Does/did anyone enjoy attending their meetings?

Meetings

Before I discovered the Internet, I assumed that most people who stop believing in Mormonism had approximately the same issues I had. One of my biggest revelations upon discovering the exmo/DAMU community was the variety of experiences. Though everyone had reached approximately the same conclusion (about the truth of the LDS church), the reasoning to get there varied wildly — to the point where things I saw as the church’s strengths were exactly the points some others saw as its weaknesses and vice-versa!

Naturally, I’m building on Andrew’s post grouping Mormon types (though this variety has been kind of a common theme here, stretching back to Wry’s excellent post Grayer than thou?). But there’s one point where I’m curious whether anyone’s experience differed much from mine: the meetings.

When I was a kid, attending church was simply a commandment — one of the many things you do out of obedience to Heavenly Father. To know exactly how I felt about it, you can read the piece I wrote about it for the Student Review back in my BYU days (Why I hate church), or read the fictionalization.

It was a major point of confusion (or cognitive dissonance?) for me when I was a young teen and I heard one of my teachers talk about how she looked forward to Sacrament Meeting, and enjoyed feeling the spirit there. And one of the other girls in my class agreed — and they seemed totally sincere!

I was thinking Are they attending the same meetings I am…? Are they nuts??? I’d assumed that the three-hour block was meant to be like the refiner’s fire — not pleasant, but edifying. (Or, y’know, theoretically edifying.) The idea that someone might enjoy it practically made my head explode.

I turned it over and over in my mind, trying to make sense of it. I figured that they weren’t just lying outright (to make themselves appear more spiritual/righteous), but perhaps it was some sort of auto-suggestion: if you want to like something because you think you should like it, you can sometimes convince yourself that you do like it (as discussed by Alan and Andrew in yesterday’s comments).

I eventually concluded that super-righteous people who are really “in tune with the spirit” will feel it in Sacrament Meeting, and feel edified by it. And so I added that to my big pile of guilt and inadequacy (see here).

So how about the rest of you? Was your experience similar or different?

39 thoughts on “Does/did anyone enjoy attending their meetings?

  1. Yeah, the meetings were boring as hell. Thank the FSM for cellphones, as browsing the net on mine was the only way I kept my sanity the last five years or so of my church attendance.

    I got a good chuckle when the first presidency sent out a letter specifically banning the practice of using your cellphone during meetings.

  2. I don’t think I ever really dreaded the meetings, but I definitely didn’t enjoy them, either. I was just doing what I was supposed to do, right?

    I’ve been to a couple of meetings since leaving (xmas performances by family and a baby blessing), and WOW, their awfulness blew me away. I mean, it was depressing sitting in that room for sacrament meeting! Wow.

  3. Oh, dear god, the waves of nausea and loathing assailed me the moment I read your headline….

    I HATED meetings. When I was pretty young I used to take a book and read during them. When I got too old for that and had to actually sit there with nothing to distract me, it was typically hell. Frankly I was happy on those occasions when I was merely bored. The vacuous inanity of most lessons, written for a junior-high reading comprehension level, taught by someone who did little more than read through the lesson once before showing up to teach it…. That was surpassed only by the horror show that was talks in sacrament meeting, where people could (had to) talk for 20 minutes on a topic of their own choosing, and would say things like “hard work never killed anyone, people–remember that,” as if millions of people hadn’t been deliberately worked to death on southern cotton plantations, or in Nazi concentration camps, or in soviet gulags, or contracted a really gross disease or been smothered by rocks in a coal mine. Talks like that weren’t just BORING; they were immoral and insulting. And yet, the speaker would say something like that, and half the congregation would nod. That was what passed for wisdom.

    By the time I finally left, I wasn’t sure if the church was “true” or not. I was sort of willing to believe it *might* be, but I decided I’d rather go to hell than belong to a church that made people so downright STUPID. Sunday meetings were the worst part of my week. I dreaded them, and it took days to recover from the trauma they caused.

