Poll: The Quaint Tradition of Sacrament Talk Gender Order

church buildingIn Caroline’s post, Empowering Women on the Ward Level, she made several practical suggestions that bishops could implement in their own wards to promote gender equity within the parameters of current church policies.  One of these suggestions was to alternate the gender of the final speaker at Sacrament meeting.

My current ward almost always begins Sacrament meeting with a youth speaker, places a female speaker in the middle of the agenda, and finishes the meeting with a male speaker.  This consistent pattern implies a spiritual hierarchy to me: inexperienced youth first, moderately accomplished women next, and glorious priesthood bearers as the grand finale. Moreover, the man and woman are frequently a married couple and the first speaker of the two (the woman) is asked to spend part of her speaking time “introducing the family,” which means the man gets more time to actually expound doctrine, further contributing to this apparent hierarchy.

I do not know where this tradition comes from. (Do any of you? Please share in the comments.) However, I hope my ward is unique in its continued adherence to this inequitable tradition.  Let’s find out…

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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33 Responses

  1. kaila says:

    Thank you for this post!! I’ve been in singles wards for years, and only one bishop refused to create any sort of gender order for talks. It was actually really nice. Since that time, it’s become apparent to me that even something simple such as the order of talks seems arbitrarily patriarchal.

  2. In all the wards I’ve attended in Utah, it is definitely a strong child, female, male order with the male and female being married. However, when I lived in Seattle it wasn’t like that. People gave talks, they didn’t introduce their families. The order was varied according to gender.

    • I’ve been seeing more of what Kristin reports. I think as the culture at at large shifts, so will the order of talks.

      But as you get away from “mom & pop” prayers and “mom & pop” talks you get away from various orders in the way things happen.

  3. samantha says:

    I have been booked as the final speaker a few months ago and asked to prepare my 20 minute talk the day of the meeting I was told by the Bishop I woul not be ending the meeting bnut Brother E. would be because he is a High Preist adn he has the power to end it on a good note. I was a bit upset being I had prepared a full talk but after talking to Brother E. I still gave my talk the full talk and he closed with a very small talk and finished up by saying that Sis K’s talk was well worth the final spot in this meeting by far and I wil lforever remember her talk on Her conversion and life thus far!

    I have been a member almost 5 years and have NEVER seen it out of the youth woman man order and I think it is crap!

  4. Casey says:

    My last ward at BYU was great at mixing up gender orders. I loved that some weeks it would be male-female-female or female-make-female. Unfortunately my first married ward was strictly wife-husband.

  5. Cynthia L. says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman as the concluding speaker in Sacrament meeting. However, I haven’t been in a ward that does his-n-her married couple talks for a long time. That went out promptly when there was a big push to end married pairs doing opening and closing prayers (which I haven’t seen in a long time either).

    • Sijbrich says:

      This has been my experience, too. I remember as a teenager in my ward they often had the couples give the opening and closing prayers, but they definitely don’t do that in my current ward. Nor do they ever have couples give talks on the same day. I think that’s incredibly alienating to the single members of the ward (of which there are several in our ward, so I’m glad they don’t practice that tradition), but then I also think, what do the couples do if they have young kids? Does one of them sit in the congregation while the other speaks and then switch places? Sounds like a lot of unnecessary stress to put on a family all in one day.

  6. MJK says:

    I don’t remember enough about my Utah wards to say what they were like, but I grew up in a small branch in rural mid-west and talks never seemed to have any relation to gender.

  7. de Pizan says:

    The singles ward I aged out of a little while ago was really good about mixing up the genders of who spoke last. Other family and singles wards I’ve been in were usually more traditional. Since then, my family wards have gone through some redesigning, I’ve moved, been sick a lot, etc so I haven’t really had the chance to tell what the current trend is.

  8. Anita says:

    our ward usually does the traditional couples talks and couples prayers, male last. however, this gets mixed up on occasion to hear from singles and that’s refreshing. i think the meeting order is determined by the first counselor in the bishopric, so if you have an older traditional conservative (and obviously male) in that calling, it lends itself to that. talk to his wife 🙂

  9. Keri Brooks says:

    In the wards I’ve been in, the concluding speaker has almost always been male. The only exceptions I can think of are missionary farewells/homecomings (I spoke last when I left on and returned from my mission) or when all speakers are female.

    Thankfully, the husband/wife pairing is falling by the wayside. I prefer it when the speakers are mixed up a bit, as it gives singles and people married to nonmembers a chance to participate as well. (Plus, logistically, it makes more sense if parents of young children aren’t both speaking the same week. That way someone can sit with the kids while the other one speaks.)

