Over the weekend By Common Consent ran an important post by Ronan Head about Sunday rest. “Dear Church, We Need Our Sabbath Day Back” encapsulates the way Mormon Sabbath has shifted from a healthy blend of rest and worship (which Mormons define as “meetings”) to a ragged and unhealthy focus on meetings, meetings, and more meetings:
Most Sundays I really crave a Sabbath day, a day of rest. This is not a craving for a lie-in with the papers. I want to go to church but we have let it get out of control, building hour upon hour of talk upon talk as if it is some holy thing. It isn’t. I have noticed that for even the most pious of the Saints, their happiest Sunday is the Sunday they are given a guilt-free break from church: snow days, sniffly children, General Conference. Don’t say you don’t believe me.
Head’s post had me cheering so loudly he probably heard it from across the pond. Mormons are not honoring the Sabbath—not in the way the Bible clearly intended, anyway—and we need to start saying no to the craziness.
The Hebrew word Shabbat means “cease.” End of story. Full stop, literally. It does not mean:
- Go to church an hour early for a “State of the Ward” sort of meeting.
- Sit through church meetings for three full hours. Use the sacrament meeting time to prepare your lesson for priesthood or Relief Society.
- Stay for an hour after church for your ward’s choir practice.
- Grab a quick lunch at home because after all, you would never think of violating the Sabbath by buying a sandwich at McDonalds.
- Do your home teaching/visiting teaching in the afternoon.
- Pop back home to check on your children for a few minutes. Yes, they are still alive.
- Bundle the older kids back into the minivan for their Sunday evening fireside.
- Collapse into bed, relieved that tomorrow you can go back to your day job and stop working so hard.
There’s actually very little in the ancient Scriptures about what people did with their time, though there are rules upon rules about what they could not do. The reason there’s so little prescribed compared to what is proscribed is simple: “stop” was actually a pretty clear message, overall.
But we aren't getting that message. Just stop.
In the post itself and in the comments are some worthy suggestions for how to make room for rest to counter the unhealthy, legalistic performance of our religion. Some of those suggestions include:
- No more extra Sunday meetings, home or visiting teaching efforts, firesides, BYCs, PECs, or BYDs. (Perhaps the new rule should be that if it involves an acronym of any kind, it’s not for Sunday.)
- Either move to a 2-hour block (eliminating Sunday School) or make the middle Sunday School hour optional so that people can take care of auxiliary meetings, welfare concerns, or choir practice during that time. As someone aptly pointed out, this would have the bonus effect of actually getting people to be involved in choir.
- Emphasize that the Sabbath is not a day for emails, meetings, or productivity apps. On the other days, however, one’s devices can be a great way to reduce the inefficiency of calling all these in-person meetings. Why require people to travel a half an hour to a meeting they could easily Skype into from wherever they are?
- Give more callings to women to share the burden of too much work shared by too few men.
- Encourage members to stay with their children on Sundays whenever possible. For a church that emphasizes the importance of family so strongly, we sure do a poor job of showing it when we keep priesthood holders away from their families for the bulk of Sunday.
- Make sacrament meeting focus on worship through music, prayers, Scripture, and more music—especially participatory music. There should never be more than two talks, and each talk should be a maximum of ten minutes. Testimony meetings can stay. Stake high council talks should quietly disappear.
- Stop censuring the act of saying no. In our culture we have been told to never say no to a calling when it is offered, which is an untenable policy. If, after praying about a calling, someone feels it's not the right time, there should be no "guilting into it."