Sacrament Meetings: Keep Those Books Closed

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.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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11 Responses to Sacrament Meetings: Keep Those Books Closed

  1. Ralph says:

    This is not a new thing. It has been around for at least 10 years, this is just a re-inforcement of the original.

    It does not say that members cannot open their scriptures and follow the person talking, it just asks that the person talking does not request that the members do so. My thoughts are that if someone missed what the scripture was they would ask their neighbour and this would cause a bit of noise. Then there is the person at the pulpit, once they have asked everyone to go to the scriptures and follow along they would most likely wait until most have opened their scriptures and found the verse. This would cause a break in the persons’ talk where everyone is sitting waiting and nothing is happening. This would cause a distraction from the meeting and thus decrease the spirit of the meeting.

    But like I said, it does not state that members cannot look up the scriptures, just that the person giving the talk should not ask/require them to do it.

    As far as the children go, it is a family church and as long as the children are not too noisy or are making ‘happy’ noises (for babies) then they are fine in the meeting room. There is in most chapels a fully functional cry room where the parents can take their children who are being too noisy or crying. It has a speaker system so the parents can still listen to the talk. Also all of the new buildings and re-furbished ones have speakers throughout the building so you can take your child into the hall if you wanted to and still listen to the meeting. Been there, done that, I’ve been to Bali too. (sorry Aussie reference but I gotta put it in there)

  2. Michael P says:

    Ralph, I encourage you to go to a Christian service somewhere, particularly an evangelical service.

    You’ll see that it does none of what you say.

  3. Ralph says:


    You’re right, they don’t anything of what I say. I’ve been to Lutheran, Pentacostal, Anglican and Vapaa Kirkko (a church in Finland, don’t know the English equivalent – it was very similar to the Pentacostal meeting, but a different church). None of them had children/babies in the meetings. Any parents with children/babies were outside waiting for their partner who was in the meeting.

    When it came to scriptures, no one opened their scriptures as no one had scriptures with them. The person giving the sermon did all the talking and scripture reading.

    The funniest thing that occurred was at the Vapaa Kirkko meeting. They sent their deacons around to collect the monies with little bags while everyone was singing and clapping and whatever else. I was a missionary at the time and my companion and I were sitting up the back with a friend who took us there. When the deacon saw us he was surprised and went straight down to the front. He motioned the speaker over to the side and whispered something to him. The main speaker went to the middle of the stage then said – “the Spirit has told me there are 2 people in the paths of wrong in the congregation. If these people want to give their lives to the Lord they can come down the front and be blessed.” Naturally because everyone was singing most with their eyes closed no one saw the deacon telling him this. I thought of yelling out “That’s the first time I’ve seen the Spirit wear a red skivvy.” But I kept my mouth closed, just laughed internally.

    PS ‘Skivvy’ in Australia is equivalent to a knitted turtle neck pullover, I believe. Other Aussie names include ‘jumper’ and ‘sloppy joe’ although a ‘sloppy’ is fleecy rather than knitted but I don’t think they mean the same thing over there.

  4. Arthur Sido says:

    I was just preaching on John 10 last night, and I love the sound of pages rustling as people turned to different passages of Scripture. But hey who needs to read in your Scriptures when you have a prophet to tell you everything?

  5. germit says:

    Ralph: I guess this is a matter of perspective. From an ev. christian point of view, you let your leaders off way too easy. Why wouldn’t these leaders want to ACTIVELY PRAISE and ENCOURAGE the behavior of comparing what is spoken with the written word?? Wouldn’t this be Acts 17:11 in action, and what is to be gained by not openly encouraging that kind of ‘noble mindedness’?? What is more “reverent” than making real sure that you understand the mind of God ?? Isn’t that worth some noise and clatter ?? blessings and clatter to all of us germit

  6. Ralph says:


    How is reading the same thing the speaker is saying (ie when they read out a scripture) comparing what is spoken to the written word? It would be exactly the same. But as I said, the only thing this letter states is for the speaker not to ask others to follow along. It does not say that the congregation cannot do it if they want to. In the conference talks they usually put the scripture up on screen for all to follow on so no one has to look it up.

    Just remember that we also do a 40 min lesson for Sunday School where we study the scriptures either after or before Sacrament meeting (depending on which ward you are in).

  7. james Numark says:

    When will people in this world start to understand the spirit of the messages from the prophets and apostles. This argument that the prophet is telling people to not read their scriptures is a misinterpretation that will only lead to contention and further misunderstanding.

    Consider this scenario:
    The church is made up of lay clergy. That means that within any given Sunday there are a pool of untrained, generally well intentioned people that can be chosen to give a talk. In those talks there can be several opportunities to offend the spirit that the meeting is intended to have. I am sure that this letter is not born of anything less than problem after problem (somewhere in the world) in the misuse and disruption of Sunday meetings due to a lack of clarity with regards to sacrament meeting speaking decorum. It is in the spirit of clarification and reverence for the sacrament meeting service which has turned into an under appreciated meeting among many in the church.

    I think anyone who continues to use the argument that this is a way for the Prophet to “keep us down” or to keep people from reading their scriptures as a stance, is trying hard to find a way to foster the spirit of contention in their lives.

  8. Michael P says:


    The spirit is not strong enough to withstand some pages turning and maybe some quick questions on which page?

    I don’t think the argument is neessarilly to suggest keeping anyone down, but rather to question the logic behind it. Following along in the text is a huge way to gain understanding. I always get more when I can read the immediate text and the context while it is being discussed.

  9. james Numark says:

    Michael P,

    Then write down the reference and study it later when you have adequate time and no distractions. I find that personal study to be more effective when I want to really study the scriptures. Sacrament meeting is an idea place to listen and understand other peoples perspectives on the gospel. Doing so helps me to understand the many ways the gospel effects peoples lives and the different ways that it can possibly bless others. If I am reading my scriptures, or flipping around to the pages, it isn’t that it offends the Holy Spirit, but it does distract from the full benefit that a sacrament meeting talk CAN impart.

    I don’t simply consider it a noise level problem with the pages turning, and of course I reiterate that they are not saying that you can’t still read along, it simply is stating that the speaker is not encouraged to mandate participation in that way. You can continue to question the logic behind it. I did at first as well. And the more I have thought about it the more I understand the correct spirit behind what I consider to be inspired instruction from the Lords Prophet.

  10. jackg says:


    Do you really consider something like this suggestion or whatever you want to call to be “inspired instruction from the Lord’s Prophet?” I mean, how inspiring is this? It seems that the bar for determining “inspired” is rather low.

  11. TAC says:

    They didn't say for people to not open their scriptures, they said to not ask people to. Completely different, and nobody caught that point, just your own point you each wanted to make.

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