  4. I remember the meetings being pretty boring – seminary in particular. Individual classes were less boring (because they were usually interactive). I also remember falling asleep or trying to (and knowing other people who fell asleep in sacrement meeting). Particularly general conference, since it was already dark (watching on a tv screen).

    When I was doing my homework or reading (non LDS books) during sacrement meeting it was not as boring…I also used some of the time to meditate.

    On the other hand, I did talk to an active LDS mom (the other day) with a son who just started nursery. She mentioned that her son was having a hard time (sort of) going to nursery, but she appreciated the time to be able to go to sunday school and RS herself.

    So – I’m assuming moms with young kids appreciate the time away from those kids (just guessing) talking about something other than everything that young kids talk about.

  5. When I was 18 and dating a non-member, my parents & the missionaries talked her into going to Church with me.

    Afterward she told me that it was OK, but soooo boring.

    When I told my parents her reaction and that I agreed with her they about hit the roof.

    Fun times!!

  6. I enjoyed the meetings when I was new (convert at 20) and learning things. Later, I probably didn’t enjoy the meetings per se, but I enjoyed seeing my friends at church. But somewhere along the way the whole thing became boring and pointless, even though I was still a believer.

  7. Boooorrrriiiinnnngggg!

    I tried just about everything to make them interesting:
    -looking up the scriptures as people cited them
    -playing word bingo
    -bringing books to read
    -playing tic tac toe
    -eating
    -playing games on my phone
    -reading on my phone
    -and finally, just before I left, telling my wife everything people said that was incorrect (i.e., historically and doctrinally)

    Sunday school wasn’t as bad as I could at least ask questions to harass the instructors. But sacrament meeting… I’d rather have that ear thing from Wrath of Khan crawl in my ears then listen to another sacrament meeting talk!
    chekov

  8. I’m with Holly on this one. A good week was when SacMtg was *only* boring.

    I sincerely don’t understand the people who claim they “feel the Spirit” when they attend. How? Maybe I’m just the type of person who’s easily distracted by the squirming, munching, coughing, etc., but its easy to be distracted when NOBODY says anything interesting. Occasionally someone told a good joke, or said something stupid, but mostly it was boring speakers and a distracting congregation.

    In fact, I find it so hard to believe that people feel the Spirit that I’ve come to believe they actually don’t, but have trained themselves to say it over and over and over until they believe they have felt it. No disrespect meant, but it’s so outside of my experience that I just can’t believe it.

  9. I don’t remember what I thought as a kid, but as an adult, I have always enjoyed the meetings. Even for the past 4-5 years, when I haven’t participated at all, I have always felt uplifted, even if I didn’t listen to a word that was said. This last year I’ve not enjoyed my meetings, but that’s because I’m the one teaching (Primary). Obviously I haven’t left the church, which may give me a different perspective than those who already have.

    I hope you all don’t think I’m some mindless idiot/moron. No one said that outright, but the vibe I got from the comments above me were that no one with a brain could enjoy the meetings. I have a degree in engineering, so I’d say I’m not a mindless moron. I could be wrong though 😉

  10. I enjoyed the meetings when I was new (convert at 20) and learning things. Later, I probably didnt enjoy the meetings per se, but I enjoyed seeing my friends at church.

    Yes, that is how I felt when I first joined the church at 20 as well. It started to fade quickly around age 21 when I had read everything the church had published, and realized that the Institute manuals never change, that all of the Sunday School manuals were rehashing the same lessons over and over, all while taking things that previous prophets said out of context, and that RS was boring as watching concrete dry. It was about that same time that I started having “Andrew’s Person A”-type issues (Homosexuality and feminism were common and tolerated in the branch I was baptized into. When I moved to Utah, my eyes were opened as to the church I had joined). So, I started hating my meetings, except as an opportunity to socialize.

    I completely lost all interest in meetings after I met my DH.

  11. Katie:

    Even for the past 4-5 years, when I havent participated at all, I have always felt uplifted, even if I didnt listen to a word that was said.

    I’m interested in your reaction, partly because it’s hard to understand. You might be one of those people who has a really great ward where SM is usually pretty thoughtful, but that still raises questions about your early experience. You say that you don’t remember your reaction as a child; this could be some indication that your basic approach is not to pay a lot of close attention.

