Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Strange Mormon Customs #9: Public Speaking

I am giving the sermon this Sunday at church.

You read that right. I am giving the sermon. I'm not a preacher, pastor, or minister. I'm not a scriptorian, or theologian. I'm not exceptionally motivational and I am certainly not a man. I'm just another daisy in the church garden.

We do this all the time, actually.  In fact, the bishop (our word for pastor) rarely speaks on Sunday at all, besides introducing the people who are giving the talks (our word for sermons). As long as the bishop is confident that they will not shout obsenities or preach false doctrine, every member will probably have an opportunity to grasp the pulpit in their own sweaty palms at one time or another.

Speakers can be men or women. Usually we are given a topic (forgiveness, honesty, service, Jesus Christ) and a time limit (anywhere from 5 to 40 minutes). Even teenagers, to their eternal happiness, get opportunities to address the congregation.

My topic this Sunday is missionary work. Specifically, hastening missionary work through technology. I have 12 minutes.

I have heard people say that Mormon Sunday meetings are anti-climactic. I think they say this because there is a lot of hype that Mormons do all sorts of crazy religious things when really we are pretty normal people who like to speak in public about as much as you do. So if you ever come to one of our meetings and find it on the dull side, remember that the people giving the talks are plumbers, painters, cafeteria ladies and housewives and that if they can make it through their talk without feinting or throwing up the meeting is a success.

But get this--here is something not very many people know. Once a month, after the bishop has opened the meeting and after the sacrament has been passed, we have an OPEN MIC for any member who feels prompted to come up and explain why they believe in Jesus Christ. No program, no notes, no outline.  Just you, the pulpit and your pounding heart. We call this Testimony Meeting.

We prepare for this meeting by fasting, which helps us be more spiritually sensitive. Sometimes it takes a while for the spirit to move people out of their cushioned seats, so there are periods of awkward silence. But this is often one of our most stirring and spiritual services. There is no age limit, either. Even young children can get up and say what is in their heart.  Listening to the testimonies of others can be very powerful and enriching, especially if you listen with your heart and not just your ears. When we get up to speak we are being prompted by the spirit. And when the spirit speaks, it is powerful because it comes from the inside out.

Speaking with power--that is, speaking with the power of the Holy Ghost--is a tradition in our church that goes back a long way. Here are some famous speeches from our history:


This is Abinadi. Not the guy in the green feathers. The one in chains.

He is a prophet from The Book of Mormon. He was captured by the wicked King Noah (not to be confused with the good Noah who built the arc) because he was telling people how corrupt the king and his priests had become. Naturally, the king took offense to this and he had Abinadi brought to the palace to be questioned.  At one point Abinadi's responses angered the king so much that the king told the priests to kill the prophet. That is when Abinadi's face started to shine and he informed the king that if anyone touched him before he had finished delivering his message God would smite them.  (I love stories like this.) The priests let him be and he spoke to them at length about their ignorance of the commandments. By the time Abinadi was finished the king was so furious that he had Abinadi burned to death. But the damage was done. Alma, one of the king's priests, felt the truth of Abinadi's words. He left the king's service and hid. He wrote everything down. Then he baptized thousands.
You can read the story here. 

Samuel the Lamanite

Samuel the Lamanite is another Book of Mormon messenger who did not fear speaking. . . or heights. He tried preaching to the people of Zarahemla, but they threw him out. He was about to go home when the Lord told him to go back and "prophesy unto the people whatsoever things that should come into his heart." So he climbed the wall of the city and spoke to them there.
The people tried to shoot him with arrows but he was protected by the Lord. (That, or he was too far up.) What was the message that was so important for him to tell? That Christ is going to be born on earth. And after he visits Jerusalem, he will visit us. You can read the story here. 

Brigham Young

Church history has some legendary speeches as well. One especially is remembered not for what the speaker said, but what happened when he said it.

