#hearLDSwomen: Speaking Last in Sacrament Meeting

By Joni

At the end of 2016, when we were wrapping up our tithing settlement, our bishop asked if we had any concerns or questions. My husband responded with, “Why can’t a woman be the last speaker in sacrament meeting?” I like to think that my husband asked that question because he believes that women are as capable as men in being able to deliver the closing address during our worship services. Or perhaps he was concerned about the message it sends our daughters that a man must always have the last word.

But in truth, it’s probably because he was tired of hearing me complain.

I don’t remember how the bishop responded—probably something to the effect of “there is no reason.” He may have even pointed out that there have been times in our ward when a woman was permitted to speak last (which is true: the last time I gave a sacrament talk, almost five years ago, I went last and somehow the Church kept right on being true). Maybe to satisfy my own curiosity, I decided to start keeping track of the gender of the final speaker for the Sundays in 2017. Excluding fast Sundays and stake and general conferences, there were 37 Sundays when the lineup of speakers was decided ahead of time by the bishopric. Of those 37 Sundays, there were four occasions in which a woman was scheduled to speak last. That works out to be a little over 10% of the time. (I have been keeping statistics for 2018, and so far it’s pretty much the same.)

However, saying that a woman was scheduled to speak last doesn’t tell the whole story. On 2 of those 4 occasions, after a woman gave the final talk, a (male) priesthood holder—either a member of the bishopric or the stake high council—took to the pulpit and delivered unscheduled, extemporaneous remarks. After all, we do have a rank structure where the priesthood (i.e., men) have the right to claim the last word in virtually all of our mixed gender meetings. So if a woman believes she is going to speak last in sacrament meeting, there is only a 50% chance that she actually will. (Of course, spontaneous remarks by the presiding authority, who is always male, sometimes happens when the last scheduled speaker is male. But it doesn’t happen anywhere near 50% of the time.)

Additionally, the four women who were, at least on paper, the final speakers in sacrament meeting were not just ordinary female ward members like me. Two were returning/departing missionaries, one was the wife of a former bishop, and one was the wife of a current bishopric member. This sends a clear message that only certain women are considered worthy of having the last word in sacrament meeting—and even then only 50% of the time.

When women are placed between the youth speaker and the male speaker 90% of the time, that implies that while women may be more knowledgeable/spiritual/better public speakers than teenagers, they are not quite on the same level as the men. They are also not listened to for as many minutes as men, since the last talk is generally the longest. My husband argues that the reason for this is that the last speaker often has to lengthen/shorten/otherwise edit their talk on the fly, and this is difficult, so not letting women go last is actually chivalrously protecting them from this onerous task. (This feels awfully similar to the idea—discredited by the Church itself—that never speaking to or about Heavenly Mother is for Her own protection.) Apologists will sometimes tell you that women are more righteous than men, which is why we don’t hold the priesthood. You do have to wonder if the quality of our worship services would improve if the “more righteous” gender were given more minutes at the pulpit and more opportunities to have the final say.

I feel the same way about women speaking last in sacrament meeting as I feel about women praying in mixed-gender sessions of general conference. (The latter was allowed for a short period of time, but sadly hasn’t happened in over a year.) It’s almost worse to see these things happening occasionally than it would be to see them happen never. If women never spoke last in sacrament meeting or prayed in conference, you could tell yourself that there must be a good reason for it. You could probably convince yourself that it’s actually God who wants men to always have the last word. After all, if He wanted things to be different, He would have said something to the prophet, right? But seeing women deliver the final sacrament talk rarely rather than never tells me that it’s not forbidden by God, it’s just that the people who are making the decisions (who are always male) don’t notice or don’t care.

 

Pro-tip: When planning meetings for the congregation, schedule equal numbers of women and men to pray and to speak last.


Click here to read all of the stories in our #hearLDSwomen series. Has anything like this happened to you? Please share in the comments or submit your experience(s) to participate in the series.

“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)

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14 Responses

  1. marcella says:

    Referring to your aside
    “This feels awfully similar to the idea—discredited by the Church itself—that never speaking to or about Heavenly Mother is for Her own protection.”
    Someone just said this to me. That we don’t speak of Heavenly Mother as respect to her so I’d love to know where that idea has been discredited by the Church itself. Thanks!

