Since many people have odd ideas about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they may wonder also what Mormons do in their meetings and gatherings. Mormons have many types of meetings, partly because the Church has a lay clergy. Since members are called to temporary “callings” that enable the Church to operate, they need to meet with others who have been called to complementary positions.
Mormons are commanded by the Lord to attend one meeting each week to partake of the sacrament (consisting of blessed bread and water) in remembrance of Jesus Christ and to renew the covenants they made at baptism. Sacrament meeting, as it is called, usually lasts for one hour, 15 minutes. Sacrament meetings are held in Mormon meetinghouses all over the world, and there is a prescribed order to the meeting, plus rules that are normally followed. A Mormon meetinghouse is a building housing a chapel, classrooms, and “cultural hall” for social activities. No Mormon meetinghouse has a cross upon its steeple. Larger meetinghouses may have a stage for productions, basketball standards in the cultural hall, and a baptismal font. All meetinghouses have kitchens for social gatherings. The chapel is unadorned compare to those of many other Christian faiths. A few have stained glass windows. There is no statuary, other artwork, or crucifix in a Mormon chapel, since Mormons worship the Lord through only one mediator — the living Christ. Elsewhere in the building there is usually artwork depicting the life of Christ.
Another thing one will not see in Mormon meetinghouses is any kind of collection box. Mormons make donations to the Church anonymously, by giving an envelope to the bishop of the ward. The chapel has a raised area in the front, which Mormons often call a “stand.” There are chairs for a choir and speakers. There is a podium at the front center. Normal meetinghouses have a piano and perhaps an organ. Guitars and other instruments often used for rock music are not allowed for use during sacrament meetings. Special inspirational musical numbers are often presented in sacrament meetings by members sharing their talents in voice, or using orchestral instruments.
Visitors are often surprised by the ebullience of Mormon members before and after the meeting begins. Though Mormons are constantly counseled to be reverent (see the quotes below), they are sometimes noisy up until the moment the bishop moves to the podium. There are reasons for this. 1) Mormons are very sociable. Wards are made up of members who live in a general location, so many are neighbors who are happy to see each other. Those who are separated by some distance are even more happy to see each other. 2) Mormons tend to have large families, so depending upon the demographics of the ward, there might be a number of young children in the congregation who have not yet learned to be quiet. 3) Since every member has a calling in the ward, there is always business to discuss. 4) “Mormon standard time” is a joke phrase indicating that Mormons are often running a few minutes late for everything. This hearkens back to family size. 5) Mormon meetinghouses are not designed to impose reverence, as are some church buildings in Christianity that inspire quiet and reverence through their architecture. Remember that visitors are always welcome. Mormons are warm and approachable and will direct you and introduce you.
Sacrament meeting is opened by a member of the bishopric, visitors are welcomed, and any current business is discussed. An opening hymn is sung, and an invocation is given by a pre-arranged assignment to the member chosen. Religious business is then conducted. This may include sustaining members newly called to positions in the ward, and releasings of those newly released from callings. The general membership in attendance “sustains” a person in a calling by raising their right hands. Sustaining is not voting, but showing support. If a person declines to sustain a member in a calling, his or her objections are discussed in private with the bishopric. At this point in the meeting, there might be a baby blessing. Mormons give infants a name and a blessing through the power of the Priesthood. After all religious business is conducted, a sacrament song is sung by the congregation. (To see a selection of LDS Hymns, click here.) The sacrament is blessed by men or boys who hold the level of “Priest” in the Aaronic Priesthood. Boys must be sixteen years old to be ordained as priests. The blessings on the sacrament are always the same and must always be recited perfectly. They are as follows:
Blessing on the Bread: O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
Blessing on the Water: O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this water (wine) to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
These prayers come from the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 20:77, 79. The sacrament is then passed first to the bishop and then to the congregation by younger Aaronic priesthood holders. Mormons are not supposed to partake of the sacrament unworthily: “See that ye are not baptized unworthily; see that ye partake not of the sacrament of Christ unworthily; but see that ye do all things in worthiness, and do it in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God; and if ye do this, and endure to the end, ye will in nowise be cast out” (Mormon 9:29). The time during which the sacrament is passed is the quietest of the meeting, as members ponder reverently what the atonement means in their lives. There is no music played during this time.
After the sacrament has been passed to the congregation, talks are given. Talks are essentially sermons, but rarely are they given by the bishop. Individual members are invited to prepare and deliver talks on gospel subjects. Youth are often included in these assignments. Once each month, a visitor from the stake (a stake is a group of wards managed by a stake presidency and stake high council) will speak on a subject that the stake presidency feels is important. Sometimes, in between the talks, there will be a “rest hymn” sung by the congregation or a special musical number. Once each year, the young children who attend “Primary” will present the body of the meeting. At Christmas and Easter, special presentations are featured.
On the first Sunday of each month, Mormons honor “Fast and Testimony” day. They fast for two meals and donate the money they would have spent for those meals for aid to the poor. Sacrament meeting features no assigned speakers; instead, members of the congregation rise when prompted by the spirit to come up to the podium to “bear testimony” of Jesus Christ and His gospel. Many have personal experiences to relate that have brought home a principle of the gospel.
