How to Save the Mormon Sabbath

How to Save the Mormon Sabbath
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Mormons want to make the Sabbath day a delight, but that might mean changing a few things.

Elder Russell Nelson recently spoke on this subject in General Conference and it was the subject of training for the Quorum of the Seventy. Those seventy are now in the process of teaching members and leaders worldwide. Whether the Sabbath day becomes a delight will ultimately be determined by the choices of the members.

One obstacle that prevents members from making the Sabbath day a delight is too much church. Active membership in the LDS Church is taxing -- especially when it comes to Sundays. Church leaders might move to a two-hour worship service block. This would not be the first major change to the LDS church worship schedule nor would it be the last. 

Sundays are a busy day for Mormons, but everyone is expected to participate in a three-hour block, in which most have some responsibility from speaking to handing out programs. It's not just a three-hour block that the majority of active members have to participate in; the three-hour block ends up being about four or five hours for too many Mormons. The day at church is even longer when taking into consideration the long transportation time that many members outside of the Western US face due to the large geographical boundaries of the congregations. Many families worldwide without multiple cars (or any in many cases) are not able to come and go as they please, as is common in the United States.

Shortening church would give members more time to do the things needed to make the Sabbath day a delight.  Whether members decide to spend time with families, rest, or go home or visiting teaching, the extra time would help them live their faith outside of church. 

Second, it would lighten the burden that members have in their service. Some might know that the LDS Church is run by lay clergy, but what is often overlooked is the role that all members have in running the church. Everyone has a calling or a responsibility in the congregation. What this means is that it takes a lot of people to organize and run a three-hour block. For many congregations, there are not enough willing members to fill all the needed callings -- many members serve multiple positions. The Church is aware of this problem and has encouraged congregations to be flexible in fitting the church model to their needs, but in reality there is limited room for flexibility as congregations are still expected to provide standard programs and schedules to members. This can eventually lead to chronic burnout problems in some congregations. 

Finally, if the three-hour block is reduced to two hours, then four congregations could fit in a single meeting house instead of the current three. This would reduce the number of new meeting houses the church would need to build in locations where there are many congregations in a small geographical region like Utah. Given the rising cost of construction for new meeting houses and the rising demand on tithing revenue, this possibile change not be overlooked.

The Sunday school hour might be the first to go. Sacrament meeting would be reduced from 70 to 60 min, a 15 min break would be followed by a 45 min second hour for Priesthood and Relief Society which currently takes place in the third hour. Given the law of diminishing returns, members get much less from the third hour as opposed to the first two. Members would still have plenty of opportunities to serve in callings and could still learn about the gospel in a small group setting. Seminary and institute students already base their curricula on the scriptures. For others, the scriptures could be worked into the elder's quorum and Relief Society's curricula.

An alternative could be the production of a home study plan with helpful resources. This is a viable option as members are already supposed to personally study from the scriptures daily.

Keeping the Sabbath day holy is and always will be an important commandment. Its holiness will always depend on the actions of individuals. The LDS church can help its members keep the Sabbath day a delight by reducing the Church block from three to two hours.

This will save members time, the Church money, and help members remember that man was not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for man.

Matthew Crandall is an associate professor of International Relations at Tallinn University

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