Mormon leaders announce changes to sacrament meeting: Will they be enough?

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Change aheadThis week, the LDS Church confirmed to the Salt Lake Tribune that some changes are coming in the planning and implementation of sacrament meeting, the regular Mormon Sunday service. Among the changes:

  • Ward councils are to take a greater role in planning. In the past, this has been done solely by the local bishop and his two counselors.
  • As a result of ward council involvement, women will have more of a role in organizing sacrament meetings. (Women who serve on ward council include the presidents of Relief Society, Primary, and Young Women.)
  • Planning is supposed to be done a month in advance. (Good-bye, urgent 9 p.m. Saturday phone calls from the bishop!)
  • Sacrament meetings are to be standardized as the opening meeting of every three-hour block, and not relegated to the end.
  • Sacrament meetings are to become “more meaningful” and holy.
  • New training videos are emphasizing the need for Mormons to reserve Sundays as a Sabbath that is as free from extra church meetings as possible.

I welcome these changes. It’s high time for women to be tapped to help with planning worship, and it’s terrific that the church is emphasizing the need for sacrament meetings – and the Sabbath itself — to become more sacred.

As I’ve said before on this blog, Mormon burnout can become a serious problem when Sundays are filled with consecutive meetings and the very worship services that are supposed to give us strength and inspiration are, frankly, often dry and poorly executed.

It doesn’t sound, however, like these proposed changes are doing all that much to resolve the larger systemic problems at work here.

First, having three (already very overworked) women participate in a committee that also includes eight (already very overworked) men is only a baby step toward gender equality.

And second, it’s clear from the language of the announcement that the bishopric is still bearing the brunt of this burden:

Bishoprics, who are responsible for planning sacrament meetings, are being asked to counsel with ward councils about their proposed plans for future sacrament meetings.

What this sounds like is that bishops and their counselors will still have to take on the responsibility for planning all sacrament meetings, only now with the additional steps of making sure they a) clear all those plans through committee, and b) do so a month in advance.

That’s not easing their burden; that’s adding to it.

Which makes me wonder: how could we achieve more gender representation in the Church and craft sacrament meetings that are more uplifting, interesting, and worth attending?

My answer: This needs to be its own calling.

We need to decide, finally, that sacrament meeting is so important to us that we are ready to devote two women and two men to do this, and only this, as their sacred calling in the church.

I propose that each member of the “Sacrament Quorum” would be primarily responsible for planning and executing one sacrament meeting a month. These four people would:

  • Receive instruction from the bishopric about the general themes and scriptures to be covered each month, and also suggest ideas based on their own observations about what is most needed
  • Call and counsel with speakers a month in advance, offering training and resources to ensure that sacrament talks stay on topic and are uplifting
  • Organize three congregational hymns and at least one special musical number for each sacrament meeting
  • Arrange for various Young Women to serve as ushers on particular Sundays
  • Plan special sacrament meetings for Easter, Christmas, and other events

The bishopric would still be responsible for scheduling and supervising those aspects of sacrament meeting that involve priesthood ordinances (e.g., blessing and passing the sacrament, blessing new babies, or imparting the Gift of the Holy Ghost).

Here is what I know: planning beautiful worship is hard work. Because I’m a woman, I haven’t had this responsibility in my years as a Mormon. But I sure had to when I was studying to be a pastor in a Protestant church, and it requires a lot of thought, prayer, planning, and follow-through.

I can’t imagine having to carry that if I had also been responsible for supervising every other program in my church and counseling members and meting out responsibilities to laypeople and dealing with urgent welfare needs. To say nothing of having an outside 9 to 5 job.

It’s no wonder that planning outstanding sacrament meetings week in and week out is not a high priority compared to the other, more pressing, emergencies that bishops and their counselors face.

Mormons expect an awful lot of our local leaders. Isn’t sharing some of their responsibility a better way?

And isn’t it about time we made sacrament meeting enough of a priority that we are willing to devote significant time and talent to making sure it actually nourishes people’s spiritual growth?

  • Jared Farish

    “I propose…” ??? What? Is this a democracy?

    I had to roll my eyes at this statement:

    “First, having three (already very overworked) women participate in a committee that also includes eight (already very overworked) men is only a baby step toward gender equality.”

    1. You are mistaken if you think that having similar numbers of men and women represented in ANY committee is what gender equality actually means. 2. There can be no real discussion of gender equality if all you do is talk about what women aren’t allowed to do, or don’t do. If you can’t have a serious discussion about the inherent gifts that women already have, and the ways that they already serve in all capacities, in addition to the ways that their service could be improved, then stop talking about “gender equality” at all, because it shows you to be completely biased and uninformed in the matter.

