Warning: A seminary teacher story follows.

My senior year of high school there was a girl in my seminary class who had sent her boyfriend on a mission. They were pretty serious and she was, you guessed it, “waiting for him.”

We had monthly testimony meetings in seminary, and our teacher made a big deal of instructing us that testimonies are declarations of faith in the gospel.
Shortly after my friend’s boyfriend flew out she got up during our class testimony meeting and proceeded to give us a very teary update on how much she missed her boyfriend, and how hard it was to send him off and so forth.

After a few minutes she hit her stride and showed no indication of explicitly tying any of it to a gospel principle.
Maybe you can see where this is going.

My seminary teacher interrupted her, and said “I know that you’re having a hard time, but this isn’t a testimony.” He encouraged her to start over. After another couple minutes he interrupted her again, and she ultimately left the room crying.

On one hand I actually see where he was coming from. It wasn’t a ‘testimony’ per se, and I’m not convinced that testimony meetings should necessarily moonlight as group therapy sessions. Also, if there is a place to teach kids what sort of testimony bearing is and is not appropriate it would, theoretically, be a seminary class testimony meeting.

On the other hand correcting her in front of the whole class was a bad a idea. For one it was probably not good for her already delicate emotional state. For two, while she was monopolizing that particular meeting, and it was rather uncomfortable to listen to her, there wasn’t any good reason he couldn’t have addressed her privately later, or addressed the broader topic with the whole class later. And for three, in a sense it was a testimony- she was miserable, but her misery had a purpose- a gospel purpose. She didn’t say verbatim “I have a testimony of the importance of full time missionary work” but that was the underlying premise of the entire situation.

What do you think? Do testimony meetings function as group therapy? Should they? At what point does a testimony get off-topic enough to be justifiably interrupted? Must a gospel principle be clearly tied into the story for it to count as a testimony?


Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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42 Responses

  1. Macha says:

    If someone is in pain and needs someone to talk to, it doesn’t matter what the situation is. You don’t “correct” someone when they’re in that vulnerable of a moment. It’s just mean. It diminishes their feelings and messes with their ability to trust others in the future. I think the question is, “is the lesson of this class really more important than being present and supportive for someone in pain?”

    • Kmillecam says:

      This comment has come to me at an especially opportune time. I was just about to share it on my FB wall when I realized a cousin of mine had been currently writing something biting about what I should be thinking and doing about a hard situation I have been in this week. That was pretty awesome, in an awful kind of way. Regardless, thank you for your words, they have helped me today.

  2. CatherineWO says:

    I understand the lesson the seminary teacher was trying to enforce, but I would always place the feelings of a person (especially someone as vulnerable as this girl was) ahead of the lesson. I get uncomfortable in a testimony meeting when people get too deep into their personal lives, but I have been in meetings where everyone just gets up, says something to the effect of “I know the gospel is true” and sits down and that’s rather boring. I find that stories, even travelogues, make for a much more interesting, and inspirational, meeting. But then, I tend to view the world through story.

    • Starfoxy says:

      ” I have been in meetings where everyone just gets up, says something to the effect of “I know the gospel is true” and sits down and that’s rather boring.”
      I agree that stories make for much more interesting meetings, and in some ways are more effective testimonies. Actions speak louder than words, and telling a story about how you acted on a gospel principle shows the depth of commitment and faith better than making bland assertions of belief.

    • LovelyLauren says:

      I really like when people bear their testimonies of a specific part of the gospel. A testimony about how much prayer or a blessing has helped someone are the most powerful to me.

  3. I’d have given 10 minutes, then asked her to wrap it up. Then, maybe, talk to her about it privately after class. Yes, a testimony meeting can be a bit of group therapy, especially if the person is not getting others to talk to very often. It does, however, need to leave time for others to also share their testimonies.

    • Starfoxy says:

      I think that this is probably the reasoning for interruption that sits best with me- whether a testimony was on topic or not, monopolizing an entire meeting isn’t right.

