic, rousing, praise-oriented sermons with congregation participation. Some like a ritualistic liturgy with parts in Latin, incense and choir music. You really can’t please everyone. Personally, I really like our lay member speaker format (not every speaker is good, though) better than most other services I’ve been to (and I have been to many), but I don’t care for fast & testimony meetings generally. To each his own.
I’m late to the party. You can probably guess I’m sitting in a meeting. The irony with stating Mormons have a “boring” standard of worship (orginal article) is that worship isn’t what I want to go to church to do. That’s one thing I’ve always liked about the church. The worship is tempered by a larger belief in personal progress and good works. Grace is a beautiful and necessary thing. But it’s a companion to human improvement, not a replacement. Do any of you parents out there expect or demand worship to validate yourselves? Sure it’s nice to receive appreciation and love. But it’s kind of a sick demand to be worshipped, and I don’t define my God that way. What I’d like to see is a bishop one week say, “I’m going to help some people, you can stay and listen to talks or come help.” That is worship. Fruits of believe. Doing exactly what you’re learning. That would shake up our meetings.