“Most people don’t come to church looking merely for a few new gospel facts or to see old friends, though all of that is important. They come seeking a spiritual experience. They want peace. They want their faith fortified and their hope renewed. They want, in short, to be nourished by the good word of God, to be strengthened by the powers of heaven.” Jeffrey R. Holland, April 1998 General Conference, A Teacher Come from God.
I wish there were a litmus test – or one of those fancy chemical sprays used in CSI – that could determine when the Spirit is really present in our meetings.
It’s such a delicate balance. Last Sunday’s Lorenzo Snow Relief Society lesson included passages reminding us that we have to bring the Spirit with us to our sacrament meetings. One reading of this could be, “Bored in a meeting? It’s your own fault.” Another take could be “Search for the pearls of wisdom, regardless of the grammar, unstructured rambling, and limited preparation of the speakers who aren’t professional orators after all.” Or less cynically, “You get out what you put in.”
At the same time, Elder Holland reminds us:
“Are we really nurturing our[selves] and our new members in a way that will sustain them when the stresses of life appear? Or are we giving them a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories? President John Taylor once called such teaching ‘fried froth,’ the kind of thing you could eat all day and yet finish feeling totally unsatisfied.” (Holland, A Teacher Come from God)
Recently in our ward a very young newly married couple spoke. Most of the congregation (but not us) knew the man and were excited to hear from the new bride. Eloquence wasn’t a strong suit for either of them, but candor and enthusiasm were. After the meeting, our visiting family members who had been chasing a toddler through the halls during the meeting, commented that they “didn’t get much out of those talks.” (Honestly, how much can struggling parents of frisky or fussy toddlers expect to get out of our sacrament meetings?)
My response was something on this order, “Mormon sacrament meetings provide an energetic work out every Sunday for all those qualities we want to develop – empathy, forgiveness, compassion, tolerance, forbearance….” That’s my personal interpretation of President Snow’s council to come for the meaning and not a dog and pony show (my words, not his).
I myself like a little dog and a little pony. I’m not talking incense or fancy head adornments. Music sung or performed especially well is a delight. Well-prepared talks without guilt-mongering, that include scriptures and gender-blind examples of goodness inspire me. Maybe an occasional brass instrument. These things lift me up. Is that too much to ask?
The blessing, passing and taking of the sacrament is in a class all its own and will be as sacred and meaningful as I am willing and able to make it.
When my husband was a bishop, a graphic designer ward member (Rick Rawlins) worked with him to design a ward bulletin that immediately set a spiritual tone. Rick designed a simple graphic – a sun-like symbol that looked a lot like the window at the front of the chapel – on the front page. On the inside was a selected scripture on the left and a spare outline of the day’s meeting with the words to the sacrament prayers printed and commanding the most significant visual (and theological) space right in the center. It was an offering and moved and reminded me every week of why we were meeting.
On Easter one year each bulletin had in it a handmade bookmark with the cover’s simple graphic printed on an actual square of “balm of Gilead,” a wood sliced thin as paper, and trailing an iridescent ribbon. It was an alleluia in tangible form.
Word got back to us that one ward member was concerned about the programs because they didn’t look “Mormon” enough. Good grief.
President Kimball, giving yin to President Snow’s yang, had this request:
“Stake presidents, bishops, and branch presidents, please take a particular interest in improving the quality of teaching in the Church. … I fear that all too often many of our members come to church, sit through a class or a meeting, and … then return home having been largely [uninspired]. It is especially unfortunate when this happens at a time … of stress, temptation, or crisis [in their life]. We all need to be touched and nurtured by the Spirit, and effective teaching is one of the most important ways this can happen. We often do vigorous work to get members to come to Church but then do not adequately watch over what they receive when they do come.” (from Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , p. 524)
How do you walk this balance? What have you done yourself or seen done in your ward (or others’) to enhance the Sunday worship experience?