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Sunday Worship: In the Halls and Stalls

By Karen Austin


Over the last year, our ward leadership has made several calls for increased reverence. I admit that I am a repeat offender.  I am not one to stay in a row where planted.   I do understand the value of quiet devotion.  One of my favorite psalms admonishes me to “Be still and know that I am God.”   When I actually unplug from the world around me and train my attention towards that which transcends my household chores, I do feel an otherworldly peace.

Sometimes this happens by design during the passing of the sacrament or during a talk from the pulpit.  But I also believe that small, unscripted moments at church have power to transform lives.  While at the church building, I delight in observing my brothers and sisters connect meaningfully with each other in the halls and stalls.

As I walk through the halls on Sunday, I overhear snippets of conversation: “Yes, I can take your daughter to piano so that you can go visiting teaching.” “I have hand-me-down clothes for your son.” “Can I borrow the novel we’re reading next in book club?” Many of these conversations look mundane, but these small acts of support help build relationships so that ward members might accept more ethereal gifts from one another.

I am especially warmed by those saints who make an effort to talk with people who are a little less visible, a little less networked.   It may cause a little flurry of activity for someone to cross the chapel during the prelude music to greet a brother who hasn’t attended for months or years, but waiting to find him in the hall afterward might be too late. He might leave the chapel quickly even before “Amen” fully resonates through the room.

Sometimes the best sermons delivered on Sunday are those that happen in the foyer, in empty classrooms, in parked cars, or in low-traffic corners of the building.  Sometime in January  two women talk in the foyer during Gospel Doctrine.  A woman wearing slacks talks about her struggles to go to school and raise children while her husband’s back injury prevents him from working.  She talks about the volunteer work that she and her children performed during the holiday season. They donated their time delivering meals to people with health problems.   This accidental meeting in the foyer gave her the opportunity to demonstrate her faith and industry when the formal meetings give her little opportunity to talk. Just based on appearances, many sisters misperceive her as having more trials than strengths.

About a year ago, I left Relief Society in order to address my allergy symptoms. When I entered the bathroom, I found one sister in the ward comforting another in the oversized stall for the handicapped. The lesson that day was on parenting. The woman in tears was upset about her teenaged daughter’s depressive symptoms, which had recently worsened. This caring mother was worried that her own choices were affecting her daughter’s life, a fear that was fueled unwittingly by the discussion in the Relief Society room.  As I stood around the corner near the changing table, I heard the voice of the other sister offering her comfort. She spoke in soothing tones that echoed off the tiled walls of the bathroom like a hymn.

Because I am hypoglycemic, I frequently dash out to the parking lot between meetings to eat a granola bar.  On a number of occasions, I have been part of parking lot sermons where “two or three are gathered” in His name, conversations that contain these snippets:   “Yes, I have faith that through the atonement we can forgive those who have physically abused us.” “I am strengthened by observing the faith in eternal families that you and your husband demonstrate as his cancer continues to spread.”  “I admire the fortitude you show as your family strives to help a family member caught up in addiction.”

These conversations could not take place in more public venues, and the people involved were not connected through auxiliary service or visiting teaching or by geographic proximity as neighbors. They happened to connect as their paths crossed at church, and God-filled moments happened – off script, out of bounds, on accident.

Reverence is important. But defining reverence as behaving oneself and adopting strictly prescribed behaviors can erase some opportunities for cross pollination of hearts and souls.   As I watch the conversations that happen in the borderlands beyond formal services, I rejoice.   This impromptu activity supports the values and principles established by formal sacrament talks, by auxiliary and quorum lessons and by highly correlated service projects.   Thank heavens for these little acts of misbehavior.

Have you observed informal sermons in the halls and stalls of your church building?  How do you define reverence? Have you noticed how some of the more reserved saints occupy the borderlands of formal worship?

About Karen Austin

After living in UT, HI, CA, VA, DC, WI, WV & KS, Karen now lives in Newburgh, IN with her husband and two children. She's been a BYU writing tutor, an English teacher, technical writer, director of academic support services, and aging studies adjunct. She's reinventing herself--again. New role still pending, but mature athlete, thrift store fashionista, and court jester are strong candidates. She maintains the blog The Generation Above Me.

20 thoughts on “Sunday Worship: In the Halls and Stalls”

  1. I have long enjoyed "Hallway Ministries" at church as both a 'minister' as well as a congregant. It is a very beautiful place in which to serve and be served. Thank you for sharing its importance.

  2. "…cross pollination of hearts and souls." Beautiful! I appreciate this post. Our leaders sometimes admonish us to be more reverent before Sacrament Meeting, or to not be one of the "hallway class" during Sunday School. I know it's important to go to class and to contemplate reverently before worshiping, but it's also important to connect with each other, to share our experiences and love for each other.

