While I was Bishop, we had an elderly single gentleman in our ward that had been in the Bataan Death March. Everybody in the ward knew it, because he brought it up every time he bore his testimony, which was EVERY Fast Sunday! It never bothered me as Bishop that he never really “bore testimony” during his time at the pulpit. I thought it must have been therapeutic for him.
My kids would call him “Brother Batann” when he got up to talk, as they knew what was coming. I reminded them that this was probably the defining episode in his life, and that he needed to talk about it, and they should not make fun of him.
We also had other people in the ward that would always talk about the same thing when they got up on Fast Sunday. One brother was into “temple tourism”, and would get up each time he and his wife returned from a trip to tell us all the new temples they had visited. His is a temple worker, and I’m sure he is excited about all the new temples being build, although it really puts a crimp in his trying to vist all the temples, even if he tried limit it to the temples in the continental United States. (or the Mormon corroder for that matter!)
We also had our fair share of really weird/crazy testimonies. The only time I ever had to get up and tell somebody to sit down was when a new member of our ward got up and announced that her father molested her as a child. I knew she had issues, and her previous bishop and father had called me to warn me. While I took no position on the validity of her claims, it was still not something that I felt comfortable letting her talk about over the pulpit, so I got up and told her to finish up because there was a lot of people that where waiting to talk. She moved out soon after, and I don’t know what ever happened to her or what became of her allegations. Should I have let her finish?
There was also the time a sister got up and told the ward that she at one time had lived with her boyfriend, and that he wanted to marry her but she refused because he wouldn’t get married in the temple with her. She then sat down and everybody was trying to figure out the logic to all that when she got back up, and said “I forgot to tell you that this was after my daughter had left the house, because it wouldn’t have been proper to be living with a man with her in the house”, then she sat down for good. The look on the congregation’s faces was priceless. After that incident I told her husband (not the one from the story) to always sit on the outside of her in the pew and never let he get up again! When they finally moved a few years later, the missionaries where helping them load the truck, and they found her stash of pot hanging in a bag behind the headboard in her bedroom. She told them it was for her crohn’s disease. (this was way before even medical mamajuana was legal in California!).
What do you think of Testimony Meeting? Is there a valid reason for it in todays Church? I’ve heard that some wards are restricting the “open mic” aspect of it, and members must get pre approved before that can go up. Has anybody seen this, or heard of a ward doing this?
Bishop Bill is absolutely correct that the modern testimony meeting has become an abject disaster. It is time for it to end.
The problem is that far too many have an idea of testimony meeting shaped from modern media. They are used to promoting themselves on Instagram and TikTok, and they see testimony meeting as just another forum to talk about themselves and the (to them) exciting things they are doing.
This is also a system of laziness to a degree. When the vast majority of members are not putting any time into studying Gospel sources, much less adopting the principles into their lives, they have nothing spiritual to bear testimony of.
As a result, the modern testimony meeting has as much feeling as a Soviet-era farm tractor rusting in a field. Bishops must take testimony meeting back from the boring self-promoters.
A lot like a funeral where attendees are given an open mic to comment about the dearly departed. Bad idea! Talk about opening Pandora’s box.
So I am curious about the origins of what seems to be a somewhat distinctive LDS practice of holding a monthly open mic meeting. I realize that fasting is a regular Christian practice, but I am not sure that synchronized congregation-wide fasting was ever a typical practice in most denominations and whether such congregation-wide fast was followed by open-mic night is not at all clear to me. I am guessing that holding special fasts for very particular reasons might have been a practice in the early 1800s for some denominations, It seems that was the way it was originally practiced in the early LDS church. But why it became a monthly practice with the peculiar ritual of “spontaneous” testimonies is really unclear to me.
I guess I have less stake in its future now that I rarely attend, but I would say that in a church highly correlated from the top, something like the wild and unpredictable nature of a F&T meeting seems useful, even if half of the speakers are the usual suspects. The thought that the patriarchy should try to snub out even this last vestige of an equalitarian practice (in the same way that common consent has been snuffed out) seems wrong.
BB I will withhold snarky comments about your spelling error Mormon corroder (corridor).although sometimes testimony meeting is corrosive to the dying embers of my faith…
Elder Bednar recently visited my child’s mission and stated that testimonies “are not 20 minute stories about your gall bladder surgery, they are brief powerful statements of things you absolutely know to be true.” I don’t necessarily agree but that is the current GA thinking
Also glad to have missed a recent 1st sunday meeting where a lady talked at length of returning to her mission area after 30 years. But this is the same gal that just sent out a Christmas family update letter (single-spaced, two pages, 11 point font).
There is a young girl in our ward who gets up every month and it’s disturbing because one can detect an element of brainwashing/parroting. This young family with four kids seems to have it all together but sometimes I want to stand up and remind people that especially today, statistically, many of our young kids are going to defect from the faith and the rest of us will be left to hang around and hide our nuances and doubts from each other and cede the pulpit to those “firmer” in the faith.
