Programs of the Church: Sunday Meetings

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April 9, 2009
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chapelSo, who’d like to know what a typical LDS church meeting is like?  Anyone is welcome to attend their local LDS congregation and find out for themselves, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who would like to know what to expect before they enter the building.

First of all, what should you wear? Well, dress for success, my friends. While you’d be welcome regardless of your attire, you’d stick out if you showed up in, for example, jeans and a t-shirt. Mormons believe that wearing “Sunday best” shows respect to the Lord. For women, this means either a dress or a skirt and blouse. For men, a suit or nice slacks, white shirt and a tie is appropriate. I’ve personally found that the clothes I wear affect my behavior. Being a little more dressed up serves as a good reminder of a more reverent and respectful attitude.  However, if your best clothes happen to be jeans and a T-shirt, don’t hesitate to come anyway: sometimes a financial situation may be keeping someone from having a semi-formal wardrobe. Remember “the lord looketh on the heart“.

Now that you look respectable, what else should you know? Be prepared: LDS church meetings are three hours long. Three awesome hours of uplifting gospel instruction, but three hours nonetheless. (If you can only attend for one of those hours, that’s fine – come anyway!) So, what exactly happens during those three hours?

Well, each hour is a separate meeting and sometimes the schedule is arranged differently but usually the first of the three meetings is the Sacrament meeting. The congregation gathers in the chapel, preferably a bit early so you can have some quiet time and enjoy the prelude music. Now, let me introduce some basic terminology. The congregation is known as a “ward”. The men who lead the ward consist of the bishop and his two counselors, also known as the “bishopric”. When church commences, the conducting member of the bishopric begins the meeting by welcoming everyone and announcing what’s coming up next: who will give the opening prayer, what hymn we’ll sing, and so on. (This information can also be found in the program that is usually handed out at the door to the chapel on your way in.) We’ll have ward business, which includes calling and releasing various members of the congregation.

Let me explain something here that I know has been mentioned in other articles. The LDS church does not have a paid clergy. The Bishop, his counselors, the brother or sister passing out the program, the organist, the conductor: everyone is “called” to a position and chooses to volunteer his or her time fulfilling that calling to support and contribute to the benefit of the entire ward (1 Corinthians 12:15-30). Everyone in the ward gets the opportunity to sustain the brothers and sisters to these callings and thank those who are released from a given position.

sacrament_passAfter the ward business is concluded, we’ll sing a sacrament hymn and have the blessing and passing of the sacrament. You shouldn’t be alarmed to find that we use water instead of wine, since Mormons don’t drink wine.  The bread and water are symbolic of Jesus Christ’s flesh and blood, and it makes no difference what medium is used for that symbolism. (see D&C 27:2)

After the sacrament, we’ll get to hear from a few members of the congregation who have been asked by the bishopric to speak on a given topic. After listening to their addresses, we’ll sing another hymn and have a concluding prayer. Then we’ll separate for the next hours’ meetings.

For most of the adults in the ward this second hour will be Sunday School. The lessons are taught from the book of scripture we’re studying for the year, which rotates between the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants. You can often find alternative Sunday School meetings which address more specialized topics, such as family history, marriage & family, temple preparation, etc.  One class, Gospel Essentials, is for new members and investigators (i.e. people who are investigating the Church — perhaps someone like you).  It covers all the basic principles of the gospel.

For the third hour the adults separate into the Priesthood (men) and Relief Society (women) meetings, where we study the teachings of the various presidents of our church.  This year we are studying the teachings of Joseph Smith.

Children are usually plentiful in LDS meetings, so don’t be surprised to see a number of babies, toddlers, and assorted aged young ‘uns in Sacrament meeting. For the second and third hour, children and youth (18 months to 18 years of age) attend their own age appropriate classes.

So you see, we’ve got all the bases covered here. There’s something for everyone. I’d be willing to bet you’ll find many smiling, welcoming faces as well, so don’t be intimidated. Now go find out for yourself what the church meetings are like. The Spirit you’ll feel when you attend is special. I could try to describe it, but it’s one of those things that’s really best experienced first-hand.

To find an LDS meetinghouse in your area click here.

