LDS Worship

April 7, 2009
By

David Stout, Disciples of Christ minister who wrote a very thought-provoking post for us a few weeks ago, has agreed to write a short series of posts on LDS worship as seen from the outside looking in.  This is the first of that series.  Thank you, David.

Last summer I had the opportunity to attend Sunday services with my girlfriend at her branch. I very much enjoyed myself and found the experience quite reminiscent of my days in evangelical congregations before the mega church phenomenon. The people were very welcoming, they clearly enjoyed being together, and the service and classes were easy to follow. Several individuals went out of their way to make me feel welcome, taking the time to talk with me, offer me a book so I could follow along in the priesthood meeting, and include me in their conversations.

I also found that there were a number of stereotypical individuals that can be found in almost any small evangelical church: the kindly grandmother that everyone loves, the young mother trying to corral her wandering son, and the somewhat socially inept fellow who knows more than anyone cares to hear. Somewhat to at least one person’s dismay, he was one of the speakers that morning at the sacrament meeting. (Actually I thought his was by far and away the best speech of the morning, though it didn’t take me too long to realize that instead of simply quoting a line or two from President David McKay, he was giving McKay’s entire talk.)

What struck me as a bit odd, however, was the nature of the sacrament meeting seen against the background of Mormonism’s past and desired future. This is what I would like to focus on. Obviously, this is not a prescriptive article nor is it even primarily  descriptive. It is instead an impressionistic work from the point of view of someone who is sympathetic towards the LDS and is also reasonably knowledgeable about how worship has been and is conceived in the greater Christian Tradition. Perhaps by combining my outsider’s insight with your own much broader and deeper knowledge of sacrament meetings, some discussion might be generated on what worship means in the LDS and how it expresses the Saints’ basic theological convictions.

From my readings of LDS history and a couple of visits to the Kirtland Temple, the Church of Christ (as the LDS was originally named) put considerable weight on the possibility, reality, and necessity of modern day revelation. One of the Book of Mormon’s chief roles was to validate the prophetic ministry of Joseph Smith, thereby making possible the development of the Doctrine and Covenants and other revelations. Without this emphasis on the restoration of prophetic ministry and authority I don’t see much point in the whole Mormon movement.

This emphasis was certainly present at the Kirtland Temple. Visions, enthusiasm, and even speaking in tongues were all reported and celebrated. Clearly God was doing a marvelous work and there was considerable cause for rejoicing. As a matter of fact, the description of Temple worship strikes me as being very similar to early (and some current) Pentecostalism, albeit 70 years earlier.

There was, however, a counter-weight to this enthusiasm. While the worship service could be pretty “wild” by today’s standards, there was also a very heavy emphasis on education. Classes were held in theology, classics, and even Hebrew. While I know Fawn Brodie’s biography of Joseph Smith is regarded as Mormon Kryptonite, I think her treatment of the Kirtland Temple shows Joseph Smith to be very bright man who was very much interested in education and who, like others of his time period and since, wanted to find a way to integrate faith with the rising field of science. The doctrine of eternal progression can certainly be seen as one way to see the development of energy on a cosmic level. (As an aside, I find looking at it this way makes the doctrine worthy of consideration from even a non-Mormon viewpoint.)

By studying and engaging the issues of the day himself, and by providing classes for his followers to do the same, Joseph Smith gave the early Saints a strong model for education and self improvement. I saw at least some vestiges of this in the Sunday school and priesthood meetings. Perhaps a better modern day example lies in the powerful drive to self improvement within the LDS and the high quality of its educational institutions.

The question that arises here is, “What happened to the ‘fire’ of early Saints’ worship?”

Clearly at some point the worship became less demonstrative and more orderly. This in itself is a very natural development within religious movements. The informal worship (and in some cases, border line chaos) that is described in Acts and I Corinthians eventually became the highly structured Mass. The Montanists (an early revival group) went through the same transition and the same dynamic can be seen in contemporary Pentecostalism. Worship at your average First Assembly of God is not even close to what took place at the Azusa Street revival in 1906.

There are a variety of possible times and reasons for the switch in the LDS. Maybe it was the less than felicitous demise of the Kirtland experiment, or the ongoing persecutions, or the desire to establish greater order and uniformity. Maybe it was something that happened over the years in Utah. Then again, maybe it was the rise of temple ceremonies which offered a different kind of revelatory experience, making the need for such things in corporate worship superfluous. I simply don’t know. I’m sure a good Mormon historian could provide the answer, (If not, there’s a Ph.D topic looking for a scholar.) but whatever the answer, I’m confident there were some good reasons.

Still, from my perspective as a visitor, I found it a trifle strange that morning to discover that a movement which began with such enthusiasm, with such a strong emphasis on current revelation, and that still teaches the truth of personal revelation to each member of the church should have such a “head oriented” order of worship for its sacrament meeting. Two short prayers, three talks, four hymns, and the sacrament itself in a never varying order just doesn’t seem to express a strong belief in ongoing revelation. To put it another way, I think one could learn a lot in a sacrament meeting but I doubt one would be likely to “dream dreams” or “see visions” as Acts 2 describes. Depending on when things changed it’s also possible that Joseph Smith would be a little lost in the meeting, wondering if perhaps he’d wandered into a class of some sort instead of a worship service.