    • charlene says:

      I like this very much. Because I agree that while it’s not nice to diss someone in pain, it’s also not fair to everyone else to go on at the expense of others’ time.

    • April says:

      I think that would have been a more tactful and kind way to handle the situation, “Excuse me, thank you for sharing, but can you wrap this up so there is time for some other people to share before we close?” instead of, “This testimony sucks. Sit down.”

    • spunky says:

      I like this- focuses on the time, but it needs a strong follow up of support.

  4. Diane says:

    I think what the seminary teacher did was mean, he was trying to get her testimony to match his.

    In my branch a sister to whom I was very friendly with was giving a testimony in RS about how different she felt with her son’s passing(pancreatic cancer) because she had been coming to church, as oppose to how she felt when her other son committed suicide. Another sister decided to do what the seminary teacher did and tried to interject her own thoughts on the matter, I was looking for my RS leadership to jump in and say something, but, no one did, so I took the bull by the horns and told this sister that she needed to be quiet and let the sister finish her testimony. I took the sister who was bearing her testimony to the Bishop’s office(the woman told this sister her son had Satan in him) because she was very upset and told the Bishop what happened. The other sister called me the next morning trying to make her point, so, I just came out in plain words and told her that when someone is bearing testimony you don’t interrupt, your job is to listen. otherwise it becomes your testimony and not theirs.

    To me this is what the seminary teacher did, he robbed her of her testimony to make and change it to what he wanted and was more palatable. Even if he was being gentle, its’ still being a bully

    • Kmillecam says:

      I love that “your job is to listen”. That’s a great reminder for anyone. I find that I tend to jump into people’s lives or conversations without listening, so I have had to practice that. You can really connect to someone and see their greatness if you listen. It’s been powerful for me to see that.

      • Diane says:

        I was just as upset as the sister was because I kept looking, No, glaring at my RSP to step in and do something, ,but, they wouldn’t pissed me off to no end

  5. jen says:

    What IS the purpose of testimony meeting? as a “bitter exmo”, I could say that the purpose of testimony meeting is to just further brainwash the person baring their testimony and everyone listening. If that is what the testimony meeting is for, than interrupting her, correcting her, “fixing” her would be completely in order.

    I personally enjoyed testimonies that were very personal and not about the gospel per se. The people that stood up and shared a whitewashed version of their life… that felt… incongruent to me, and I didn’t like it.

  6. EM says:

    The seminary teacher was out of line. I live in a branch that has a lot of older widowed sisters and when they bear their testimonies they go on and on and on. I’ve changed my attitude about them though and enjoy listening to them now because I find the hole in them is so deep that it can’t possibly be filled; bearing a testimony for them is a way they can fill this hole themselves, because they have people’s undivided attention, and I find that they always have something of value to say, even if it isn’t gospel related. I’ve learned a lot about them and find it easier now to talk to them. My husband refers to testimony meeting as “starve and story Sunday” and it’s a trial for him. But with the right attitude I think these “story times” can be a good thing. Sometimes people just need to be heard. A question that’s totally off topic and I’m hoping someone can answer it for me. Why is it that RS has testimony bearing time and Priesthood doesn’t?

    • Starfoxy says:

      “Why is it that RS has testimony bearing time and Priesthood doesn’t?”
      The reason I’ve heard is to provide an opportunity for women who, for whatever reason, feel like they can’t get up in sacrament meeting. Whether it is being with a group of only women, or just a smaller group, or whatever I do know that there is a sizable group of women who really really like having that time set aside.
      Though in my experience the women who take advantage of the RS testimony time are often the same regulars that get up in sacrament meeting as well.

      • Diane says:

        I had no idea that men did not give testimonies in EQ. Maybe it has to do with the fact that church as a whole thinks that women are more spiritual(totally tongue in cheek )

    • Kristen Says No says:

      “Why is it that RS has testimony bearing time and Priesthood doesn’t?”

