Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » They Had Questions, 1953

They Had Questions, 1953

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 06, 2009

While not as amusing as the “girl queries” of the young women, the questions asked by Sunday School teachers are more illuminating of a bygone era of the Church. Notice that rather than “the Church” or “the Brethren” being cited, the ultimate authority here is the “General Board” of the Sunday School – recalling a pre-Correlation independence of all the auxiliaries (we often cite the loss of independence of the Relief Society, forgetting that all the other auxiliaries also surrendered their autonomy to submit to priesthood authority). Can you imagine asking the Church today if you can substitute your own course of study in place of the lesson manual everybody else in the Church is using? or about the propriety of performing, in effect, a light-and-laser show during the passing of the Sacrament?

Q. We have noticed that in some Gospel Doctrine classes the choice of a course of study has been left to the class members. What is the General Board’s attitude on this question?

A. The General Board is emphatically against such a practice. Ward superintendencies should guard against it. Your General Board recommends and urges that every class in the Sunday School, including the Gospel Doctrine class, should follow the outlined course of study.

One of the difficulties arising from a choice of a non-prescribed course of study is that the following year the class might be on the same subject as the one just completed. For example, the recommended Gospel Doctrine course for 1953 is “Teachings of the Old Testament.” Suppose the teacher or class decides to study the Book of Mormon instead. It is possible that the 1954 course might be on the Book of Mormon. There is an even greater objection to choosing a course in the class. Such a practice brings a possibility of the class getting into subjects that are afield from the Restored Gospel.

Q. What is the General Board’s attitude regarding perfect attendance awards?

A. There is no objection to a superintendency’s presenting little mementos or other recognitions to Sunday School members attaining a perfect attendance during the year. But care should be given not to over-emphasize these awards. Faithful attendance at Sunday School should always be encouraged. But there are occasions when it would be more proper for the child to remain home than to attend Sunday School. No one who is ill, particularly with a contagious infection, should attend Sunday School. He is not only impairing his own health but also exposing others.

Q. From time to time recommended programs for such special Sundays as Easter and Mother’s Day appear in The Instructor. Does the General Board wish every Sunday School in the Church to follow these programs as outlined?

A. Programs for Easter, Mother’s Day and other special Sundays printed in The Instructor are suggested only. If the local superintendency feels that it can improve on the printed outline, then they are encouraged to do so. The General Board’s outline is given with the thought of being helpful.

However, if a locally prepared program is to be presented, care should be given to see that it is in keeping with the Restored gospel of the Master. Musical numbers that would be more fitting in the ballroom should not be presented in the Sabbath School. The General Board also counsels against long addresses in place of a special program, particularly where there are small children in attendance.

Q. Is there any objection to a teacher’s reading a continued story to the class, once she has completed the lesson presentation?

A. Yes. The 45 minutes allowed for classroom discussion should be devoted to the lesson outlined. A good, prepared teacher will discover that this is all too little time to present the lesson fully. The ward superintendency should visit classrooms periodically to learn what is being taught. Reading of serial stories should be discouraged. Such a practice usually indicates that the teacher has not adequately prepared the lesson.

Q. We are planning a stake Sunday School library. Do you have some suggestions?

A. The General Board suggests that you devote your planning and efforts to building up Sunday School libraries in the wards, rather than attempt to create a stake library. Experience has shown that stake libraries are generally not a success. Your stake might build up an excellent stake library and encourage its use. But the problem comes in the use. A stake library usually is not readily accessible to all wards. Even when it is, the stake library falls short. There will be a number of teachers in your stake desiring the same pictures, the same maps, and other teaching aids at the same time – because these teachers will be teaching the identical lesson on a given Sunday.

For these – and other – reasons your General Board stresses the building up of ward libraries, where they are close to the teachers and can supply the demands. A stake board might encourage better ward libraries by presenting a teaching aids exhibit at a union meeting or stake convention. This has been done by a number of stakes.

Q. In some of our senior Sunday Schools, the leaders are using the very youngest children almost exclusively for both opening and closing prayers. I feel that they should increase their range of selection from the age standpoint. We would like to have some definite counsel in the matter.

A. We feel it is a mistake to specialize on any one group for prayers, 2-1/2-minute talks or sacrament gems. The teenagers should be called upon for these opportunities to participate as frequently, or perhaps more so, as the younger groups. It is participation that brings testimony. One can lose one’s testimony through lack of participation.

Q. I’m under the impression that visual aids may be harmful as well as helpful, and if left up to the individual teachers to gather their own.

