Impromptu Sacrament Meetings

When I was a kid (approximately 8-10 years old), I used to get up every Fast & Testimony meeting and bear my testimony.  I was so obnoxious, my family told me I didn’t need to get up every month.  So, I took a few months off.  One day we had Ward Conference (and I still don’t really understand why we have Ward Conference, but that’s a topic for another post.)  The stake presidency decided to pick certain members of the ward to come up without warning, and give a short testimony.  To my surprise, they called my name.  I remember looking at my parents, wondering if I really was supposed to get up and bear my testimony, and they encouraged me to do it.  I remember being apprehensive about Ward Conference ever since, but I have never seen that practice in another Ward Conference.

Fast forward a couple of decades.  I attended a singles ward in Salt Lake City.  About every 6 weeks or so, the bishopric would not call speakers.  Instead, just as my experience in Ward Conference, they would call members out of the congregation without warning, to come up and bear short testimonies.  They often picked new members of the ward, or people they hadn’t heard from in a long time.  I found these unrehearsed, impromptu testimonies very heartfelt and spiritual, although nearly every speaker noted how surprised they were to be called to speak.

I also remember attending a fireside one Sunday morning at the Independence Temple (owned by the Community of Christ) following the Mormon History Association meetings the weekend before.  The service was narrated by Apostle Susan Skoor and BYU professor Alex Baugh in which nearly the entire service was devoted to the hymns written by WW Phelps.  It was one of the most spiritual, uplifting services I have ever attended, and I am not one who usually enjoys singing.  The Community of Christ leaders allowed an LDS stake choir to occupy the choir seats and sing a few hymns; Skoor and Baugh alternated in giving background for many of the familiar LDS and RLDS hymns written by Phelps, and the congregation sang both LDS and CoC versions of “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet” among many other hymns penned by Phelps.  It was a truly moving and spiritual experience.

In light of last week’s post about missionary farewells (and Pres. Hinckley’s decision NOT to have special music for them), and the strange comments from people that called such productions “entertainment”, and I wanted to put out some ideas out there for improving the spirit in our Sacrament Meetings.  I think that much could be done to improve the spirituality of the meetings (and I think re-reading General Conference talks drives away the Spirit.)  I haven’t had an impromptu testimony meeting since I was single, and I wondered how many of you have experienced these types of meetings, or Sacrament meetings devoted almost exclusively to music?  Do you think a little variety in our meetings might help invite the Spirit?  Is this something a motivated Bishop can implement, or will he be shut down by the Correlation Committee?

4 comments on “Impromptu Sacrament Meetings

  1. I was in a ward just a few years ago where one sunday every month the Bishop would assign a topic to the entire ward and would call up people randomly to give short talks on the subject. I thought it was a great experience. No one in the ward rebelled or anything like that.

  2. Let me get this straight. He announces the topic at the beginning of the meeting, and then calls people up randomly. Interesting!

  3. Well, we knew the topic in advance. Some people I’m certain prepared ahead of time in the event that they were called. Some people obviously didn’t prepare, so you got a mix. You never knew if you were going to be called until your name was called from the pulpit when it was time for the speaking portion of the meeting. I never saw anyone refuse to come up – everyone seemed to be very positive about the whole idea. I really liked it.

    It went on for a few years until I moved out of the ward – it may still be going on, although I know they have a new bishop now, so it may have ended.

  4. The impromptu testimonies I find to be one of the most improper actions that can be taken. At least from a general perspective. I had a singles-ward bishop that would call up members randomly at the end of sacrament meeting. IF it is a ward leader, and IF they have been warned that this might occur on occasion to fill a meeting, then, and only then, would I find it appropriate. But to call members in general, on the spot, in sacrament, randomly,.. I find it lacks respect for the members. In that singles-ward, the bishop stopped calling on me after I told him no, on two separate occasions. I’ve met a few people who have said yes (agreed to stand-up when asked on the spot) but then walked away with negative emotions from the experience, some to never return to church. (I know, that there are probably other issues at play, but why add one more straw to camel’s back?)

    I can understand and agree that there are steps that could be taken to increase spirituality in meetings. For example, I cringe whenever someone gives and reads a general conference talk. At a minimum, one should provided additional stories or ideas that support or reinforce the lesson of the talk. But there is a reason why members in the church participate in sacrament meetings regardless of presentation or speaking ability compared to other churches that have professionals giving the discourse (or providing entertainment, etc.)

    Increasing reverence is a huge step that, alone, would increase spirituality during sacrament meetings, and one that the bishop (and other ward leaders) can work on. But as a general rule, the spirituality during sacrament meeting is an individual’s responsibility, not the bishop’s. The bishop can work to increase reverence, or even suggest appropriate talks for the congregation, but one person can find sacrament very spiritual during the most boring of talks with a room full of crying babies and another person in the same room can get nothing.

    That being said, I’ve seen whole range of sacrament meeting ‘issues’ that can be addressed that will assist in increasing the meeting’s reverence. On the US east coast, I have found meetings are louder with many of the congregation conversing during the meeting (including the passing of the sacrament). Many years ago, in Newfoundland, it was not uncommon to see testimony turn into a singing dedication (I’d like to dedicate this hymn to the gals on the front row). In southern Louisiana, my uncle was a bishop and worked for his entire tenure to start meetings on time, and/or keep people from entering and (loudly) disrupting the sacrament. In France, we had members who would just read chapters from the Gospel Principles manual. (We had one guy in Belgium who would freely try to tell everyone about the temple endowments, during fast and testimony.) In Detroit, I had a member of the branch presidency who read his testimony each week to the congregation before the sacrament was passed. (For a while he even printed it each week for everyone to read along.)

    In short, there are a lot of things that a bishop can due, depending on their congregation to enhance the reverence at these meetings, but the level of spirituality is the individual’s responsibility. If I just wanted to feel good after a meeting, I’d go to one of the local TV congregations. 🙂

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