What you have mentioned is certainly true. F&T meetings can be anything but a deeply spiritual service. But I think the utility of these meetings and honest sharing of “trials” and “blessings” can help those attending feel more of a bonding. If you read much Brene Brown, you will know she claims that being vulnerable can really help in making deeper relationships. I have seen this happen as someone stands up and shares things we often don’t share really helped forge some bonds. Other church meetings are full of canned answers to the same questions, so it can be hard to share in those other meetings (but of course some people do).
And I have also had some really funny things shared. I know of a guy that would get up with tears in his eyes and tell of his spiritual hunting trips every other month. He was serious about it. He would talk about how one time with a group he had the biggest buck in really close range and he went to pull the trigger and the gun jammed. He talked about how reliable this gun had been. Then he remembered it was Sunday and he realized that God did this because he shouldn’t have been hunting on Sunday. But then to make the story even more miraculous, as he walked away he noticed a fence he had not seen and he realized he would have illegally shot a deer that was on someone else’s property and he gave a but of legal and moral reasons this would have been really bad. So once again God had saved him from a bad thing. And he had tears the whole time he was recounting this. He was a really warm and likable guy and the ward managed not to break out laughing when he bore his hunting testimonies.
@Garee I have to say that in my experience, open-mic at funeral has always been some of the most moving parts of the funeral. Especially when the pastor / bishop or whomever leads the service doesn’t know the deceased that well. I recently attended the funeral of the sister of an elderly friend that I would have greatly appreciated an open mic section. The pastor that led the service had never met the deceased (he was filling in for the regular pastor who was out of town) talked to my friend (who is extremely hard of hearing and has difficulty speaking because of a stroke and old age) for five minutes before the service, determined that the deceased was a school teacher and then the entire funeral sermon was on his personal experiences with teachers in his life. It was the most impersonal funeral I had ever been to. Meanwhile just listening to a few people talking to each other in the audience prior to the the start, it was obvious that there were people there who had significant shared experience with the deceased. I would have gladly traded 20 minutes of them sharing their experience for the sermon that we heard.
Some of you are comparing testimony meeting to an open microphone format in which participants say all kinds of crazy things. I agree with this observation. However…
You know what I’ve never seen in a testimony meeting? I’ve never seen the real and authentic expression of doubt and/or nuance. And you would think that an open mic format would bd the perfect place for that. I would have really appreciated that kind of honesty when I attended and I know I’m not alone.
Perhaps the ultimate sign that testimony meetings are basically a virtue signaling exercise and not an actual forum for expressing the honest thoughts and feelings of those involved is the use of the phrase “I know” in every LDS testimony meeting. That says it all.
For the most part, I dislike F&T meeting. Young children participating (brainwashing?). Does anybody really KNOW anything when it comes to religion. Many of the faith promoting stories are truly bizarre. Etc. I almost never attend.
However, a couple of years, I happened to be at a F&T meeting. An elderly gentlemen stood up and for about 10-15 minutes and talked about the pain of losing a grandson. He was in genuine pain over the death. The experience seemed therapeutic for him and for those of us in attendance.
In a correlated Church, open mic might be useful. Let members talk. Give members 2-1/2 minutes to talk about their favorite scripture, their favorite charity, their favorite cause, their favorite family activity, etc. But I’m not sure how the Bishop could keep things apolitical and minimize the craziness. Anyone remember 2-1/2 minute talks?
Nuance isn’t welcome. Everybody must stick to the script—“I know the church is true”—like some multi-level marketing training session.
The last time I bore my testimony—5 or more years ago, I stated that as I’ve grown older I find I have more questions than answers, but I choose to believe. The next one to speak (an older woman in our ward who has a somewhat stern personality) stridently said she has no questions and no doubts that the church is “true.”
When I was younger and people went off script I enjoyed the break and thought it entertaining. Like the guy in our ward who was a prepper, always reminding us these are the last days. (Someone in the ward told us that same guy had a tank buried in his yard full of gas).
I’m conflicted about testimony meeting because on the one hand you’ve got Elder Bednar’s ideal version of it where people spend 3-5 minutes reciting a correlated list of truth claims (boring, culty) and on the other hand you’ve got people who ramble on about whatever the heck they want for an interminable amount of time (awkward, also potentially boring). I think we’re probably most benefitted by being vulnerable with each other about our spirituality (hope as well as doubt) but testimony meeting is so easily hijacked by the least self-aware among us it’s hard to curate.
I’m with 10ac in wondering how we ended up here and I wonder if it’s a good example of mission drift (like was discussed on W&T a few weeks ago). Was the original point of testimony meeting to have manifestations of tongues or prophecy or something like that?
It is the responsibility of the congregation to succor those in need. Many of the testimonies described should have been understood in terms of trauma or abuse; whether real or imagined, the victim suffers.
Outlandish comments in church tend to repel, but our task is to succor. I can’t imagine Jesus censoring–it is a Pharisee thing to do. Rather, we bear the embarrassing moment: saints are identified by “patience.” Patience for both the scrupulosity and for the affliction of saints.