Now this is where the Saint needs to use her or his deeper and broader experience of sacrament meetings to properly interact with my perspective. Doubtless, there is something about the sacrament meeting that I as an outsider just don’t get. Perhaps there is a great revelatory and deeply spiritual current being generated that isn’t visible or perceptible to visitors. Then again, maybe something has been lost. Maybe the eminently understandable desire to maintain order and preserve good teaching has overshadowed the need for spiritual encounter and experience. I think this is a question worth asking, for surely the teaching that God is active and revelation ongoing should be expressed when those who believe such things gather for worship.

Lest I be misunderstood as advocating Pentecostal style worship for Mormons, let me make it clear that I suggest no such thing. What I do suggest is finding ways to allow the Holy Spirit more room to work in the context of a sacrament meeting. Personally, I find silence or meditative music very effective in this regard. There is no need to “whomp up the Spirit” or get overly emotional. One just needs to allow some space and time for God to move in the human heart. Something as simple as quiet prayer or meditation after one of the talks might bring the message home in a considerably more powerful way than just singing a hymn and moving on to the next talk.

That said, I do think the heavy LDS emphasis on education and doctrine could easily serve as a keel (the heavy downward facing blade on the bottom of a sailboat that keeps it from tipping over) for a good deal of emotional/spiritual sail. Such demonstrative worship is probably unnecessary and unwanted in most white LDS congregations. But it might prove quite helpful in other cultural contexts.

What think ye?

45 Responses to LDS Worship

  1. April 7, 2009 at 5:57 am

    The talks, when they don’t put people to sleep, should encourage meditation.

  2. Jeff Spector
    April 7, 2009 at 7:31 am

    I think you miss the main purpose of our Sacrament Meeting, which is to partake of the Sacrament, remembering the Savior, seeking a remission of our sins and reminding of of His great Atonement. The rest is “icing on the cake” and very much in keeping with your observation that the Prophet Joseph Smith emphasized eduction.

    “It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus;” (D&C 20:75)

    Our method of worship evolved over time, so I don’t think early worship is a measure of what “should” be a model for our worship today. The Book of Mormon speaks to that as well:

    “And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.
    And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus. And they were strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ. But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven. And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.” (Moroni 6:5 – 9)

    This is the pattern we follow. Also, as you read the New Testament, you do not read of Jesus running around, screaming his head off in His preaching. His manner was more quiet, and counseling. I’d like to think we’ve taken that kind of behavior to heart.

    The fact that some folks cannot find themselves entertained at Sacrament Meeting is their issue, not the Church’s, IMO.

  3. Brent Hartman
    April 7, 2009 at 7:48 am

    As I was watching conference this past weekend, I pondered one of the points brought up by the author above. Where did the fire go? If you read conference talks from the early days of the church, you can feel the passion and fire in their discourses. What changed?

    “But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that some hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” (Matt. 10:19-20)

    “But notwithstanding those things which are written, it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit.” (D.& C. 46:2)

    “Therefore, verily I say unto you, lift up your voices unto this people; speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts, and you shall not be confounded before men; For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea,in the very moment, what ye shall say.” (D. & C. 100:5-6)

    “With the Latter-day Saints, the idea of writing sermons or preparing addresses beforehand is entirely discarded; it never was practiced amongst them.” (George A. Smith, J.D. 13:292)

    “Hence the folly of sermons written beforehand; and unless the written beforehand sermons are by revelation, or prophecy, all men the world over, may know when they hear a sermon read from the pulpit, that God has no hand in that matter; and the preacher is not sent of God; and is not God’s servant.” (editorial, Des. News, Sept. 4, 1852)

    “It is well known to the Latter-day Saints–though perhaps not to strangers–that no Elder or member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who enters into this Tabernacle knows who is going to be called upon to speak to the people. Hence no man spends a week, a day, an hour, or a moment to prepare a discourse to deliver unto the people.” (Wilford Woodruff, J.D. 24:236)

    What changed? Meetings being dictated by the clock, instead of the Spirit. Sermons being safely written and prepared beforehand, instead of being delivered by the promptings of the Spirit. If sermons are just going to be read to me, give me the talk and I’ll read it myself. It will save a lot of time and trouble.

    Ditch the teleprompter, and start using the Spiritprompter.

  4. Ray
    April 7, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Brent, were we watching the same conference? I agree with much of what David says in this post, but talks can be “Spirit-infused” (as Protestants would say) or “prompted by the Holy Ghost” (as Mormons would say) without having to be spontaneous. Perhaps the best example of this in General Conference was Elder Holland’s talk. I don’t see how anyone could listen to it and not think it was directed / inspired by the Spirit.

    What is fascinating to me is that the GA’s have been told explicitly to approach their most common talks, those they give in Stake Conferences around the world, without writing them out beforehand – to deliver them based on impressions they receive “on the ground” and as they consider the individual stake. The difference for General Conference, I believe, is two-fold: the ridiculous scrutiny those talks receive (due to the canonical fervor with which members view them) and the commitment to live translation into multiple languages for a world-wide church.

