(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here.) I avoided it for 50 years, but finally, at the too-early time of 9 a.m., my family and I headed into the ward chapel building Sacrament-first. It was a grudge-walk for me. Despite rumors that “80 percent of the church does Sacrament-first blocs,” I had never seen it before, and definitely did not want it.
Sacrament meeting for me has always been a refuge; the last meeting! After the closing hymn and prayer we can go home and observe the Sabbath in bliss that includes reading anything from Charles Bukowski to James E. Talmage with later spiritual treats that include “Downton Abbey,” “17 Miracles,’ “The Simpsons,” “Baptists at our Barbecue,” “Silent Sundays” on Turner Classic Movies and “God’s Army.” When the Sacrament meeting occasionally went overtime, I quietly seethed.
Of course, I’m old enough to recall the multiple Sunday meetings schedule in the LDS Church that were scrapped a couple of generations ago. I was young but it was early to rise for Sunday School while mom and dad mysteriously congregated in other parts of the ward building. Eventually, we all came home, ate lunch and stretched out for a while. Later in the day, as the afternoon started to wane, we headed back to the ward house for an hour-plus Sacrament meeting, the one with all ages in attendance. (Primary, by the way, took place in the middle of the week. I think it was on Wednesday.)
But even the extended “start-stop-start” Sunday schedule of the past was a break from earlier LDS members’ observance. During the 19th century, faithful Latter-day Saints observed “Fast Sunday” as “Fast Thursday.” That must have made for a lot of rumbling stomachs during the work day. Brigham Young explained “Fast Thursday” 150 or so years ago:
“You know that the first Thursday in each month we hold as a fast day. How many here know the origin of this day? Before tithing was paid, the poor were supported by donations. They came to Joseph and wanted help, in Kirtland, and he said there should be a fast day, which was decided upon. It was to be held once a month, as it is now, and all that would have been eaten that day, of flour, or meat, or butter, or fruit, or anything else, was to be carried to the fast meeting and put into the hands of a person selected for the purpose of taking care of it and distributing it among the poor.” – Journal of Discourses, 12:115.
(“Fast Thursday” ended in 1896, by the way. Things were a lot different in many ways those days. The LDS garment stretched from your feet to your neck. There was even a garment collar attached for a while.)
All in all, a Sacrament-first Sunday started off better than expected. People trailed in well into the meeting, but that probably had more to do with the 9 a.m. start than the meetings’ switch. The meeting ended on time. Sunday School stayed in the middle, and the final meeting now — at least for me — is priesthood. That turned out to have a potentially silver-lining. We high priests are not known for going beyond the appointed hour. In fact, as we dismissed five minutes before the hour, I was positively in love with the new meeting bloc. I envisioned a family quickly packed into the minivan, home a few minutes later and three minutes later, myself parked on the easy chair, dressed in sweats, with a book in my hands.
It was not to be. The meeting switch presents a new challenge called “gather the family.” It takes about 10 minutes and usually involves a hunt for at least one child not nearly as obsessed as I with getting home. (Relief Society, also a final meeting in the bloc, cares way less for early dismissals than high priests. I should have realized that.)
So, my son and I stand in the cultural hall, by the exit, waiting for all the Gibson family to gather. I’m seething. He’s running in circles around the basketball court. Eventually, we’re out the ward building about 10 minutes after the appointed hour, just as if a Sacrament meeting had contained an over-exuberant speaker and gone overtime. The occasional has become the norm.