    Last Sunday, however, was a notable experience. I was at a singles’ conference, and there was a Sacrament meeting. An area authority Seventy was in attendance and he was listed as the concluding speaker on the program. Sister Beck was listed as the penultimate speaker. When the meeting actually happened, though, the order of the speakers was switched (presumably at the request of the Seventy, who was presiding over the meeting) so that Sister Beck was the concluding speaker.

  10. jeans says:

    In our ward, not only is our last speaker equally likely to be male or female, our bishopric deliberately does not have married people speak on the same days as their spouses. More fair to singles, anyhow – since no one is automatically “paired up” there’s no awkwardness, and makes it easier for families w/ small children if both spouses aren’t speaking on the same day.

  11. LovelyLauren says:

    In my old ward, a male speaker was always, always last. I tried to explain to the bishop that this sent a message and he insisted that I was seeing something that wasn’t there. He also only wanted men to say the closing prayer.

    Not too soon after, I started attending another ward that I wasn’t in the boundary for. This ward, the last speaker is often male, maybe 65% of the time? And I said the closing prayer today. It’s silly that something so little could bother me, but if it is so little, I don’t see why it couldn’t have changed in my old ward. My current bishopric also avoids the husband/wife speakers because there are so many people with very small children, so less time is spent on the “introduce the family” type talk.

    It’s always astonishing to me how much your leadership and ward can affect your church experience. This ward has done so much for me in terms of confirming that this is where I want to be.

  12. EM says:

    The “vain traditions of our forefathers” continue to astound me. In my branch the Branch Presidency counselor was always in charge of getting the speakers and he always had the male speak last – because he was a priesthood holder (blech). I’m looking forward to seeing if the next counselor (the other one was release last week) will be a younger person, and to see if that makes a difference in determining order of speakers. I somehow think that the younger generation male will be more sensitive to female/male speakers – at least that’s my hope. In my branch I’ve noticed that whenever the women speak, they are supposed to speak only for ten minutes, but they end up speaking for twenty or more minutes and Peter Priesthood has only five or ten minutes left – I think that’s hilarious. I think there’s another problem that deserves equal attention and that is when the same people get called on to speak over and over again – that’s annoying. And it’s a problem no matter where you go in the world – I’ve seen this happen time and time again. Even in my current small branch, the same people speaker over and over.

    • Jamie says:

      In regards to the same people speaking over and over. Our ward keeps track of speakers so when my husband (2nd counselor in the bishopric) turn to get talks he is able to see who spoke. The other thing is that he hates getting speakers because you know what people, alot of people say NO! Can you believe it people actually say no to a talk. Yep that is right. Also I have talked to him many times about doing a “non traditional” sacracment where he called 5 or 6 different people to talk about their favorite hymn and then sing them. I am always trying to give him ideas to help it less stressful for him. He usually doesn’t tell people what to talk on, he rarely says please talk on this conference talk. he will say if you would like to speak on this topic here is a reference OR you can choose your own topic. He trys to pick uplifting, humanitarian topics, like kindness, love, etc. We are a pretty unconventional couple in regards to the church, I sit on the stand with him sometimes, and he sits with me and the kids sometimes. Our bishop is very open and isn’t a “traditional” sort of bishop!

  13. Jamie says:

    My husband is 2nd counselor in our ward bishopric. They each take a month to get talks. When it is his turn he calls the person and asks what order they want to speak. He says invariablly all the time the woman chooses to go first so she can get it done with. I find this interesting the fact that most of the time wives, women are labeled as wanting to get the last word in. I have had alot of related subjects with my husband who honestly does not think that the “preisthood rules” or “presides” I think our ward is unique in that people don’t have that attitude but also interesting that the women either want to first to get it over with or they “know” that the priesthood should speak last.

  14. alex w. says:

    I um, haven’t exactly been to a regular sacrament meeting in my current/new ward (only a testimony meeting), but for all of the family wards I’ve attended, it has generally been the order of youth speaker, female speaker, male speaker. And on top of that, I now know that it’s not just in Utah where women are asked to introduce the family when it’s their first time speaking in the ward, because that’s what I was asked today.

  15. Rixa says:

    Our ward (in the midwest) is all over the place with both speakers and prayers. When my husband and I have been asked to speak, we’ve never been instructed to have me introduce the family. Actually I’m the one who delves right into the talk. My husband is more likely to do introduction stuff in a new ward.

  16. TopHat says:

    Our ward in Provo was good about not having couples speak together: this gave singles the opportunity to talk more and for women to be the concluding speaker. My current ward there are lots of Sundays when men end, but if a couple wants to switch it up, they bishopric has no problem with it. In fact, Petra on the bloggernacle recently moved to our ward and when she and her husband spoke, she requested to be last and that was totally ok and done that way.

