The leaders who ran the meeting were looking for input from those in attendance as to how to address the problem. Some decent suggestions were made, but most of them only addressed symptoms rather than the root of the issue. I believe that it is important to understand the root of an issue when possible, in order to address it properly.
I perceive several roots to the problem of Sacramental reverence:
- There has been a significant cultural shift over the last 3-4 decades (at least in North America) so that as a society we no longer hold many things in sacred respect. There has been a homogenization of values, so that every ideal is considered pretty much of equal value to all other ideals. No value or moral is superior to any other. Many people wonder why a chapel is more special than, say a library (until something like 9/11 happens). This philosophy is being institutionalized through multicultural education and policies. Members of the Church, as part of the larger society, accept and adopt this culturalization, even if they lag somewhat behind the main body in doing so.
- We arrive at Sacrament meeting from disparate locations and at disparate times. People used to come to congregational meetings as families. This was particularly true in the days when Sacrament meeting was a separate meeting held later in the day. (Not that I advocate returning to that schedule). In my current ward, Sacrament meeting is the final meeting of the three-hour block (as mandated by stake leaders), so me, my wife, and each of our children bound into the chapel from varying entry points over a 10-minute period. Of course, leaders have also discovered that when Sacrament meeting is first, it starts with half the congregation present and with latecomers causing plenty of disruption.
- We are a social people, but we have no place to socialize. We have reduced the footprint of our meetinghouses to make them more efficient and less costly. But in doing so we have minimized spaces where people can socialize outside of the chapel. In our building portions of the cultural hall are used as part of the chapel while remaining portions are used for classes or other meetings. As multitudes move through the narrow hallways, it is impossible to stop for a chat due to traffic flow. Foyers have been reduced so that they comfortably fit maybe 10 people at best. Sometimes the chapel is the only place you see some people in a setting where you can be stationary and hold a conversation.
- Though we are a social people, we rarely meet in a setting where we can socialize with everyone in the ward. When I was a kid we constantly held ward gatherings. Church leaders have recognized that people are far busier today than they were three decades ago. We spend more overall time working (including the commute), attending school (including homework and activities), and engaged in sports and cultural activities (the options for these have exploded since I was a kid) than we did 3-4 decades ago. We also have a much broader variation in individual schedules. The Church no longer needs to provide activities to fulfill every aspect of life, nor do we have time for it. But the result is that Sacrament meeting is one of the few places we see everyone in the ward. Otherwise we rarely see some people since we are involved in various callings and are doing different things during the time we spend at church. When else would we talk with them?
So what can we do?
- Leaders (especially high level leaders) can repeatedly and bluntly emphasize the importance of Sacramental reverence. I’ve noticed that when leaders strongly and repeatedly emphasize something in an unambiguous manner the people generally get behind it and find ways to make it work.
- As an individual I can resolve to be personally reverent in my mind and heart when in the chapel, especially during Sacrament meeting.
- As a parent I can host a family council (or perhaps a series of them over time) on reverence in the chapel. I can elicit help from my family members. We can teach each other about it in our family home evening lessons.