There’s recently been a pretty dramatic change to the third hour curriculum. Rather than a lesson, or even a General Conference talk, the first week of the month is “presidency’s choice” of topic. The second and third weeks are discussions on General Conference talks assigned by the presidency, and the fourth Sunday is on a topic assigned by the church (“Sabbath” for six consecutive months–kill me now). To me, switching from the Teachings manual to selected talks from the last General Conference is an upgrade for a few reasons. First, we spent more time on Howard Hunter than he actually spent in the role of church president. Some of these manuals were a little thin (his was pretty good, though). Second, we have a little more control on what talks we choose. Lastly, while I don’t love every General Conference talk, I figure those talks are more relevant to someone else, and there’s always something there for everyone.
Basically this gives us license to talk about what we want to talk about, which is steering into the skid since that’s what’s going to happen anyway. It feels more open.
I was teaching Youth Sunday School when the Come Follow Me curriculum was launched, and that was pretty rough in my opinion as a teacher. It’s still the approach for the youth. The difficulty I had as a teacher was keeping the attention of my 12-16 year olds on the 3rd, 4th and 5th consecutive lessons on the same topic (e.g. “Priesthood” or “Restoration”), especially since they were getting these exact same topics in YM / YW. Man, that was a tough pull. Those kids were playing a lot of whatever they were playing on their phones back then during those weeks. That doesn’t bode well for the six consecutive 4th Sunday lessons on the same exact topic, but we’ll see.
For me, this new approach to the first Sunday of the month felt like a pretty big change, especially since despite being in the Relief Society Presidency, I haven’t attended Relief Society in my ward for over a month due to a mix of travel, business emergencies, and back pain, and I’ve only been in this ward a little over a year due to a stake realignment–I’m still trying to pretend I know people’s names. I hadn’t even gotten around to reading the curriculum launch notes on lds.org in advance. So, with a new year dawning, and a very welcome meeting time change , I entered Relief Society wondering what it would be like.
We formed a circle, as suggested in the article on the changes. That alone wasn’t easy since Relief Society is a huge group, about 40 women in my ward, and we’re in a smaller room (Priesthood meets in the 3rd overflow in the gym). Our ward skews older, so EQ only had 7 in attendance, and they had plenty of room to make a circle. The HP group is bigger, maybe 30 in attendance. A circle of 40 is frankly a little unwieldy, but that goes to the heart of my general complaint that EQ/HP are two separate groups whereas all women are apparently one big woman with no separation by age.
From the article, Sister Bingham said:
It is recommended that, if the group size allows, we make a circle with our chairs so that each person feels like they have an equal voice. Those who are facilitating the council should watch for those who have not made comments or who look like they would like to make a comment but are too shy to have done so. Include everyone.
My first impression of the circle was that it felt a lot more interactive. Sometimes a cosmetic change like this can be powerful, like Mr. Keating telling the boys to stand on their desks to see things from a different perspective. There may have been about the same number of comments, and probably from the same people, and maybe they were even the same types of comments, but there was also more connection and non-verbal communication. I found it much harder to play Candy Crush or shop on Amazon with all those kind eyes boring into me. People were connecting because we could see each other’s faces, not just the backs of hairdos. At one point I wondered if this was a practice “council of the gods,” a group meeting to discuss and make decisions about actions. However, another comment was made that it reminded someone of AA or one of those groups in the 70s where people share feelings and do trust falls. To each her own.
Our chosen topic was new year’s goals individually and collectively, as a Relief Society. In typical fashion, nobody wanted to suggest a goal for all 40 of us, so the very first hint of a suggestion (a story about the YW reading the BOM together) was glommed onto as something actionable for all of us to take on. I’m still a bit skeptical about group goals, but whatever. Not my rodeo. There was a lot of back and forth about how to do it. Read the whole thing? Have a number of pages per day? Count it even if they just read one inspiring verse? Let each person choose for herself? The sister sitting next to me leaned over and said, “We’re not really going to do this, right?” The woman who sort of accidentally suggested it was subsequently put in charge of the group goal’s execution, so she was probably kicking herself for speaking up.
The action item focus is new, although vague application questions have always been a staple of our lessons. From the article, Sister Bingham explained:
One of the beautiful things about this council meeting is that you actually come up at the end of the meeting with an action plan. You choose an action individually, and possibly as a group. Then, in the next week, they have an opportunity to briefly report: What was the effect of what you chose last week? Did it really make a difference?
It seems a bit ambitious to me to think we are really going to change accountability in this way, but we’ll see. Most of what I see is that people will only ‘fess up if it’s positive, not if they didn’t do anything, and half the time, the comments are just personal stories that don’t move the ball forward anyway. Some people just like to talk. But I’m prepared to be surprised.