  2. MJ says:

    Last time I spoke in sacrament meeting I was the concluding speaker(and female😊). I am definitely not a part of some special group that would expect any level of deference. The other speaker was male! The bishop told me afterward that he thought I was a gifted speaker and requested a copy of my talk. I was quite shocked—this hadn’t happened before, hasn’t happened since. The fact that it seemed so significant to me I think shows how uncommon this practice is—it should not be shocking! Lightening did’nt strike, the bishop was not immediately released—seems like it’s just good old ingrained culture of patriarchy doing its thing. 🙄

  3. Darci says:

    For Marcella
    A Mother There published in BYU Studies (which includes LDS general authorities on its board), which is referenced as a source in Lds.org’s gospel topic essay “Mother in Heaven” refutes the “sacred silence” idea.
    Here is a link to the article
    https://byustudies.byu.edu/file/2986/download?token=SSb5eRQe

  4. AJ says:

    Sunday we went to my sons best friends mission report and it was TOTALLY a man only meeting. Not. One. Woman. 7 men on the stand. Man led the singing. Man played the organ. Man said the opening prayer. 2 men sustained to random callings I can’t remember exactly what. 1 young man sustained as a deacon. 1 young man sustained as a priest. young men blessed the sacrament. Young men and men passed the sacrament. Men stood at the doors during the sacrament. 2 elders reported their missions. Man said the closing prayer. Good news – I was so distraught it sparked a fairly good discussion with hubby about how the church is so damaging to me and the sad and awful feelings it brings up in me. He finally had to admit I may have a point.

    • Joni says:

      Remember when Oaks said women are an appendage? He sure wasn’t lying about that! Men are the body of Christ and women are… I don’t know, a toe or something.

  5. Moss says:

    In the ward we recently moved out of women were the closing speaker about once a month, which I thought was equitable once you remove fast Sunday and high council sunday from available Sundays. I mentioned how much I appreciated this to a member of the bishopric and he said ‘they checked the handbook and realized nothing prohibited it so they let women speak last’. We’ve been in our new ward for a few months and I’ve yet to hear a woman speak last. It’s totally a matter of leadership roulette.

  6. MAM says:

    Several years ago, I suggested to our bishop that he could consider having a woman be the final speaker in sacrament meeting. A few weeks later, I heard that he had told the ward council that he’d checked the handbooks and saw no policy for or against that, so he was going to go ahead and start scheduling women to speak last. A few weeks after that, I got a call from the executive secretary asking me to speak, and — before he said it — I knew that I’d be the final speaker. Just desserts, I suppose. Since then, when women are on the sacrament meeting program, they are just as likely as not to be the final speaker. From time to time, both adult speakers are women. I think that our former bishop really thought that it was official policy to have men speak last. Kudos to him for considering a change in practice.

  7. Dave K says:

    The historical reason is that men preside over women and the presiding authority has the duty to speak last so they can correct any misstatements by earlier speakers. That’s why a stake president speaks last at stake conference and president Nelson speaks last at general conference. Husbands preside over wives so they must speak last.

    To be clear, I don’t agree with the notion that husbands should preside over wives, but that is the answer to why this practice was established. Thankfully, the church is steadily moving away from this idea, though it’s still very prominent in the temple.

  8. Wondering Why says:

    Is the final speaker the best? Are they the one that gets to have the Spirit?

    I have been in a great many Sacrament Meetings where the youth speaker was by far the best.

    Or, is it about how much time they get?

    I have been in a great many Sacrament Meetings where the final speaker (even when it was the Stake President or a member of the High Council) had 5 minutes left to him – by the female second speaker.

    You see, the second speaker holds the power over how long they speak, and how long the final speaker gets. You can also end up with a whole lot more time to fill if you are the final speaker.

    This is not something that is worth fighting for.

    My personal opinion (not doctrine, not policy) is that the final speaker, if not a stake speaker, should pretty much always be a member of the ward council (not including the clerk and exec. sec.). And now the church has removed the WML from being a ward council member that is 6 men to 3 women.

  9. ElleK says:

    Joni, this has been the case in all of my wards, too, and it drives me mad.

  10. jettie says:

    Wow, you are lucky. Our branch has never, ever had a female concluding speaker in my lifetime. They are always paired with the youth speakers before the intermediary hymn.

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