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20 Responses to “Programs of the Church: Sunday Meetings”

  1. Hey Megan, great post. I’d really like to attend a Sunday church service, but I have a couple questions for you. When I’m in a church that’s not Lutheran (which I was baptized into and am familiar with), I’m not sure who is allowed to take the sacrament. Can a non-Mormon take the sacrament? Similarly, can a non-member participate in the Priesthood/Relief Society discussions?

    While I am an atheist, I’m very interested in different church services and the ways people worship. I also have a particular interest in Mormonism, which I’m trying to study and understand. I don’t mean this in some sort of “amused observer” fashion, but I wouldn’t want to show up and commit a faux pas, then slink out in embarrassment.

    Lastly, I was wondering if Mormons believe in trans-substantiation. Since you used the term “symbolic” when talking about the sacrament, I’m thinking the answer is no. Is that correct?

    Thanks!
    Katie

  2. Excellent post. This offers valuable insight into protocols and etiquette for non-members. All I would add is an explanation of Sacrament protocol; namely, your opinion as to whether or not non-members should partake of the Sacrament so that they know what to do with the tray when it’s passed to them. My answer – I explain to non-members what the Sacrament means to us, that we define it as a symbolic renewal of baptism covenants, and then invite them to prayerfully follow the dictates of their conscience.

    In answer to your question, Katie, we do not believe in transubstantiation (thank God for Firefox and its spellchecker). We do not believe the Sacramental emblems literally become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

  3. Hi Jack,

    I *thought* it was spelled “transubstantiation,” but had seen it the other way a few times and began doubting myself. (I shouldn’t ever doubt my own instincts on spelling!)

    Thanks for the clarification. So the tray is passed down aisles — people don’t get up and form a line to receive the sacrament at the altar?

    Thanks again,
    Katie

  4. Dave

    Katie,

    I would second Jack’s comment. Understand that we view the sacrament as a renewal of the promises we made at baptism. And since you haven’t made those, nobody would expect you to take the sacrament. Most visitors that I have met don’t take it.

    If you listen to the prayer immediately beforehand, (which you can read at: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/20/#77), you’ll notice that to take the sacrament is to witness to God that you are willing to keep his commandments, and always remember him, and take his name upon you. I’ve known visitors who, having heard that, would like to witness those things to God, and they take the sacrament. I don’t think that’s a problem, and I’m almost certain that the official counsel of the church is never to prohibit visitors from taking the sacrament.

    To answer your other question, you are definitely most encouraged to participate during sunday school and any meetings you choose to attend. And yes, the sacrament is passed down the aisles.

  5. Thanks, Dave. I embarrass rather easily and wouldn’t want to get odd/uncomfortable glances by doing something “wrong.” I figure you never know something till you ask the question, so I appreciate everyone’s responses. I’ll likely visit the Park Slope ward in Brooklyn soon with my friend Jake, who is my co-blogger (that term sounds so geeky).

    Thanks again for the info!

  6. Thaddeus

    Katie, we are just grateful you have taken an interest and are willing to step outside your comfort zone. I embarrass easily, too, and I know how nerve-wracking new places with strange people can be.

    My only advice is to arrive a bit early and introduce yourself to people. Tell them it’s your first time at an LDS church. If anything, they’ll be nicer to you, not meaner.

    I hope you will feel comfortable enough in the Park Slope ward that you will return before long. I look forward to hearing about your experience.

  7. Thanks, Thaddeus. I was thinking I’d do that (arrive a bit early).

    Happy Easter, everyone.

  8. Thaddeus

    Katie, would you mind telling us about your experience at the Park Slope ward? What were your expectations, and how were they met? Would you go back?

  9. Hi Thaddeus,

    Unfortunately, I haven’t gone there yet. Jacob and I both want to go, and he’s been traveling a lot for work. He’s back in the city for a few months beginning later this week, though, so I’m making arrangements for us to attend a Sunday service.

    Once we do, I’ll definitely let you know how our experience was.

  10. Barb

    I am an ex-Mormon who is planning to visit a local service (not the ward I would be in) next Sunday. My purpose: happy memories, nostalgia. I intend to be as quiet as mouse and very ladylike. I would say that the Mormon attitude towards communion is very polite. Yes, it’s intended for the members, but nobody will take offense or cause a problem for a visitor.

