The Latter-day Saints are a friendly people. They are also a busy people with a variety of meetings to attend and duties to attend to. Many meetings will involve several different age groups, each with its own array of talents, tolerances, and interests. This friendliness and this busy-ness often make it easy—especially in Church meetings—to either innocently or thoughtlessly forget reverence and the principles of respect, love, order, and peace upon which it is founded. Under these circumstances it is very difficult to conduct a meeting “after the manner of the workings of the Spirit.”
We know that some nonmember visitors turn away from our meetings dismayed at what they regard as unacceptably irreverent behavior. And as with any of a hundred bad habits, we’ve tried a thousand times to change. But still the problem persists—in our family relationships as well as in our stake conferences, sacrament meetings, and other gatherings.
For this reason, in 1975 a proposal concerning reverence was presented to the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve in a meeting in the Salt Lake Temple. As a result of this proposal, a special task committee under the direction of the Twelve created a program that will have a long-term impact in emphasizing and teaching reverence to all the Church. Some of the facets of that program are as follows:
On the subject of reverence, President Spencer W. Kimball has expressed his expectations for the Church in an important message entitled We Should Be a Reverent People.
Published as a pamphlet, this message discusses the meaning and importance of reverence and the place it should have in our lives. Also included is a list of suggestions for parents on ways they can help their children enjoy meetings reverently. This pamphlet has already been distributed by home teachers to the families of the Church, and the home teachers themselves have been given suggestions on how they can help families behave more reverently.
Reverence, of course, begins with individuals. Several articles about reverence have appeared in the past in the Ensign, the New Era, and the Friend, and a series of helpful and interesting features have been outlined for the future. These will prove to be valuable for parents who are concerned about teaching their children.
The General Authorities of the Church have felt that the reverence problem is not one that is to be analyzed and dealt with only at the local level. General Authorities, Regional Representatives of the Twelve, and stake leaders will also help improve reverence in meetings of the Church by setting a proper example and by teaching local leaders and members the importance of reverence.
As part of a leadership training effort, a bishopric training session on reverence was presented to the bishoprics of the Church in January 1976; these materials will be included in the regular cycle of bishopric training in years to come. They emphasize the fact that reverence is more than just sitting quietly. It involves participation with the mind and spirit in what is being said and done. It involves appreciation of the importance of the sacrament. And it involves respect for the meetinghouse as the house of the Lord.
These materials also stress preparation as a means of making sacrament meetings more dignified and inspiring. For example, bishops are taught to evaluate sacrament meetings and discuss problems and needs concerning sacrament meeting in priesthood executive and ward correlation council meetings. They are taught to ensure that Aaronic Priesthood holders understand how to properly administer the sacrament. They are also instructed on how and when to choose speakers and how to make sure that the music presented will be conducive to reverence. Such matters as the proper use and conduct of ushers, cry-room facilities, and ventilation are also discussed in the training materials.
Bishops and their counselors also learn that a proper example is crucial—arriving at meetings early, avoiding whispering or other conversation, participating in the singing, speaking with people before and after meetings in the foyer instead of in the chapel. In addition, bishops have received checklists that can help them plan reverent and dignified meetings.
To underscore the concern of the Church’s leadership for reverence, physical conditions in the meetinghouses of the Church are being examined. Even the best behavior may not produce a reverent atmosphere when acoustics, heating or cooling problems, or room arrangements make things difficult.
For example, in new buildings trophy cases are no longer being installed, and information displays are located away from chapel and foyer areas so that congestion is relieved and a more reverent atmosphere is encouraged. Similar alterations are being recommended for existing Church buildings.
Bishops are being instructed that every meetinghouse should have a room or other areas connected to the chapel sound system where parents can calm their children if they are disturbing others in meetings—and parents are being asked to use these facilities instead of letting crying children disturb the meeting. In new buildings acoustics are more of an important design consideration than ever before.
All of these proposed conditions are for the express purpose of making our meeting places as conducive as possible to reverent conduct.
Perhaps more important to be understood than any one feature of this broad-scale and ongoing program is the very fact that the First Presidency of the Church is concerned about reverence in our meetings. All of the General Authorities are concerned. Our local leaders are also concerned. We must not only have an outward appearance of reverence and dignity and quietness in our meetings and in our behavior, but we must also have the Spirit of the Lord within us. And the Spirit of the Lord is more likely to be within us in reverent circumstances.
It is for this reason that the reverence program of the Church has now been put into operation. Through this emphasis it is hoped that the Saints will be able to, as President Kimball suggests, “become the reverent people we know we should be.” (We Should Be a Reverent People, p. 4.)