    That last aspect is critical, since it’s very difficult even for experienced translators to translate deeply religious sermons fluently and well without any prior idea of what is going to be said. The Church has made a real commitment to ensuring that as many of its members as possible can hear the General Conference talks live in their own native language – and that carries a price when it comes to impromptu speaking. It’s a price that I think is worth paying, especially when the talks are published in print AND video so quickly after they are given. The key to me is the quality of the content, and (with a few exceptions) I usually am very pleased with the content.

    To the main point of David’s excellent post, I will write a separate comment, since I want this one to address General Conference only.

  5. Brent Hartman
    April 7, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Ray,

    To me, a teleprompter reflects a lack of faith. A lack of faith in the speaker. A lack of faith in the audience. Most importantly, a lack of faith in the Spirit.

    “…take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that some hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.”

    If the Spirit of the Father is speaking through these prophets, seers, and revelators, then what’s the worry? I can think of two possible reasons why one might worry. The Spirit may say something wrong; or, the speaker is not guided by the Spirit.

    By the way, translators routinely work with impromptu speech. Granted, it may be easier to work with a script, but it’s certainly not necessary.

  6. April 7, 2009 at 9:44 am

    RE: Jeff #2

    “I think you miss the main purpose of our Sacrament Meeting, which is to partake of the Sacrament, remembering the Savior, seeking a remission of our sins and reminding of of His great Atonement.”

    As long as the sacrament is at the beginning of the meeting rather than at the end it will seen as something to get done with rather than as the focus.

  7. Ray
    April 7, 2009 at 9:45 am

    “To me, a teleprompter reflects a lack of faith.”

    We definitely disagree there.

    Time constraints and translation concerns don’t automatically remove the Spirit from the preparation of a talk or sermon – and EVERY minister/pastor who meticulously prepares each week’s sermon would agree with me. The difference is that many ministers memorize and “perform” their sermons; apostles in GC read theirs. It’s the presentation style that causes the angst, not the prior preparation.

    I believe strongly in a time and place for speaking without notes as moved upon in the moment (and that’s how I approach most of the talks I give), but I also believe strongly in a time and place for extensive preparation and delivery of a prepared talk / sermon. Personally, I think relying on only one or the other is a result of laziness, and what I’m saying is that the apostles regularly use both – based on the time and place. I’m ok with General Conference being a place for a carefully prepared sermon and Stake Conferences and other situations being a place for unprepared messages.

    BTW, I understand totally that translators routinely work with impromtpu speech. I’ve done it, and it’s MUCH easier with a script – especially when quotes from others are included. Trying to translate specialized language on the fly is hard enough; trying to translate CS Lewis, Shakespeare, Thomas Aquinas, and other possibilities with no preparation is brutal – even for the best translators. For someone to hear the actual talks translated carefully to ensure maximum accuracy is important to me, and that can’t be guaranteed on the fly.

    Consider the talk by the Seventy who spoke of the Six Destructive D’s and used analogies that even I had a hard time following in English. It was like he tried too hard to be creative, and it resulted in a talk that was dense with technical and specialized terms and analogies (delivered at a pretty quick pace). Translating that talk fully and exactly without prior notice would have been next to impossible. Many of the other talks were delivered slowly and at a cadence that would have been much easier to translate (which goes to David’s original questions, I believe), but that one . . . I wouldn’t have wanted to have to translate it into Japanese even at my most fluent moment years ago.

    At the most basic level, I just don’t believe every message has to be delivered off the cuff as moved upon by the Spirit. I believe messages can be every bit as inspired and spirit-filled when written out exactly as when delivered in the moment – because I’ve experienced both personally. As I said, I believe in speaking by inspiration, and I rarely write out a talk I read. However, I do write a talk and read it occasionally – when that is what I feel inspired to do. Since I personally know prepared talks can be inspired, I have no problem with General Conference talks being both prepared in advance and inspired. I think you are oversimplifying things by claiming everything has to be one way.

  8. SteveS
    April 7, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Brent and Ray,

    I see where both of you are coming from, and I think that the Church’s decision to use teleprompters is just that: a decision. I don’t think it’s scriptural, theological, or doctrinal that a speaker MUST speak with OR without prepared notes. I think the important part of all the verses Brent quoted are the spiritual preparation and intonation of the speaker, so that he or she might be able to speak as the spirit directs, whether to speak from prepared notes, or to deviate therefrom, or to have nothing at all written ahead of time.

    That being said, I wonder what our personal gospel studies would be like if we knew that we could be called upon from the congregation on any given Sunday to give a sermon in Church. Would we see our personal study as preparation, so that topics and impressions could be related on-the-fly, as the Spirit directed? I’m tempted to try this the next time I’m given the opportunity to speak in Church. While I probably won’t be asked to speak in the middle of sacrament meeting, I might use my preparation time to study on my own and show up to church without a talk prepared, but rather a mind and heart full of the material I studied, from which a talk could emerge.

  9. Ray
    April 7, 2009 at 9:59 am

    “As long as the sacrament is at the beginning of the meeting rather than at the end it will seen as something to get done with rather than as the focus.”

