We discovered long ago that our family listens best from the front bench in the chapel. Sitting there, we feel a greater affinity for the speakers because we can see what they are feeling. The farther back in the chapel you sit, the more people you see before you who can draw your concentration away from the speaker and possibly even from the spirit of the meeting.—Bishop Russ N. Watterson, Eastlake Ward, Denver Colorado North Stake
Following a suggestion that we needed something in sacrament meeting to interest the children, each week we assigned a Primary worker to give a children’s talk. It was amazing how well this went over not only with the children, but also with the adults.—Theodore P. Malquist, former bishop of the Lakewood Third Ward, Cerritos California West Stake
A congregation takes its cues from the bishopric. As leaders, we try to set a reverent example by being seated on the stand at least five minutes before the meeting begins and by not talking back and forth.—Bishop Jerry S. Hitchcock, McMinnville Ward, Chattanooga Tennessee Stake
These are some of the ideas the Ensign received when we asked what helped make church meetings more reverent. Leaders informed us that even with a gregarious membership and numerous small children, it is possible to have reverent meetings. But how? Following are ideas from bishops and branch presidents whose wards are succeeding.
Building and Grounds. Bishop Keith J. Crawford, Grant Fourth Ward, Salt Lake Grant Stake, believes that reverence starts with the condition of the building and the grounds. “If the custodians and members dedicate themselves to seeing that the Lord’s house is always clean and ready—every day of the week, not just on Sunday—this sets a mood for reverence.”
Program Assignments. Many bishops agree that preparation is a key to reverent meetings. Bishop Derrol Sillito, Puyallup Second Ward, Puyallup Washington Stake, says that he and his counselors look at the needs of the ward, then develop themes and topics for their sacrament meetings. They ask people they feel are doing well in those areas to speak—several weeks in advance so that the speakers have ample time to prepare.
Bishop Glen F. Jepsen, Pleasant View Sixth Ward, Pleasant View Utah Stake, also assigns prayers a week in advance so that everyone on the program will be prepared and sitting on the stand when the meeting begins.
Sacrament Duties. Many ward leaders ask Aaronic Priesthood holders to have the sacrament ready from five to fifteen minutes before the meeting starts to eliminate distractions at the front of the chapel. They also ask Aaronic Priesthood leaders to assign young men to help with the sacrament in advance so there isn’t last-minute confusion in trying to decide who will do what.
Parents. Children usually act the way they see their parents acting, says Bishop Watterson, so setting a reverent example is of utmost importance. Parents should never talk with one another or whisper during the meeting, particularly during the sacrament.
“Reverence Children.” Bishop David B. Day, former bishop of the Centerville Twelfth Ward, Centerville Utah Stake, found that using Primary children as examples helped his ward members to be more reverent. Each week, he had the Primary president select two children to stand quietly, with arms folded, on each side of the podium for ten minutes before sacrament meeting.
“The members had a model each week to represent the sacred nature of our meeting and to bring to mind the importance of reverent attention in the chapel as well as in sacrament meeting,” Bishop Day says. “The young people also focused on reverence in Primary as they prepared to represent it to the entire congregation.”
Music. Bishop Sillito finds that prelude music, played for at least ten minutes before the meeting begins, helps people be more reverent. “I think a good organist has the ability to alter people’s moods,” he says. A quiet example from greeters also helps.
Leaving the Chapel. N. Kay Stevenson, former bishop of the Burbank First Ward, North Hollywood California Stake, found that the most difficult times to maintain reverence in the chapel were before and after meetings. “We’re a business-doing people,” he says, “and we feel that if we don’t speak to each other, we’re being unfriendly. One way he remedied the problem was to have the congregation remain seated while he and his counselors ushered the sacrament meeting participants into the foyer. “We could all greet each other there and keep the chapel more reverent,” he says. “I felt a bit awkward walking out in front of everyone, but it really helped.”
Frequent Emphasis. Bishop Hitchcock says, “Encouraging reverence is an ongoing thing, not just something we emphasize once in a while.” One of the ways bishops have found to remind people of reverence is by focusing on it in sacrament meeting programs.
President Robert M. Dills, Athens Branch, Chattanooga Tennessee Stake, and his counselors schedule talks on reverence every two or three months. They ask both youth and adult speakers to address the topic.
One talk President Dills remembers well is when a speaker quoted President Spencer W. Kimball. “We do not go to Sabbath meetings to be entertained or even solely to be instructed. We go to worship the Lord. It is an individual responsibility. … If the service is a failure to you, you have failed. No one can worship for you; you must do your own waiting on the Lord.” (Ensign, Jan. 1978, pp. 4–5.)
When he was serving as stake patriarch, Bishop Malquist gave a talk in his ward on reverence. On the day he was assigned to speak, he took two tape recorders to Church. When the prelude music started, he turned one on and recorded the noise in the chapel. After several minutes, the bishop stood up and reminded the congregation to be more reverent. Then Bishop Malquist recorded again. When he played the tapes at the beginning of his talk, ward members learned a powerful lesson.
Sacrament Meeting Programs. The McMinnville Ward held a sacrament meeting about reverence. They used speakers from each level: a Primary child and a teenager spoke on what they had been taught about reverence and what had helped them to be reverent; then a mother and a father spoke, basing their comments on conference talks and Ensign articles.
