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Attitudes and Manners: Discussion 4 — Courtesy in Church

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 26, 2011

Discussion 4 – Courtesy in Church

For Tuesday, January 9, 1962

Objective: To emphasize that we honor our Father in heaven when we practice and encourage respect for others in Church and for the edifices themselves.

Because of the constant and varied needs which our Church edifices serve, they receive hard wear under normal circumstances. Only when every member considerately co-operates to protect these buildings can their sacred influence be fully enjoyed. This respect for churches and people is a visible component of reverence.

Children, as well as people of all ages, are welcomed to our Church services. Nearly every ward can point with pride to large families who attend meetings together and whose deportment reflects understanding of the purpose of the service by being reverent and courteous; however, there is evidence that many are yet in the learning process of acquiring these attributes.

The joy of understanding the “good news” of the gospel message and feeling the close relationship as brothers and sisters, characterize the Latter-day Saints as friendly. however, it behooves us to exercise caution lest this attitude beget noisy sociability to the extent that it becomes discourteous and irreverent.

Parental Responsibility

Courtesy in church is a lesson in living which should not be neglected. It can best be learned in the intimacy of the family circle, where each member can be instructed properly in his obligations and privileges. President McKay has said:

It has been truly said that reverence is the noblest state in which a man can live in the world. If that is true, then irreverent man has a crudeness about him that is repellent. …

Reverence and obedience to law should begin at home. Indeed, too much emphasis cannot be laid upon the responsibility of parents to teach their children reverence for God in all things sacred, and to honor and uphold the law. …

Disorder injures the child who makes it. he should learn that when he is in society there are certain things which he cannot do with impunity. He cannot trespass upon the rights of his associates. (Gospel Ideals, pp. 224 and 225).

This important lesson should not be left for religious leaders on the scene, except under unusual circumstances when mischievous children are found in disturbing or destructive acts. Parents, to whom such an incident is reported, should co-operate with the leaders in helping the child to understand the seriousness of the error. A proper plan for restitution, if necessary, should be considered as much for the child’s benefit as for his obligations to the Church.

Polite Promptness

It is distracting from reverence when people arrive late for Church services. It is courteous to make every effort to be in place before the prelude music begins. To avoid tardiness requires parental planning of home preparations for Church attendance, even on the day previous. Emergencies that occasionally make late arrival unavoidable are recognized, but to be habitually late bespeaks selfishness.

Helps for Children

If it is necessary to bring a little food or nursing bottle to Church, these foods should be handled with great care to prevent them from crumbling or spilling on the benches or on the floor. These areas should be checked by the parents before leaving the chapel to make sure that they are clear of litter.

Observing the following suggestions bespeaks thoughtful courtesy to other worshipers and contributes to teaching reverence to children:

1. If “quiet toys” are necessary, they should be limited to the unbreakable type that do not scratch, rattle, or jingle.

2. Use of crayons or pencils should be confined to the paper that parents may provide for the child.

3. Help the child to understand that draperies and curtains are “no no” items and should not be touched or pulled.

4. Little shoes with metal taps or trims that will scratch should be kept off the benches.

5. Hymn books are part of the necessary equipment for worship. They deserve equal care and protection with the furnishings.

Part of the preparation for the Sabbath day should be that of reminding little tots and teens of proper behavior in Church meetings.

It is wise for parents with small children to sit near the aisle or close to the exit into the “cry-room” or hall, so that if it is necessary to take the child from the chapel, it may be done without disturbing a row of people. A disorderly child should be taken from the chapel at once, but not home, or else the child will learn it can go home if it disturbs. When a child is quiet he may be brought back into the chapel. Repeating this process as often as necessary will teach church behavior to the child.

The passing of the sacrament is a sacred period. Children can be helped to fold their hands during the prayer, and learn the sacredness of this ordinance if not allowed to play during the service.