  3. You made me wonder … how do we define reverence? So I searched the annals of lds.org and it turns out the same three words are used repeatedly: love, respect, and devotion. From the sounds of it your post is describing reverence in action.

    I was also thinking maybe I have just strategically missed this lesson in church for my entire life (outside of primary) but I feel like I have never had a 'grown-up' lesson about reverence … is it in a handbook nowadays? I think we need one just to remind us that it actually does not mean simply 'be quieter'.

    In that vein I think how we teach reverence to children should be looked at too, because I feel like by and large reverence becomes one of those principles that we feel means more, but are in the habit of interpreting simply as 'behave,' which is a habit I feel was developed when we were all in primary and the term reverence was used in place of regular admonishments to be manageable.

    We teach the actions of reverence, but I feel the actual essence of reverence is completely lost, particularly on children, but in adults as well. This is sad because it such a crucial element to recognizing and feeling the spirit …

  4. I agree with Lauren that we don't really teach reverence very well because we focus on reverent-looking behavior rather than the its essence. I'm really good at looking reverent, but that doesn't really mean anything.

    I liked a Sharing Time lesson a couple of months ago that involved little children roaming about the room, mooing and barking. The lesson emphasized that having fun in Sharing Time wasn't necessarily irreverent and it was a significantly better teaching method than trying to get those same little children to sit quietly and hold still while an adult talked to them.

  5. I have been disquieted/restless spirit during a class or sermon and had to step out. I have seen and heard those moments. I've been a participant in them as well. I 'should' be in meeting, but I had a chance to serve or be served. Always was just what I needed to find the peace, and usually blessed another life.

  6. Karen, I love this. We are looking to buy a house in the next few months and have visited a few different wards. And this, exactly what you are talking about, is exactly what we are looking for, a ward and community that openly loves and takes care of each other, and not just worships together in the chapel. I hope to find a ward with a reverence for each person like yours.

  7. I completely agree with Lauren that we fall short when teaching our children about reverence. I was subbing for a primary chorister the week she was going to teach them the song "Reverence is Love" (which someone else quoted here in the comments). I was appalled when I asked the children "What does it mean to be reverence?" and all they could tell me was "be quiet!" What?! … um… not so! Reverence has little to do with being quiet. Certainly "being still" and knowing God can be important reverent moments in our lives, but reverence is SO MUCH MORE as everyone has pointed out.

    @Sandra – why don't you find a ward that needs that reverence and help teach them by example? Or, even better, ask Heavenly Father which ward you should move into 🙂

  8. I have hesitated to comment because, although I see great worship occurring in the OP, I do still think there is a quietness that pervades a reverent soul and I've certainly been in wards where the socializing is less worship/service than visiting. Reverence is a quietness that is searching for answers and ways to serve, that is watchful, as you describe, Karen. But just as the women who want to improve are sometimes shouted down by those who don't want anyone to feel "bad" – sometimes I think we could be a bit more still, and a bit quieter, that we could raise the bar on our reverence in all its forms. Reverence IS more than just quietly sitting … but that doesn't mean that it's therefore NOT quietly sitting. The GAs do regularly remind us that arriving early, prepared, and listening to prelude music is a good idea. If we feel inspired to make a quiet exit, at least we're sure it was a prompting and not just adult ADD. 🙂

  9. Thank you for the positive feedback (Karey, Stephanie, Tiffany). I appreciate the amplifications by many of you about what reverence means (Aundrea, Lauren, Amira, Becca). I'm still trying to improve my grasp on that principle.

    I am very social, but just talking with others and racing around the building does not mean that I am acknowleging the divine aspects of my fellow beings. I am inspired by people who are really good at communicating respect and compassion (reverence?) to others. Blessed are they.

    Thanks for pointing out this dimension of worship as you see it (Eliana, D, Jenny, Edonna, Sandra). I am awed by primary choristers who know how to revere God and how to revere our smallest saints.

  10. amen to many of the comment already made . I think we all know irrevence when we see it too, but a heart and spirit in tune to sacred worship also knows when to be still.

  11. Thanks for a beautiful post, Karen. We can serve each other in so many ways. I know some incredible halls and stalls ministers.

  12. I remember a few years back sitting in Sacrament meeting when I noticed a sister in the back get up and go out the door. Her husband had recently died suddenly so she was on my mind. I waited a few seconds then I got up and went out the door looking for her. I wandered around a bit then thought to check the bathroom. There she was standing near a stall, crying. She seemed so happy to see me and said she had had a dream the night before that I came looking for her. Even though I didn't recognize at the time the spirit was directing me, I realized later that's exactly what was happening.

    So yes, I think reverence takes many forms.

  13. I have been strengthened by remaining in class or sacrament meetings, and I have been uplifted and comforted (and been able to do the same for others) in the halls and stalls. Some of my best friendships have come from being huddled in a corner with someone.

    Beautiful post!


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