    That could account for not being downright frustrated, but doesn’t account for positive feelings of being uplifted. Where does that come in for you?

  12. Holly,
    I don’t want to turn this into my personal blog here, but I’ll try to answer.

    As a young child, I remember not wanting to sing in Singing Time and being bored in Sacrament Meeting. I am quite sure that I loved Sunday School and Primary and then Young Women’s, because I was always extremely involved. I read my scriptures every day, answered all the questions, loved Seminary, and was totally involved in the lessons. I didn’t mention all this because I am not 100% sure I felt that way. It is a paradox. I pay very close attention in some ways but then forget a lot too.

    I have no idea where the feelings of upliftedness come from. I just know that I always felt better after Church than before. I don’t mean this in a ‘testimony’ way, just in a ‘that’s how it was’ way.

    I have been working full time for 5 years and HATE IT. I love my work, but I hate working, if that makes sense. I feel extremely stifled by being at work instead of at home. I feel that working is a waste of my life. Perhaps the uplifting feelings came just because there was such a sense of community at church, even if there was really no time to talk/chat.

  13. No one said that outright, but the vibe I got from the comments above me were that no one with a brain could enjoy the meetings.

    Not at all — this is exactly the sort of alternate experience I was hoping to learn about by opening this question to comments. Main Street Plaza is not intended to be an excho chamber where we all just agree and congratulate each other about how right we are. 😉

    An interesting point to note, however, is that you don’t claim to have learned anything from the talks or to have found the subject matter interesting:

    Even for the past 4-5 years, when I havent participated at all, I have always felt uplifted, even if I didnt listen to a word that was said.

    and

    I have no idea where the feelings of upliftedness come from. I just know that I always felt better after Church than before. … Perhaps the uplifting feelings came just because there was such a sense of community at church, even if there was really no time to talk/chat.

    This makes sense — It’s possible to feel built-up by being surrounded by your community, gathered for a common purpose.

    Listening and hoping to learn something from the subject matter (which tends to be vacuous, repetitive, or worse) is a different matter. But I feel like if the meetings didn’t work for anybody they would somehow change or evolve.

    p.s. long comments are fine, and if you have your own personal blog where you’ve explained further, please feel free to link it into the discussion.

  14. My experience in the block meetings varied according to the speakers and the hymns. When I was a teen (and going through my goth faze) we had a couple of bishops who were great speakers, and really focused on what I think is positive about The Mormon community. i.e. taking care of each other as being more important than missionary work.

    There were times when I felt “the spirit” and times when I did not. When I didn’t and others did, I usually assumed that it meant they needed the message being presented more than I did.

  15. I cannot recall a time when I wasn’t bored to tears. I stopped attending in September 2009. Recovery from the 3 hour 1pm-4pm block was brutal. My husband still attends, but me and the four kids do not. They hated every minute of it and spent most of the time there texting friends.

    I was the SS teacher for the teenagers for three years. The best thing about that class were the homemade treats I brought every week(except Fast Sunday). The manual was useless and I usually had to supplement my lessons with all sorts of outside materials. I requested to be released last December just before Church History. I knew I would never be able to teach it honestly.

    I don’t recall a memo from the COB about turning the phones off. When was that?

  16. The meetings were the worst. And they were worse in Utah.

    Ultimately, I left because the meetings had become unbearable. I liked the members a lot but the denial, the silence, and the nonsense were just too destructive.

    I had developed a couple of coping strategies:
    1) The investigator class in Sunday school, aka Gospel Essentials, was worthwhile. For starters, it seemed to be worthwhile to acquaint new people with Mormonism and the gospel.

    Also, I have no reservations about the baptismal covenant and serving my neighbors. But I never agreed with the temple covenants and following mortals to benefit an organization.

    2) I enjoyed reading the Bible. It is valuable to read the Old Testament in the same way that it is valuable to read Homer. It is an important historical artifact.

    I like the gospels in the New Testament. Even though I was a soldier out of conviction, I do believe that loving your enemy and non-violence in the sense of the Sermon of the Mount renders tremendous benefits to our species.

