Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are urging Mormons around the world to improve their observance of the Sabbath day. In local and regional leadership training meetings this year, leaders are receiving instruction on the topic of strengthening faith in God by observing the Sabbath day with greater purpose.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that Church leaders have felt the importance of encouraging families and individuals to rethink and refocus their efforts on what they do on the Sabbath day. “Our whole desire is that throughout the Church, we focus our Sabbath day worship on the Lord,” he said.
Recommendations include wider participation in planning worship services and holding these sacrament meetings (the main worship service) first in the weekly three-hour block of meetings, which also include Sunday School and other classes. Elder Ballard said the proposed changes are recommendations that may be adapted to local needs. “We have to maintain flexibility. The Church all over the world has different circumstances.”
Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, general president of the Primary, sees the importance of holding sacrament meeting first. “From a mother's perspective, it is so important. Children are fresh. And as we prepare our families, husbands and wives or single parents — any parent who is preparing their family to come to sacrament meeting on Sunday, that preparation happens … before we leave, before we walk through the door at the chapel, and it happens in the car sometimes on the way.”
A committee was appointed by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that includes four apostles and seven presidents of the Seventy to focus on the issue, said Elder Ballard. He said that with the input from women leaders of the Church, "we felt that it was urgent that we strengthen the faith of our people. The world seems to be getting a little … more difficult. … We’re hoping that home activities will be more centered on learning and knowing more about the life and ministry of the Savior and the great plan of happiness that our Heavenly Father has given us to live by.”
“Leaders are asked to help Church members focus on better observing the Sabbath day at church and at home,” said Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy. “One aspect of the focus on better observing the Sabbath day at church is that bishoprics, who are responsible for planning sacrament meetings, are being asked to counsel with ward councils about their proposed plans for future sacrament meetings.”
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Ward councils are made up of men and women leaders in local congregations who lead the various organizations for women, men, youth and children and who meet to discuss the needs of individuals and families and to make plans to serve them.
“The contribution of all ward council members will add spiritual insight to the plans being considered by bishoprics, while bishoprics will be responsible for approval of plans,” added Elder Clayton. “There's a great deal of freedom to move within that recommendation. What we hope is that bishoprics will bring in suggested plans for sacrament meetings, out into the future — we're talking two, three months out into the future — and that members of the ward council will offer suggestions. They may have a suggestion about who should speak or a refinement about a particular topic or a suggestion about a hymn.”
Elder Clayton said Sabbath day activities may include doing acts of service, reading the scriptures and spending time with family. “What we hope is that the Sabbath will become a delight for people at home, that they'll love what happens in their homes on Sunday. It will be a time to draw apart from the world, to just give ourselves some rest from the things that are always before our eyes the other days of the week, with the work week, all the things we worry about. And then on the Sabbath we could think about the Savior.”
Sister Wixom shared, “When we consider that is His day, then what we do is in connection to Him and for Him. But that doesn't mean we can't load our children in our cars and go visit grandparents or family or relatives. It doesn't mean that we can't take time to laugh together.” She suggests Sunday activities could include writing in journals and to missionaries, as well as sharing the numerous resources the Church has available online with family.
“God gave us this special day, not for amusement or daily labor but for a rest from duty, with physical and spiritual relief,” said Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in an address titled “The Sabbath Is a Delight” during April’s general conference. “I believe He wanted us to understand that the Sabbath was His gift to us, granting real respite from the rigors of daily life and an opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal.”
Training on improving Sabbath day worship and gospel learning within families was given to general authorities (senior leaders), area seventies (traveling ministers) and general auxiliary presidencies during the week of general conference. That training is now being extended to the level of local congregations as trainings occur throughout the year.
Training materials focused on improving Sabbath day worship at church and in the home are being distributed to local leaders for upcoming leadership meetings; the principles will then be taught to the full membership of each congregation.