Courtesy of Appreciation

Strangers attending Church services are generally welcomed by those appointed to do so at the entrance to the chapel, recognized in the classes which they attend, and introduced to the members. Following the service, they should be welcomed by members and made to feel a part of the group. Certainly in Relief Society this aspect of courtesy should not be overlooked.

Except for rare emergencies, it is rude to leave religious services before the closing prayer has been offered. President McKay said:

Children should be impressed with the inappropriateness of confusion and disorder in a worshiping assembly, and should be made to realize that it is the height of rudeness to leave service before dismissal. Young people who ignore such proprieties are two hundred and fifty years behind the times. They should have lived in colonial days when just to make sure that they stayed out the service, young men were locked in their pews by their superiors. (Conference Report, April 1937, page 30).

When Church Representatives Come to You

When representatives of the ward (ward teachers, Relief Society visiting teachers, Magazine representatives, and others) come to the home, they should be treated with deference. Treat them as special guests, and turn off any television, record player, or radio that happens to be playing while these visitors are in the home. Family members should be taught by example to radiate warmth, friendliness, interest, and respect for the callings of these people who visit homes in the spirit of service.

Questions for Discussion

1. Suggest ways and means parents may employ to teach children respect and care for the chapel and public property.
2. Discuss the question: How should a parent react when a Church officer or teacher corrects her child or informs the parent of his misbehavior?
3. If children are observed running in the chapel, halls or rooms, should one remind them to desist or just ignore them? How do you do?



21 Comments »

  1. I love this tidbit: “It is courteous to make every effort to be in place before the prelude music begins.”

    My wife is one of our ward organists, and her preludes are quite lovely. She is quite masterful as guiding the reverence of the congregation through her prelude.

    President Packer told us in one of our leadership meetings years ago that often the most significant revelation that comes in sacrament meeting comes during the prelude music.

    Comment by Paul — May 26, 2011 @ 7:47 am

  2. I try to be in my seat about ten minutes early because I love listening to prelude music and getting centered. Unfortunately, that’s the time that ward leaders are walking up and down the chapel aisles shaking hands and greeting everybody, and when ward members two rows ahead or three rows back are leaning over and calling or tapping to get my attention because they want to be friendly, too. Sociability vs. meditation — they can’t coexist, and the noisier one always wins. /grimace/

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 26, 2011 @ 8:18 am

  3. Second hand story, related by an Area 70 at regional training I attended some years ago:

    The brethren were gathered wherever they gather for a meeting. Their rule is to be in their seats 10-15 minutes before the meeting starts. Two of the 70 meet in the aisle and chat together. Elder Packer gets up from the stand, walks to them and asks them to sit quietly and not to disrupt the meeting.

    (Just invite Elder Packer to your sacrament meeting…)

    Comment by Paul — May 26, 2011 @ 8:23 am

  4. Ah, the good old days when young men were locked into their pews…

    Comment by HokieKate — May 26, 2011 @ 9:03 am

  5. The quote from President McKay about the rudeness of leaving before dismissal brings to mind counsel by Joseph Smith that if you have to leave a meeting early, then leave well before the end so it doesn’t seem you’re just trying to beat everyone else out the door. I don’t know where I would find it now, so take it with appropriate second-hand limitations.

    Comment by John Mansfield — May 26, 2011 @ 9:47 am

  6. Brigham Young sure used to rail at people rushing out of the Tabernacle before the closing exercises.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 26, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  7. I’ve always wondered what the expectations for children’s behavior has been in the past. The 60s don’t seem too strict. At what point did crayons and crackers become commonplace? Before that were they expected to sit noiselessly, motionless, and bolt upright? At what developmental stage were children expected to begin behaving flawlessly?