  11. Kassie

    I have a statement to make about small children at church. I have raised (am still raising!) nine children in the Church. Ages 3-18. They have all been in church since infancy. Is it a challenge to attend Sacrament meetings in a spirit of reverance with a handful of children. Certainly. But I am dismayed by the actions of many parents. They bring a boatload of toys, PBJ sandwiches and chips, drinks, etc. Many times the seats are covered with spoilt milk, pieces of meals etc. Some parents act like they are having a picnic in church. We always make sure our little ones are fed BEFORE we go to church. I would think it would be a real “turn off” for prospective converts. I am sure this happens nowadays in many denominations–not just LDS.
    Cheerios for the toddlers sure. But I see 6 and 7 years old (some close to turning 8 and preparing for baptism!) eating “picnics” in church, playing board games, etc. We have tried to teach ours that this is a special time of reverance and when we have to take them out to the hallway (rarely) we don’t let them run and play. They sit in a hard chair until they “get hold of themselves”. They DON’T get to go home! Because of this, most of the time they behave in church–even the toddlers. Is this an issue for any other LDS families? Am I the only one that is bothered by this behavior? I often have to pray not to be too critical of others but church is not the time for fun and games and meals.

  12. Galatians 2:20-21

    Just wanted to comment on something that I think needs serious analysis.

    1.  If “the lord looketh at the heart”, why is it preferrable for me to “dress in my best clothing”?  Who determines what is “best”?  Jesus’ disciples dressed in their everyday clothing and they were in His presence constantly.  I’m sure fisherman’s attire wasn’t the biblical equivalent of today’s shirt and tie.  You say on one hand to dress formally and then quote scripture that essentially says that the lord doesn’t care what’s on the outside but “looketh at the heart.”  If this scripture is true, why is it preferrable to conform to a formal dress code?

  13. Kim

    Kassie-
    I understand your frustration.  Snacks and toys can be a distraction to others who are trying to worship.  However, it’s important to remember that, as Elder Maxwell (an apostle who has since passed on) said, the church is not a rest-home for the perfect.  I’m sure the parents you see are doing their best to help their children to sit though an hour of talking.  I agree that it would be less distracting without the toys and snacks, but perhaps those parents are still learning how to teach their children to sit still.  I certainly wouldn’t begrudge them the opportunity to come worship simply because they haven’t yet perfected the art of worshiping quietly.

  14. Kim

    Galatians–
    You are right that the Lord looketh on the heart, and what’s in our heart is ultimately more important than what we’re wearing.  If the choice is between not coming to church or coming to church in jeans, I’d say absolutely come in jeans.
    However, while dressing up for church isn’t necessary to our salvation, it is a way we can show our respect to the Lord.  Dressing up and grooming ourselves neatly indicates that we understand we are entering the Lord’s house.  It also helps us to remember where we are and what kind of behavior is appropriate for the Sabbath.  Elder L. Tom Perry (an apostle) said “If our dress deteriorates to everyday attire, our actions seem to follow the type of clothing we wear.”  I know that dressing up for church helps me to focus on the purpose of the meeting and to do a better job of keeping the Sabbath holy. 

  15. Kelsey

    I went to an LDS service this past weekend as an investigator. I was very distracted by the man infront of me who was spending his time during the sacrament meeting playing angry birds on his phone. As I looked around I saw many others doing similar things on phones. I was wondering if this was the norm? I was trying to listen to the talks but found myself often distracted by the snickering of those playing games.

  16. Thaddeus

    Kelsey, I doubt that it’s the norm. That kind of behavior is certainly discouraged.

    Have you been back since then? Is it still a problem? Discuss the issue with your missionaries and see what they can suggest.

  17. Kelsey

    I attended again this weekend and saw many people doing the same thing again. I really wanted to just grab all the phones and whip them across the room, but I didn’t think that was a smart idea. I will talk the with the missionaries about it and see if they notice or have any input on the matter.

  18. Cynthia McArthur

    I am not a Mormon, actually a devoted Episcopalian. However, we are studying some beliefs of your church and I found this blog (and the comments) very helpful and informative. Thank you for it.

  19. Thaddeus

    You are most welcome, Cynthia. Let us know what questions you have.

  20. Kassie

    Cynthia- So glad to hear you are attending a ward! Let us know what your experiences are and welcome! Kassie