      I had no idea! (And have no idea why.) That’s very interesting. Thanks for pointing it out.

      • Caroline says:

        The cynical side of me says that it’s because women’s testimonies aren’t valued as much as men’s testimonies. Thus if women have another all female venue to do it in, there’s less chance they’ll use that time in SM to do it.

        I hope that’s not true, but I suspect it might be.

    • charlene says:

      I didn’t know EQ didn’t have testimony-bearing time either until one of my home teachers told it to me recently (my husband’s not a member, so I couldn’t find out from him). I asked why not, and my home teacher said something like, “Have you noticed the ratio of women to men in testimony bearing in fast-and-testimony meeting? In RS it’s this great sharing thing, but if we had testimony bearing in EQ no one would get up and it would all just be very uncomfortable.” I don’t know if that’s the real reason, but it sounded convincing to me…

      • KLC says:

        Most definitely that’s a real reason. I’ve been in EQ and HP groups that tried the testimony thing. It was awkward. Everyone sat there and looked at everyone else.

      • amelia says:

        Yes, I have noticed the ratio of women to men. It’s just as often skewed heavily in favor of the men as the women and in some wards I’ve been in it was almost always heavily skewed in favor of more men bearing testimony in SM than women. I frequently stood to bear my testimony just so there would be at least one (and hopefully a couple) of female voices in addition to the male ones.

    • It depends on the ward. I’ve had several wards where the 1st Sunday was also for testimonies in a combined Elders & High Priest meeting.

      Some men have a hard time sharing their testimony, or any kind of feelings, even if they did it full time on a mission. Might be similar to the reason fewer men sing, as if they decided when they were teenagers that singing isnt cool. 😉

    • Janell says:

      I appreciate having an RS testimony time as sometimes there are experiences which that are easier shared among a group of women than an entire congregation (i.e. experiences with miscarriage, divorce).

    • Empty says:

      I had no idea EQ didn’t have a time set aside for testimonies on 1st Sunday. It kinda makes sense because in my ward most of the speakers in SM are males….I would say about 90%. It happens every F&T mtg. This may explain why this happens in my ward.

  7. J. says:

    At Girl’s Camp this year, the Stake Leaders went out of there way a few times before camp to remind everyone that testimonies are centered on Christ, are not “life story” time or time to admit all your wrong doing over the past year. The first dozen girls did stick to that guideline, but one girl went into at length about her friend dying, which prompted a few others with similar tragedies to come up and cry at length at the mic. The stake leaders did nothing, which I’m glad about. The girls repeatedly said they felt like no one wanted to hear about their grief or pain, and I thought- this is one place (Girl’s Camp, or church in general), that you should be able to share your grief and heartache. I think some people need that time to bear their burdens on others, and part of our job as helping others in times of need is to listen without annoyance and show support.

  8. Marilyn says:

    I agree that testimonies should be interrupted for the sake of time, rather than correction. We had a woman in our ward take 15 minutes while she was in a full on manic state of her bipolar disorder. She told the congregation about her diagnosis with bipolar disorder. She also went off on different tangents that in her mind made sense and tied into the gospel, in reality it was frenetic and disjointed. One of the bishopric got up and put his arm around her and said, “We can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you, we want you to know that we are behind you. We love you. Everyone out there listening is concerned for you.” She put her head down and started crying. “I’ll stand up here with you while you finish your testimony”

    Wow. I found myself really uncomfortable during the time she bore her testimony. After the counselor said that, it was a slap in the face reminder that people’s testimonies are individual, they aren’t all supposed to make you feel good. We are supposed to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. I had been under the impression that testimony meetings are for my spiritual uplifting. That’s true, but it’s also selfish. Testimony meetings can also be to learn to love the other people in their “imperfect” testimonies.

    I hope that came out right.