I’ve heard folks complain that sacrament is too distracting due to children’s voices and sounds–and then I’ve heard leadership try to address it by advising parents to remove unruly children from the chapel–an effort to cater to scrupulosity.
I’d rather have a lively-living-gospel, full of noisey children, than the silent sanctity of a Roman cathedral. Can’t have both. I favor the preservation of risky testimony meetings to the monotony of rehearsing General Conference talks.
Ah yes, temple tourism. A way to not only flaunt your status and wealth in your ability to have free time and money to travel, but a way to flaunt your sanctimonious side by making some sort of fake sacrifice. I remember in my singles ward one of the counselors showing an endless slideshow of his trip to Scandinavia and how his big sacrifice and show of righteousness was not to see Sweden’s sights when the boat docked there but to trek out to the temple, thus encumbering the temple workers there to do a session (one he could easily do at home). That story has annoyed me to this day.
This is one of those rare times in which I find myself in agreement with JCS–testimony meetings are one of my least favorite things about church and I would like to see them disappear. Like many wards, my ward has a crew of usual suspects who hijack the meeting month after month. They are the kinds of people who like to overshare and feel the need to vomit their feelings publicly when given a chance, and a church meeting ostensibly for that purpose just seems to validate their attention-seeking tendencies rather than give them any real lasting solutions to their problems (otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it every single month). Furthermore, if the intent of giving them a platform is to cultivate empathy in people like me for people like that, it is failing miserably. In the age of social media, there are many, many forums better equipped to give a voice to those kinds of personalities than a monthly church meeting. So maybe individual wards should hold virtual testimony meetings exclusively on something like Twitter (easy to participate for those who want to, and easy to ignore for the rest of us), while sacrament meetings should just be regular meetings with prepared speakers like always.
Also, I dislike that LDS testimony culture privileges unprepared extemporaneous speech as being spiritually superior to thoughtful, well-prepared talks and lessons. It is precisely this thinking that allows my EQ presidency to consistently show up to meetings completely unprepared to teach–just reading wholesale excerpts from an assigned GC talk–without the least bit of shame or remorse.
Regarding the Bataan Death March–
As far as I’m concerned, anyone who survived that terrible ordeal gets a free lifetime pass to say anything they want in church, any time, without any criticism from anyone. Sadly, they are almost all gone (fewer than 5 still living).
Great and timely post. First, I agree with Jack Hughes about anyone who survived the Bataan Death March getting a lifetime pass. Second, josh h echoes my thoughts on the matter. I believe I shared last month in a comment about how I gave a nuanced testimony at church and immediately had three people after me give some version of what Chet notes is the ideal Bednar testimony about absolute truths, etc. So one of the things this reveals is that the purpose of testimony meetings is to have members indoctrinate one another rather than actually creating a community of people who might actually trust and succor each other by being vulnerable and speaking the actual truth about their faith journeys. I have to believe that such a goal is anathema to Christ’s desires. So ironically, everyone upping the stakes by making statements of supposed absolute truth over the pulpit means that other people will feel social pressure to make similar statements even if they don’t actually believe them, meaning that we all just end up lying to each other, leading to us creating a false sense of community based on us lying to each other. SMH.
And speaking of Bednar, I’m sorry, but that’s just nothing but insanity. The notion of only bearing testimony about “absolute truths” actually eliminates anything regarding faith and religion, since it’s impossible to know for certain about any of that. In fact, Mormon doctrine is built around the notion that nothing can be known for certain and that we do things on faith. Even testimonies are, at bottom, belief statements about things that we’ve experienced that MIGHT be connected to some of the things we’ve taught. If we want to stick with absolute truths, that means we should forego all talk of religion and focus on things like quadratic equations, physics, chemistry, etc. I mean I’m pretty sure that Kruskal’s algorithm is true, but I have no idea about what happens when we die. So maybe my next testimony will be about that. IMHO, Bednar is creating. bigger problem and sowing the seeds of division rather than encouraging us to sustain and support each other as we navigate our faith journeys.
Those that want a truly open mic may be courting problems – been there seen that. My suggestion for funerals, pre-select a few people that will briefly represent themselves and the dearly departed in the spirit the family wants to hear.
Fast and testimony like many aspects of the mormon church is a game.
It is an opportunity for new people who know how to manipulate the system stand up, tell their mormon resume of past callings and pioneer petigree to work into the esteemed callings and tbe ward clique.
For some memebers to use as their travel report or free couseling sessions, which has already been discussed.
It strengthens the hierarchy as they always give the final testimomy, especially if stake presidency. and remind everyone of their calling ( can not end testimony with a regular member).
Some people who are never given the opportunity to give a talk in sacrament meeting, turn it into their talk
During the quiet time that no one stands up, the spiritual person stands to break tbe silence, not wanting to waste church time. (It would be bad to have quiet time to meditate and think to self in church )
Or tbere is the opposite ward that there is a line of 10 people, waiting their turn in the choir seats;meaning its time to divide the ward.
