Recently a letter from the LDS First Presidency was read in Sunday Mormon church services about the use of scriptures and visual aids in sacrament meetings and stake conferences. After stating that Church leadership is encouraged that members do study their scriptures, the letter said,
“In order to maintain an atmosphere of reverent worship in our sacrament and stake conference meetings, when speakers use scriptures as part of their talks they should not ask the congregation to open their own books to the scriptural reference. Also, members should not use visual aids and their sacrament meeting or stake conference talks. Such teaching methods are more effective in classroom settings and leadership meetings.
“We believe these adjustments will enhance the spirit of our worship services.”
Without any further explanation, I’m left wondering specifically how people looking up scriptures diminishes the “atmosphere of reverent worship.” Do those without their own scriptures find it distracting? Or is the sound of turning pages somehow irreverent? Do people who have missed the chapter and verse announcement make a racket asking their pew-neighbors where they are supposed to look?
Coming from a traditional Christian church background, I find this First Presidency directive really puzzling. Throughout my entire Christian life men in the pulpit have repeatedly expressed how much they love to hear the riffling of turning pages as people follow along in their Bibles. It’s my understanding that reading God’s Word in an effort to understand and know Him is itself an act of reverent worship.
When I look up a scripture passage during church I am better able to understand the Word and how it fits with the content of the sermon. I am better able to remember it. I am better able to find it later when I want to ponder the sermon and the scripture, or read the passage in its broader context. As far as I’m aware, the reverence of the setting is not disturbed, nor are the people around me, since they, too, are immersed in God’s Word.
This directive from the First Presidency reminded me of one of the last General Conference talks. LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard related a funny story from his younger days in which he was in charge of his children during a sacrament meeting while his wife sang in the choir. He wrote,
“…I found myself sitting alone with my six children. I have never been so busy in my whole life. I had the hand puppets going on both hands, and that wasn’t working too well. The Cheerios got away from me, and that was embarrassing. The coloring books didn’t seem to entertain as well as they should.” (Ensign, May 2008, 108)
I’m sure every parent can relate to the dilemma of trying to keep small children quiet during church services. Yet, as I picture Mr. Ballard with his Cheerios flying and finger puppets waving – ineffectually, I might add – I honestly do not understand the concern that prompted the LDS policy for congregants to maintain an atmosphere of reverent worship by keeping their Quads closed.