I wonder whether bishops look at Fast & Testimony meetings with relief—since they don’t have to line up a speaker—or with dread since any nut in the congregation has access to the mic to make uncensored remarks. Generally, I find listening to unrehearsed personal experiences preferable to listening to prepared Sacrament Meeting talks which regurgitate General Conference addresses. Similarly, I have enjoyed the spontaneity of thoughts shared when I’ve visited Quaker meetings. Friends have the distinct advantage of being comfortable with many minutes of silence. Nobody feels pressured to stand up and speak “to keep the time from going to waste,” so fewer, but more spiritual, thoughts are shared.
But back to F&T meetings. The variety of speakers really helps. In any ward in which I’ve lived, Sacrament Meeting talks are given by trusted members of the ward and stake leadership—a group of perhaps 30 individuals. On Fast Sunday, overlooked members have a chance to speak their piece.
Illness and accidents frequently provide topics for testimonies. For several months following his tragic electrocution accident while working as a utility lineman, Frank shared his rescue, treatment and recovery with our ward. His upbeat attitude and sense of humor as he described his near-death experiences and the challenge of living minus his right arm inspired me with his courage, his faith, and his gratitude for the kindness he received from medical personnel, family, and ward members.
Many members share family problems while bearing their testimonies—a practice that, while entertaining to the congregation, may cause problems at home. A memorable testimony was born in our ward by Sister Sterril, a mother of two teens, who urged us all to pray for her to get pregnant. Her kids slunk down in their seats during her plea. Her husband, sitting on the stand as a member of the bishopric, had no such option. Despite the prayers of ward members, Sister Sterril failed to conceive. She and her husband eventually divorced—whether because of lack of productive intercourse or too much sharing of personal information, I can’t say.
Sister Prim was another ward member who enjoyed sharing personal experiences. When she and her husband divorced after a long marriage, Sister Prim informed us in F&T Meeting that her divorce was a great relief to her as Brother Prim had made her do things which made her feel unclean. On the way home from church that day, our teen-aged son, Techie, remarked that he had new respect for Brother Prim. Techie had never imagined the old boy could think up anything creative enough to make his wife feel unclean.
Alas, one Fast Sunday last year, members of our ward were handed a printed card as we entered the chapel. The card listed five things that should be included in a testimony: 1) Heavenly Father lives. 2) Jesus is the Christ. 3) Joseph Smith was a true prophet. 4) The Book of Mormon is true. 5) Thomas S. Monson is our living prophet. The card urged members to testify to the truthfulness of these doctrinal points and to keep their remarks brief. The meeting was predictably tedious. I have not returned.