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — May 26, 2011 @ 11:04 am

  8. I think we’d find in the 19th and much of the 20th centuries the expectation that kids (and therefore at least their mothers) wouldn’t even be attending Sacrament Meeting. I’ll watch for indications of expectations and see if we can all pick up any pattern in behavioral demands once kids were encouraged to be there.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 26, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

  9. The advice herein is about how I was raised in the ’60s for late Sunday afternoon sacrament meeting. I distinctly remember being told not to touch the long curtains. I also remember that the rule was no playing until after the sacrament was passed. I also remember that my shoes had to come off before standing on the pew because they made noise walking up and down (I can remember being about 2 or so, and standing beside my daddy waiting for the sacrament to be passed to us).

    I know for a fact that I was noisy and not a well-behaved child, and that for some years prior to widowhood my mom sat with us alone because my daddy was in the bishopric, so I’m sure it wasn’t easy to keep bringing me and my younger siblings to church. But the pattern established by age six of going to evening Sacrament meeting was so strong in me that when the family that cared for my brother and I after my father’s death proposed skipping sacrament meeting one Sunday, I was shocked.

    Comment by Coffinberry — May 26, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

  10. One more thought… remember those “Quiet Books” that it seemed every Relief Society made and sold at the ward Bazaars? You could tie and snap and count and slip things in little pockets and match colors and shapes and put the animals in their dens or caves or cages.

    I loved those.

    Comment by Coffinberry — May 26, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

  11. Me, too. I made a couple for my niece and nephew when they were young.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 26, 2011 @ 1:30 pm

  12. Coffinberry, I was a perfect angel as a child. I sat quietly every Sunday and I never fought with my younger brother during the sacrament. That is my story and I’m sticking to it.

    My father was frequently away on ship as he was in the Navy, and so my mother would attend church with the 5 kids. Her friend was in a similar situation, but with 6 kids. So the two of them would take over a pew and sit at each end to corral us. My mother used these rules as well.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — May 26, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

  13. #5 The sentiment you recall is taught it Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

    It is an insult to a meeting for persons to leave just before its close. If they must go out, let them go half an hour before. No gentlemen will go out of a meeting just at closing. –p.287

    Original source stated as “DHC 5:338-339 (April 7, 1843.)”

    Comment by Clark — May 26, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

  14. The “no toys or coloring until after the sacrament” must have been ingrained well, since that was my family’s rule growing up in the ’80s.

    I thought this set of rules holds up extremely well 50 years after the fact, and was very well written, too. (The phrase “there is evidence that many are yet in the learning process of acquiring these attributes,” is more charitable than I would have written it!)

    Finally, I like that this line “This respect for churches and people is a visible component of reverence,” implies that there are other, invisible components of reverence as well.

    Comment by Clark — May 26, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  15. I wonder if we’ve moved to the wrong extreme in these sorts of things in some ways, though.

    In (what’s the word?—not contradiction, maybe problematization) to the sentiments in #2 and #3, i’d suggest that everyone pay attention to the video feed in the minutes preceding general conference sessions (aside, of course, from the Sunday morning one). You’ll see the general authorities of all levels sitting in their seats, chatting quietly with each other, even (gasp and shock!) laughing. In general, when President Monson comes in, you’ll see him chat with people as he’s on his way to his seat.

    Given all that, i have to wonder whether we’re really supposed to sit as ultra-quietly in the chapel as some of our local church leaders like to tell us.

    Comment by David B — May 26, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

  16. David, I do suspect that pre-meeting reverence is a “thing” more important to Pres. Packer than to many others, including many other GAs. But I don’t do it (or try to do it) because I’ve been told to; I do it because I have just hiked 20 minutes to get to church, and I’ve been fighting the wind or rain or heat all the way, as well as puffing a bit because I’m no Olympian, and nursing a sore right knee. I really do appreciate a few minutes of separation between that not-so-pleasant physical exertion and Sacrament Meeting, to catch my breath and settle down and focus. Prelude music helps me do that far better than the rush of ward business and jokey welcoming and announcement of whichever GAs are present and presiding in the ward today and aren’t we so very lucky to have so many of them living withing our ward boundaries, brothers and sisters? which begins most of my ward meetings.