    • Petra says:

      Actually, to give credit where it’s due, the bishop ordered us that way without my asking, probably because I told him several times that I’m the more confident speaker. My husband and I were definitely planning on me speaking last, though, no matter what the program said about the order, so we were pleasantly surprised that the bishop arranged us that way anyway.

  17. RM says:

    This reminds me of when a sister (not my wife) was speaking and I was the concluding speaker. She ended up taking up the WHOLE time and left me there looking like a dweeb not getting any time to speak at all. lol


  18. Sandra says:

    Our new ward down south switches it up between couples v. individuals speaking. However, there seems to be preference for men as the closing speaker. Though in we try to change that- every time my husband and I have been asked to speak together, we inform them that I will be the closing speaker. And we’ve never been met with resistance- just a bit of surprise and acceptance. And it works best for us anyway- I am the more comfortable public speaker and more extemporaneous.

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    Usually we have the youth-woman-man order that is traditional. But often enough it gets changed up, sometimes for no discernible reason. So I think my bishopric is open to using different orders, but under normal circumstances probably uses the traditional order without really thinking about it very much.

    But EM is right that the middle-slotted sisters get their revenge, because it’s extremely common for them to take the majority of the time and leave only five minutes or less for the last speaker.

  20. Deborah says:

    My new, large “healthy” ward follows this pattern. My previous small “quirky” ward mixed it up. I was the sole speaker one Sunday in that ward, and preparing that talk felt like preparing a homily — never felt more like a minister. I love quirk.

  21. Emily U says:

    I voted …..is almost always male.

    But, we have one bishopric member who, when he conducts, often places women in the concluding speaker slot. His mom was a feminist Mormon heroine. So it’s nice to see her legacy making some difference 🙂

  22. Struwelpeter says:

    I live in S. Davis county in a ward that has been fairly egalitarian with respect to Sacrament meeting talks in the 7 years I’ve been here, and has gotten even more with the calling of a new bishop in January. Anecdote 1: My wife, a kick-butt teacher and returned missionary is one of the heavy hitters called on when a great talk is needed for a particular occasion. She has twice been the keynote/concluding speaker on Easter Sunday. Anecdote 2: It is becoming fairly common on days when an Elder is giving his “farewell” address for the speaker order to run as follows: (1) Youth speaker: (2) departing Elder; (3) totally unrelated female speaker. Anecdote 3: Yesterday we had an all female line-up, from youth speaker to concluding speaker (and no, the women speaking were not part of an auxiliary presidency).

  23. Joy Buhler says:

    I’ve lived in N. Virginia for 10 years and I’ve never been in a ward (single or family) that deviates from the gender order. But the church in N.Virginia is as conservative as Utah–at least the wards I’ve attended here.

  24. Janna says:

    I asked a man who had been in the bishopric about this trend, and he answered, “It’s because everyone always remembers what is said last in Sacrament meeting,” implying that we certainly wouldn’t want people to remember something that a woman said.

    I’ve only seen a female speak last one time, and she requested to do so. The reason that men speak last is that men are in charge of the Mormon church, and giving them the last word, conveys that hierarchy quite plainly.

    • galdralag says:

      I asked a man who had been in the bishopric about this trend, and he answered, “It’s because everyone always remembers what is said last in Sacrament meeting,” implying that we certainly wouldn’t want people to remember something that a woman said.


      …and people wonder why there are so many concerned women (and men) advocating to ensure women are taken seriously at church.

  25. Lynn Anderson says:

    When I got home from my mission, I was asked to speak at a neighboring ward. I was astonished (and a bit irked) that even though I had been expressly asked to come, and was “the main event,” so to speak, I was not in the final slot on the program. The bishop of that ward truly thought that the last speaker had to be a priesthood holder, so no, he would not change the order. The man who was in the final slot pulled me aside and told me to take as much time as I wanted/needed. He was embarrassed at how stupid the situation was.

  26. Rebecca says:

    Is this a Utah thing? Honestly. I don’t feel this maligned in the church. We live in California, though, so maybe we are among the lucky few. The high councilman speaks last because that’s his purvey. That’s the only time when “the man” is obligated to be last. Our Bishop doesn’t even give closing remarks unless a meandering testimony has introduced a whole heap of false doctrine.

    Huh. We keep talking about going back to Utah. I should probably rethink that plan.

  1. January 25, 2016

    […] if you are the last speaker and you need to expand or contract your talk for time?  (According to our polling, most of our female readers won’t have this problem because we will never be asked to speak […]

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