An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Fast & Testimony Meeting’

To Share or Not to Share: That Is the Question

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.

Swearing Off Fast and Testimony Meeting

Last Sunday, members of our ward were handed a list of instructions for bearing testimonies and the meeting I used to enjoy nose-dived. Now, I agree with some of the instructions—testimonies should not be prepared lectures. I don’t relish hearing Brother Feermonger admonish us all to get our two-year supply of food, fuel, and ammunition to prepare for the havoc the Obama administration is bringing upon our country. But I rather like travelogues. I know they’re self-promoting—“I just can’t pass up this opportunity to share our family’s trip to Israel”—but experiences beyond our ward boundaries add  interest. I also like realistic accounts of dealing with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. When Brother Forchanat describes the strength he received from the Lord and the support of family and ward members as he struggled for his life and limbs following a near fatal electrocution at work, I am moved to tears.

Restricting speakers to testifying that they “know” God lives, Jesus is their Savior, Joseph Smith was a true prophet, the Book of Mormon is true, and President Monson is our living prophet gets pretty tedious after 45 minutes. And how does one evaluate which personal experiences are testimony building? Some of the choices shared last Sunday struck me as more odd than uplifting.

The counselor in the bishopric started us off with his reflections on family members who have “fallen away” from the church. He doesn’t understand how they could  have lost their purpose in life and no longer understand their individual worth. I wanted to ask him why he believed only active Mormons have a purpose in life and understand their individual worth, but testimony meeting does not include a Q & A session.

A good sister shared her experience of answered prayer last week. It seems her kids found a stray dog in their yard. They brought it in the house, fed it, and wondered how to find the owner. The mother’s solution was to pray for the owner to come to their house looking for the animal. After prayer, they stayed up until 10:30, waiting for the owner. Finally, the dog went to the door and they opened it just as the owner was walking past their house. Heavenly Father had truly answered their prayer. The dog had to pee just as the owner came by. Of course, they could have fed the dog, left it on the front porch, and not had to bother Heavenly Father, but that would have invoked common sense rather than faith and not been worth sharing at church.

Obviously, I haven’t the spirituality necessary to see me through F & T meetings—especially with the new guidelines. I can attend with a look of martyrdom on my face or stay home and make everyone happier.

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