    • Diane says:

      I understand completely what you’ve stated, I in as much said something during a fast an testimony meeting once because I have sat thru many a sacrament meeting and fast and testimony meeting and I hear people talking about their families, and I have don’t have that same experience. So, one fast and testimony meeting I got up and testified that If I could sit in a sacrament meeting and or testimony meeting and listen to everyone talk about their family experience(particularly pioneer heritage) that they can and should be able to listen to me and that my experiences are no less valid than theirs. You could have herd a pin drop

  9. Janell says:

    One thing I saw recently that I rather disliked was a glove which made bullet items out of all the major testimony facets. I do think it may be a good prompt for children as it was intended, but I fear that it will create rote testimonies or a concept that a testimony is “incomplete” if you skip one topic or include another.

    I do like personal stories that illustrate how a testimony was strengthened, a principle learned, or a principle applied. One story per offered testimony is sufficient in the interest of sparing time for other’s to share as well.

  10. April says:

    I personally feel like some testimonies are more effective than others. I had some wards where every first Sunday we had a “friendimony” meeting, where everyone who was relatively popular got up and bragged about how wonderfully everyone treats them, leaving the misfits sitting in the pews to benefit from their words. It might have helped if someone had eventually given a talk or lesson discussing how gospel principles are supposed to be mentioned in such meetings. Still, I think corrections during a testimony should be reserved for emergencies–for example, I might see correction as in order if someone was using a testimony meeting as open mic time to make rude comments about some oppressed group like homosexuals.

  11. Alisa says:

    Reading the OP and the responses are showing me that maybe I need to change the way I think about testimonies. I don’t like rote “vain repetition” testimonies, but I’ve also been a stickler for testimonies being about Christ, and I am annoyed when they are not. I especially can’t stand politics in testimonies, which happens a lot, or people who make judgments (like “I put on a dress and came to the Church for the General RS broadcast–where were all of you?” and I think, we were at home, watching it in our family rooms on the TV). I’ve hated testimony meetings for years (though I’ve always enjoyed RS testimony meetings much more than SM ones).

    Honestly, the comments here make me want to repent. To mourn with those who mourn. To practice more charity. So thanks a lot for making me want to change!

    • Ziff says:

      Alisa, I’m in kind of the same boat. I’ve often felt uncomfortable when people go off on what I feel like are tangents in their testimonies. It was actually my sister Lynnette who pushed me to a kind of similar realization to what’s being discussed on this thread with a post she wrote a few years ago:

      Testimony Bearing and Storytelling

      I think Starfoxy summarized it well on this thread:

      Actions speak louder than words, and telling a story about how you acted on a gospel principle shows the depth of commitment and faith better than making bland assertions of belief.

  12. Mike H. says:

    “Why is it that RS has testimony bearing time and Priesthood doesn’t?”

    Some Priesthood Quorums still do that, but likely not as often as the RS does.

    I think in the OP the Seminary Teacher should have just reminded the YW about the time, and waited until in private to discuss the how off topic the Testimony was. Though, I wonder if people feel they’re “better members'” if they hide their feelings ALL the time, yet this takes a toll.

    Yes, I’ve seen some nonsense pass as a Testimony. There’s been times I’ve mentioned a difficulty I’ve been dealing with in a Testimony, and had some members tell me afterward I should not mention having any difficulties. Yet, some members ARE willing to help others, if they know about a difficult situation. I do feel Testimonies should be tied to a Gospel idea. But, that may not be obvious to all in the congregation.

  13. Rachel says:

    I got such a kick out of your “group therapy” comment. In Sacrament meeting it doesn’t feel that way to me very much, but definitely so in RS.
    I’ve heard women say that they can’t stand to have a moment of silence in a testimony meeting, that it is wasted time so they have to get up to fill the void. Maybe they honestly believe they’re being ‘helpful’. But I think if we had a couple minutes of silence between testimonies that would be at least as helpful.
    Should testimony meeting function as group therapy? That is a big fat no in my book. My favorite are in RS when everyone testifies about the topic at hand, how that principle was learned, how they’re working on it, etc.

