Svithe: Sacrament-meeting talks, beginnings thereof


Before I get started today, I have a bit of business to cover, viz. the Mormonification of my svithing. Although I myself am quite Mormon, the svithes were never intended to be regarding topics that were Mormon to the point of excluding other readers. Slowly, however, I became more and more Mormoncentric. In large measure, this has been harmless: most of my readership is Mormon; all the same, I apologize as I have been getting lazier re: explanation of terms, etc.

Today's svithe will be another particularly Mormon one. It concerns what happens in worship services.

As part of the primary meeting, most weeks members of the congregation, who had been asked previously, speak on a gospel topic to their fellow worshipers. The purpose of the meeting is to remember Christ, so the talk given should focus on bringing the Spirit into the meeting by talking of Christ rejoicing in Christ preaching of Christ and prophesying of Christ. That's the job.

Mormons in GhanaToday I want to talk a little bit about giving good talks. Specifically, the starting of talks. And, let me be honest here, I'm going to talk about some things that I really wish people wouldn't do. I won't call them 'pet peeves', but yes, that sort of thing. In fact, let's just do it this way--as a list of things I wish people would consider carefully before ever, ever doing ever again.

As a wordguy, I try to sculpt my talks into their most perfect form before arriving on Sunday. I can't comment on how well this works, but I think it's important to use the time between being asked and actually presenting to prepare in whichever way you find best. And part of any prepared talk is the beginning of said talk.

Talk beginnings are often the single best remembered portion of a talk. I think everyone intends to follow along closely, but after the talk begins, a kid may throw up and then where are you? Not paying attention anymore. Hope that opening was either compelling enough to pull you through vomit or not, or chock-full enough on its own to stand alone.

Instead, what we often see, are people squandering those precious few seconds when the congregation is theirs on things that mattereth not.

So. The list (Note: I tend to phrase my opinions as if they were unassailable fact and disagreement is untenable; neither is true.):

Introducing the family.

Like the rest of this list, introducing one's family is not bad in the moral sense--it's just not ideal talk formatting. The thing about this one is that, often, you will be asked to include information like how-we-met and we-have-seventy-kids in order that everyone will get to know you. Which is a noble aim! And when asked, I have found a way to incorporate some of that information, but starting the talk with a bio and a joke? It's not worship. And the transition from that to talk proper is generally so abrupt and awkward that it renders the whole thing disjointed. Far better to just avoid it all together and get us to the meat of doctrine.

Please remember: I love you and your family. And I'll admit we haven't really gotten to know each other sufficiently well. But let's have the activities committee handle this task. We're here now to remember Someone else.

Recalling when the bishop (or whoever) called.

How many times do we need to hear that when whoever called to ask you to speak you a) almost didn't answer, b) wished you hadn't answered, c) were tempted to say no, d) spent the rest of the week stressing, e) had previously thought you would never have to speak, f) blah blah blah whatever? We get it. We've all been called before. You're not up there to talk about you.

Explication of nervousness.

Lots of people get nervous speaking in front of groups. Most people get nervous speaking in front of groups. Nearly everyone! And you're standing in front of a hundred-fifty or something! It's okay to be nervous! But why do you need to tell us about it?

Thanking the musical number.

Not doing this one is actually Recession Cone's pet peeve. In my opinion, thanking the musical number (like introducing your family) is fine, whatever. But not only does this prevent a strong start to one's talk, but it has become such standard practice that not thanking the musical number has become tantamount to insulting the musical number. (Ergo: Lots of insincere, obligatory thank-yous.) No one should feel required to thank the musical number any more than anyone feels obliged to thank the previous speaker. We're not here to congratulate each other but to worship, and throwing away that vital first moment in favor of thanking someone just for doing their part lessens my chance to do my own part the best I can.

I'll admit. There are times a musical number is so remarkable I want to comment, but given the expected nature of a compliment, all compliments don't feel honest but fake, compulsory. Like a standing ovation in Utah.

I acknowledge that we do need recognition from each other but sacrament meeting is not the time for highfives--no one expects the singer to thank the previous speaker after all--and not just because it would be odd, but because to do so would disrupt their worship effort. Neither the musician more than the speaker than the speaker more than the musician. And we don't need insincere thanks at the beginnings of talks, especially.

