My sister recently sent the planned text for the sacrament meeting program in her ward (she is involved in the planning) to me and the rest of our siblings for our suggestions. It was fine, lovely even. It was full of Christmas hymns with brief introductory and concluding texts. Sound familiar?
Other than this type of sacrament meeting dominated by Christmas hymns, the only other format I’ve seen is one or two Christmas talks supported by a few hymns — basically a normal Sacrament Meeting where the content is focused on Christmas.
Is there room for something else?
One of the most impactful Sacrament Meetings I ever attended was about 35 years ago. It consisted of one ward member after another getting up and reading the text of “I am a Child of God” in their mission language. It was simple, emphasized a clear gospel doctrine, and I think left ward members spiritually nourished. And chief among its virtues is that it was so different that no one tuned out.
One of the early focuses of the restoration was a reaction to creeds. The christian churches that Mormon converts came from generally had a “creed” that defined their beliefs. In the Catholic and Anglican Churches, their creeds were translated into written liturgies that covered the year and determined the content of the weekly services. From what I can tell, Jewish services also have a liturgical calendar that determines what happens in weekly worship.
With our rejection of creeds we also have rejected the idea of having a liturgical calendar for Sacrament Meeting. [Ironically, the correlation efforts of the last century (yes, correlation started over 100 years ago) have resulted in a calendar for the rest of our meetings.] This means that we have a rough outline of services that local leaders fill in with content, which is supposed to fit local needs.
Repetition like this has its benefits and drawbacks, of course. We feel comfortable and attracted to the familiar. And the rhythms of our worship can also teach us in ways that can’t easily be replicated otherwise.
But, repetition also makes it easy to “tune out,” to not pay attention to the details that we have heard over and over and over again. So when something breaks the pattern, we pay attention.
Years ago I read a book on graphic design by Roger Black. In the book he said something like, “The secret of good design is knowing all the rules of good design, and breaking at least one.” I suspect our liturgy—how we worship—is like this. The patterns are great and important. But from time to time they need to be broken.
So with Christmas approaching (and recognizing that this is probably too late for most wards this year), I want to ask whether and how we can change our worship at Christmas.
What would you like to see?