Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Experiencing Sunday as a Child

I grew up attending church in my LDS ward in the days before the consolidated meeting schedule. For more than 30 years the Sunday worship habits of Latter-Day Saints have included a three-hour block of meetings for all members. The block is broken into three segments.

A 50-minute segment has separate meetings for children (Primary), Young Women, young men (Aaronic Priesthood), adult women (Relief Society), and adult men (Melchizedek Priesthood). A 40-minute segment includes a continuation of Primary for children under 12 and Sunday School classes for everyone else. The remaining 70-minute segment is Sacrament meeting, where the entire congregation gathers in the chapel to worship together and to partake of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. A 10-minute break separates each segment of the block. Some wards hold Sacrament during the first segment. For others it’s at the end.

When I was a child, the young men and the adult men would arrive at the church to attend priesthood meeting an hour before the rest of the congregation came. Then the whole congregation would gather for Sunday School, which included opening exercises followed by classes. Children under 12 attended “Junior Sunday School.” We’d then go home and return later in the afternoon for a 90-minute Sacrament meeting. (Except on fast Sunday, when Sacrament meeting immediately followed Sunday School.)

The Primary auxiliary met one afternoon each week. Relief Society also met during the week. Young Men and Young Women continue to meet one evening weekly for Mutual.

There are some significant differences between the current consolidated LDS meeting schedule and the split schedule that was used when I was young. For starters, moms used to have to get everyone ready for church twice each Sunday.

Maybe others grew up in families where perfect children quietly stayed in their Sunday best following morning meetings until getting home from Sacrament meeting. But I was one of five boys. We changed out of our Sunday clothes after getting home from Sunday School out of sheer economic necessity. Mom needed to preserve our good clothes as long as possible. Had we stayed in our church clothes between meetings, they likely would have been unfit to wear to the afternoon meeting.

The split schedule also meant that we spent the whole day involved in church meetings. During my formative years, Dad was always serving in some leadership position that required him to attend meetings during the early hours each Sunday morning. He’d be tired enough that he would often get some napping accomplished between morning and afternoon meetings. After a morning of getting kids to and from church, making a lovely Sunday dinner and cleaning up, Mom would also often collapse for much needed rest.

We kids would frequently be shooed outside to provide a little bit of peace for our parents. We’d engage in many activities that I’m certain would be on the “Don’t” list of any lesson about keeping the Sabbath Day holy.

One Sunday between meetings my brother and I ended up down at “the gully,” a water retention basin about a block and a half from our home. There was a lot of new construction going on in that area, so it was a natural draw for curious and adventurous boys. Since our neighborhood was filled with young families, there were lots of boys in a fairly narrow age range in the area. A huge group of these kids had congregated around this huge mud hole that Sunday afternoon.

Excavation had exposed many rocks and left large dirt clods on a ridge overlooking the bog. Seemingly countless boys were standing there doing what almost any boy in such a situation would do—throwing rocks and dirt clods into the water.

I was only about five or six years old, so I didn’t have much of a throwing arm. After being unable to reach the water consistently with my rocks, I noticed my older brother and a couple of other boys down on the mud bank on the other side of the gully. Some of the boys were trying to hit them with dirt clods, but they were out of range.

Taking measure of how close the water was to where my brother was standing, I surmised that I could land my rocks in the bog more easily from that location. I made my way down there and found that I could make splashes with my rocks from there. Of course, being guys, the whole activity soon devolved into a contest of who could make the largest splash.

By this time, most of the boys on top of the opposite ridge were heaving huge rocks or clods into the water, so they didn’t have much range and we were in little danger of being hit.  Or so I thought.  I heaved up the biggest rock I could carry. But I could see that I’d have to get much closer to the water to successfully make a splash. As I ventured out closer to the water I was suddenly whacked on the head by a rather large rock zooming down from the opposite ridge.

Being a rather young child, I screamed in pain and went wailing home. About halfway between the gully and my home, a kindly neighbor darted out of his house to see if he could help. I was holding my head with a bloody hand. My head hurt like crazy. I was blubbering so incoherently that I couldn’t even tell the man what had happened. He got me home to my folks. Mom kept changing out cold washcloths that she held compressed to my head until the bleeding slowed.

Then it was time to go to Sacrament meeting. Mom deliberated about whether to seek medical attention, but back in those days that would have meant going to the emergency room at the other end of town. Besides, I wasn’t bawling out loud anymore. So we got dressed and went to church. The top of my scalp throbbed the entire time. Although Mom dabbed at it with Kleenex, it kept leaking and making my hair sticky.

My wound eventually healed. If anyone brings up that story even today, Mom will say that she feels badly about not taking me in and getting my head stitched up.  If I were balding, a lovely scar would still be apparent.  On another Sunday afternoon my brother severely broke his arm while jumping on a large inner tube. That time Mom had to skip Sacrament meeting to get the arm set and casted. Such were our Sunday afternoon escapades in those days.

Since we always had our big Sunday dinner at lunchtime, our family opted for simpler fare for our evening meal. After getting home from Sacrament meeting, Mom would set out sandwich fixings and we’d eat sandwiches, often while watching the Wonderful World of Disney on our old black & white TV.

With all of us seated around a relatively small table, and all reaching for food, the spillage of drinks was a frequent occurrence. A child spilling his milk in this setting could expect an immediate reaction from each parent. Mom would move with lightning speed to get something with which to stanch the flow of fluid before it dripped off the table onto the carpet or seeped through the cracks where the table halves joined the expansion leaves. The offending child would also earn Dad’s renowned stern German discipline.

One Sunday evening, it was Dad that spilled his milk. We children sat pensively, wanting to laugh but knowing that we’d be in for it if we did. As Mom made her well-practiced dash for a dish towel, Dad cast about for anything that might blot the spill before the milk dripped off the table. He could see that the fluid was moving so fast that even Mom’s rapid response wouldn’t be fast enough.

Being a man with a quick analytical mind, Dad grabbed the closest blot-worthy item he could reach—my brother’s sandwich. Using the sandwich as a towel proved to be effective in stopping the spread of the spill. My brother didn’t think this was funny at all. But the whole rest of the family responded with gales of laughter. This was perhaps the funniest thing I ever saw Dad do during his life.

Sundays are different for my kids than they were for me as a kid. My kids usually only have to get dressed for church once. Upon arriving home, we do not require them to stay in their Sunday meeting clothes. They still roughhouse on Sunday. They will often jump on our trampoline, sometimes while fighting with Nerf swords. I know people that consider such displays to be highly irreverent and not in keeping with the Sabbath. But given the nature of children, I think we’re actually doing a pretty good job.

We have carried over a Sunday tradition from my wife’s family. When not in meetings, we reserve Sunday time for family time. Our kids do not hang out with friends on Sundays. I am quick to say that I have no problem with families that choose otherwise. This is just something that we have found to be successful for our family.

We also avoid entertainment that is not at least somewhat worshipful on the Sabbath. If we watch TV, for example, it is limited to worshipful content. We do not watch sports, or secular TV shows or movies on Sunday. We have found this to be useful in helping us try to focus on worship throughout the day.

I guess that, even though Sunday activities are somewhat different for my children than they were for me when I was a child, in many ways they are similar. We attend church together as a family. We try to do things that will help us make the Sabbath a special day each week. Some Sundays are better than others, and I’m sure that some of our activities don’t look very worshipful to others. But at least we make an earnest effort to keep the Sabbath holy.

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