Sunday, August 01, 2004

What Does Testimony Meeting Really Mean? 

by Dave
This Sunday, my ward offered the usual cast of stock characters for an LDS testimony meeting: the returning wayward member who confessed to a variety of heinous but unspecified sins; a couple of grandmotherly types who discussed their ailments or those of other family members; a couple of auxiliary leaders sharing the good things happening with this or that person or group; a dynamic Polynesian sharing an aggressive but touching testimony; and of course a dutiful high priest or two expounding on the temple as a metaphor for life. Why do we do this once a month?

Wearing my critical hat, I might offer that it is a simple meeting to plan--no planning at all, in fact. Insecure leaders obsessed with apostasy are no doubt thrilled with a monthly meeting where we all get together to remind ourselves how true the Church is and how wonderful and inspired our leaders are. And the willingness of leaders to support a meeting with no agenda and no programmed message is symptomatic of the stunningly low quality of Mormon sacrament meetings overall. Meetings can be dull or boring but leaders simply can't grasp the idea that a meeting can be "too dull" or "too boring." That would imply a need to change something.

Wearing my faithful hat (I still have one), I would offer that it's at least a departure from the normal routine of dreary talks. These days, real people and their joys or problems seem rather more interesting that the ad hoc doctrines that infest Church manuals and high council talks. And from time to time there are moments of high drama that just don't happen anywhere else. It's not quite Jerry Springer, but then it's not phony either.

While it may be an easy meeting with no agenda, it's also true that allowing any member of the congregation to come share their thoughts from the pulpit is an unusual vote of confidence in the general membership. I suspect there are Evangelical churches where members of the congregation are invited to come share their conviction that Jesus is love and the Bible is true, but in many denominations the average member would have to climb past a pack of deacons, noviates, and lay ministers, then wrestle the microphone from the iron grip of an aging minister to address their message to the congregation from the pulpit. Could the Mormon tradition of an open mic on fast Sunday actually be a vote of confidence in the average Mormon sitting in the pews?
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