    If somebody is smiling and trying to catch people’s eyes and reaching out a hand to shake, that’s one thing. But if somebody is sitting quietly, maybe with her eyes closed and maybe with a look of concentration on her face, it would be a matter of courtesy, I think, for people to refrain from grabbing her shoulder and giving her a rude shake as they announce that they’ve been working on remembering her name, “so welcome to church, Sister Purcel — it’s Ardeth, right?”

    But if other people feel that those minutes are an imposition forced on them by someone in the hierarchy, something which stifles their natural gregariousness, I can understand why they might not recognize my own preference for stillness.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 26, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

  17. My husband and I enforce the “no drawing/playing until after the Sacrament” rule because that way our kids are better behaved during the most important part. I remind them that it’s the time that we all quietly think about Jesus, etc. I also explain the meaning of the Sacrament. I don’t do this every Sunday, but often enough that they should actually be viewing it as something other than a lame snacktime.

    Prelude music…I’d like to hear that again.

    Comment by ErinAnn — May 26, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

  18. @Ardis (#16): Part of the problem, of course, is that reverence has so many different meanings—and, also, that different people need different things to help them feel reverence. I mean, i know that if my very-extroverted self couldn’t interact with other people as part of the process, it’d be much harder for me to feel the worshipfulness that is inherent in full reverence.

    My favored solution, i suppose, would be for everyone to simply let everyone else know what they need. I’m suspecting, though, that that’s simply because of my own gregariousness, and it might be a bit more difficult for the introverted to find that a workable plan. Others’ thoughts?

    Comment by David B — May 27, 2011 @ 10:07 am

  19. I understand reverence to be “a deep respect for,” so respecting others privacy or need for solitude seems natural.

    I think that the challenge of reverence is exacerbated by the fact that with the 3-hour-block, no time is allowed for socializing and greeting. The OP notes the “close relationship as brothers and sisters.. beget[s] noisy sociability.” There is no outlet for this–or the myriad odds-and-ends of business (notes form the ward clerk, a comment from the primary president, etc.)during the block, so it naturally spills into the prelude and postlude time surrounding sacrament.

    Oh, and I love the cry rooms that some older chapels have. I think that such a space would do wonders for increasing reverence.

    Comment by Clark — May 27, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  20. David, other than the body language I’ve described, how can an introvert “let everyone else know what they need” in a way that an extrovert will recognize and respect it? I suppose turning and saying “Don’t touch me! I don’t want to talk to you right now!” could be effective, but probably not conducive to anybody’s definition of reverence. :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 27, 2011 @ 11:19 am

  21. Ardis: I’m thinking a big scarlet S (for silence) on your hat would do it. :)

    More seirously, i think that just saying something like “It’s Ardis—but sorry, i really need some time to think right now.”

    I have to say, though, that grabbing someone’s shoulder to get their attention (as you described) seems a bit, well, off to me. For people that abrupt, there may be nothing you can do. Perhaps have your open scriptures on your lap, whether or not you’re actually reading them? If you’re engaged in something that’s visibly an activity, you may have more luck.

    To expand slightly on what i said earlier, though, reverence can mean a lot of different things to different people. For some, it’s a deeply and profoundly individual act. For me, yeah, reverence can be an individual thing, but it’s at its strongest when it’s a communal experience. Of course, i don’t know that i’m with Clark in defining reverence as “a deep respect for”—i see it as being something more like “worshipfulness”. Of course, worshipfulness itself means different things to different people, so we’re back at the beginning… (And even if we accept Clark’s definition, we run into the problem of trying to balance some people’s need for silence with others’ need for community.)

    Oh—and another voice in favor of cry rooms here. I know that they’ve fallen out way of fashion in religious architecture, but anytime i’ve been to weddings and funerals with my kids in the (Catholic) church right by where i grew up, the cry room has been a marvelous thing.

    Comment by David B — May 27, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

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