A. You are certainly right in your belief that visual aids can be harmful rather than helpful. An enrichment aid – whether it be a picture, parable, story, scriptural reading, film strip or song – should reinforce the lesson objective.

The Instructor is replete with suggestions on teaching aids and with instructions on how to collect, classify, preserve and use them. “Collecting and Preserving Source Material,” by Leland H. Monson on page 12 of the 1953 Sunday School convention Instructor, is excellent. the Sunday School Librarian’s Guidebook should be accessible to all Sunday School teachers. It contains lists of excellent pictures, maps, flannelboard materials and other helps – and tells where you may purchase them. The Guidebook is available for thirty cents at the Deseret Book Company, 44 East South Temple Street, Salt Lake City 1, Utah.

Q. Should we kneel for prayer in our Prayer Meeting?

A. There is no objection, although such a practice is not a recommendation of the General Board, except where conditions would tend to lend dignity and reverence to the Prayer Meeting.

Q. From the handbook and instructions given at our last Sunday School convention, we understand that 2-1/2-minute talks should be prepared with the help of teacher and parents – first given in class and then selected for presentation to the Sunday School assembled. One of our superintendents says that such procedure is wrong, and he has established a special class for those who may be assigned to give the talks, and the opening and closing prayers.

A. Children need instruction in the giving of prayers as well as in the 2-1/2-minute talks and the sacrament gems. They should be instructed in “the sacred and reverential language of prayer.”

It is the responsibility of the superintendency to see that they are adequately instructed and that these parts of the worship service are effectively given. it is also the opportunity and responsibility of the class leader. The 2-1/2-minute talks should grow naturally out of the lessons.

Q. We have heard that the General Board looks with disfavor on the practice of showing illuminated Bible pictures during the sacrament service. Does this mean that illuminated pictures, such as those shown in the side of a large box, with a light in the box, should not be used in our Junior Sunday School?

A. It is true that illuminated or any other kind of pictures should not be used during the sacrament service. Nothing should be added to the simple sanctity of the service – nothing that could become a rite. It is a period for meditation on the life of our Redeemer. The general authorities have suggested that there be no music during the passing of the sacrament. However, the use of pictures, including illuminated ones, is encouraged in classroom teaching – whenever pictures can be used to enhance the lesson objective.

Q. In some of our larger wards of the Smithfield Stake our enrollment for the Gospel Doctrine class exceeds three hundred. If we take the roll by calling names, it requires almost half the entire period. any suggestions?

A. A roll should be taken for every Sunday School class. Every Gospel Doctrine class should have a class secretary. She might take the roll silently. Or, two minutes before the beginning of the lesson presentation might be devoted to passing out small slips of paper on which each class member could be asked to sign his name and address, and indicate whether or not he is a ward member or visitor. The class secretary could gather these up speedily and quietly, and then mark the class roll from the slips of paper, after the lesson is given.

Q. In our ward we like to follow General Board instructions all the way. We want to have 100% subscriptions to The Instructor. On our faculty staff are a husband and wife. Are both expected to subscribe to the magazine in achieving our 100%?

A. No. The General Board’s definition of 100% subscription to The Instructor is “one subscription in the home of every officer and teacher.” In other words, if there are two or more who are teaching Sunday School from one family unit, only one subscription is expected for the home. But once you have achieved 100% Instructor subscriptions, your job has only begun. Then do all you can, through faculty meetings an personal contacts, to encourage the use of the magazine. It will help your teaching immensely.

Q. What is a good program to follow in regard to children’s birthdays in Junior Sunday School? Are they observed? If so, what are some good ways to make this recognition different than that of the home and of the midweek Primary observance?

A. A child’s birthday is a very special occasion to him and warrants personal attention by all of his close associates. Most homes recognize this opportunity and plan some happy event for the day. The Primary association, too, in its outlined program provides an outstanding opportunity for a child to be honored by his associates as they sing to him, and for him to honor himself in a generous act of “birthday pennies” for a worthy cause.

In recognition of these two fine experiences which most children have each birthday, and because Junior Sunday School is a worship service on the Sabbath, no regular birthday observation is planned in its program. Class teachers will make the best contribution as they quietly join with the child in the joy of his growing up and weave this significance into the lesson presentation.

The devotional exercises are planned as a full program of worship for children and will meet the needs of the young members of the Church best when they are kept on this plane. Any focus on a child’s birthday would be done in announcing his developing abilities of performance or on his baptism, as with the 8-year-olds.

