By Nicole Crook
The typical Sunday worship service in the LDS Church lasts three hours and is comprised of three segments: first, Sacrament Meeting, then Sunday School, and finally Relief Society or Priesthood. In some locations, this schedule runs the opposite way. Sacrament Meeting is the longest, and most important, of these meetings.
There is no formal dress code for church, but we are instructed to wear our best to show respect for the Lord. Women tend to wear modest dresses and skirts. Men usually wear slacks, button-up shirts, ties, and sometimes suit jackets. All people are welcome, regardless of their clothing.
Sacrament Meeting is where church members renew their baptismal covenants by taking the Sacrament, similar to what is referred to as communion or the Lord's Supper among other Christian denominations. This meeting lasts 70 minutes, but can to go longer depending on the speakers. The meeting is conducted by the Bishop (the lay LDS administrative equivalent of the pastor/preacher/priest) or one of his two counselors. The meeting begins with a brief welcome, followed by a congregational song and a prayer. The music is generally slow and traditional, though the speed does depend on where you happen to be worshipping and who is leading the music.
Taking the Sacrament is the most important part of the service. Before the meeting begins, young men prepare the Sacrament, putting the bread on trays and filling tiny cups with water. After the opening prayer, the congregation sings a hymn specifically selected to help us remember Jesus Christ and what He has done for us. During the hymn, the young men break the bread into small pieces. Once the song is finished, the young men bless the bread. Deacons (young men aged 12-14) bring the bread on trays to the congregants. Each member serves the person next to him or her from the tray.
Once the bread has been passed around, the water is then blessed and the same process is followed. During this time we think of our promise to serve Christ and one another. Most Sacrament Meetings have sermons (or "talks" in LDS terminology) prepared by members of the congregation (including teenagers) on subjects selected by the Bishop. The talks vary in length, from short testimonies to 15-20 minute discourses. Since LDS have a lay ministry, some speakers are better able to deliver a talk then others.
Once a month there is a "Fast and Testimony" meeting where the pulpit is opened to those in attendance for sharing of our testimonies of Christ and other principles of the Gospel. All Sacrament Meetings close with a song and prayer. Families attend Sacrament Meeting together, so it is not unusual for the meeting to be somewhat noisy. Children stay with their parents during the meeting in order to have the opportunity to learn of Christ with their parents and to practice reverence.
Donations are not collected during meetings and no offering plate is passed. Members often donate to the Church; however this is done privately outside of meetings, with their donations, known as tithing and offerings, enclosed in envelopes and handed or mailed to members of the Bishopric (either the Bishop or one of his counselors).
The second segment for the adults is Sunday School. There are two main classes: Gospel Principles and Gospel Doctrine. The first, as the name implies, covers the basic principles of the Gospel. The second class, Gospel Doctrine, studies the scriptures more in-depth. Worldwide, Gospel Doctrine class is on a four-year rotation of the LDS scriptures: one year each on the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine & Covenants. In both of these classes there is participation and discussion. Class time is 40-45 minutes.
The third segment is Relief Society (for women) or Priesthood (for men). These classes focus on the practical application of the Gospel in our lives. Though the lesson material is the same, women and men are separated to foster gender specific discussions and to promote friendship building. Again this class involves member participation and discussion. It is about 50 minutes long.
While adults attend these classes, children (aged 3-12) attend Primary. Primary is broken into two classifications: junior primary (3-7) and senior primary (8-12). The groups all start out together for "opening exercises." This follows a similar format to the Sacrament Meeting as children are selected to give prayers and very short talks. After this, one of the two groups will be released to go to their age-defined class. The classes cover similar subjects to the adult Sunday School at an age-appropriate level. The group that stays in the main meeting room has what is called sharing time. Generally a topic is discussed (such as temples, families, love, honesty) and songs are learned. The groups switch after 40-45 minutes so both have the ability to take part in the discussion and it can be geared to be more age appropriate depending on whether it is junior or senior primary.
Children ages 18 months to 3 years attend the nursery. These children play for the first 40 minutes, then have a snack, brief lesson, and activity. Children under 18 months of age stay with their parents for all of the meetings.
Nicole Crook is a mother of two daughters and lives in the midwest. She has been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since May of 2006.
Photo courtesey of http://www.flickr.com/photos/benmckune/356410351/sizes/s/