    Have a great day!

  • Rigel Hawthorne

    Calling people up and asking them to speak in church was actually the think I disliked most about being in a bishopric. Having that duty shifted off the bishopric would have been welcomed….but, people tend to say ‘yes’ with regard to speaking in church when the BISHOP asks, who will mostly say ‘no’ when anyone else asks. There is a cultural element to that and it could change, but I could see from my experience people telling a member of the Sacrament Quorum, ‘no way’ while they are thinking to themselves, “who does he/she thing they are…the Bishop?”

  • Debbie Snowcroft

    Jared wrote: “…. women aren’t allowed to do, or don’t do, and they ways they already serve…..”

    Here’s the deal, “Jared.” If a woman has the skills to qualify her for a job, and she wants to do that job, and there’s a guy standing in the way, telling her she can’t, then there’s gender inequality at work.

    Deal with it.

  • Fred M

    First of all, I think this is an excellent idea, Jana!

    And Jared–dozens (if not hundreds) of changes have been made in the way we do things in the Church because members made suggestions like this. Of course, we’re not a democracy. But members are free to express their opinions, no? Changes to garments, changes to the temple ceremony, changes in who can say prayers in meetings, etc., etc., have all been made because someone first suggested that maybe there was a better way.

    I’m not even going to touch your gender equality statements. But it’s hard to imagine you are more “informed” in the matter than Jana. But if you feel you are, more power to you!

  • Having an equal number of men and women on a council is not always necessary for equality. On the other hand, a system in which it is mandated that a council of 11-13 people may include no more than three women is obviously unequal.

  • ron

    Sacrament meeting nourishment and sacredness is less about how I enjoy or dont enjoy the talks than it is about my past weeks focus on the savior. Sacrament meeting has only been a bummer if I dont prepare myself throughout the week.

    Just like the childs song that says “saturday is a day to prepare for sunday,” I think the song should really be monday thru saturday are my days to prepare for sunday. When I take this course of action my Sundays are always quite spiritually fulfilling.

    Try it and see your Sabbath day take off!

  • Maddy

    I have a couple of suggestions. First, can we please, please figure out a way to shorten the 3 hr block of meetings? Second, please stop having people talk on the same subject every sacrament meeting for the entire month. Third, resolve not to have talks on the subject of missionary work: investigators don’t return once they figure out it is a “sales-force” meeting.

  • Technically, only blessing the Sacrament is a priesthood duty. Preparing the Sacrament is the Teachers assisting the Priests but if women prepared it I fear some would likely see it as “setting the table,” traditional “women’s work.” Passing the Sacrament is the Deacons assisting the Bishop. If passing the Sacrament required the priesthood, women couldn’t touch it and pass it on as members of the congregation. There is no reason females couldn’t assist the Bishop in this matter. However, like giving blessings when priesthood officers are not present and joining in they laying on of hands for blessings, something women have every to do, women likely won’t do it if they have the right. I ask the author to share examples of what women are doing with the priesthood rights they have before asking for more. When women standing in during blessings is the norm, women passing the Sacrament will become the norm and then there will be a path forward.

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  • Doug Pulsipher

    Counselling together as a council, coming to a consensus as a council, and receiving a confirmation by the Spirit is a treasured experience of church service. This experience will now be enjoyed by the entire ward council in planning our sacred worship service – sacrament meeting. Awesome!

  • JM

    Jana,

    I think that your point about people being overworked is totally on point. I don’t agree, however, that Sacrament Quorum callings would fix the problem. Please consider the following passages:

    “Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.” D&C 84:85

    “The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God.” D&C 20:45

    I think that if the presiding officers would surrender their will to God and follow the real time promptings of Holy Ghost during each meeting, the meetings would be rich, musically powerful, and inclusive of males and females of all ages. As it stands now, there is a great deal of bureaucratic hand-wringing, micromanagement, and looking past the mark. The last thing we need is more human planning.

  • EG

    Interesting changes. As one who has served in leadership capacities time is taken away from families. This is what a church is when run by the members. It is hard work, but I like it. I have attended many different religions services. There is little member involvement or investment. I have an in law who converted to the LDS church and they remarked how much they have learned about God, Scriptures, how great that members were involved, and the programs in place to help one another.

    Members complain about VT, HT, etc. And yes we get overwhelmed. But members don’t realize how fortunate we are for the programs.

    My non LDS neighbors never have their church support when something happens to them. They always call me. Some don’t go to church..already saved. I just had surgery for ruptured discs and am grateful for the church help. Before surgery I was constantly helping a neighbor (while in great pain) who broke a leg. No one from her church did anything.