Thoughtful coordinators, as they plan closely with class teachers, will find satisfying ways to note with children that growing up means growing in responsibility.



  1. And where on earth did that class of 300 members meet? Or was the actual attendance just a fraction of that?

    I like the question about what it means to have 100% subscriptions to the Instructor. The weightier matters of the law always were my favorites! :-)

    Comment by Mark B. — November 6, 2009 @ 10:52 am

  2. Yes! When I read that one, I thought immediately of the so-called family history classes which focus exclusively on the weighty matter of whether to enter surnames in caps or mixed case, and provide no guidance whatsoever on finding the names to record.

    As for where a class that large meets (assuming that was actual attendance), remember that most wards met in single-ward buildings in 1953 so the class probably met in the chapel. The same Instructor is just starting to offer suggestions, as if they were revolutionary, on how to handle Sunday School when two wards had to share a building and they could no longer both meet at 10:00. I think the only time I’ve ever had the luxury of a one-ward chapel was in a small logging-camp town in northern California!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 6, 2009 @ 11:20 am

  3. How often were question-and-answer lists like this published? It’s interesting to see what concerned people then. Now we’re told to ask questions of our local leaders rather than writing to Church headquarters. Was that a gradual change or was it set forth as a policy at some particular time?

    Comment by Tamary — November 6, 2009 @ 11:30 am

  4. Tamary, many but not all issues of the Instructor answer such questions; sometimes they’ll have just one, and sometimes a whole page, so I guess they answered them as the questions came in, or as they had space in the magazine.

    I’m not sure how abrupt the change from encouraging to discouraging questions was — that’s something I’ll have to watch for.

    I remember that in the early ’70s both the Ensign and the New Era published the answers to member questions. They seemed to be genuine questions asked by members, and answered by invited experts, but it’s also possible, I suppose, that they were staged questions used to provoke an article that the editor wanted to write? I dunno. Those features at least gave the appearance to the members that it was okay, even great, to write to Salt Lake like that.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 6, 2009 @ 11:40 am

  5. What exactly did they do with those attendance rolls from Sunday School, etc? I know at one time, we had to indicate how many folks on our ward rosters were not attending any meetings, but I’m not sure even that happens any more. Even home teaching and visiting teaching numbers seem to have slipped in importance. I can’t remember the last time I heard a bishop in our ward ask why the statistics weren’t up to date in the MIS. I also can’t remember the last time I saw someone actually recording attendance in our ward, or any ward that I’ve been in for a couple of decades.

    Comment by kevinf — November 6, 2009 @ 11:52 am

  6. Other than I know we still record sacrament meeting attendance (numbers only), which is used to calculate budget allowances.

    Comment by kevinf — November 6, 2009 @ 11:54 am

  7. All the old rolls are here in the church archives — the only use I’ve ever known anybody to put them to is to demonstrate that somebody lived in southern Utah during the nuclear tests and was therefore eligible for Downwinder payments. We still pass around a roll in our ward, but I have no idea whether it is used for anything at all, much less preserved. Hmmm. Something else to ponder as I lie awake at night.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 6, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

  8. Our ward clerk has to have the report on RS, Primary, YM and YW (and I assume SS) people not attending, as well as the HT and VT entered into the computer by the 10th of every month. He says the information then goes to the stake and then the church, but the only data that is used toward budgets for the wards are the “statistics” months of March, June, Sept, and Dec. My bishop says that our budget from the stake/church takes into consideration all of the above attendance as well as the Sacrament Meeting attendance. We have rolls kept in all of the SS classes.

    Comment by Maurine — November 6, 2009 @ 9:20 pm

  9. Like Mark, I love the question about 100% subscriptions. I hope the answer given is still in effect, so that my household isn’t pulling the numbers down by not having multiple church magazine subscriptions. :)

    Comment by Ziff — November 6, 2009 @ 11:44 pm

  10. As to the 300 member gospel doctrine class – remember how large some of the wards were at that time. Some had 1000+ members. Now the whole ward is kept not much larger than that one class!

    Comment by Rosemary — November 7, 2009 @ 5:36 am

  11. Thanks for posting this.
    I was waiting for the laser show you mentioned, but it was just a transparent picture with a light bulb behind it for the kids to look at during the junior sunday school sacrament. Not terribly daring, but I liked the answer that they didn’t want anything besides the sacrament to be something that was always done (except now white shirts).

    Comment by jks — November 7, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

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