Saturday, December 27, 2008

Visit Our Church Meeting

I thought it might be interesting for you if I detailed a typical Sunday service in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our church has a very standardized curriculum, and schedule, so no matter where you go in the world, you will find this same format, and you will find the same curriculum. Most congregations will be on the same lessons on the same day, although this does vary slightly, depending on when they have their own Stake meetings. In our Church, the smallest organized congregation is called a Branch. The next biggest is called a Ward. A group of Wards (with a specified number of members) is called a Stake. A group of Stakes is called a Region. A group of regions is called an Area. There are leaders supervising each of these groups, the top leaders being the first presidency of the Church, with Jesus Christ as the head of the church. With that explanation out of the way, let me describe a normal Sunday in a typical Ward.

The most important meeting we attend is our "Sacrament meeting". It begins with a welcome by a member of the bishopric, followed by an opening hymn, and a prayer given by a member of the congregation. Next the bishopric member will discuss any Ward business, such as callings and releases of people from church assignments. Members are given the opportunity to show, by the raise of hand, whether they support that calling, or oppose it. Most people support these callings, but if, for example, you knew of some serious reason why that person should not be called, you could oppose it. When we raise our hand to support that calling, we are also saying that we are willing to help them however they need to do that calling.

Next comes the most important part of our meeting, which is the administration of the sacrament. The young men of the church are given the privilege of holding the Aaronic Priesthood which has the authority to administer the sacrament. The first ordination in the priesthood is that of deacon. Deacons pass the sacrament to the congregation. The next higher ordination is "Teacher". The teachers prepare the sacrament table. The next higher ordination is "Priest". The Priests bless the sacrament. They also have the authority to baptize.

The partaking of the sacrament is an intensely personal experience. An observer won't see much except for the priesthood brethren passing the sacrament. The main part of our sacrament is the internal worship of each member. It is a time for each person to think about their own life and how it conforms with the Savior's teachings. It is a time to reflect on His sacrifice and this gift that He has given to us. The broken bread is symbolic of His body, which he sacrificed on the cross and subsequently resurrected so that we all might be resurrected some day. The water is symbolic of his blood that was shed in the garden of gethsemane when He suffered for our sins and pains. We look at the taking of the sacrament as a renewal of the covenants we made at baptism. For this reason, non-members aren't encouraged to take the sacrament, since they haven't made those same covenants. The sacrament is the main reason we gather on the Sabbath.

After the administration of the sacrament, we listen to talks given by members of the congregation. They are often given assigned topics, usually based on talks given in our General conference, the scriptures, and from their own testimonies. Usually there is a youth speaker who speaks for about 5 minutes. Then there are usually two more speakers, with a rest hymn or choir performance in between. On the first Sunday of the month we have what is called "Fast and Testimony meeting". On that Sunday, we come fasting, and are given an opportunity to get up and bear our testimony to the congregation. This is all volunteer, and not prearranged. Anyone is welcome to get up and express their feelings about the Savior, the Gospel, and their testimony in general. The meeting ends with a closing hymn and prayer.

That would be enough for most people, but we go on for two more hours. :) The second hour is our Sunday school time. Each year we focus on a different book of scripture. The books we focus on are: Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants/Church History. The third hour we split up, the men going to Priesthood meeting, and the women going to Relief Society. We have a lesson from our manual, focusing on the teachings of the different prophets, studying a different prophet each year. We also take care of business related to our organization. The Relief Society is the largest women's organization in the world. We strive to serve others and relieve their burdens. We have a monthly visiting program to visit each sister in the Ward every month. The men have a similar program.

While the adults are attending their meetings, the children (11 and under) attend "Primary" where they have a lesson with a teacher, and also sing songs and learn together as a group. The youth, (12-18) meet with their same gender friends of their same age group and also have a lesson.

Three hours might seem like a long time to attend church, but what we gain from attending church is the spiritual strength to combat the temptations of the world, and a stronger knowledge of the Gospel. We invite all to come meet with us. All are welcome. As the Savior said to those who asked where He lived, we likewise encourage those who ask about our worship; "Come and see"!

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