    I hated girls camp testimony meetings. I think it really messed me up for awhile. Everything I was taught about what a testimony is was completely thrown out the window around that campfire. “And I know I haven’t been nice to all you this week, but I really love you (insert lots of tears and mucous)”. So if I have a highly emotional experience that’s a testimony, that’s the Spirit?
    As a therapist who has been doing group therapy for awhile now, I can say there are times in group when a person has a tremendous awakening, and it does feel like a spiritual experience to me–that a-ha–that pure light and knowledge feels spiritual to me. Then there are other times when people are purging and it’s just catharsis (and the job is just to witness their pain/bear their burden), and then there are times which feel like girls camp–and that’s the point I step in and redirect.

    • Mike H. says:

      “And I know I haven’t been nice to all you this week, but I really love you (insert lots of tears and mucous)”

      The question becomes, can they Walk the Talk after stating that? I know we’re supposed to forgive, but people should be careful about saying such things if they don’t really want to change.

  14. BethSmash says:

    I have to say, I’ve never been a big fan of testimony meetings in general. I usually just read my scriptures or practice the alto part of hymns I don’t know well, (in my head! no humming I promise). I’m not exactly sure why I dislike it. But I can tell you this. I HATE absolutely HATE girls camp testimony meeting. I’ve never liked to do any sort of public speaking. And I can remember clearly all the times I went to girls camp and the pressure put on you to conform and share your testimony. This is what would happen in my ward. One of the leaders would share their testimony, then the kids who wanted to share would share. Then there’d be a pause and then another leader or two would share. And somewhere in THEIR testimony they would say something about how sharing your testimony causes your testimony to grow. And then they’d look around and stare at the few girls who hadn’t shared their testimony. Then there’d be silence… and more staring. And I would feel that I had to share my testimony. Particularly when I was the only one who hadn’t. Not because the spirit prompted me too, but because I felt guilty that I wasn’t participating. The one time I held out and DIDN’T share my testimony, I got basically lectured the next day by one of the leaders. Who wanted to know if their was something ‘wrong’. Argh. SO UPSETTING.

  15. Jean says:

    She absolutely should have been interrupted because it is inappropriate. She is a student and still learning, the teacher should and can interrupt and should have done so sooner.

  16. virginia says:

    In my many years in the church, the use of emotion to move the speaker and audience was very commonplace. Eliciting a deeply emotional response (particularly one that moved all to tears) encouraged a receptive and communal effect that could feel like a burning in the bosom. It was my understanding that this emotional approach was an accepted stand-in for a more measured testimony (like being grateful for family is a stand-in for testimony), since the mechanism for gaining truth of this sort was never cerebral anyway. It was almost that the subject matter was subordinate to the emotional content. I think discouraging it is a good idea, myself, and really serves the idea of there being ways to strengthen testimony through authentic statements of belief (for the audience and the bearer).

  17. Starfoxy says:

    Stephen M over at Wheat and Tares has a story about a testimony that was preemptively interrupted for fairly good reason.

    • Diane says:

      I read the article, but, I hope your not comparing what that man was trying to say to the young woman in your article are you? They are in my opinion on the complete opposites of the spectrum. I could have actually listened to both chalked one up to an emotional teen age girl, and the other someone who clearly needed mental health intervention.

      But, a lot of people today still equate Joseph Smith as being crazy as well.

      • Starfoxy says:

        No, I don’t think that man was at all similar to my friend. But I am interested in what is appropriate criteria for stopping someone’s testimony.
        Nearly everyone would agree that man should have been interrupted, but just how ‘off’ are you allowed to be in a testimony? What if he claimed to be one of the 3 Nephites rather than Christ? What if he claimed to see one of the 3 Nephites? What if he claimed to have interacted with an angel? What if it was an undercover angel? Where is that line?

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