    When the leadership makes it a conscious mission to emphasize the sacrament consistently and strongly, it will be the focus no matter when it occurs in the meeting.

    My ward has been an fascinating example over the past five years. Our former bishop stressed reverence (real reverence, not just quietude), worship, the importance of the sacrament, pondering and preparation, etc. every week for three years. His successor, our current bishop, has continued that emphasis. Talks are Christ-centered; acceptance of all is a strong focus; our sacrament meetings have improved exponentially in all areas related to David’s post. Most talks are deeply moving (even from our youth speakers); there is a tangible spiritual presence in the chapel; and the only sound heard during the administration of the sacrament is that of the littlest children. It’s wonderful, but it doesn’t happen naturally. It has to be stressed and emphasized.

    I understand and share David’s concern for the loss of the fire that characterized former days. I really do. However, I also enjoy the structure that we have now, when it works the way it can work – and it can work. I’ve seen it work; I’ve seen it work exceptionally well. I think if David attended a sacrament meeting in our ward, he would understand what I’m saying – and, again, our ward isn’t unique in ANY way. We are a standard, run-of-the-mill, moderate, middle-class ward – nothing special in and of ourselves. We have been blessed by focused and inspired leadership; it really isn’t more complicated than that.

  10. Ray
    April 7, 2009 at 10:13 am

    #8 – “I wonder what our personal gospel studies would be like if we knew that we could be called upon from the congregation on any given Sunday to give a sermon in Church. Would we see our personal study as preparation, so that topics and impressions could be related on-the-fly, as the Spirit directed?”

    SteveS, that’s the situation I’m in currently. Every week, I have to be prepared to talk on pretty much any topic without prior notification for up to 30 minutes. It definitely affects my preparation for Sunday, but I think it would drive away many members if it was required of all, especially those who have small children and those who attend as new members or single parents – and those with public anxieties.

    If we assume that prepared talks are influenced by the Spirit (and I recognize fully the shakiness of that assumption), I’m trying to figure out the benefits of doing away with that type of talk and going exclusively to spontaneous requests. Just to consider, I don’t think very many people in the Bloggernacle want all meetings to mimic testimony meetings. The key, imo, is to focus on speaking what is inspired by the Spirit, no matter what type or form of preparation is put into it.

  11. SteveS
    April 7, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Ray #10 “I don’t think very many people in the Bloggernacle want all meetings to mimic testimony meetings.”

    I don’t think many people in the Church want all meetings to mimic testimony meetings. And that’s certainly what you would get if you just started trying make people do what I described above, at least initially until people adjusted and learned what was expected of them. I agree that there would be many people uncomfortable with the prospect of getting up to give a talk and being embarrassed or offended. But really, if the spirit directs the asking, and the congregant truly seeks communion with said spirit and congregation, shouldn’t the doubt and fear incumbent in being asked to speak on-the-fly be a source of spiritual strength to those who rise to the occasion and find success therein? Why should bishopric members be required to be ready to do the impromptu talk, but the rest of congregation be off the hook? We are all part of the lay clergy, no?

    I agree with you, though, that “the key…is to focus on speaking what is inspired by the Spirit, no matter what type or form of preparation is put into it.”

  12. April 7, 2009 at 11:56 am

    The conference addresses have to be written out because they’re correlated prior to being given, proof read as they’re given and then within days go to the printer for the Ensign’s next edition. There was an unfortunate incident 34 years ago when one of the speakers looked up at the beginning of his address and said that in looking a young girl in the balcony he’d decided to change his talk. Unfortunately that was his talk and a non LDS journalist in the press booth in the back who was following along got visibily upset as he read what he saw as an attempt to mislead the listeners.

    The days are gone in that forum that someone like Sterling Sill or J. Golden Kimball can stand and hold forth. It’s just part of getting old and maturing, something that happens to people and churches. I think the best we can or should do is cut them a little slack for doing what we would never want or have to do.

  13. April 7, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    I remember reading this already… is this a repost?

  14. Rigel Hawthorne
    April 7, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I really appreciate this analysis, although reading it, I have that “GroundHog Day” feeling that I’ve read it before!? I double checked the date, and yup, it was indeed posted today.

    I think one thing to remember is that Joseph Smith didn’t intend to be THE sermon giver for the church. He saw in vision that it would fill the Americas and then the world. This means using a lay population to deliver sermons (of varying level of skills).

    Ray mentions the quality of Elder Holland’s talk, and it was, indeed, powerful. But his skill as a speaker had to begin development sometime, perhaps in primary. Perhaps his talks at the beginning were not that good, who knows. We need to give many members the opportunity to speak in church.

    The invitation to speak in church can be as much for the individual speaking, as it is for the congregation. I asked a long-time member who had moved back to the ward to speak in church. I didn’t know him, but knowing his family, I assumed he would be a great speaker. He wasn’t, but he repeatedly expressed gratitude for being given the opportunity to speak and for the inspired topic requested that suited his interests perfectly. (Go figure). It was, honestly, painful to listen to his delivery, but as it was mentioned in GC, at some point, you learn to go to church for the purpose of serving others, not for what you will necessarily get out of it.