I know RC wants me to mention the hours that go into a good musical number, but hours go into a good talk as well. And both sets of hours are sacrifice. And for whom? The Lord. Whose reward are we after?

When it comes to thanking the music, I recommend the General Conference model where the conductor generally does the thanking. Can you imagine Elder Scott wasting on sixth of a second of his precious time on the choir? He's got a message and he needs every millimoment!

Sometime I wonder if the idea here is that any schmuck can give a talk but only special people can make music. Maybe so. But the Lord asks us all to participate. Maybe if they assigned musical numbers the same way they do talks we would stop thinking one portion of the meeting is more sacred and that those participants are more worthy than others. Because we are all sinners trying to help one another proceed towards salvation.

We should thank one another (after the meeting). But we should not require praise. And we should accept thanks/praise humbly.

We shouldn't be doing giving talks for our own gratification or the praise of man either. But although the talks are a sacrifice to God, they are written with the intention that they will uplift and inspire our fellows. And to do this, we must do the best we can. And that includes a strong, meaningful introduction.

Here we can look to the musicians for inspiration: they don't hem and haw and make excuses or blabber about the previous portion of the meeting. They make music.

Go us and do us likewise.

last week's svithe


  1. Have you ever read Boyd K. Packer's talk "The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord"? I recently recommended it to Trevor because it relates so well to his blog in general, but President (then Elder) Packer says a lot about how the things we do in the Church (he talks a lot about music, so it more directly relates to last week's Svithe that way, but its sentiment is more closely related to this week's Svithe's bits about praise)--the things we do in the Church need to be focused on Christ rather than our talents.

    It's a good talk. You can find it at speeches.byu.edu--and you totally should some time.

  2. AMEN! I agree with every point, except maybe the musical number one. I agree that no one should EVER give insincere praise, but if the musical number somehow relates to your talk and it was amazingly well done and invited the spirit, I don't think it's bad to mention something about it. I don't think this needs to be in the beginning of the talk, but it can be included wherever it is fitting.

    I think a lot of these points can be carried over into SS and RS/EQ meetings as well. I dislike when just as much time goes into making/ designing the "visual" or table decorations as much as goes into the lesson prep. We go to church to learn doctrine, not for show and tell. We don't need to hear about the background of your heirloom quilt and how it was made. ESPECIALLY when the lesson is supposed to be about Christ. (Sorry, just had to get that off my chest.)

    Going along with "explaining nervousness", I think it ought to be said to never apologize for the talk you have not yet given!

  3. my text went missing but whatever, the link is there

  4. Our ward has started doing "reverence children", and I'll admit that I'm a little ambivalent about it. I like the idea of getting to know kids better, but starting off the meeting with anecdotes about wanting to be a dinosaur is not really keeping in the spirit of worship. Of course they usually do all that with the announcements at the beginning, so it's not so bad.

  5. .

    Thanks for the link, Cchrissyy. I think it would be good if stakes/wards gave more explicit instruction in how to give talks--it's not like we're all trained. And thanks for your link too, Schmett, although I haven't read it yet.

    Celia--the No PreApologies rule seems so obvious and vital, and yet.....

    Foxy. Here I must disagree. I wish the bishop would tell everyone I want to be a dinosaur.

  6. Mmm, I actually like introductions, especially since people are often called to talk in a ward when they're new. (Of course, my home ward does a good job of introducing new members in the ward newsletter.) I'm not terribly social, plus I'm in primary, so I tend to be very slow in getting to know new people and I appreciate finding out a bit about them in Sacrament Meeting.

    I'll agree that the transition between story and talk tends to be a bit awkward, but the rest of the talk is usually not that great anyway, so I'd rather learn something and have an awkward transition than not get anything out of the talk at all.

    Also, you need to give us a breakdown of your library by DDC.

  7. .

    Not till summer vacation, sweetheart.

    As an asocial person myself, I feel your feelings. (I sure have a way with words, don't I?) I actually really like introductions as well. On principle, I'm against them, but I won't lie: I all but need them.

  8. Ummm...you stole my post. Seriously. I've had this in my drafts for a month now, but haven't posted it because a family member spoke in my ward recently, doing all of the horrible things that you/I mentioned and I was waiting for enough time to pass that said family member (who occasionally reads my blog) wouldn't think I was targeting him when I published. I'm willing to just chalk it up to great minds thinking alike...

    But I still want to post it. How do you feel about plagiarism?