After Joseph Smith died the church was seeking a new leader. It was narrowed down to two men: Sidney Rigdon who was the first counselor of the church, and Brigham Young, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve. On an August morning in 1844 the church members gathered together for an outdoor conference to listen to the two men speak and then vote. Sidney Rigdon spoke first. Then Brigham Young began to speak and that is when something extraordinary took place.
Witnesses say that Brigham Young's voice sounded just like the voice of Joseph Smith. Others say that Brigham Young's mannerisms, his appearance, even the way he cleared his throat seemed characteristic of the late and beloved prophet. Still others simply felt that a spiritual transition of leadership had taken place, and fallen on this man's shoulders. Whatever it was, it was palpable and clear: Brigham Young was to be the next prophet. Few witnesses ever talk about what Brigham Young said in that discourse, but there are at least 101 written accounts explaining how they felt.   From that point forward the church was in Brigham Young's hands. Source

Now (deep breath) it is my turn to take my place at the pulpit. Unfortunately I doubt my talk will change many lives.  My face is not going to glow, and if you shoot arrows at me I'm pretty sure I'll die. But if there is anyone who can preach a good sermon, it is a mother.

So enough of this blogging business. I've got to get working on my talk.

P.S. I thought it might be interesting to know if any of my Mormon friends have had an expereince as they listened to a particular talk in church that moved them. Can you remember a talk that stands out to you and what the speaker talked about? I know that I have a few readers who would be delighted if you shared your story below in the comments.


  1. Two talks changed my commitment to personal study of the scriptures--from a "should" to a personal desire. In one, a woman told how she took a philosophy class in college. She wanted to take philosophy and she felt that it would be important for her to take it. But, she also realized that she was learning the philosophies of men, and she felt prompted strongly that she should balance that with the philosophies of God and of the prophets called of God. So, that semester, whatever amount of time she spent studying for her philosophy course, she spent an equal amount of time studying the scriptures. She said that was the time of greatest spiritual growth in her life--from her efforts studying both disciplines and from listening to the prompting of the Spirit.

    I can't remember the timing, whether before or after her talk, whether it was months or years between the talks, but a man talked about something that has been said before (I don't know the original source)--that anyone can become an expert in any subject. He then broke it down into daily time increments, and I can't remember the exact details, but, it was something like if you spend 15 minutes a day studying something eventually you will be knowledgeable; 30 minutes a day, eventually you will become skilled; and one hour a day, eventually you will become an expert. Therefore, anyone can become a scriptorian (or anything else he or she desires to become knowledgeable or skilled in--and he stressed that, that there are many worthwhile goals). I remember thinking, "I love the scriptures. I would love to be an expert in that. Not to spout off memorized verses, but to truly understand them and have their messages written on my heart, to truly be able to live them. I will become a scriptorian." There were significant periods of my life after his talk that I have studied the scriptures an hour a day (usually in two 30-minute sessions) and other times when I have been realistically just too busy for that time commitment. But, I have always tried to include at least some time with the scriptures everyday since those two talks, because I wanted to.

    What is interesting to me is that these were not big-name people who gave these talks/sermons--they were everyday people like you and like me. I don't remember their names. I do remember their faces and the spirit I felt when they spoke.

    I am really looking forward to your message on Sunday!

    Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

    1. Kindra, I love what you wrote and I've been thinking about it all morning. Thank you so much for posting those two experiences. There are a lot of ordinary people who do inspiring things.

  2. Thank You for this GREAT blog post! Again I am posting it to my page. As a new convert you explain all I have a hard time explaining :) I would like to think about which testimony has touched me and I will write later. Can't wait to see you at book club!

  3. I remember a return missionary gave a talk that was not a travel log. He began his talk by very deliberately setting a pen on the front of the pulpit. Then he looked at it and said "How many of you think I can move this pen with my faith alone?" I was a teenager and remember thinking, "I'm no sensationalist -- of course he can't move it with faith alone." Then he asked "What if I told you that I KNOW I can move this pen with my faith alone?" He paused (for effect, which was very good evidently -- I still remember it, right?) and then took a breath and deliberately picked it up. He then stated: "Faith is action." BOOM. Burned in my brain.