In the old days the microphone was passed around the audience by a deacon, but then church changed to have members go up front to the stand.
Overall, I believe that the sincere testimonies are not shared in a typical ward. The testimonies are dares given to the youth, leadership for “leadership”, and psychology sessions.
Organic testimomies would be sweet, but in most congreations they do not exist, especially when same people and audience month after month.
Although never short on stories, I nearly had to pry WWII stories from my grandpa. He kept them bottled up, almost unhealthily so, as did many other veterans I knew of from the time. I don’t fault “Brother Bataan” in the least.
I once had a Young Men’s president who had lived in Las Vegas for a few years while he and his wife were doing graduate school. They had two young kids around five years old or so. One testimony meeting a lady got up and did a ten minute travelogue on states and countries she had been to, and which were good and bad. Immediately afterward, their young son went up to the pulpit, and spent five minutes talking about which Vegas buffets were good, and which were bad. It so happened a member of the Seventy was visiting and on the stand that day. He then got up, and laughing, said “That’s the best testimony I’ve heard today.”
Most every testimony meeting I’ve attended have never been too outlandish. I’ll admit I prefer pure testimony, but quickly become very sympathetic towards those using it for other purposes. I’ve never heard of any ward doing pre-approved testimonies. That’s something you’d think the Church would have implemented years ago if it was trying to assert the amount of control that many of its critics maintain they do. I see the meeting as a net gain overall. I’m guessing the Church must still as well.
I know the church is a true organization. I know that the talks given at general conference are full of words organized into sentences and paragraphs delivered with a considerable lack of feeling and a minor variation of tone. I honor and worship Russell M. Nelson – and the other guys too – just as he desires me to honor and worship him. I’m glad underwear was created to protect man from the elements of evil and remind him of how uncomfortable believing can be. I hope they call me on a mission and temples are pretty…darn expensive.
God bless us, every one – especially our organizational leaders and Tiny Tim.
Growing up outside the Wasatch Front and in a small rural town, our testimony meetings were all over the place. We had the sister who got up every month to apologize, heaving in tears, to everyone in the ward for offenses she was sure she had committed. We had the family with seven children who struggled with everything (under employment / chronic unemployment, bad hygiene, emotional liability, etc.) who would capitalize 30 minutes of the meeting as they got up one after another to confess their sins and in-family treachery from the prior month. It was so painful.
Once, a single adult male member who struggled with a number of issues stood and confessed he had stolen a five pound block of cheese from his employer and the restaurant where he worked. The employer and owner of the restaurant was also a member of the ward. The owner was compelled to stand after the confession of the crime and address his employee, assuring him they would resolve the issue, and thanking him for his honesty. Then the confessing member stood again to thank his forgiving employer but also to ask, from the pulpit, if he would be involving the police because he had a past record he had not disclosed to his fellow congregant-employer. As a twelve-year-old boy I sat in stunned silence trying not to burst out laugh. I couldn’t believe what was playing out in front of me. It’s the only time I recall in my youth that the bishop stood and asked a member to sit down. The patient bishop simply said maybe we can meet in my office after to resolve this problem. Just a couple of examples among many.
Other testimonies were “normal” but there seemed to be a trend to go long and include the travel log. Personally, I loathed testimony meeting. All the emotion and weirdness for me as an adolescent was overwhelming. Around the time I was sixteen my friends and I would occasionally spend the night at each others’ homes, and we would get up and attend church together with the host parents. I enjoyed going to Catholic mass, Lutheran services (I especially enjoyed our town’s Lutheran church), and attending the local Southern Methodist service. One of my friends stayed over and we woke up to a great breakfast my mother prepared. She whispered in my ear, “Today is fast Sunday but I felt it was right to serve both of you breakfast.” I had not realized it was the first Sunday of the month, but then froze. It meant my friend would be attending freak show Sunday and I died inside. We went to church and I cringed all of the way through the meeting. After, my friend and I were driving back to my house and he told me that was the coolest church meeting he had attended. That he couldn’t believe people stood and so easily talked about everything, that it was so much more interesting than the sermons he listened to every Sunday with his family. I just sat there in the car trying to process what my very cool, jockish friend was saying.
Today I live in a ward where every testimony meeting is dominated by children and then mostly by the Elder Bednar format. And I’m bored to death. It’s antiseptic, pedestrian, normal. While the messages are on point and reinforce faith, I find myself longing for the more raw and flawed expressions of my home ward where I grew up. The older I get, the more I yearn for members to be honest, express doubts, talk about what went terribly wrong with their month, how the church sometimes leaves them confused and feeling alone. I’m all for open mic Sunday, hope members ignore the Bednar protocol if it means they express themselves more authentically, and find myself feeling more close to my ward members when they express themselves with brutal honesty, for better or worse. I’m okay with the travel log if it invites me into their lives more fully.
My current ward I visited more than a year ago and it was probably the worst I ever attended.