The article had suggested a possible first topic for wards struggling to figure this new format out:
For example, the topic might be “How can we increase the unity in our Relief Society [or quorum or group]?”
This was the exact topic our ward’s Elders’ Quorum chose, unsurprisingly, which is kind of funny when the purpose is to give local leaders and ward members more personal say in what’s done and create more accountability for our discussions. These should reflect what we as ward members know to be our priorities or feel impressed is important right now, not just something handed down arbitrarily from Salt Lake. As Sister Bingham said:
The point I’d like to make is that they are not lessons anymore. They are facilitated spiritual discussions.
Honestly, I thought they were always spiritual discussions more than lessons, at least in Relief Society (less so in Gospel Doctrine, although it depends on the teacher), but this gives us permission to do what we already were doing. Whew! Because we really don’t stick to the manual in Relief Society whereas I’ve often heard the men are literally passing the manual around and reading chunks out of it, without a doily or silk flower in sight, or even a table to put them on. We like to freelance on the lesson content, but with props.
Our second meeting was really rough. We had asked for input on meeting topics women wanted to discuss, and there was some controversy because a few sisters only wanted talks from apostles, none from any sisters or the seventy. That wasn’t the question up for debate, and when the suggestion was rejected, there were hurt feelings and even a storm out; it wasn’t great. Honestly, I didn’t really want to go back after that happened. The church’s overview of the new program seems to indicate that this is expected, though, and that in the pilot wards the meetings were often rocky at first, and by the end of the year got much more productive. So I guess we are on track!
Sister Bingham describes what she hopes the outcome of the change will be:
I would hope that in a year, the members would feel more united, they would feel more in tune with the Spirit, they would feel more supportive of one another, and they would actually feel that living the gospel of Jesus Christ makes a difference in their daily lives.
I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I’m optimistic that sitting in a circle, more than anything else, was a successful change. What were your impressions?
- Did your group sit in a circle? Did you like it or not? How many are there in your RS/EQ/HPG?
- What topic did you discuss for this first two meetings?
- Did people come away with action items? Was it a group goal? Do you think it’s going to happen?
- How are they going? Are they productive? Do people participate?
- Are you optimistic about this new approach? Why or why not?
 We got the sweet 11:00 start this year.
***I originally posted about this change on BCC after our first meeting. This is a follow up piece now that we’ve had two months.
Our first Sunday meeting was a bishopric member taking about ward goals. Our regular Sunday meetings on the conference talks have been the same thing as the previous Sunday meetings on conference talks, just sitting in a circle. It’s all so predictable (same people having the same conversations) that I make a bit of a game out of it trying to guess who will raise their hand next and which well used story /comment they will share. (Jaded, i know but it’s my coping mechanism)
Although I agree with your Pros on sitting in a circle, there’s some cons too. Starting with a feeling of claustrophobia because we are so squashed together. Also, I have to constantly be careful not to look straight up the skirts of the people sitting on the far side of the room. Which is funny, but not really. As an introvert, I dislike having forced participation with a group I’m not bonded to. Hiding in the back let’s me attend, but keep my personal boundaries in place. The circle ends up making me uncomfortable and I’m finding I’d prefer to go read in my car rather than attend.
Am I crazy, or are there multiple repostings happening on W&T? Didn’t we have this exact post a month or so ago?
Everything you described sounds like my personal h-e-double-toothpicks. An hour of group-think to make up more work for us to do? Trying to get a group of 40 to stop quibbling over whether they should study auxiliary GA talks and actually have a meaningful communal experience? Kill.me.now. Focusing on works and commandment-keeping (sabbath observance) rather than sanctification? Kill.me.now. I can’t. I just can’t. Ok, they got us to put down our phones. But, I’m still dying inside.
Our subject was How Can Husbands Help Wives and Family Get to Sacrament Meetings on Time. Go figure! At 65, I don’t know where to go with this! Can it get any better–I hope so!
Assuming I’m not crazy and I didn’t actually share this same comment earlier: our EQ councils have been fantastic. Very chill moments for us to have frank conversations on grown up stuff. We’ve had 3 so far: the first was a council about councils (i.e. what do we want from these meetings?), the second was on doubt (which I missed, to my regret) and last Sunday’s was on prioritization. In the last meeting, rather than read inspiring quotes, we had a really good practical discussion on how to prioritize things in our lives, how it works differently depending on our individual circumstances, and some good ways to communicate better with the people in our life about our needs and responsibilities. I was really happy with all our meetings so far.
OK, not crazy: this post appeared on By Common Consent back in January.