    From game theory over primate anthropology and the history of the modern era, the life and social sciences appear to confirm that.

    It is unfortunate that the King James translation is such an obstacle to understanding the Bible. I read Shakespeare dramas forward and backward but decoding King James is beyond me. Many American Mormons may deny it but I know that they do not understand the King James translation either.

    Elder Oaks’s inability to decline pronouns properly in general conference proves that my suspicion is correct even in the case of Apostles with law degrees.

    I cannot claim to understand the Bible any better than Elder Oaks. That is one of the reasons why it can be interesting to study it.

  17. Of course, I blather a lot of nonsense myself. The problem is not that people are wrong but that false statements cannot be challenged in Mormon society.

  18. My reaction to the meetings ran the gamut. As a child, I found them devastatingly boring and stifling. Sunday was by far my least favorite day of the week.

    I later learned to feel uplifted by attending the meetings, though I wonder if I simply felt relieved to finally be doing what I thought that I should be (I had stopped attending for two years). That feeling in my teenage years created a habit where I attended about 96% (yes, I did the math) of my meetings from the time I was 14 until I left the church. Of the absences, most were because of a sick child or something similarly justifiable. I can only recall playing hooky once (on the day after I was married).

    I looked forward to general conference. It moved me to tears on occasion.

    Music was probably the best part of the meetings for me. The talks and the lessons rehashed the same material endlessly to the point of being mind numbing. There was almost never anything fresh and stimulating.

    Toward the end, I attended out of obligation, but I still felt better for attending, for doing my duty.

  19. JB @22 Music was probably the best part of the meetings for me.

    I agree with this. I still miss singing hymns. I especially liked really lively hymns like “Let us all press on in the work of the lord,” esp. when it was accompanied by an organist who knew what s/he was doing and enjoyed it. And I am still moved to tears by “Come, Come Ye Saints,” because it’s about coping as well as possible with very real tragedy. That’s one part of the church I will probably always mourn, at least a little. But the pleasure from singing hymns was so overwhelmed by the horrors of what was actually said (or not said, as Hellmut suggests) in the meetings that I accept with equanimity the loss of that one small joy.

  20. For me the meetings entirely depended on the ward that I was in. I spent time in an extremely diverse downtown ward. Sacrament meeting in that ward was very interesting because of the different religious and cultural backgrounds. Things that The Bretheren frown upon (like the congregation talking back to the speaker in the middle of a talk or yelling “Amen!”) happened quite frequently. The leadership officially discouraged it, but everyone knew that they didn’t really mind. That ward had excellent sacrament meetings, and despite (because?) them not following official protocol I got more out of them than any other sacrament meeting I have attended. The rest of the meetings in that ward were awful because they were usually straight out of the manual with no supplementary material at all.
    After I returned to a more standard ward, I couldn’t stand sacrament meeting at all because they were so monotonous. By this time, I also couldn’t stand sunday school and relief society, even when the lessons were well-prepared, because of the whitewashing. When I stopped attending it was a relief to not have to suffer through the meetings, but they weren’t the reason I left the church.

  21. I almost always enjoy my classes.

    But then again, that’s because I’m usually on the alert for chances to contribute stuff I know that I think the rest of the class doesn’t. When you’re the one making the edgy comments, class is a lot less boring somehow.

    As for Sacrament Meeting, I usually find it a nice chance to read the latest theological article. Right now I’m working on Hugh Nibley’s “Enoch the Prophet.” I read Rough Stone Rolling almost entirely in Sacrament Meeting.

    But I can see people genuinely enjoying Sacrament Meeting.

    Think of it this way…

    Why do people enjoy yoga?

    A lot seem to enjoy it because of the meditative internal-focused kind of mental state which they try to cultivate with it.

    I think spirituality in Church is similar. Spirituality is not something that the Church is supposed to be inflicting upon you. It’s an active mental state that you seek out.

    I usually don’t myself because my brain is so wired that I have a hard time with it. So I just whip out the reading instead.