  • JR

    Please consider having the High Council on a schedule of speaking every other month!!!!

  • maddy

    EG
    “My non LDS neighbors never have their church support when something happens to them”
    I wonder if the difference is the way LDS members are organized into assigned congregations with specific assignments. On the other hand, at one time I was the only LDS member in my neighborhood and when one of the women in the neighborhood was diagnosed with cancer–I saw everybody pitch in to bring meals for over a two month period. I’m aware of other non-LDS neighborhoods doing the same thing.

  • Bob

    Having served as a bishop and in bishoprics for many years, I would welcome help in this responsibility. I was grateful for recent changes that allowed bishops to request ward member help in dealing with welfare needs. There are a lot of responsibilities placed on a bishop, and any help or relief is welcome in my mind!

    Having said that, planning sacrament meetings isn’t the first place I would look to get help. The reality is, if I could ask for help in one area it would be that each member magnifies their assignments as home and visiting teachers. Ministering as a VT/HT is meaningful and can be life changing, and often is not done well, or at all. If every member did this, it would have a much greater impact than planning sacrament meetings via Ward Council.

    Granted, I’ll still take the help, but this is more of a minor administrative change that likely won’t have a large impact on the spiritual well being of the ward.

  • Jessawhy

    I brought up the suggestion of having a woman help plan sacrament meeting to my bishop a few years ago (when we published the Words of Wisdom at LDS WAVE) and his response was, “It’s one of the only things about being a bishop I enjoy. I would be sad to hand it over.”

    It was a legitimate point.

  • Sabra

    Here! Here! I stopped inviting friends to church when on two separate occasions friends attended what amounted to Mormon conversion propaganda (extreme hard sale tactics) giving the overwhelming impression that we only befriend those outside our faith to convert them. I was so uncomfortable and to this day it stands out as such a bad experience.

  • Nancy

    I think that a good ward is made up of wives that help their priesthood holders excel in their callings. This happens more than people realize. The ultimate thing that makes a sacrament meeting interesting and spiritually uplifting is whether or not the saint in the seat comes prepared for sacrament. I see too many saints finishing lessens, talking about whatever, or not preparing their children for sacrament that causes distractions. Women have their duties in the Church I do not wish to see the Church become politically correct to man’s ways and forget that this is not man’s Church but Christ’s Church. If women want more leadership roles let them start by leading their children in the home and preparing the family which is a sacred duty. Please, I do not want a P. C. Church.

  • Pete

    How about delegating the conducting the meeting to the various organization presidencies on a rotating basis? Must one be a priesthood holder to read announcements and welcome members? That would free up the bishopric to sit with their families. If priesthood authority and power (but not office) can be given to women to fill their callings, why not in Sacrament meeting? Why is it a requirement that the presiding officer sit on the stand? Couldn’t he sit with his family within eye/ear shot of those administering the sacrament? Or close enough to walk to the podium if things get seriously off track with the speakers? I have been to too many meetings when visiting authorities took up the entire front row of the stand, even when they weren’t participating the meeting. I find it to be distracting and pointless.

  • Maddy

    I don’t understand what some (and you) refer to as “pc–politically correct.”
    Most of the time, it seems to be just good manners–being aware and sensitive to others. Would you be willing to explain what you mean? What is the difference between good manners and “pc?” I know some view greeting people with “happy holidays” as offensive–but really? I don’t view it that way–as the greeter has good intentions and doesn’t know me personally, whether I am Jewish etc.

  • Lsa

    I’m interested to read of this. There are four people who in my opinion have important roles in worship planning that are often overlooked. I hope these four people are invited to be part of the new planning committee in each ward. I will be immensely disappointed if they are not. They are the ward music chairperson, the ward sacrament meeting music leader, the ward organist, and the ward choir director. I have held most of these callings, and I would be very disappointed if responsibility for planning and selecting the music in sacrament meeting was taken from these four people. In each case, I feel these callings are more than just accompanying singing or waving one’s hand during the hymns. These callings constitute a special kind of ministry. Training is often overlooked, and therefore those holding these callings often do not have the skills or vision to fulfill them as effectively as they could, but that can be changed.

  • Edward Ray

    Just a comment as one who is in the bishopric and helping with the planning. We just started this. It is slightly more work in the sense that we have to be ready to present to the Ward council. On the other hand, there is valuable feedback such as: “so and so is new but hasn’t had a chance to speak yet” or “You guys FORGOT it was Father’s day and the theme is Tithing???” or “so and so is actually really musically inclined and perform in sacrament meeting”. Especially the sisters are good at giving such info. We’ll see how this plays out, but I see very few substantive problems and a reasonably good number of perks with this change. Oh, and supposedly it was inspired so we are supposed to get blessings if we do it with a joyful heart right?

