I Have a Question

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    Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

    “I’ve been called to be Relief Society president in our branch and I don’t know what to do. I’m not the executive type.”

    Eugenia T. Herlin, president, Boston Massachusetts Stake Relief Society It has always seemed to me that the Lord must have at least two basic reasons for calling us to the positions he does. One, of course, is for us to serve, teach, and help others to grow. The other is for us to grow ourselves. If we are called to be executives, we can be sure that the Lord will develop in us the needed ability—if we are willing to put forth the effort. And a great deal of effort is called for, especially in getting ourselves organized.

    The immediate and pressing need is for information. Any woman who has experienced the broad scope of Relief Society is understandably apprehensive at her call as president. She must become an instant authority on the intricacies of the whole program. How?

    From the beginning there is the basic, comprehensive source of information: the handbook, prayerfully read, reread, analyzed, and underlined. This book contains the collected revelation, instruction, experience, judgment, and counsel for the Relief Society, and it defines the program. The Spirit will quicken the new president who reads those paragraphs one by one.

    After reading the handbook and seeking guidance from the Lord, she would then visit with the retiring Relief Society president to determine present strengths and weaknesses and to receive the records and materials.

    There is a great amount of information the president needs on each individual woman she serves: Is she active or inactive? married or single? at home or employed outside? Where does she live? What are her talents and Church experience? As the presidency meets to prayerfully select the other officers and teachers, it is helpful to review in detail the duties of each calling to match each sister’s potential. A clear list of her responsibilities and the meetings she is expected to attend should be outlined to her by the bishop as she is called so there are no misunderstandings and so the bishop can stress the importance of the leadership training available. He ordinarily does not have this information at hand unless the Relief Society president or the education counselor provides it, in written form, so that it can be reviewed and then given to the sister being called. A clear outline of what is expected is the finest guarantee of dedicated service. The same care must be taken in outlining duties of visiting teachers when they are called. Careful quarterly interviews with visiting teachers are a source of continuing spiritual uplift and growth for them and for the presidency, and they help ensure watchful care for every sister.

    Our Regional Representative, Bryant W. Rossiter, has given us some excellent executive tips and suggestions. He says: (1) A successful executive is one who makes it possible for the people he leads to be successful. (2) All assignments should be clearly given to be accomplished in a specific time. (3) A date for a report on results and completion is set and recorded at the time of the assignment, and the report is called for as planned.

    Routines carefully planned, scheduled, and followed are the framework of executive operation. This means basic routines that do not need lengthy discussion and decisions, and can be efficiently handled by a division of assignments among the presidency that each must supervise and report on. It also means basic agenda outlines for all meetings.

    Some areas in the Church have unusual problems. In the Boston Massachusetts Stake each ward and branch, with one or two exceptions, covers a geographical area as large as or larger than the whole Salt Lake Valley, with sisters scattered in small clusters or singly in as many as thirty town or city boundaries. Our suggested tool is a detailed map of the ward or branch, with the location of each sister clearly marked.

    The Church is gaining new converts so quickly and the overall membership is often so transient that efficient and constant updating of membership records and assignments to visiting districts is a continuing and urgent need; using these records can mean the difference in a member’s life between activity and growth or being overlooked and eventually lost. Being ever on the alert for new faces is a pleasant and essential part of a Relief Society executive’s role in the missionary program of the Church.

    The preceding is the essence of the executive body—organized, ready to operate, and prepared to receive “the breath of life.” Perhaps I can best illustrate how the Lord breathes life into this body by telling you about a phone call I received recently.

    A relatively new ward Relief Society president called me early one morning, excited and happy and very deeply moved as the result of a special officers and teachers meeting that had been held the night before. They had come together fasting, and humbly sought to have the Spirit bless their efforts. One sister told how Relief Society and visiting teaching had brought her into activity, and of the love and dedication shown to her. Another spoke of the great blessings of prayerfully studying and teaching from the scriptures; another of the impact of the great love and sisterhood shared in Relief Society; and another of the real content and meaning of a testimony and knowledge of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the gospel. With music and individual testimonies they shared and grew, the Spirit of the Lord united these sisters, and there was peace and joy. The loving, joyful spirit of these women will surely bless the whole ward.

    I’d like to know what kinds of music are appropriate for sacrament meeting. I’ve heard that everything from religious “pop” and folk music to heavy classical has been used. Is there a policy on this?

    Michael Moody, administrative assistant, Church Music Department Appropriate music for sacrament meeting is music that contributes to the spirituality of the meeting and inspires or strengthens the members in their desire to live the gospel. Although some music may have merit for other occasions, if it does not achieve these results it is probably inappropriate for sacrament meeting.

    The following guideline is given in the Handbook for Church Music, 1975, page 18:

    “Those responsible for selecting music for Church meetings should make certain that music and text are sacred, dignified, of high quality, in harmony with the spirit of Latter-day Saint worship, and suitable to the occasion and circumstances. The text should be doctrinally correct. Since there is so much worthy music, it is not necessary to select music of questionable propriety. The Church Music Department does not dictate what may or may not be used, but offers only general guidelines in this matter. Final determination should be made by the presiding priesthood leader in consultation with appropriate music personnel.”

    Another area of concern seems to be the use of instruments. The Handbook for Church Music, page 17, includes a statement on this subject:

    “Organs and pianos are the standard instruments used in sacrament meetings. Other instruments, such as orchestral strings, may be used when appropriate, but the music presented must be in keeping with the reverence and spirituality of the meeting. Brass and percussion instruments generally are not appropriate.”

    Of course circumstances vary, and it’s possible that a given piece of music might be appropriate on one occasion but not on another. For example, if a family is speaking in sacrament meeting before leaving the ward, “Ye Simple Souls Who Stray” might not be the best choice for a closing hymn! The way a piece of music is presented can also make a difference. For example, an appropriate selection performed in an irreverent manner would render it inappropriate. Those who select and perform music need to use good judgment in applying the general guidelines to specific situations. The question should not be “How far can I go?” but rather “What will be the most effective and the most appropriate?”

    Music for our church meetings should strike a responsive chord in the hearts of Latter-day Saints. Although we vary in our musical preferences and are conditioned to appreciate different kinds of music, there is one kind of music that ought to be a common denominator for all members of the Church—the hymns.

    When I say “the hymns” I don’t necessarily mean all hymns—I mean hymns (and even songs and anthems) that are characteristic of our worship services—hymns that are known and loved by the Saints, like “How Great the Wisdom,” “High on the Mountain Top,” “I Need Thee Every Hour,” and “Redeemer of Israel.” Hymns are such an integral part of our worship experience that we learn to respond to them spiritually. They speak to all, and they bring the Holy Spirit with them.

    Those responsible for music in our services should see that the musical selections are well suited to the occasion. But we not only need good music for our meetings, we also need good listeners. If the music is in tune but the hearer is not, there will be no harmony and no response to the music. Sometimes we as listeners “tune out” because the music isn’t to our personal liking—perhaps too “high brow” or too “low brow” for us. When we do this, we deny ourselves an opportunity to partake of the inspiration that could be there for us. We who listen should be involved, not in making musical judgments, but rather in participating with glad hearts in the spirit of worship.