Questions about how Mormons worship each Sunday have emerged as a significant issue among journalists curious about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The issue resurfaced earlier this month when Elders M. Russell Ballard and Quentin L. Cook, apostles in the Church, visited editorial boards in Washington and New York to discuss Church beliefs and practices. The subject also arises frequently when news media call the Church for information.
The Church leaders have found that verbally “walking” their audience through a typical Sunday worship service is a good way to frame common ground with other churches and also to point out differences.
Key elements of the discussion are:
The chapel itself is a contemporary designed building with the name of Jesus Christ on the outside and pews for the congregation and a podium for speakers inside, but without icons and generally without elaborate decoration. Families generally sit together, but large numbers of single members also attend.
- The person leading the meeting — usually the local bishop or congregation leader, or possibly one of his two counselors or advisers – wears street clothes, not ecclesiastical robes. Other than the fact that he is at the podium, he is indistinguishable from any other Church member.
- The hymns of the Church include both those familiar to Christian ears and additional hymns reflecting Latter-day Saint history, doctrine and practice.
- Prayers are offered by members of the congregation, who come to the podium. The prayers are extemporaneous. There is no congregational role, such as repetition of parts of the prayer, other than a communal “Amen” after the prayer closes in the name of Jesus Christ. Neither is there any formal scripture reading from the pulpit.
- The focal point of the 70-minute meeting comes next. The emblems of the “sacrament” — analogous to communion in other Churches — are blessed and passed. The blessing on both bread and water is performed by young men who have been ordained to various levels of priesthood responsibility. Members remain in their seats while the trays are passed along the rows of the congregation. During this period, the chapel is silent as each individual member reflects on the sacrifice of the Savior Jesus Christ.
- Following the passing of both bread and water, the service resumes with usually three members of the congregation taking turns to speak. The first is usually a teenager, who speaks on an assigned gospel topic for a few minutes. Sometimes two teenagers are assigned to speak in succession. The next two speakers may be men or women, with the final speaker usually taking about 15 minutes. Topics are usually assigned by the bishop of the congregation a week or two in advance or occasionally may be left to the individual.
- It is common in some congregations for a musical item — a choral rendition, for instance — to precede the final speaker. Choir members are drawn from the congregation.
- A final hymn and prayer conclude the meeting. Again, the prayer may be offered by a man or woman.
Chapels are designed to accommodate the worship and learning needs of each congregation. After the conclusion of the main worship service or sacrament meeting, Church members join various Sunday School and other classes for instruction and discussion. Classes are held for adult men, adult women, teenagers and younger children.
Children from the ages of 18 months to 11 years attend Primary — a program designed specifically for children which presents the gospel in its simplest form. Lessons are scripturally based and incorporate music and visual imagery to hold the attention of the children.
No invitation is necessary to attend Mormon worship services or classes. Sometimes the classes precede the main service, depending on local circumstances and how many congregations meet in the same building during the day.
One of the Church’s Web sites, LDS.org, includes a guide for finding the nearest Latter-day Saint chapel in any neighborhood.