    As for quiet time in sacrament meeting, that is really great in singles wards, but it emphasizes the sounds of young children in family wards. At least when a speaker is there, the whispers/whines of a child blend in to a degree. When it is totally silent, especially toward the end of the meeting, those sounds seem to magnify. They ultimately drive parents to head out to the foyer.

  15. Mormon Heretic
    April 7, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Hye Sung,

    Yes it is a repost–the original post crashed the server, so few people could comment, and it has been fixed.

    Ray,

    I’ve just been reading some of the David O McKay biography. I found most fascinating Ezra Taft Benson’s rhetoric comparing the civil rights movement to Communism. And he didn’t do it once, it was a major theme from about 1963-65 at least. You just don’t hear talks like that anymore. (Perhaps one could argue that he was not led by the spirit, but many members agreed with him, and I found some of the quotes fiery and amazing, with things like “When will we wake up?”) Also, Legrand Richards would never prepare a talk beforehand, and I found his talks more interesting than anything we hear now (President Hinckley excepted, of course.)

    Ballard has always been one of my least favorite speakers, because of his monotone delivery. However, I he visited my singles’ ward back in the 90′s, and I was surprised how funny and interesting he was–absolutely nothing like he is in conference. Reading talks is a recipe for boredom. Few people do it well.

    I really like some of David’s suggestions.

  16. Jeff Spector
    April 7, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Somehow my last post went bye-bye. but here it is again.

    GBSmith,

    “As long as the sacrament is at the beginning of the meeting rather than at the end it will seen as something to get done with rather than as the focus.”

    Strange comment, to say the least. It seems to me that the Sacrament IS the focal point of our meeting thus occurs right after the business is conducted. After that, the rest of the meeting follows. If sacrament is approached in a worshipful manner and the Spirit is attending us, the rest of the meeting benefits from that. It least that is what I hope happens.

    So, I don’t think in any way, the sacrament is meant to be gotten over with, but started with the opening hymn and ending with the closing prayer. I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective.

  17. Jeff Spector
    April 7, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    A well prepared talk, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, is no less effective than one delivered off the top of one’s heads. If the Prophets of the Church wish to deviate from their conference talks, I assume they have the right to do so. I believe that it might have been President Hinckley that on one occasion, said ‘ I am going to deviate from my prepared remarks.” People trained in simultaneous translation can easily handle any difference from written and spoken remarks.

    Anyone attending a Stake or Regional/Area conference with GAs will often times hear them speak for hours without notes or preparation. Again, I think that GBSmith is wrong to say that they are correlated. I do not believe that. Why then would there have been, for instance, two talks about the Temple, one after the other on Sunday Afternoon.

    i thik this is a red herring, really.

  18. Ray
    April 7, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    MH (and everyone else), Just to be clear, I also pine for the days when speakers strayed a bit and gave us some “interesting” sermons. I LOVED listening to LeGrande Richards years ago, especially at the local level when he came to our stake. However, I also am glad we generally are past the days when speakers strayed more than just a bit and gave us some “extremely interesting” sermons. I’m more than a bit conflicted over the generally poor quality of delivery at General Conference, but I’m not certain that the delivery would be any different without prepared talks in that setting. Those who are good public speakers are those who speak with emotion – who are good “performers” in a very practical way – like Elder Holland, Pres. Eyring, Pres. Uchtdorf, Pres. Hinckley, etc. They manage to give riveting talks despite having them written in advance and read from the teleprompter.

    Our apostles generally don’t have tons of “performance” experience prior to becoming apostles. They all have lots of public speaking experience, but that isn’t the same as performance training – especially when we are talking about a setting where they “learn” to be “serious” about their topics and not “let the messenger detract from the message”. Frankly, I think a boring delivery does detract from the message in many cases, but I think the gravitas with which they view the GC talks adds a degree of solemnity and somberness to many of their deliveries that simply isn’t there in less formal settings – like Stake Conference. I think, in a very real way, they are acting in opposition (at least subconsciously) to the “charismatic televangelist” and mega-church movement of the last few decades – backing away from the “theatrical presentation” to “speaking the pure word of God” and letting the words themselves take center stage.

    Again, I have mixed reactions to that, but I’m OK with it generally – since I really don’t want speakers competing with each other to see who can be the best performer. I really hope the current 12 and 70′s see Pres. Uchtdorf, especially, and realize they don’t have to be dull in their delivery method – but I don’t want the doctrinal focus to suffer in any way as a result, with leaders spending time trying to “polish” their delivery style.

    I also want a two-hour meeting to last only for two hours, but that’s more a result of my modern laziness than anything else. :)

  19. April 7, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    By correlation I mean doctrine not topic. As to my “strange” comment on the placement of the sacrament in the meeting schedule, as far as I know the LDS church is the only church with a eucharist that does not place it last. That way everything said and done in the preceding time focuses towards it as the purpose of the service.

  20. Holden Caulfield
    April 7, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    “Again, I think that GBSmith is wrong to say that they (the talks) are correlated.”