    But I have experienced it before. Once giving when asked to give a talk, I had prepared something rather hard-hitting and informative. But sitting there, I just let myself take in all the familiar faces in the audience, started thinking about their hopes, dreams, and what they were here for. I felt a quick wash of affection for all of them. I said a quick prayer to help me avoid offending people, or hurting people’s feelings (a real risk with me).

    My wife said it was almost like I was transformed up there on the pulpit. She’d heard me rehearse the talk to her the day before, and she said while the content wasn’t too different, the way I said it was simply remarkably different.

    Divine intervention?

    Just personally giving a damn about people?

    Could have been either one.

    What I do know is that I reached inside and tapped into an inner spirituality. It made a huge difference.

    Again, I think any enjoyment, enlightenment, or benefit you get from Sunday services is going to be something you go out there and get. It’s not just something you can expect God or the Bishop to simply dump on you.

    I know this isn’t going to be well-received, but… It’s just something I’ve observed that the people who bitch the most about how boring Church is are often the people who aren’t really contributing much.

    People just sit in class like a lump, and wait for “fun” to come waltzing around the corner and kick them in the face. Then they wonder why the experience was so boring.

    Just a wild guess, but probably because they – as people… were boring.

    Sorry.

  22. Its just something Ive observed that the people who bitch the most about how boring Church is are often the people who arent really contributing much.

    Yeah. Whereas the ones who sit and read a theological article are contributing SO MUCH.

    If you read carefully, you’ll notice that few of us actually “bitched” about how “boring” church is–in fact, some of us noted that we were grateful when it was *merely* boring, and that it was far too often utterly devoid of intelligent reflection, creating such a stupor of thought that it was almost impossible to seek out the active mental state of spirituality.

  23. Seth said these two gems…
    1. Again, I think any enjoyment, enlightenment, or benefit you get from Sunday services is going to be something you go out there and get.

    2. Just a wild guess, but probably because they as people were boring.

    Seth, first you are dismissive about my church experience. Thanks for reminding me why I don’t go.

    Then, you make a sweeping generalization about anyone who finds the meetings boring…you call them “boring.”

    I shouldn’t have to “got out there and get,” my Sunday enlightenment at church. If I had to work to get it, then I would stay at home and do that. Church should be a place that is inspiring. If it isn’t then it’s not doing it’s job, not me.

    And calling me boring? Wow, you don’t even know me. If you are an example of a Mormon who claims to be christian, then I would rather stay at home and play with my kids.

    You seem like a self righteous &^%$#.

  24. I agree with Seth that there are consumers in every enterprise who are quick to complain and slow to contribute. I don’t think that applies to anyone here, though.

    On the contrary, the people who care the most are also most likely to get into trouble in Mormon society.

    By the way, Boyd Packer explains that dynamic in his infamous address to the All-Church Coordinating Council. Productivity is less important than subservience.

  25. Why do people enjoy yoga?

    I recently started taking yoga classes, and I’ll tell you — if there were someone leading us all in stretches while we zone out the talks, it’s true that I’d probably like Sacrament Meeting.

    Its just something Ive observed that the people who bitch the most about how boring Church is are often the people who arent really contributing much.

    People just sit in class like a lump, and wait for fun to come waltzing around the corner and kick them in the face. Then they wonder why the experience was so boring.

    Just a wild guess, but probably because they as people were boring.

    It’s one thing to say that if our task is, for example, to write and perform a play of our own devising. Then if it’s boring, whose fault is that? But with Sacrament Meeting, it’s a strictly-choreographed event where people are required to carry out an elaborate farce of learning something while the rules prevent new things from being presented. Most members have no control over it (and if they attempt to contribute something sincere and relevant that deviates from the script, they can get escorted to the door, see here).