Peers on the Program. Bishop Jepsen feels leaders can promote reverence not just by having speakers address it specifically, but through the programs they plan for every sacrament meeting. “We try to have youth speakers every time—one from the Young Women and one from the Young Men,” he says, “so the kids can look up and see some of their peers.” The ward also often invites the Primary children to participate in special programs.
Scheduling. Both Bishop Jepsen and Bishop Sillito find that ending meetings on time helps cut down on fidgeting. A number of bishops encourage families to make an extra effort to arrive at church on time. This can be challenging, especially for families with several young children, but it’s much easier for members of a congregation to be reverent if they are not being disrupted by others coming and settling in ten to fifteen minutes late.
Announcements. Sometimes, says Bishop Stevenson, leaders need to remind parents to take their children out of the chapel when they are crying. One way he did this was to make a candid announcement from the pulpit or to include the concept in a talk. “At the same, though, I always tried to express appreciation for the children and let the parents know how glad we were to have families in church,” he says. “I tried to stress that parents would feel more comfortable calming a child in the foyer, then returning to the meeting when the situation was under control.”
Newsletters. Talks and announcements from the pulpit aren’t the only way that leaders can remind members to be reverent. Some wards have used their newsletters to reinforce the message. In the Puyallup Second Ward, leaders ask for parents’ support through their newsletter. “Often it’s difficult for the Aaronic Priesthood holders to fulfill their assignments because their families don’t get here on time,” Bishop Sillito says.
The Grant Fourth Ward uses another approach: they print a reverence article in each newsletter.
Auxiliary Support. Bishop Crawford puts reverence on the agenda of every ward correlation meeting and asks auxiliary leaders to constantly emphasize it to their members.
Helping Attitudes. The Grant Fourth Ward is an older one—the average age is seventy-four. But there are also a number of young families in the ward. Sometimes the older ward members find it disturbing to have children making noise in meetings, but leaders have encouraged them to help the younger parents rather than criticize them. “They’re offering their assistance when these young parents have a problem,” says Bishop Crawford. “As a result, we’re getting a good feeling between the younger and older people, along with increased reverence.”
Using the Chapel. Bishop Hitchcock says that several years ago, before his ward added on to their building, they decided to hold Primary opening exercises in the chapel, freeing the multipurpose room for classes. An unexpected benefit came from this decision. Because the Primary met in the chapel each week, leaders were able to teach about reverence in the chapel on an ongoing basis. The bishopric was so pleased with the added reverence that they have permanently assigned the Primary to meet in the chapel.
Lessons. In President Dill’s branch, Primary leaders regularly teach the children that when the sacrament is being passed, it’s more or less like a prayer—that they should keep their arms folded, sit reverently, and not get up to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom.
Reverence Class. The Grant Fourth Ward Primary is trying a plan that has worked well in other wards: a Primary reverence class. If a child is causing enough disturbance that others can’t enjoy the lesson, he or she is taken to the reverence class. Bishop Crawford has assigned a leader or a teacher to give the child a lesson, either on reverence or on the topic his or her class is studying. Because the children don’t like to be singled out, they behave better and tell their friends to do the same.
Sitting Together. Many bishops agree that a meeting is more reverent when families sit together so that parents can supervise their children’s behavior. In many wards, after the sacrament, leaders excuse the deacons and priests to sit with their families. “It’s tough for eight to ten deacons to sit by themselves through a meeting and be quiet,” says Bishop Jepsen. “Families have learned to save a spot for their sons who are participating, and usually they try to sit close to the aisle so that there’s not a lot of disruption when the young men come to sit down.”
Concept of the Sabbath. Bishop and Sister Watterson feel that in order to convince children to be reverent, parents must teach them respect for the concept of the Sabbath. One way they have done this is to encourage their children to prepare for the Sabbath on Saturday night: “We require our children to be home by midnight.” They also treat the Sabbath as a special day. That way, “there’s no confusion of the spirits,” says the bishop. “The Sabbath isn’t for the spirit of entertainment; it is reserved for family and for activities that help each person come closer to the Lord.”
Family Home Evenings. Leaders in the Puyallup Second Ward encourage families to talk about and teach reverence in the home. Recently they referred parents to an Ensign article (July 1989, p. 40) and to lessons in the Family Home Evening Resource Book. “I think that’s where it all starts,” says Bishop Sillito. “If children know what reverence is because their parents have worked with them, we usually don’t have a lot of trouble.”
There are many other ways leaders can help both adults and children to appreciate the concept of the Sabbath. “But you can’t communicate with people on a level that will change their behavior,” says Bishop Watterson, unless you can evoke strong, spiritual, emotional feelings within them. “It takes sincere expressions of belief and testimony on the part of a bishop—backed by his behavior—to move people emotionally and spiritually.”
Reverence does make a difference. And, says Bishop Crawford, “reverence means everyone. We have a little saying in our Primary that we’re picking up in the ward: ‘Reverence Begins with Me.’ If everyone would take that as a standard for living, a standard for attending church, I think that we could improve everything we do. If a ward is reverent, people will cooperate better and be there to support one another. People want to be where they can feel the Spirit.”