Actually, active Mormons attend church for 3 hours every Sunday (Saturday in Israel, Friday in Egypt). After Sacrament meeting, there are Sunday School classes and then about 45 minutes when men attend Priesthood meeting, women attend Relief Society meeting, and children and youth have their own classes. Prior to the 3-hour block of meetings, bishoprics meet together with members in complementary positions.
Periodically, conferences are scheduled. Ward conference is held on a ward level, with guests from the stake taking part in training and instruction. Stake conferences last for two hours, and there is no sacrament passed or classes scheduled. Speakers are from the stake presidency, stake high council, or invited members of the stake. Usually, a general authority attends. Twice each year, the Church holds General Conference in Salt Lake City. General Authorities, including the Prophet and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, members of the Presiding Bishopric, and Leaders of Auxiliaries, including women, address the Church, with music provided by various choirs, especially the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Conference extends across two days, in April and October each year (on the first weekend of each month). There are two two-hour sessions on Saturday and two two-hour sessions on Sunday. On Saturday evening there is a special meeting for Priesthood holders. Before General conference, there are church-wide conferences for Relief Society sisters and Young Women. Conference sessions are broadcast all over the world by various means and are printed in the Ensign magazine published by the Church. They can also be viewed online at lds.org.
Once each week the Prophet meets with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Salt Lake Temple. There are also myriads of planning and organizational meetings throughout the Church on every level.
Latter-day Saints are often described as people going to, or coming from, a meeting. Building up the Kingdom of God—whether in the family, in the congregations of the Church, or in the mission fields across the earth—requires an orderly process of communication, instruction, renewing covenants, serving others, and unification. Meetings are ordained of God for this purpose and are indispensable to the progress of God’s plan. In the meetings Mormons attend, they lead or direct, listen and learn, or have some other role to play in participating. Each role they play includes a responsibility for contributing toward the success of the meeting. Above all, meetings are designed to bless people’s lives.
Doctrine and Covenants, Section 43:8-10 says,
And now, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other, that ye may know how to act and direct my church, how to act upon the points of my law and commandments, which I have given. And thus ye shall become instructed in the law of my church, and be sanctified by that which ye have received, and ye shall bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me. That inasmuch as ye do this, glory shall be added to the kingdom which ye have received.
In Doctrine and Covenants, Section 46:2, it says,
But notwithstanding those things which are written it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit.
In Mosiah 18:25 it says,
And there was one day in every week that was set apart that they should gather themselves together to teach the people, and to worship the Lord their God, and also, as often as it was in their power, to assemble themselves together.
Mormon leaders have spoken about meetings of the Saints:
“It is most delightful to be in meetings where the Spirit of God reigns, controlling the speaker and softening the hearts of the hearers. I do not take any pleasure in meetings where this is not present. It is a blessed thing to know that God is with us, and that He condescends to pour out His Spirit and give unto us a testimony that He is with us” (George Q. Cannon, Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses).
“We need to strengthen our sacrament meetings and make them hours of worship in very deed. Cultivate a spirit of reverence, an attitude in which people come into the chapel and are quiet and reverent and thoughtful” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co, 1997], 558).
“If [a] calling has become simply a long list of things that need to be done — activities that need to be planned, lessons that need to be prepared, assignments that need to be filled, meetings that need to be held — it can be daunting. It is only when we get beyond the administrative details of our callings and focus our attention on the principles of ministering to God’s children and bringing the blessings of the gospel into their lives that our Church offices take on their full meaning, and we experience the fulfilling joy and satisfaction to be found in rendering significant service in the kingdom” (M. Russell Ballard).
“…a carefully planned sacrament meeting should be a spiritual feast in which we worship and learn of our Heavenly Father and His beloved Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ….it would be wise to invite suggestions from counselors and ward council members on ways to make every sacrament meeting a more reverent, spiritual, experience. Let the councils also help teach our members that the chapel is a special place…the auxiliary presidents could teach in their meetings the need to improve reverence in sacrament meeting” (M. Russell Ballard, Counseling with our Councils: Learning to Minister Together in the Church and in the Family, 72-73).
Since the Mormon Church has a lay clergy, meetings are essential for members to fulfill their callings in the Church. Members are urged to plan their meetings carefully, to use their time wisely, to create a friendly atmosphere condusive to the Spirit, to pray for guidance and open and close meetings with prayer, to make adequate preparation for meetings, to avoid negativity or fault-finding, to listen and ask questions, to gain perspective from others at the meeting, and to follow up on assignments made.
Meetings are meant to bless the lives of Latter-day Saints. They are meant to edify and uplift. Every meeting a Mormon Church member attends should serve the purpose of building up the kingdom of God on earth and blessing the lives of those in need of spiritual and physical nourishment. Mormons attend meetings to do the work of the Lord. Mormons are encouraged to make every meeting they attend better by the Spirit they bring and the devotion they show to Heavenly Father and to Jesus Christ, the Redeemer.
Want to see what a Mormon sacrament meeting is like? Guests are welcome. Find a meetinghouse near you.
*Parts of this article were adapted from What We Need to Know and Do, by Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen.