The ceremony of the sacrament is common to many Christian sects. In the LDS church, however, the sacrament is used to renew what are known as baptismal covenants, and should only be taken when one feels worthy. Of course, not taking it would make everyone in near proximity wonder what's going on with you. In addition, the exciting stuff in a typical day in a Mormon ward (see my article on A Day Inside a Mormon Church) happens during sacrament meeting. Let's take a look, shall we?
Before the meeting
Since most members run on Mormon Standard Time (MST), it is customary to arrive 15 minutes late into the meeting. (I jest.) Members enter as the organ plays its introduction and chit-chat about their week. Sunday isn't just for worship: It is for some good old high school cafeteria-style gossip. The old ladies talk about their husbands and whose dog died, housewives laugh about their children's crazy shenanigans, and the men tell slightly inappropriate jokes and casually mention how their lawns are the best in the neighborhood. From what I gathered, this, above all else, is why the members agree to spend 3 hours every Sunday in the church house.
During this time, the slaves of the meeting, also known as "young men," deacons (12-13) put chairs in the overflow to accommodate for the oversized ward, teachers (14-15) fill trays with miniature cups of water for the sacrament (a highly underappreciated job, I might add), and priests (16-17) hope to God that they won't screw up the sacrament prayer.
The first part
However, when the first counselor begins to speak, it is understood that you shut up and listen. (Unless you are a baby. Babies are instructed when they are little to begin screaming as loud as possible.) (Again, I jest.)
After the first hymn and opening prayer, ward business is conducted. This essentially involves "voting" people into leadership positions. As a member of the Church sitting in the pew, you do the following:
- Wait for the bishop to announce the position and who's been called to it.
- Look around aimlessly to try and find that person with your eyes in this real-life version of Where's Waldo?
- Raise your right arm.
- Repeat until the bishop stops talking.
The sacrament itself
The sacrament hymn is sung as the priests quickly break all the bread at the sacrament table and put it into little trays.
The ceremony begins with the sacrament blessing. Thankfully, I never was a priest. I can't imagine the pressure of getting every. single. word. correct for the blessing of both the bread and the water. Furthermore, I would be one of those people who screamed an expletive after getting it wrong my third time.
After either getting it right the first time, or having to do it over at least 100 more times, the priest stands and all three acting priests give out bread trays to the deacons, who do their route. Once finished, the cycle repeats with the water.
As a deacon, this part was quite a skilled job. You had to be attentive to know where the trays were going, where they needed picked up, and where to head to next. In addition, you got to listen to the families bicker about everything, and feel quite humored when a rambunctious toddler would spill his cup of water.
On a normal Sunday, speakers are assigned to give a talk the following Sunday, which is done here. Topics are typically quite plain in nature unless the speaker is very experienced or spiritually-oriented, in which case half the ward will begin crying as they tell a story about their dying child. I will admit that some of the best speeches I have heard have come from the speakers at an LDS church.
However, the real fun was at the first Sunday of the month, or Fast Sunday. On Fast Sunday, members are strongly encouraged not to eat, and instead give the money that they would've used to eat to fast offerings, a charity service offered by the Church to provide food and shelter for the needy.
On Fast Sunday, people could stand in their pews, and a deacon would come over to them with a microphone so they could bear their testimony of the truthfulness of the Mormon church. Of course, no one ever did this. There were only four kinds of testimonies:
- Child testimonies. You could always tell when primary leaders would instruct children to bear their testimonies, since they would all stand up and say the exact same thing: "I'd like to bear my testimony. I know this church is true. I love my mom and my dad and my sister and my brother. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."
Prepared testimonies. People who had the need to demonstrate how spiritual they were would spend an hour prior to church on lds.org and research some topic, then proceed to teach us all about it and randomly begin "crying."
Honest testimonies. These are the only kind that are relatively enjoyable to listen to, and typically came from older members of the ward.
- Apocalyptic testimonies. My favorite. These only happened when a guest speaker or someone creepy from the ward stood up. Everyone in the chapel would stare in awe and confusion. My personal favorite was when a guest told us that he has two voices talk to him in his head, and one is Jesus and the other is the Devil, and he thought that the one who was Jesus told him the world was going to end on July 17, 2007. We never forgot these things, and on July 18, 2007, the following Sunday, we all celebrated the fact that we were still alive in our classes.
End of the ceremony
After the speakers/testimony bearers stopped talking, the bishop would announce the end of the meeting by having us sing the closing song, followed by the closing prayer. The organ would then play a random melody that no one knew, and we would shuffle out of the chapel to continue meetings at the church for another two hours.
To see an overview of a day in a Mormon church, check out my article on the subject!