    Sheri Dew spoke to our stake and told us that she had to do numerous re-writes on her conference talk a couple of years ago because it was not what they wanted.

    Then there was the infamous Ronald Poelman talk in Oct of 1984 re: the Gospel and the Church that was re-written after it was given in conference. The version in the Ensign had major differences from the version given in conference and the talk was actually re-taped for distribution with the other talks.

  21. Jeff Spector
    April 7, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    I think much of the earlier delivery had to do more with sound than with anything else. The sound reenforcement in early days was either non-existent or poor, so they yelled a lot. As the sound quality improved the manner of speaking became more like talking rather than yelling. I listen to a lot of the Classic Speeches posted on the BYU website and the ones from the 40s and 50s are especially entertaining as well as enlightening. Even President got pretty “carried away in the Spirit” when he talked about girls wearing shorts…. :)

  22. April 7, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Hi, I’ve been lazy, so I haven’t read all the comments, so forgive me if I repeat anyone’s points.

    “To put it another way, I think one could learn a lot in a sacrament meeting but I doubt one would be likely to “dream dreams” or “see visions” as Acts 2 describes.”

    The things I hear in sacrament meeting and the other meetings are what I ponder during the week – which is the time I feel I receive much of my personal revelation, not just on Sunday.

  23. Jeff Spector
    April 7, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    “Even President got pretty “carried away in the Spirit” when he talked about girls wearing shorts…. ”

    That should be President Kimball, pre-vocal surgery.

  24. Jeff Spector
    April 7, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    “Sheri Dew spoke to our stake and told us that she had to do numerous re-writes on her conference talk a couple of years ago because it was not what they wanted.”

    Ah, yes, “they” Don’t ask who they are because they wouldn’t like it. I guess I can see it for a counselor in the RS General Presidency, but not for a FP member or Q12. You really think president Monson’s talks are approved? By whom?

  25. James
    April 7, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    “You really think president Monson’s talks are approved? By whom?” Correlation

  26. FireTag
    April 7, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    I want to thank the author for reminding me of Kirtland, since some of my most powerful formative experiences happened there.

    Maybe Temples mean more to a denomination when you only have one of them and worshiping there may be a once in a lifetime experience! I still remember being offered the opportunity as a young boy to climb the rickety stairs to the bell tower of the Temple by the guide and to look out over the surrounding countryside the way members of the founding generation did as they guarded the walls during the construction period. As I went back to the first floor and heard the story of the events during the Dedication, and stood on the second floor in the School of the Prophets, it was easy to catch the passion they expressed in what they felt was a God-driven mission to establish Zion.

    I hope you find in your worship deep testimonies of your own callings and Christ’s love for you.

  27. David Stout
    April 7, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    I have been reading the comments so far and they remind me of an easily overlooked fact, mainly, that the context of the hearer (reader) is as much a part of the communication process as is the context, preparation, and delivery of the message itself. While I did find the General Conference presentations raised related questions, the post is about Sacrament meetings. Nevertheless, the proximity of post to General Conference quite naturally sent the discussion off in a different direction.

    Perhaps this shows how prepared, written material can still give rise to a variety of responses due to the context of those hearing or reading the presentation. If it be recognized that the Spirit is at work in the hearer’s context, as well as the speaker’s, then perhaps the two fold process of communication (speaker AND hearer) can achieve greater attention in further discussions.

    And this is what I am trying to achieve with this post (more of which I believe will follow at some later date): I, as a visitor at a Sacrament meeting, saw, felt, and heard things that raised questions for me, especially against the backdrop of what I have read about Mormon History. But it is only as I hear how Saints themselves experience this central activity that I can more fully appreciate what is being done and why. I further hope that in the process of answering that question, the normal contributors and responders to this site will have the opportunity to explore their own experiences more consciously and articulately, thereby deepening their own appreciation of what they do every Sunday morning.

    Two quick side notes: many (not all) churches in the Campbell Stone Tradition also celebrate communion early on in the worship service. Interestingly, I am told that many churches in this Tradition that switched to communion at the end of worship did so in order to discourage the practice of people taking the sacrament and then ditching the sermon.

    Second, “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards is widely considered to be one of the most powerfully moving sermons in all of American Church History, touching off the Great Awakening. What is not so widely known is that this sermon was read by Edwards in a decidedly unemotional way. I mention this as someone who rarely writes out even notes for his sermons, finds emotionless deliveries boring, and who has no liking for the message which the Rev. Mr. Edwards espoused in that famous sermon. Apparently the Holy Spirit is capable of reaching people without asking for my opinion. :)

  28. Ray
    April 7, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    “Apparently the Holy Spirit is capable of reaching people without asking for my opinion.”

    David, I don’t know if a Niblet (the Bloggernacle’s version of Hollywood hubris) for Best Comment has been given to someone who is not LDS, but that line should be considered. It is priceless.

  29. April 8, 2009 at 9:17 am

    “Apparently the Holy Spirit is capable of reaching people without asking for my opinion.”

    I love this quote. It reminds me of John 3:8-12 about those with a testimony of Christ, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?”

  30. Andrew Ainsworth
    April 8, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    David, it’s always interesting to hear an outsider’s perspective, so thank you.