Flash forward to being back in Utah and it has been delightful. I especially enjoyed fast and testimony meeting.
I don’t know what has happened but I am very grateful.
If testimonies were as true as they claim the church is, F&T would be great. But unfortunately, bro Sky is correct that it has become a process of lying to each other about what we supposedly know, to bolster each other’s supposed testimony of what they supposedly know. Most of the time F&T meeting just isn’t working and need to be either fixed of gotten rid of. Personally, I vote for fixed because of what testimonies should be. And, yes, Bednar is making it all worse with his sanctimonious garbage.
What it should be is a chance to share spiritual experiences, yeah, even if they are had while trying to kill God’s creations by hunting. It should be a chance for those in need of the loving care of the ward to ask for it. It should be a time of expressing the thing we believe as well as the things we struggle with. It should be a time of expressing gratitude, even if it is a short expression of gratitude for travel. It should be a chance to express love for our family and friends. It should be a chance to thank those who give service to us personally and to the ward. It should be a chance for new people to introduce themselves.
It shouldn’t be leader worship, travel logs, memorized scripts, political speeches, small children “practicing” their testimonies, or the same people every month.
I had a great bishop who allowed the mentally challenged who lived in our ward in a home type care facility to bare testimony, even though they were on the level of children. He regulated the “same people every month” by asking them to please keep it to every other month to allow others a chance. It didn’t allow any child who needed parental help to speak. He asked more than one long winded travel log to please wrap it up. He even cut off one political speech. Fixing the problem can be done. It just takes some active involvement of the bishopric in controlling what goes on.
I am currently reading Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman, MD. The trauma experienced by soldiers in war (traditionally men) and the trauma experienced by those abused by family members (traditionally girls/women) results in the same pathology—complex post-traumatic stress disorder. If we can extend patience and support to the one as he works through his trauma, we should be patient and supportive of the other as she works through hers. Even in a patriarchal church.
Lol @faith nailed it. Love the new ward member auditions especially.
Great stories. Testimony meetings in urban East-coast wards are particularly amusing – not in sanctimonious Utah ways but in “no one knows the rules or culture” ways.
Totally agree that if everyone just got up and recited a couple of facts that they know it would be both incredibly boring and totally inaccurate. At the same time, I’d be kinda sad to see them go.
In the RLDS tradition, Wednesday night was prayer & testimony meeting. Although very active in the church in other regards, my family rarely attended on Wednesday night. A few years before my mother died (in her 80s), I happened to ask her why. Seems that when she was a girl in southwestern Ontario, her mother insisted they always go. Their branch was small and it was the same little group each week sitting close together in the first 2-3 pews. For one elderly woman, Wednesday night was regularly corned beef & cabbage night for dinner. Invariably, during P&T meeting she would pass gas. And my mother determined that when she grew up….
And that’s my testimony in this regard.
Let the people speak. All the crazy sh*t they disclose? – that’s the uncorrelated human condition Jesus came to save us from (if you’ll forgive my dangling preposition). JCS you should be ashamed of yourself since you post more crazy sh*t here than the rest of us put together.
When ever I bear my testimony in church, I like to share a life experience and then relate it to building my testimony of the Savior and his mission. I express gratitude for a handful of blessings, and then get off the stage. I try to avoid the word “know” at all costs.
I agree with Jack Hughes that the Bataan survivor can use the pulpit to help process his experience. Forever. I’m game to listen.
I also agree with Josh h.
And lastly I really agree with Travis. The older I get, the less I need yet another lesson on milk strippings or the Abrahamic covenant or that insufferable Nephi or the word of wisdom. All I want from church now is to get to know the people. For many, F&T is the ONLY outlet they have, because they never get asked to teach, serve, speak, or pray. They need us to listen with compassion. I need to do better at this.
The only time I’m TRULY annoyed with F&T meeting is when some random person I’ve never seen before gets up and goes off the rails. If you are part of my tribe, I got your back. But we had issue a few years ago where 20-somethings not in our ward were coming to our meetings and bearing cuckoo-banana testimonies then leaving. I suppose they fancied themselves as testimony crashers? That seems to have passed thankfully.
Back to the OP’s question: We either own F&T for what it is, or we just outright cancel it. But if we start policing testimony, I won’t attend anymore. Because I know exactly what that means. It means people that bear testimony with nuance will be shut down while those with testimonies of Trump conservatism will be allowed to fill in the gaps. No. Thank. You.
My ward growing up was very old. So as a deacon in the 90’s, I actually did take the microphone to people so they didn’t have to make the trek to the pulpit. I actually loved it.
The most memorable F&T meeting I ever attended was when I was 14. We had an older brother in our ward who was from the Deep South and had been a fundamentalist preacher before he joined the church at around age 40. Every month we teens would make bets at Mutual right before F&T meeting as to what strange topic he would pontificate on. None of us ever even came close to thinking up the bizarre topics that he’d hold forth on. I always felt so sad for his wife who was as gracious and humble as he was not.
