There has been an abundance of surveys on the blogs recently; possibly it seems more because the same surveys have been linked on several different blogs. Ready access to an audience is one of the benefits of the internet. This story dates back to the early 1990s.

I was a doctoral student, and had just returned from one of my research stints in Tokyo. I would only be in London a few months before going back out. No point giving me a proper calling. However, pretty much my first Sunday back, I was assigned a task that would occupy me for those few months. A survey of a couple of wards [congregations] in Britain was to be conducted; my ward was one of them.

The Bishop was far from enthusiastic about this exercise, but was happy enough to hand it over to me. A Sunday School slot was taken over to explain and hand out forms. The ward members didn’t like being asked to complete a survey that grouped them as households, that asked intrusive questions about the salaries, occupations and such like. This was a singles ward with mixed sex households, and mixed member and non-member households. No-one wanted to ask their non-member house-mates to provide the church with that kind of information, even if they were prepared to supply it for themselves. And all the while I’m wondering, surely they have a lot of this information in church records, all our addresses, our tithes… Are they not permitted to provide the sociologists with stripped down data? Or were records not yet centralised? Still, it took weeks to get the sealed forms back, and finally dump the box of completed surveys with the bishop before returning to Japan.

Before the survey could begin, however, I was to attend a meeting with someone from either BYU or COB (I forget which). There were four of us at this meeting, including: a British guy from the church offices in Solihul; the American, who was, I gathered the sociologist running the survey. At any rate he was deputed to explain to me and to the woman attending for the other selected ward how the survey was to be conducted. In the first place, he wasn’t so excited we were women, appeared somewhat alarmed that my subject area was science & engineering, but seemed satisfied that I and the other woman, a school teacher, were competent.

Several times during the meeting he mentioned cookies. Got to stay, I started to look forward to those refreshments he appeared to be promising us, once we’d finished.

His instructions were brief, and straightforward. Really, a printed page would have been just fine. Why have a meeting? I suppose he needed to be sure we’d know what we were doing. At the close of the meeting, he rubbed his hands together, looked at us expectantly and asked, “So where are the cookies?” There was a long pause. We looked at him strangely. The British guy appeared somewhat embarrassed. The sociologist looked back, “The sisters bring the cookies, right?” The teacher and I looked at each-other in total disbelief. Who was this dinosaur? We gave him a long sideways look that questioned which stone he’d crawled out from under recently. On that bright and cheery note we all departed never to meet again. Was this, I thought, the best they could do: a culturally clueless sociologist with cookie entitlement issues?


  • What do surveys achieve? Does anyone know whether this survey was of any benefit?
  • Who do you think should be responsible for providing refreshments – those organising a meeting, or any women attending? And why?
  • What’s with this cookie business? My husband suggests that in Utah the guys are perhaps supplied with a continuous stream of cookies by hopeful members of the opposite sex. Stop it!