    Recently a friend of a friend attended LDS Sacrament Meeting for the first time. We asked her what she thought. She responded honestly: “It was pretty boring.” I think if you first administered a truth serum, many if not most Latter-day Saints would readily agree that Sacrament Meeting is usually boring, if not for the entire time, then at least for one or more of the talks. So why do we still go?

    1. We like that we get to hear from other members of the congregation, regular Joe’s like us, rather than hearing from the same preacher of set of preachers over and over again. We can relate to the speakers better if they’re unpaid “amateurs” like us. The fact that sometimes our fellow members are dull or boring at times is, I think, recognized as an expected downside to what is otherwise a wonderful lay ministry system. And we especially appreciate the occasional opportunity to give sermons ourselves, which is usually a very rewarding experience, and we hope that others will cut us slack if we’re a bit dull in our presentations, as we hopefully do for them when they’re dull.

    2. I think most Mormons have relatively low expectations of Sacrament meeting, so they’re not as likely to be disappointed with dull or boring LDS services as, perhaps, someone who is a student of theology. I think most Mormons take a very pragmatic view of religion. And they recognize that, because of mankind’s forgetful nature, we need to be reminded constantly of the “basics”. So I think many if not most Mormons come to Sacrament meeting expecting to simply be reminded of a few basic, important principles of daily living: be kind, be honest, think of the less fortunate, etc. I don’t think they expect to come and hear or experience anything new or ground-breaking; I think they expect the opposite; simple reminders of the basics. It seems to me that most Mormons don’t have their heads in the clouds; their feet are planted firmly on the ground. Having a ground-level conversation bores to tears those of us with our heads in the clouds, but I’ve come to realize those of us with our heads in the clouds are in the minority, so who am I to try to impose my expectations on a group of people who just don’t share those expectations?

    3. I like your suggestion about quiet time for prayer and meditation. We view the Sacrament as being that portion of the meeting when we’re to do just that. It doesn’t end up being too quiet because we’re struggling to keep our kids sitting still, and being that we’re a fertile folk, there are always a dozen or so babies to break, yea pierce, the silence. That said, I think we would improve the worshipfulness of our services by putting all the announcements and ward business at the end of the meeting, after the prayer even. Also, I’d like a little 1-2 min. devotional on the Sacrament before the Sacrament is administered, just to get us all in the right frame of mind. I find that going from announcing car washes and bake sales to taking the Sacrament within just a 4 min period to be an abrupt transition.

    I’ll tell you, though, I feel pretty darn lucky to be in my ward. I’d say people deliver what I’d consider “boring” talks 50% of the time, “good” talks 40% of the time, and great/exceptional talks 10% of the time. That means each week I can expect at least one or two good or great talks. And when a talk gets boring, I just break open my New Testament and read until a good talk comes up.

  31. Ray
    April 8, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    As is usually the case, “What Andrew said.”

  32. David Stout
    April 8, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Andrew,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful explanation. It gives me a MUCH better understanding of the ethos behind LDS worship.

  33. Jeff Spector
    April 8, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Ya see, it’s all relative. If you were brought up in the Jewish culture where you went to a 3 hour (yes, that’s right) sabbath service, 90% in hebrew and you had no clue what was going on, you’d think, as I do, that Sacrament meeting is not bad. I agree with everything that Andrew says. The real dilema occurs when YOU are the boring speaker and you are boring yourself as you speak. Which can be the case with High Council speakers.

    Ain’t that right, Ray. :)

  34. John Lee
    April 8, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Dear Sir:
    I was talking to a fellow member about where did the miracles go and why in the past did they have so many manifestations. I think part of the reason is that the Spirit was there for the physical trials and needs of the church at this time. I also think now we have more spiritual needs that demand quiet whispering and individual meditations.

    I have been a member for 31 years. I have been through many sacrament meetings and I have always been spiritually fed either by the Spirit testifying to me of the Atonement or calling me to repentance through a prompting. I have only fallen asleep once in sacrament and this was due to a long week, but I have always been given messages that I needed at this time. The gifts of the Spirit are tongues,prophecy,
    healing, and testimony so I think that is what the sacrament is for-testimony and promptings as well as taking the sacrament. I think part of the reason glossalia became lessen was that the emphasis that the Spirit comes in a still small voice and will not make you do anything out of the ordinary-fall on the floor, scream, or shake.
    The Spirit will speak peace and calmness to you. I have been to other sacrament meetings of other Churches and felt repulsed by the noise,the music, or the guitar in the meetings. I have also seen the gift of healing through the priesthood as well as the gift of prophecy. I have seen my non-member come to a sacrament meeting and come out crying, because the Spirit touch them the first time.

    God bles you.