On this particular Sunday we were having a blizzard outside, and I just wanted to go home before it became too dangerous to do so and we were all stuck at church for the foreseeable future. My sister and I were playing tic tac toe on the back of the bulletin until this man got up and announced to our ward that God had just now commanded him to heal a young man who had been blind ever since a medical error had occurred hours after his birth and which completely destroyed his sight. You could’ve heard a pin drop on the carpet! Every nodding head and wandering mind suddenly snapped to attention as he uttered those words. Then this brother asked for the ward members to stand up and be counted among the faithful if they felt that he had the power to restore the sight of this young man. A few people stood up, but most of the congregation didn’t know what to do. The young man and his father both went up to the podium. The young man told the ward that he’d recently received a blessing from the current prophet who told him that his blindness was a gift and not a liability, and through his life and his prodigious (my word, not his) musical talent he would be the means of bringing hope to many other sight impaired folks from all walks of life. (This has most certainly happened.) This had already been his own strong feeling before he had received the blessing, so he saw it as a confirmation of what he already knew to be his mission in life. His father then affirmed what his son said and they sat down. The former fundamentalist preacher then had the gall to tell the son and his father that they’d been led astray by Satan and that he knew better than the prophet what was best for this blind man! Oh boy, did that ever stir up our ward! Fortunately, our very cool bishop quietly stood up at that time and announced that the meeting had come to an end and announced the closing hymn. The poor wife came up to the podium and gently led her husband back to their pew. We were still talking about that meeting four years later when I left for college. In fact, a few months before my dad died my sibs and I were talking with him about vivid memories that we’d all had from the years when we grew up. Except for my youngest brother, who was born six months after that memorable F&T meeting, the rest of us all rated it as one of our most unusual memories.
As bizarre as that incident was, I’d sit through it again and again rather than sit through the exercise in virtue signaling, political rhetoric and faith promoting rumors and, dare I say it, performance art, that now passes for my ward’s F&T meetings. When I read about the kind of blessing and testifying meetings that the women of the church used to have beginning in Kirtland and ending soon after an edict from the church president Joseph Fielding Smith put the kibosh on them soon after the turn of the 20th century I think that those are what truly constitute a F&T meeting. The women met to praise the Lord, talk about their struggles with both life and polygamy and ask for a blessing and advice to help strengthen them, as well as to pray for those who were in need of both temporal and spiritual help. This is what kept these women going through unimaginable trials. Our modern day meetings are nothing like that. Why?
Just to provide a data point: I attended the Community of Christ meeting near me today, and it was a memorial service for a woman who passed away this past March. Only two people were designated to speak—the pastor invited any in attendance or on the Zoom broadcast to share their feelings and stories of the deceased. About a dozen people spoke and the entire experience was at turns uplifting, funny, and heartbreaking. Some shared long stories of how the woman had touched their lives, through humor or service. One gentleman simply said, “My life was enriched by her presence, and I’m sad that she’s gone. I hope to see her again someday in the eternities.”
At first I’d hesitated to attend because I’ve only recently been visiting our small CoC congregation, and I didn’t want to intrude on an intimate moment. But I was welcomed by all in attendance and it was beautiful to see a community working through their grief and shared love for someone. I’m glad I went.
An open mic funeral doesn’t have to be a disaster.
I think this is likely. I think F&T can have profound lessons/testimonies shared, but more often than not it’s bland. False doctrine gets taught and cringeworthy stories are shared. A couple of highlights (lowlights) I’ve seen:
• A man getting up and apologizing to his wife for yelling at her before church and hitting the kids “harder than I should have.”
• A woman sharing her various interactions with animal spirits.
• A woman who can’t get up without a passive/aggressive slam to one of her family members. Even when praising them, she manages to insult them at the same time. It’s not only 1 person who is the target either. Her entire family has been the subject of her publicly-expressed disappointment
• A teenage girl who was no longer in our ward, but she got up and through hysterical tears apologized for “spreading lies about my dad” as her father sat and scowled at her from the congregation. As soon as she was done, the two of them marched out of the building. I never heard what the “lies” were, but based on what she said and how he acted I’m convinced whatever stories she’d been telling about him were probably true.
• A teenage boy who got up every month and talked about himself and basically tried to do stand up comedy. He finally went away to college, but on his visit visit back he got up again and said “I’m sure you’ve all been wondering what I’ve been up to.” (we hadn’t)
• A young deacon who got up and couldn’t stop lecturing us about pornography.
There were some good/sweet/moving ones too, but these were the odd ones I could think of off the top of my head.
Lots of examples cited that veer F&T meeting away from its true purpose; including expressing political views, critical comments about the Church, and an individual coming out of their homosexual closet. Oh, wait, Liberals approve of all that. A conflict of interest, perhaps?
Some of the best testimony meetings I ever attended were when we lived in a ward that included in its boundaries an addiction recovery facility. A rotating group of 6-10 LDS men would attend our meetings and nearly every fast Sunday one or more of them would get up and bear not just testimony of God and His mercy, but bare their souls. It was truly humbling. Those were always meetings I was grateful to have witnessed.