  • Hedgehog

    Lsa, I so agree, as I mentioned in my comments on this post (http://www.wheatandtares.org/17411/emphasising-sabbath-observance/) when the topic the topic of changes to sacrament meeting was raised. It’s essential at very least to include the music chair, to represent the music people.

  • Charles

    One of the many reasons that the Bishop and his counselors sit on the stand is so they can be a witness of everyone partaking of the sacrament. Even if someone else conducted, the bishopric would still have to be on the stand.

  • Starting high-level and then going a little more granular.

    First off, I’m very happy that as a Church we are making a move to a more spiritual Sacrament Meeting. I think this focus (even if we don’t execute it perfectly) will bring increased faith in and conversion to Christ.

    As far as the number of women influencing sacrament meeting decisions, I think we are getting a little too hung up on how many influencers vs. just HOW we want to influence the meeting. It’s not a power trip for anyone. One of the great ways that I have seen both men and women (but usually women) contribute to sacrament meeting planning is by preparing the music. These callings aren’t part of any ward council, but they sure do add to the meeting in a BIG way.

  • Tracie

    I think this a great development and am hopeful that each ward/branch unit will adapt this to their needs as the Handbook already states. I don’t think the change requires anything more than units understanding local adaptations are a part of administering the programs of the church. Anything more prescriptive is hampering in my opinion. Planning this sacred meeting more in advance is always a great thing! As our ward councils focus first on the needs of the members in that mtg, this component of counciling about the sacrament mtg could be helpful and not take up too much extra time. My ward’s 50 minute ward councils were never enough time to get to everything needed but devoting more time than that could easily become burdensome. The bishopric could easily send their proposed topic and speaker ideas out with the ward council agenda in advance (Wed before mtg in my ward). I was recently Primary Pres and I have seen the Lord move the work forward in these meetings and it is AWESOME!

  • Beas9402

    Some members do not want Visiting or Home Teachers. In my experience, even when you tell people you don’t want VT and/or HT, the response is uhhhh we don’t really know how to do that?

  • robndaile

    I very much agree with your point. Having been a bishop, this could be done on the Bishop’s prerogative. He could invite the Ward Music Chairperson into the Ward Council meeting to lead the music planning. I would want her there, too.

  • katherine

    Could someone help me find the source for the last bullet point at the top, the part about keeping the Sabbath day free from extra church meetings if possible? I don’t see it mentioned in the article it links to, or other articles about the changes, and can’t find it googling either. Great article… thank you!

  • Cami

    I still feel that a bishop is truly the one with the keys to lead the ward, and the inspiration for what that ward needs is given to him. Having others brainstorm on this and help is awesome, but I wouldn’t want to know that certain people in my ward are choosing the topics for our sacrament meetings and then running them by the bishop. If it comes from the bishopric and ward council first and then is fleshed out, I feel good about that.

  • katherine

    I still check this page hoping someone will answer… If anyone has a reference for the part about avoiding extra church meetings on the Sabbath, please let me know. Thanks!

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  • Kathleen Petty

    I have had the experience where 8 people had the same subject matter to do a talk on and they all gave excellent talks–all different in approaches. I think it is good to be able to see things from different perspectives. Sometime what you don’t need to hear is exactly what someone else needs to hear: an answer to a prayer, or help in progressing in the direction we need to go. We as church members also need to be a little more patient with others and their spirituality. I also find that not all investigators are turned off by talks on missionary work. If done in the right light, the investigators will feel the need to share the gospel (which means “good news”) with others and won’t be offended.

  • Kathleen Petty

    Jana. I know you have a since heart in wanting to help and please God. You wouldn’t of perused your Doctorate Degree in Religion if you didn’t feel that way. For that, I love your heart. 🙂 I think with many who are either converts or whom are investigating the church, they are accustomed to having a “professional” church meeting. Most members of other churches do no plan out or speak in the main church meeting. That is fine but our church is about allowing not only our spiritual growth but for others to grow too. This may include listening to a talk that sometimes goes off subject, listening to music that isn’t “professionally done” (we don’t get paid to perform or accompany like other churches do), we are all volunteers trying to do our best to build up the Lord’s kingdom. A little patients practiced with other in their growth of trying to serve others, I’m sure, would be greatly appreciated. We didn’t become professionals in our careers over night nor will we become…

  • Kathleen Petty

    perfected saints over night either. 🙂