Well I believe in modern revelation. When the idea of Correlation was first presented to David O McKay he said “if this were instituted it would destroy the church”.It was and it has. The church has changed so much in my life time ( I am 72).We use to have manuals by Hugh Nibley . We used to talk freely about Calling and Election. There used to be GC talks on that very subject. We use to study the King Follet discourse in Sunday School. Going to Church was a fun educational experience. Now we have talks by guys who never even claim to be in the presence of God endlessly reviewed. And according to Greg Prince the biggest threat to the church is boredom. Activity rates show only 1/3 of members even bother to show up. Conversation rate are the lowest maybe in history. If we keep selling an aduerated version of the gospel ( see Mormon 8) we should expect to get the results we are getting.
Bro. Jones: Yes, the footnote at the bottom actually says this: “***I originally posted about this change on BCC after our first meeting. This is a follow up piece now that we’ve had two months.”
The church’s video explaining how these councils are supposed to work indicates that the first few months are rocky, but then things get better. I’m intrigued. We won’t have any of them until May, though, thanks to stake conference and then general conference. I feel like we might be back at square one.
“… whereas I’ve often heard the men are literally passing the manual around and reading chunks out of it”
I can confirm. Instructors from a past HP group I attended would print up those chunks and pass them around. We literally read most of the lesson word for word in the meeting. Some instructors would panic if any ensuing discussion threatened to shorten the time we had left to “get through” reading the rest of the manual. It was painful.
I’ve only recently attended group meetings again, having spent the past year as a Sunbeam instructor. For February’s 1st Sunday discussion, the Group leader specifically told us not to put the chairs in a circle “like last time”. Apparently they tried it in January and it proved too awkward for the number of people we have.
As for the six Sabbath day lessons, I attended the first one and the instructor said it was bad enough trying to come up with something useful for the first lesson and did not look forward to repeating this for next six months. The discussion degenerated into members recounting stories of family accidents that would not have happened had they not skipped a Sunday meeting. I’m scheduling myself to be unavailable at that time for the remaining five. I’ll just make sure my insurance is up to date.
I teach the 4th Sunday lesson on the Sabbath Day. We have the 1pm meeting schedule and I have dwindling expectations for class participation as the months go by. Would like to know exactly who had this idea and I would contact t them personally. Many of the sisters have already adopted “deer in the headlights” expressions.
Klee, In our HP Group, I found a solution (partial) to the 4th Sunday blues. Having previously been assigned the 4th Sundays, I refused to do it and informed the HP Group leader that he needed to create a rotating assignment among the 3 Group teachers so that it was not always the same person teaching the overworked 4th Sunday subject. Approaches vary enough that we seem to be surviving. Maybe your leaders & teachers would cooperate in something like that.
Regarding the problematic request that materials used in R.S. councils only come from apostles, and thus nothing from any women or men with lesser offices of priesthood, might the very recent promotion of “At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women” now available online– with a link to the content at the Church Historian’s Press website, said links found both on the front page of lds.org and mormon newsroom.org– Might that be considered authoritative enough for Sunday Relief Society facilitated discussion?
When is it ever okay to hear from real women about women, and particularly the women who were considered faithful leaders from our past history? If there was more of an effort to feature women’s voices in women’s meetings, I might be tempted to be more attentive to what happens in Relief Society. I can hardly imagine how encouraging it would be if a few women’s voices were included in the men’s meetings. They could even just pass around the book and read sections of it aloud– even for a quick couple of minutes before the “real” lesson! (That’s a joke, by the way. I’m not holding my breath for that new approach, but it’s fun to play it in my imagination.)
If the facilitator (whomever he or she is within the Ward) has not be licensed to say “this counsel, forum – whatever we want to call it – is to be considered a SAFE PLACE, where you can say whatever you want – as long as it’s done in a respectful way”. Then this is just more MBW (Mormon Busy Work); which will just add to the time already wasted in meetings.
Instead of teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ with power and authenticity we have copied the group therapy tactics of AA and limited the topics to boring general conference talks. This after decades of reading (some of us gagging on) the same dull material in the series of manuals quoting the prophets, all delivered on the 7th grade level. And this feels like progress, damned little in my narrow opinion.
When my father was in his late 80’s, he calculated the amount of time he had spent in Sunday school classes and other classes over a lifetime of activity in the church. Then he calculated how many hours it would take to earn a PhD. He concluded that he had amble time to acquire, piece by piece the knowledge base of a PhD in religion. He felt cheated that somehow all those years slipped away and he hardly knew anything. He died a couple years ago at age 90 having paid the price in time and attention and tithing dollars for a religious education that he never received.
We are in a major transition as to how knowledge is transmitted. For a long time the teacher acquired valuable knowledge and he or she dispensed it to attentive students. They could read the same information but there is something about how a good teacher can bring life and interest to the subject. (We don’t actually teach material, we teach people).
