Thursday, October 25, 2012

A remarkable conference-based sacrament meeting

Our ward is similar to many: speakers are typically given a general conference talk to frame their topic for their talks. And the results are similar to other wards’, too. We have some speakers who say, “I was asked to talk about President Monson’s talk from….” And other speakers who did what ours did on Sunday.

This sacrament meeting was particularly delightful in several ways. First, all the speakers (including the youth speaker) were women. That happens once in a while in our ward, just as it happens once in a while that all the speakers are men. Our bishopric doesn’t seem to worry too much about making sure each meeting is gender-balanced, and that’s great from my point of view. (I should point out our youth speaker was awesome, but I’m going to write today about our adult speakers.)

Second, the two adult speakers were former Relief Society presidents from our ward. And I was bishop when they both were called. So you can imagine I was pretty excited to hear from them both in sacrament meeting.

Third, both the adult speakers had been given the same talk as a starting point for their remarks, Elder Holland’s “Laborers in the Vineyard” from last April’s conference. I love Elder Holland, and I particularly loved that talk. If you can’t instantly remember it, go back and have a look; you’ll be glad you did.

Fourth, although they were both assigned the same talk, each of their talks was strikingly different from the other. Both messages were remarkably complementary without overlap. (I know sometimes things don’t work that way. Sometimes the talks overlap quite a bit. But this was not one of those times.) Each of their talks referenced Elder Holland’s address and the parable that formed the core of his talk, but each one also included personal experiences and testimony to reinforce the message of the day.

And that’s why it was so delightful. Each of these sisters prepared remarks that spoke to her experience in life and in the gospel. Those personal experiences were as important as the words of the apostle they each quoted, because those experiences served as additional witnesses of the truth. For me, that’s a way that sacrament meeting talks can be relevant and revelatory: as I hear the thoughts and life experience of the speaker, I can also find parallels in my own life with which I can connect myself to the message. As I do that, the Spirit helps me connect even more deeply, and I come away edified.

I’m no longer in a position to plan sacrament meetings, but if I were, I think I would rely less on general conference talks. (I did it because a bishop I served with did it, and at the time it was a valuable practice for me, and for the ward where we served.) Of course there’s nothing wrong with focusing on the conference talks; we do it in lots of settings, and it’s good to be reminded of what we’ve been taught in conference. But I think I’d encourage speakers to search the conference talks along with scriptures and other appropriate sources around a specific theme or topic, rather than assigning a talk. (Of course I don’t know what I’d actually do: hopefully I’d listen to the Spirit and do what I was prompted to do.)

But in this week’s meeting, even with just one talk between them, our adult speakers both hit home runs. I was fortunate to be there and to learn from them.

By the way:

1. Don't forget to check out the last finalists in the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest here.

2. And my latest post at Real Intent, "Venus & Mars and the Empty Bucket " is here.


  1. Paul, someone assigns the SAME GC talk to both speakers in Sacrament Meeting and people didn't doze and fall off their pews, run screaming from the chapel or slit their wrists to escape the boredom...remarkable indeed.

  2. Since our speakers rarely just read from the talks, I'm not surprised that two speakers can get the same talk and have different talks themselves. I've never seen anyone in my ward fall off a pew, run from the chapel screaming (unless he's four years old or under) or slit wrists.

    But I get your hyperbolized point -- it is a bit risky to assign the same talk to two speakers, I agree.

  3. Paul, it's not risky, it's poor planning verging on disdain for the congregation. It is as bad as only assigning 2 15 year olds and expecting them to fill up the time. They may surprise us but why take a chance on that slim possibility? If the bishopric can't take their callings seriously enough to foresee the problems this can cause for the 100+ people who have showed up for sacrament meeting they need some guidance and redirection.

  4. Anonymous, I invite you to play nicely.

    In fact, if you've read my blog regularly, you'll know that in our ward sacrament meeting is regularly a pretty cool treat. While our bishopric does make choices that are different than the ones I would make (I'd give speakers longer time to prepare, for instance), the bishopric and the speakers do a great job.

    I do know that a great deal of thought and prayer go into the choosing of topics, conference talks and speakers. Suggesting that all of that represents disdain for the congregation is just incorrect. It's entirely possible in this instance that the counselor who gave the assignment asked one sister to focus on one idea from the talk and the other to focus on another.