    When the bishop loosens the rules a bit (@24), it can help, but but even if the bishop wants to make allowances for his cogregation, there’s not much he can do. (And if your bishop is a real stickler for every memo that comes from the bretheren, then as a ward member, there’s nothing you can do about it.)

    p.s. @28, we prefer to avoid name-calling at MSP, even if it’s just punctuation marks. 😉

  26. we prefer to avoid name-calling at MSP, even if its just punctuation marks

    I admit I thought of a few names to call the guy, but I reminded myself that after all, this is SETH R, a guy who, when asked to give a talk, makes the effort to “prepare something rather hard-hitting and informative”–he’s no slacker who just reads a passage from Especially for Mormons or a back-issue of the Ensign–no, his talks are “rather hard-hitting and informative.”

    And on rare occasions, when he simply must say something that “he knows this isnt going to be well-received,” he might take the time to “say a quick prayer to help him avoid offending people, or hurting peoples feelings (a real risk with him).”

    A bit of advice: Seth, say that prayer more often, and make it longer and more substantive in the future.

    And then, consider the possibility that what you think is “rather hard-hitting and informative” might strike others as poorly reasoned, pompous and trite.

    And consider the possibility that if you don’t see the validity in a view point that doesn’t help you maintain your own self-satisfied view of the world, it’s because you’re simply not putting enough effort into gaining wisdom and understanding. They’re not just something you can expect God or the blogosphere to simply dump on you.

  27. Seth… I actually kind of agree with you on one point. If you look at my post on this, I said I enjoyed the classes because I could ask questions and make things lively, despite the fact that the primary topic was always milk, not meat. Sacrament is a different story altogether (as chanson notes – it is scripted and there is nothing I can do about it). So, you’re probably right that people could make their classes more interesting by asking questions. However, I also had one sunday school teacher who banned me from asking questions because they were “too provocative”. So, even there you can’t always control things.

  28. OK, I admit I kinda skimmed many of the comments here (I’ll get to them all, I promise!), but here’s what my experience was.

    When I was a little kid, sacrament was looooong and booooring and unbearable. The seeming length and unbearability was kinda like the unbearability of waiting for Christmas to come on Christmas Eve. I enjoyed prayers (good chance to close my eyes), and I enjoyed songs. I enjoyed the actual eating/drinking of the sacramental bread and water (because who doesn’t like food?). My parents never allowed other snacks or other books or anything but “paying” attention, so there was no escape like that (on the other hand, plenty of speakers came to my parents after some meetings and would say, “Your kids are so attentive during sacrament! What great parenting,” etc.,

    It’s funny. I would DREAD when songs would be skipped (e.g., like how there are only 3 songs on fast sunday).

    I always had great teachers during CTR classes, and they got better for the Valiant classes.

    Growing up changed things a bit. Christmas became less of a big deal. Sacrament became less “long.” It didn’t really become interesting in the sense of the theology ever becoming interesting…but rather, it became less boring in terms of my understanding the social dynamic of the ward. Fast Sundays were fun, because I could think, “Now, what the heck happened in Sister So n’ So’s life.” I glossed over when people said they were “edified” or whatever. Didn’t know/don’t know what that means.

    Classes changed too. Like Seth, I was the one saying the controversial stuff. I made it more of a game than anything, and what I liked more was the stupid things the other kids would say (that had nothing to do with the lesson). THAT’S entertainment.

    Same thing with priesthood classes. It was more social than anything else.

  29. Many of your comments have made me chuckle. Just last week I was on the back row playing a game on my phone. Ever since I bought an internet ready phone, I find myself annoyed that the bench doesn’t recline. Of course that might encourage loud snoring.

    Ultimately I find myself more willing to “endure to the end” for meetings, but if the bishop says hello, I feel I can slip out the door early since he saw me. The bloggernacle has helped considerably, because I have great things to read, in case I forget my Harry Potter or Dan Brown book.

  30. I somewhat enjoyed the meetings as a new member, but much of it went over my head. I *always* enjoyed F&T, right up to resigning from the Church. I liked to see people in a more candid manner. But the meetings did become progressively more terrible as time went on, primarily for the reasons mentioned above – it was always the same old regurgitation, right down to the same wording and phrasing, overandoverandover. Whenever something interesting or different DID happen, it was always awful – like the time the entire Gospel Doctrine class turned on a single person and shouted at him for twenty minutes, or every time some message about clothing or politics was read over the pulpit.

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