Today we have virtually more than the world’s knowledge of only a few years ago literally in the palms of our hand. Teaching must adapt. We must learn how to efficiently access this knowledge, how to share it, how to evaluate it and how to put it to good use. We should not be turning our digital devices off at church and gathering in circles like musk oxen. We should be turning them on and learning better ways to use them. We should not tolerate any further poor applications of out-dated and ineffective indoctrination tactics of worn out material.
If this is the best our church leaders can come up with, it shouts a vast lack of prophetic vision. If they think trying to shut off this new information tidal wave is the only way to preserve our religion, then these actions show they do not have the faith that the truth they teach is even believable. They make themselves disbelievers, petty dictators, deceitful by default and manipulators of others . I suggest that our Sunday school in its current state is a fraud. It is anything but a school and if it did award degrees they would be nearly worthless.It did relatively little to educate the previous generations and is doing even less to prepare us for a future that is already upon us.
I find sitting in a circle very uncomfortable, also. I have been out of state on the first few Fast Sunday’s, so do not know how it is being done in our ward as yet, but inspiration is so much harder for me to feel when we are all sitting in a circle. As others have said, it feels like “group think” to me. I am already and “old lady” (65), who chooses not to do facebook, when that is how everything in the ward is announced & run. If I don’t want to feel totally marginalized, I suppose it will be one more thing for me to work on overcoming.
I know others have commented about the topic being the Sabbath for 6 months, but for me, it felt like heaven to be actually talking about one of the commandments (ANY commandment) instead of “family councils”, after several years of “family councils”. I don’t know how those who are single managed those years – it must have been quite difficult.
My ward RS meet in a room much longer than it is wide which doesn’t really facilitate a circle. It was tried the first couple of weeks, but since it was more like a rectangle it meant most of us had to crane our necks sideways to see the teacher. We’ve compromised with a small semicircle and then three shorter rows behind the central portion of the semicircle. There is also an aisle running down the centre. Those who like to sit in the front choose the semicircle. I choose the row just behind because I like something between me and everyone else, and I never know what to do with my legs if I’m sat at the front. It feels too exposed, even though I’m wearing trousers. I’m just not tall enough to sit comfortably with my feet flat on the floor, so wriggle around like a kid in primary.
The fourth Sunday topic is a nightmare. I’ll apologise now to the RS I was visiting the last fourth Sunday. Sorry folks – I unwittingly wrecked March for you! February’s topic was about Jesus being Lord of the sabbath and I suggested that that being the case, we might be well served by looking at how He treated the sabbath – only to discover later that Jesus example of keeping the sabbath is the March topic…. though how else we were supposed to discuss Jesus being Lord of the sabbath I know not. It’s a statement of fact, not a discussion point, in my view.
My EQ does not get in a circle (thankfully), although there are few enough people that it wouldn’t be too unwieldy.
I used to like circles, but these days I typically do not participate vocally, and I do not like being chided into it. If it gets too uncomfortable I won’t go. Which is fine with me (the reason I attend does not require that I go to class). But there are people that want to quietly attend, and circle-councils are not very conducive to that.
Much of what Bellamy said rings true to me. There used to be some evidence that thought went into creating the manuals and teaching material. Then we had 20 years of regurgitating verbatim the words of former prophets. Now it seems we will use the words verbatim of general conference talks. I’m not impressed.
I’ve enjoyed the new Sunday format for 2018. It has really inspired me… to go home an hour early. 😉
I did give it the old college try. My main issue is that the ward leaders always choose subjects that are more pertinent to the organizational church’s needs than to something I’d care do discuss. So far it looks like all of our councils will take the form of:
* How to increase temple attendance.
* How to increase sacrament attendance.
* How to increase [other key indicator statistic].
I get how some of these key indicators can help active members find families in need but the topics don’t interest me. It’s all we ever talked about before. One way lectures where the only point is “we need to _____ more!” with no substance as to how or even why.
I watched conference, I don’t need it read to me again; if I hear the phrase “keep the Sabbath day” again I’ll scream; and I’d rather not attend councils that are aimed at making the ward’s quarterly report look good.
This new program has been the rough equivalent of an official announcement from the top that the church block is now only two hours long. What am I going to miss? A council about how people need to attend the 3rd hour.
I’ll toss in that the first Sunday has been a bit of a struggle for our elders quorum. We stared in February due to stake conference in January and it went pretty well. March, not so much. It was sold to me as something similar to a ward council; however, if you’re not supposed to get into specifics of people’s struggles, it’s not particularly useful IMO. Also, it can be hard to get people to be honest about struggles and shortcomings. We have a few guys who really do open up, but I don’t expect quorum members to describe troubles with pornography or how they are going through a faith crisis. Unfortunately, it’s falling into a watered down, “Pick a Topic and Discuss” situation which is what I thought we were supposed to avoid.