Monday, June 6, 2011

On the language of testimony

I love the ward I live in. It’s a rather mature suburban ward in the Midwestern United States. There’s a mix of local members – some second- or third-generation, some converts – and transplants from elsewhere because of large companies who hire people from top grad schools (including BYU). Though employment used to be dominated by one or two companies in the ward, it doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

I’d say the ward is quite conservative politically. I cringe every so often at something I hear in a hallway conversation or at a table at a ward activity, but we don’t preach politics from the pulpit or in the classroom as far as I can tell. Though our ward is economically diverse, it skews to higher end of the income scale in our stake. And it’s clearly a “teach from the manual” ward – a point driven by our stake president (who resides in the ward) and those who serve with him. (“Teach from the manual” does not necessarily mean “Ready, Aim, Read” however.)

After reading recently about the language people use in their testimonies and how testimony meetings work in some places, I thought I’d pay closer attention to yesterday’s meeting in our ward. I’d say it was a typical testimony meeting. We had about a half hour for testimonies after the bishop’s counselor bore a very short testimony to get things rolling. In addition to the counselor we heard from:

Seven adult women
Five adult men
One 11-year old primary boy
One young woman

Of those fourteen, I think I’ve heard from no more than three of them in the last three months (maybe only two).

By my count, ten of them used the words “I know”, six of them included expressions of gratitude, one used the word “testify” (rather than “know”) and one “witness”.

But as I listened I found those specific words were far less important than the experiences people shared – not so much the “what” but the “how” of their testimonies. I remember serving in bishoprics in the past in which we began Fast and Testimony Meeting by reminding those attending that a testimony is a brief expression of what we’ve come to know and how we have come to know it.

In our meeting yesterday, we heard (among other things) about gaining strength from the Lord in times of trial, comfort from knowledge of the Lord and His gospel, that sometimes the “hedges of safety” in our lives are removed so that we can grow in faith, a tender experience of a sister who performed the vicarious sealing of her mother to the mother’s parents, and more than one expressed gratitude for parents who had joined the church thus giving the member testifying the blessings of the gospel.

I found I was touched in most cases by the experiences my brothers and sisters shared, particularly those experiences that resonated with my own – I have felt the Lord’s presence in my life in times of trial; I’ve known the comfort that a witness of the Lord brings; I have felt the vulnerability of the lack of “hedges of safety”; I’ve enjoyed the blessing of participating in sealings for loved ones who have passed on; I’m grateful for my parents’ choice to join the church when I was a child.

These were all sincere expressions of personal experience, even the Primary boy’s testimony. Although there was some common phraseology, these were not cookie-cutter testimonies.

I was fortunate to be there to hear them.


  1. I'm glad you had a good experience in testimony meeting; I usually do. But Sunday's meeting was an example of the risks of turning over the pulpit to anyone who shows up. One man, a visitor, spoke for about 20 minutes and didn't have all that much to say (although he thought he did).

    I felt sad for the bishop. The speaker continually seemed like he was about to wrap things up, so I assume the bishop was giving the guy the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Sorry yours wasn't ideal. We do sometimes have those meetings where things don't go quite so well.

    I know there are some bishops who will stop someone who goes on too long, but that's also tough to do (and sometimes tough on the meeting).