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Isn't the purpose of Sacrament meeting to "inspire" the congregation to action rather than provide discourse on doctrine-- the latter being what we get in SS?

Putting aside the relative abilities exhibited by those asked to speak during Sacrament meeting, the only problem I see with a lot of the "finger wagging" is that it is usually about behavior that is uniquely Mormon (i.e. WoW, home/visiting teaching, priesthood authority, temples, accumulating vast supplies of wheat, etc.). Investigators and visitors, and I have confirmed this with a number of them, often have a hard time connecting with the messages delivered during sacrament meeting because of this uniquely Mormon flavor. Combine the unique topics with a tendency of speakers to rely too heavily (IMHO) on quotations from latter-day Church leaders as and what one gets is a recipe for a dish that is truly an acquired taste and one that is often hard for investigators/visitors to swallow. So much of Sacrament meeting is spent preaching to those who've already been fed a healthy dose of Mormonism and have decided that, for the most part, they like it. We as Mormons need to be more conscious about preparing a "spiritual feast" during Sacrament meeting that anyone, no matter their religious tradition, will be happy to enjoy.

(I appologize for the extended food metaphor.)

During Sacrament meeting I want to hear inspirational stories that focus on the core principles of the gospel-- faith and repentance-- and the most universal topics of Mormon and other Christian faiths-- Christ and the Atonement.

Paul, I'd agree. It would be nice if speakers used more scriptures (with a good proportion of those Bible scriptures) to make their points. Those making assignments to speakers now often try to support this by giving the speaker a specific scriptural text to address in their talk, but it doesn't always have the desired effect. People still often revert to personal family stories or Mormon folktales instead of teaching from the scriptures.

Dave, you seriously haven't attended many "sermons" by "trained ministers", at least of the evangelical persuasion, if you think that listening to them would mean avoiding finger wagging. I guess you must be referring to High Anglicanism or Catholicism, otherwise your comment doesn't make much sense.

Have you ever found yourself (gasp!) thinking that maybe having a trained minister to preach a proper sermon wouldn't be so bad?

Nope. I've always assumed that a trained minister would be worse. Besides, though I've fallen asleep in my share of meetings, I really have heard some good talks in my life. My consistent experience with church is that I go into meetings feeling a bit weary ... but by the end of the block I'm usually feeling recharged and cheerful. Oh, and usually by then I'm also about ready for lunch.

like, for example, Italian on 78th and Amsterdam?

The Sacrament Talks aren't just about learning something new. Neither is a "spiritual feast" about being "enlightened" by the speakers.

Sacrament is an intensly communal experience. It's more about the person giving the message and his/her interaction with the congregation than it is about the doctrine taught.

Giving a talk provides a communal benefit to the speaker and makes him/her an active participant rather than a passive hearer. It also gives a communal benefit to the congregation as they are exposed to another one of God's children. We pray for their success and have a vested stake in them (if only for 15 minutes).

The LDS Church has never been primarily about high plilosophy, or doctrinal discourse. It has always been more about community, charity, and Christian good works.

That is frustrating for those of us with a more theoretical bent. But getting down on our hands and knees in the Lord's garden and doing some basic weeding or planting is good for the ego and good for the soul.

I suppose I should note that "finger-wagging" is my own colorful term; it wasn't in the essay. Ms. Berry only called it "exhortation," as I recall.

My favorite (not) response to this is, "If you aren't getting anything out of the meetings, then you aren't coming in the right spirit." I call that "blaming the victim."

It's only every once in a while that I hear a talk that is really, spiritually engaging. They DO happen though. And sacrament time is almost as good as I imagine a Quaker silent meeting would be, with a good 10-15 minutes for quiet contemplation and engaging with my Higher Power du Jour.

Church is mostly boring. There are worse things in life than boredom.

And I agree, Dave, that you can almost never go wrong focusing on Jesus and the things he said and did.

I suppose it would be helpful if the participants in these kind of discussions disclosed whether they had ever actually attended a service conducted by professional clergy. They also ought to mention how many different professionals they have heard and in which denominations (to give a sense of how isolated their examples are).

I've heard sermons on talk radio. Some were good, some were inane.

But I'm pretty sure that longing for professionals by those who haven't sampled them representatively is just "grass-is-always-greener" kind of thinking.

I'm with Seth. Before I joined the LDS chruch, I was "Timothy" of my congreagation in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)--a minister-to-be, and in pursuing my studies I had opportunity to hear countless pastors, reverends, & priests ply their craft. The portion of professional clergy who can give a truly enlightening and edifying talk, in my experience, really is about the same as it is in our church with the members doing it.

We all get different gifts of the spirit whether we take a degree at a seminary or not. Some have the gift of words, and others have other gifts. You never know who else in your congreagation is being touched deeply in their own way by that banal talk that Sister So-and-so is giving about her trip to Cancun and the what-she-feels-is-a-spiritual experience that she had at the cruise buffet on her way back, y'know?

So, yeah, I'd say it's a bit of a grass is greener.

As far as the alternate voices--I read Elder Oaks's talk to which Nate linked, and my mind is so full of the implications of some of what I read for blogging and whatnot, that I had no room left for Mauss's essay. I'll have to come back to it. Much to mull over...

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