I just checked the Handbook and it looks like the guidelines for testimony meetings have changed slightly since I was bishopricking. It used to say something like, “a time to share a brief testimony or faith-promoting experience.” I don’t see the “faith-promoting experience” part anymore. Now it says “To bear testimony means to declare gospel truths as inspired by the Holy Ghost. Testimonies should be brief so that many people can participate.” Having read and thought about it briefly here, I think this definition still leaves plenty of room for more than just “I know” statements. Listen for the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, stand up and begin by saying, “I have felt inspired by the Holy Ghost to share the following…” If the person were sincere, it seems very unlikely that anyone would have grounds to question whether whatever they had to say was appropriate or not.
Also, I think for me the idea of being “brief” is just as important as the content.
Mark Gibson, never have I ever heard someone use the pulpit during F&T meeting to be critical of the church. And as someone who is frequently critical of the church, I don’t believe F&T meeting is the appropriate time and place for that. Not is it the time and place for political discourse of any kind.
Coming out, though? What better place? As has been discussed in other comments here, F&T meeting is at its best when the vulnerability of the members about faith and struggle leads to increased pastoral care and camaraderie within a ward. And issues of marriage and sexuality are inexorably tied to issues of faith in our church (count how many times members reference their heterosexual relationships in any given talk). Being a gay Mormon is freakin hard and our LGBTQ+ members need all the support they can get.
@bwbarnett, yes!!! We had a sort of halfway house / recovery center in our ward boundaries once. The best testimonies always started with “I’m so and so and I’m x days sober/clean.” Loved the humility, vulnerability, and true expression of love for God.
Literally never heard anyone use testimony meeting to be critical of the church, nor have I heard anyone come out of their “homosexual” closet (what is that even!?!?!? The fact that the commenter used that term speaks volumes.) Plenty of people flaunting their heterosexuality, talking about what a threat “the gays” are rather than focusing on Jesus Christ (who never spoke one work about the gays), and expounding their conservative politics, though, so was grateful when the Church said those aren’t appropriate topics for testimony meeting.. Doesn’t seem to have stuck, though.
Garee: Your comment about funeral open mic made me think of the eulogy Connor gives for his uncle “Mo” Lester on Succession. Because Mo is so controversial (and Mo isn’t his actual name), Connor’s girlfriend rewrites the eulogy to completely avoid any statements that could be construed as supportive of Mo or alluding to his misdeeds:
“Hello. I’m here as a fellow human to acknowledge that Lester has, as we know, passed on. Lester was a man. Also, Lester was an employee of the Waystar company for 40 years. And when a man dies, it is sad. All of us will die one day. In this case, it is Lester who has done so. Lester was alive for 78 years. But no more. Now he is dead. Lester’s wife is Maria. They were married for 15 years. Now she is sad.”
I’m torn between my enjoyment of human embarrassment and controversy and my desire to not seem like a Church of crazies, which is probably how we got where we are. While I get the impulse behind McConkie telling everyone exactly what a testimony should be, including the wording, he also basically killed the premise of it in the process. If it’s not heartfelt and personal, but just a performative recitation of a formula, what’s the point? It might as well be Connor’s eulogy.
Nearly all aspects of the church have been gobbled up by correlation. We should hold onto F&T meeting as a last bastion of the voice of the people. Additionally, people learn better by participating, not regurgitating. F&T is an excellent way for people to process (for themselves and others) what they have learned and to grow. Since that’s the case, it’s ok if people are at lower levels of testimony. We all start out somewhere and should support others- no matter where they are along the way. The beautiful thing about F&T is that you typically hear from people in many stages of testimony or spiritual growth – (or all of Fowler’s stages). So, no matter where you are, you can see where you were and where you can aspire to go. (People get stuck when they are in homogenous wards where you don’t have that diversity of spirit. That’s a problem. I think young adult wards are extremely problematic for that very reason.)
But yeah- if you are bored, play testimony bingo.
Challenge yourself to make the meeting better by preparing and contributing something. Think about what each person is saying, where they are and how you are supposed to serve them. For example, try to figure out which Fowler’s level each person is, and then (if you serve as a teacher) use that info to build in their level and lay pavers for their next step up.
One amendment I would make for small wards (like the ones from my mission)- if you don’t have enough people to testify- put more music in the meeting.
My sister Lynnette wrote a post where she argued that it’s really more difficult to separate testimony-bearing and storytelling than the Bednars of the world think. If you enjoyed this post and discussion, I think you may also appreciate her argument.
@Ziff – that was a nice post. I agree. For me, what I most like hearing at Church is how a particular gospel principle or teaching has helped someone in their own life. That is necessarily going to involve some kind of story or personal experience. As long as that story or personal experience is brief and is directly tied to a specific gospel teaching, I think that is exactly what a testimony should be.
Hearing someone say “I know the Book of Mormon is true” is totally meaningless and unhelpful.
