Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Purposes of Our Sunday Meetings: Some Things Aren't Appropriate for Sacrament Meeting

I have spoken with quite a few people over the course of my life about why our Sunday meetings sometimes aren't nearly as spiritually delicious as they should be - why, when you look around the chapel, so many people seem disinterested.  There are some reasons I wouldn't change (like hearing from average members in Sacrament Meeting who are not good public speakers or who are not well-prepared), but there is one fundamental change I would make church-wide, if I could.  I would make sure every member understood the specific purposes of our meetings, starting with those who preside and set the tone.

In my opinion, the primary purposes of our Sunday meetings are as follows: 

1) Sacrament Meeting: Worship

2) Sunday School: Doctrinal instruction

3) PH & RS: Community building (including "fellowshipping" activities and temporal matters)

There is room for some overlap, but only within the parameters of the purposes. For example:

1) It's OK to provide doctrinal instruction in Sacrament Meeting, but that instruction should be about worship-focused things. Grace, charity, meekness, forgiveness and any other godly characteristic is fine as a topic for a talk, as long as they are presented as aspects of true emulative worship - but tithing, food storage, HT & VT, etc. are not appropriate Sacrament Meeting topics. Anything can be related tangentially to worship by a good speaker, but it should not be necessary for a speaker to take a non-worship-focused topic and bend it into an appropriate topic. 

2) Sunday School should be a school - and I prefer the group discussion model for ALL classes comprised of members who've been attending long enough to have a fairly solid doctrinal foundation. I want real meat in Gospel Doctrine, for example - with those members occasionally cycling through Gospel Essentials (maybe once every five years or so), just to make sure the foundation milk doesn't get sour.

3) PH & RS should be about people - defining and planning service, discussing HT & VT, discussing how to find and reach and inspire others, lessons on those things that really aren't worship-focused but community-centered (like tithing, food storage, emergency preparedness, fast offerings, even temple attendance, etc.), basic get-to-know-you activities, learning from the life experiences of others, genealogy, etc.

Sacrament Meeting should be "spiritual" in nature; Sunday School should be "educational"; Priesthood and Relief Society Meetings should be "social".  I am most concerned about keeping Sacrament Meeting spiritual and worshipful in nature and focus, since there can be spiritual moments within education and sociality.


Anonymous said...

This is very surprising and interesting to me. I don't quite feel the same. I'm not sure what you think is "worship" vs. not worship. Perhaps I am unfamiliar with what the definition of the word is.
I see sacrament meeting as community building. We are all there and anyone can speak on Fast Sunday. Sacrament meeting is where you find out what is going on and have announcements. I see no need to keep some things off the menu like tithing. It is a place where everyone can be instructed. Besides the sacrament, I can't see why sacrament meeting is more worshipful than the other meetings.
Relief Society never has those "meetings" like PH does where you sit around and talk about VTing etc. It is always a lesson and it generally where the most spiritual times are for me. In RS I don't have to worry about my family. It is just me so I can concentrate on the message and because it is just a smaller group of women it means I have the opportunity to raise my hand and contribute to the discussion making my experience far more interesting, engaging, spiritual and fulfilling. I both gain spiritual knowledge. Of course it is also community building because of this....sharing spiritual thoughts with each other in RS is great community building.
So, I have to admit that our ideas of the purposes of the meetings differ very much.

Papa D said...

Remember, I said that there can be some overlap - and I have no problem whatsoever with lessons in RS & PH meetings that are focused on "messages" that are spiritual in nature.

"Worship" is defined commonly as: "reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred; formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage". That "formal rendering of honor and homage" is intended to occur in Sacrament Meeting, and the idea of Sacrament Meeting being primarily a worship service goes WAY back in our history, both inside and outside the LDS Church.

I live in a ward with a wonderful Bishop who understands the need to have a chance to worship, formally, but I know members who can go weeks without hearing a talk that is focused on Jesus or God, the Father - that is anywhere close to a traditional sermon (and, by that, I simply mean a message that is focused directly and explicitly on the Savior). I know of situations, albeit somewhat rarely, where an investigator could attend all three hours of our meetings and not realize we are Christian - especially if they weren't paying attention to our prayers. In those cases, it's like two hours of Sunday School - or two hours of non-worshipful RS or PH lessons. In too many cases there is very little, if any, "praise" and "adoration" and "awe" and "grace" in the talks they hear. Some people rarely are stirred in Sacrament Meeting, just like your description of your experience.

I might be wrong in saying this, so forgive me if I am, but I think it's instructive that you said: "Besides the sacrament, I can't see why sacrament meeting is more worshipful than the other meetings." Perhaps, that is because you haven't experienced a worshipful Sacrament Meeting - or, at least, a series of them over an extended period of time. I have, in multiple wards (though not all of the ones in which I've lived), over the course of my life, and it has been glorious to behold. I can speak of Sacrament Meeting the way you speak of RS, because I have experienced it - and also because I have experienced the opposite.

ji said...

I appreciate your thoughts, and have never thought of our meetings in this way -- worship, education, and social. Yes, we so desperately need real worship in our sacrament meetings, worship of the Lord Jesus Christ -- not academic treatments of Gospel topics.

Christy said...

I like your suggestions. I have been struggling with feeling the spirit in church lately, although I realize the problem usually lies with me, but this past Sunday our subjects were long suffering, temperance, and patience; and I found this to be the most meaningful (for me) sacrament meeting I have attended in awhile.

I admit that I get far more out of seminary - partly because it is five days a week, partly because it requires so much from me, but mostly because I am learning with and from the youth in our ward, and they are amazing people.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the spirit of the post by not necessarily the letter. I think Handbook 2, chapter 18 "Meetings in the Church" is the appropriate information on what meetings on Sunday should be like, and more importantly, whose business it is to preside over and plan such meetings.

Papa D said...

Thanks, Anonymous, the most recent. I agree that the handbook specifies who presides over and plans our meetings - and I would never attempt to over-step my authority and dictate any of that. However, I think it's easy to slip into a habit of recycling topics for Sacrament Meetings based on what's been done in the past ("Tradition!! Tradition!! . . . . Tradition!!") and forget that even leaders can do things that, when continued, end up constituting "incorrect traditions of (our) fathers". Sometimes, the right thing to do is to break with tradition (especially when that tradition is not proscribed in the handbook) and establish a new, more correct practice.

I'm saying those who have responsibility to preside and decide should keep the purpose of each meeting in mind while they do so - and I appreciate the difference you mention between the spirit and the letter, as I believe in the spirit without believing there is a hardline, obvious letter when it comes to this topic.

Papa D said...

ji and Christy, I just want to thank you for your regular participation and input here. I don't know if I've said it that directly in the past, but I appreciate both of you and your insights.

Nancy said...

We attended a ward recently in which the talks were about cub scouts and becoming an Eagle Scout. I tried to follow Pres. Eyring's advice and occupy myself with my scriptures, but I had a hard time not feeling upset that not only was Christ and the gospel not mentioned, but the topics completely ignored 1/2 (or thereabouts)of the congregation. Grrr!

Christy said...

Nancy, I feel your pain. Boy scouts is relevant to my family but I wouldn't want to hear about it in sacrament meeting (it was bad enough when we had a friends of scouting presentation during a combined priesthood and relief society meeting - at least I think that's when it was given).

My impression of our last general conference was that it was more of a focus on developing attributes of the Savior, or was that just me?