    John Lee

  35. Ray
    April 8, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    #33 – :P

  36. N.
    April 8, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Sadly I have very little to contribute, except the following:
    1. excellent post and worthy of contemplation/discussion
    2. #30 Andrew’s comment seemed spot-on to me. We are, at our heart, a practical people with a practical, social worship.
    3. I have often in times past asked myself where “the Spirit of God like a fire is burning” in our weekly meetings, since it was in the weekly meetings of the saints of the restoration, and one of the motivating factors for their creating/joining the church. Currently, I believe I’ve received understanding/revelation from the Spirit about it (why, why not, the nature of manifestations of the Gifts, etc), and am at peace about the question now.
    4. My previous ward/stake leadership worked teach the principle of revelation as the guiding principle to worship services. I think they did a good job, but it looked different than one might suppose.
    5. An occasional respectful guitar number in sac mtg wouldn’t hurt anybody. :)

  37. SteveS
    April 9, 2009 at 10:27 am

    I vote for this respectful guitar number: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP0iDVmzb80

  38. April 9, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    “An occasional respectful guitar number in sac mtg wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

    Replace “respectful” with “wailing” and “number” with “solo” and I’m behind you 100%. Is there a rule against strobe lights and flash pots in Church, too?

  39. hawkgrrrl
    April 9, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Isn’t the main issue (also identified by David S. in his post) that boring staid people are the steady-eddies who attend church regularly. Charismatic types are eventually going to go off to weave baskets and following their bliss. They can’t survive the 3-hour block long term. Right? That’s why they call it “enduring to the end.” *Sigh*

  40. SteveS
    April 9, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    hawkgrrrl #39: I think creative, charismatic types stick around as long as they feel they have projects into which they can channel their creative energies. This involves allowing for a fair amount of freedom. Predictable, correlated control over every aspect of our meetings is probably the problem. And I think that’s what David Stout’s OP was all about, no?

  41. Ray
    April 9, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    I think the issue is for the creative, charismatic types to find expression within the Church wherever it is available, but, more importantly, outside the Church. I don’t attend church to find charismatic expression. I attend as much for the peace as for the fire – although I do enjoy a regular, controlled fire.

    It’s a difficult balancing act, as I’ve seen the negative AND positive effects of both unbroken peace AND out-of-control fire.

  42. Cicero
    April 9, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    Andrew express a lot of great thoughts.

    I’d like to add a few others.

    First is that you are quite right in guessing that the “revelation” aspect of Mormon worship has shifted to the Temple. The Temple experience is heavy on ritual and symbolism- things that emphasize personal revelation from God to increase our understanding, and is not at all like the down to earth, reasoned and logic driven explanations in Sunday school or sacrament meeting talks. I’ve known some members who have trouble with this shift when they first attend the Temple.

    I find it interesting that ritual which is seen as a way to attract members in a lot of other sects, is considered the meat in Mormonism, advanced learning if you will.

    The other aspect I think many are forgetting is Fast and Testimony meeting.

    Now Fast and Testimony can be rather erratic as to what you get, but there are often instances of spiritual revelation that I find occur during Fast and Testimony. It often loses the more refined and orderly version of Mormonism that we tend to prefer as our public face. The importance of this meeting is under emphasized by Mormons when talking with members of other religious sects, mainly because it feels more private to us. I would say that if I had to choose one Sunday of the month to attend I would pick Fast and Testimony over just about any other, certainly over High Councilmen week.

  43. May 13, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    In the Book of Mormon in 3rd Nephi, the people are instructed to go home and prepare their hearts and their minds for what they’ll be taught the next day by Jesus.

    We have a responsibility as members to do the same thing today. Revelation comes to us many times as we’ve prepared our hearts and mind for the revelation. This means praying for the speakers who will speak in church, praying for our hearts to be open to the Spirit, praying for discernment and humility, reading scriptures during sacrement and relfecting on the grace and mercy of Jesus, reading scriptures during the week preparing to take the sacrament, living our lives in humility each day, being true Saints for Jesus.

    If we’re doing these things then I’m confident we’ll have a “born-again” experience every Sunday regardless of who’s speaking.

  44. C.A.
    February 25, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    My recommendations for a inspiring sacrament meeting?…
    D&C 42:12-14, 16…
    12… shall teach
    the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.
    13 And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit.
    14 And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.
    v. 16… And as ye shall lift up your voices by the
    Comforter, ye shall speak and prophesy as seemeth me good;

    I don’t believe that the ‘subject’, ‘text’ or ‘topic’ of a talk (right word?) is really an issue here. Section 42 of the D&C outlines what and how a speaker’s words should be given in Sacrament mtg. Most of us, myself included, are either too shy, or we feel unknowledgeable compared
    to others, or we’re afraid (including afraid to make a mistake), so we write
    out our words, our scriptures, we basically write ourselves a script to read at sacrament mtg. Some who have ‘magnetic’ minds (all words they write and read are absorbed into their brain) to where they are capable of memorizing either by short study or by gift) and can recite almost word perfectly their complete talk. Section 42 states that we should 1. teach the principles of the gospel from our standard works…2. that we as speakers need to be observing or practicing what we’re preaching…3. Both v. 13 & 14 say we need to be directed by the spirit and 14 tells us to pray for that spirit; if we don’t receive it we shouldn’t teach (preach). 16 tells us to ‘lift up our voices’ (by the comforter or spirit) and we may speak even prophesy by that spirit.

    If we follow these directives in sec. 42 I don’t think we’ll ever have a boring or sermon like talk or sacrament meeting.

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