Hearing someone say “I have made a bigger effort to study the Book of Mormon daily, and it has increased my capacity to have patience with my children” or “I was struggling with a problem, and when I read X story in the Book of Mormon it helped me understand the issues more clearly and decide on a path forward” is *far* more meaningful and helpful to me.
The above framework is what I also think talks and lessons should focus on. Other than new converts and children, all of us know ALL THE THINGS. We don’t need people to regurgitate doctrine to us. We need people to show us how they live that doctrine and inspire us to be better people and show us how living that doctrine has actually improved their lives and how it can improve ours.
At one fast and testimony a few years ago almost everyone got up and testified to the absolute truthfulness of the BoM. Something inside me made me stand up and go to the podium. What would I say? If the Spirit had inspired me to get up I figured that I would have to listen to the Spirit as I began to speak. What I heard myself saying shocked me. I told the congregation that I had read the BoM many times and had taken Moroni’s promise very seriously each time that I read it, but the testimony of its truthfulness had never come to me no matter how hard I prayed for a witness. There were parts of the book that I knew to be true, but the whole thing? I still had no answer after doing everything that I could think of to make myself more open to receiving an answer to my heartfelt question. So, I ended by saying that I was grateful to know that parts of the book were true and hoped that in the future that I would know better then than I did at that moment regarding the truthfulness of the book. I was prepared to be shunned by a good portion of the ward. And, yes, in RS testimony meeting a couple of sisters went at me hammer and tongs. What I wasn’t prepared for was the number of ward members who came up to me in the parking lot or who emailed me thanking me for speaking my truth because they also felt the same way that I did about certain inspired parts of the BoM and struggling mightily with other parts that caused serious cognitive dissonance. They also had prayed hard on many occasions and yet had never received the promised answer either. My bishop even called to thank me for being vulnerable and expressing my truth. He was sure that more ward members felt as I did but would never express their thoughts aloud for fear of censure and shaming.
I would not dare to bear a testimony like that again because our stake and bishoprics have gone heavily over to the McKonkie/Bednar style of bearing testimony. How sad that we can’t be vulnerable before our own brothers and sisters in Christ and that we have to pretend that we KNOW all of the answers “without a shadow of a doubt” because we fear shaming from our own brothers and sisters in Christ and retribution from our leaders! Christ must surely weep to see what a heavy burden and a fearsome thing we’ve made of his gospel.
I hate testimony meetings of all sorts.
But one testimony really made my day. It was at a missionary farewell and a young man, a friend of the departing missionary, had been asked to leave his testimony. He came to the stand with a boom box, hit the play button for his backup singers and band and poured out a loud, slightly off-key and passionate version of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.”
The volume was as loud as he could make it and the Bishopric went bug-eyed, then froze up and pretended they were asleep through the song. I think I sprained something trying to hold back the laughter, because that was one of the starchiest and most dogmatic Bishoprics I had ever known. I counted that as a total victory for humanity.
Fifty plus years ago, I was a young man in a ward in NW SLC. Ruffin Bridgeforth was a member of my ward. Brother Bridgeforth was the first President of what is now called the Genesis Group, an organization supporting black members of the church. Almost every month he expressed expressed his deep love for the church and his Savior. I did not understand how he could love an organization that treated him and his children so poorly.
Now, I avoid F&T meetings because i don’t see the same sincerity that I experienced in 1965.
Am I the only one noticing that the only people the OP mentions actually shutting up were female? Brother Bataan = makes everyone annoyed and uncomfortable, but is allowed to talk because his words are important to him and therapeutic. Brother Temple Tourist = annoying, repetitive, braggy, and time-consuming, but allowed to talk because men are entitled to the mic, I guess? Sister Traumatized talking about her own nightmare of incest = makes Bishop Bill uncomfortable, so she has to sit down and shut up – notes that she’s probably lying anyway. Sister Wants a Temple Marriage = silenced/slut shamed/another man enlisted to keep her from speaking, PLUS, unrelated cannabis story thrown in. Seriously, Bishop Bill? Maybe you should silence yourself while you work on that wicked misogynist streak?
Great catch leesielmom. I had not noticed the male/female split in the OP. Point well take. My only comment is I can’t find anyplace on the OP where I note “she is probably lying”. All I said was “…I took no position on the validity of her claims” Not sure where the lying come from. Also, that was 20 years ago. I hope I’ve grown since them and would have handled it different today.
I didn’t notice the split either. I really do believe we have a serious incest problem in the Church in that I have known many incest survivors, and I’ve never heard of a single one of them being believed or any consequences to the family member who abused them. Seriously. Not even one. Bishops told them to forgive, blamed the victims, or even hinted they were lying. These are not my stories to tell, but I was surprised how many women are out there with this same experience in the Church. However, I’m not sure F&T meeting is the forum to address this.
If anyone is a victim of incest who wants consequences to the family member who abused them, he or she needs to tell the story to the local constabulary, not to the LDS bishop.