I have attended monthly LDS fast and testimony meetings since my earliest days. Over the years I have witnessed a variety of situations at these gatherings that cover the range from comical to bizarre to mundane to pure, sweet, and touching.
A cherished memory for our family occurred on a chilly December Sunday when our furnace went on the fritz. Our failure to adequately prepare meant that we had no alternate heat source. I ended up staying home while an emergency repair technician worked through the problem. My wife took our three young children to church.
My wife retreated to the mother's lounge during testimony meeting to nurse the baby, leaving our six- and four-year-old seated on the bench in the chapel. To my wife's astonishment, she heard our six-year-old's voice come over the speaker in the mother's lounge. This was unusual because this child has never liked the limelight nor cared for public speaking.
Our son started off with the usual things kids say when they get up to share their testimonies. He then launched into a long, rambling monologue that covered many spiritually unrelated points, some of which were punctuated by the congregation's laughter. My wife was in the middle of breast feeding the baby and was in no position to do anything about our long winded son.
As minute after agonizing minute ticked by, my wife hoped in vain that a member of the bishopric would put an end to our son's discourse. The child finally decided he was done talking after more than seven seemingly endless minutes at the microphone. My embarrassed wife tried to be inconspicuous as she slipped back into the chapel a few minutes later.
After the meeting, various ward members good naturedly complemented my wife on our son's 'testimony.' They thought it was one of the funniest things they had ever experienced at church. The humor was enhanced by the fact that they understood my wife's predicament and perceived her discomfort.
One February when I was serving in the bishopric, we started off testimony meeting with the customary bishopric member, followed by the usual handful of children. And then ... silence. For the next 20+ minutes. It was one of the more uncomfortable public situations I experienced while serving in that position.
Finally, a brother who was a fairly recent convert and had recently moved to the area got up. He said that he wasn't sure what they called this kind of thing in Utah, but that in the branch from which he had moved it was called a branch president's nightmare. He bore a beautiful witness, but he also gently chided the members of the congregation for their unwillingness to publicly testify of Christ.
That was better than my response, which was to stew in my seat and judge my fellow congregants, assuming that their thoughts and hearts were dwelling on the Super Bowl being broadcast instead of on their Savior and his gospel. Perhaps some of them were simply enjoying the reverent atmosphere in a worshipful spirit.
One of my sons tried walking a more worldly path for a few years. My phone ringtone for him was a clip from the Kansas song, Carry On My Wayward Son. This young man has made immense spiritual strides over the past year. His theme song has become Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. (His favorite line is, "Let thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to thee.")
My wife was unfortunately out of town the Sunday this son got up and bore a brief, heartfelt testimony for the first time in years. I listened to my son with a sense of awe, tenderness, and gratitude. His words may have sounded awkward to many in the congregation, but to me they were like "some melodious sonnet Sung by flaming tongues above."
LDS testimony meetings are not perfect. Indeed, our faults as a people may be more visibly on display here than in any other public setting. It's easy to think snide thoughts and to make cynical comments about these meetings. But such scoffing fails to explain why Mormon people worldwide attend these meetings month after month. Such harshness also interferes with the gentle workings of the Holy Spirit, preventing one from enjoying the spiritual feast that is readily available in these settings.
I suspect that future testimony meetings will bring many additional funny, strange, and banal testimonies. But I hope these meetings will bring many deeply joyful and spiritual experiences as well. How I experience these gatherings will depend greatly on my personal disposition. Lord, please "Tune my heart to sing Thy grace."