Thoughts on Reverence — I Kid You Not

Our ward has been talking a lot about reverence lately. I am of a mixed mind about this. The working definition for reverence seems to be “be quiet and think of Jesus.” They want reverence, but they also want children in the meetings. Hello! Children and quiet? When did that work?

I think that having children in meetings and still expecting reverent quiet are mutually exclusive…like the commands not to eat the fruit but still to go forth and multiply.

Some of my friends who aren’t Mormon comment that they stopped going to this or that church because it was too noisy in their meetings. This was not in reference to amplified praise choirs with drum sets and electric guitars, but to the presence of children. Dare I ever invite these friends to a Sunday morning at our meetings which sometimes sound like the Amazon jungle?

Alas, I don’t think there’s any chance on the horizon that our church, like the one I grew up in, will have a simultaneous Junior Worship Service designed for the interest, capacities, and learning abilities of the lambkins of the fold. To me it is one of the mysteries of the church. But, given that contemporary LDS policy expects “family togetherness”, what strategies work? In my day of child-herding, a steady stream of cheerios and plenty of books, puzzles and silent widgets got us through their upbringing.

I believe that most parents try hard to keep their kids as quiet as humanly possible given the challenges. What really drives me nuts are the parents who are inured to the noise their kids make and sit there sweetly bobbing affirmation to the speakers while their kids are tearing each other’s hair out, crying and cursing.

But for those parents who try hard and mostly successfully to manage their kids, does that feel like reverence to them? Well, it’s a kind of white knuckled reverence I suppose. But not really the kind of “profound, adoring, awed respect” that the dictionary uses to define the word.

My best strategy is to continue to keep the posse around me as quiet as possible so as not to disturb people around us. Beyond that, I have let go of the expectation of Sacrament Meetings in a ward with young children as a place that will inspire or promote reverence. I love the relative stillness of the passing of the Sacrament. That can be the one sacred time in the 70 minute stretch. Beyond that, though, any moments of awe and hushed respect that DO come are all the more wonderful because I am not counting on them.

I have come to believe that reverence has got to be developed from the inside out if it is going to be satisfying at all. And it certainly can’t be limited to a chunk of time on Sundays. Learning to find an inner swell of respectful awe in a meeting teeming with tots is a lifetime’s challenge.

Meanwhile, I know that reverence of a rich and layered kind is not always quiet. Read Psalm 98 if you’re looking for a lively one – with brass instruments, no less. Psalm 46 is another one loaded with noise – of crashing waves and mass destruction of all kind – but pierced through with the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God.”

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28 Responses

  1. AmyB says:

    I remember when I was in a student ward and we got a new bishopbric. The first Sunday in office they and their wives all bore their testimonies (a common tradition, I believe). The bishop’s wife got up and went on and on about how she couldn’t believe how quiet and reverent we were. I don’t think it occured to her that it was simply because there were no children present.

    I like the idea of exploring deeper meanings of reverence beyond the Mormon “fold your arms and be quiet” definition. The Psalms sound like a good place to start.

  2. Dave says:

    I think most families dont try to teach their children reverence at home – so of course they are not reverent at church. As always, better teaching at home makes for much better church meetings

  3. Caroline says:

    My understanding (don’t know where I got this from) is that the Church wants kids to be watched by parents during Sacrament meeting because of potential law suits. I guess they got sued a couple times when, 25 years ago, they used to let parents drop kids off in the nursery before Sac Meeting and the the kids injured themselves somehow. Has anyone else heard this?

    (This fear of law suits is also, from what I’ve heard, the main reason that the Church won’t give the green light for pre-schools or home schooling parents to use the buildings.)

    But back to the reverence question. I know parents of young kids that have not gotten a single thing out of Sac Meeting for years since they’re so tied up with trying to shut the kids up. This total concentration on keeping kids quiet does not strike me as conducive to promoting “a profound religious awe” for these parents or children.

    And incidentally, I really like the idea that religious awe, or reverence, does not have to be quiet. How I yearn for a meeting with some joyful singing, some non-traditional musical instruments and pieces. Going to other churches occassionally has taught me that I actually feel the Spirit much more when there’s a lot of energy and joy in the sermons and music.

    • kate says:

      the church does allow for parents to “drop their kids off at nursery” lots of parents dont stay with their kids when the kids are old enough to be comfortable. Law suits are definitely not the reason, dont you think they would make parents of primary kids sign waivers if it was?
      What I have always assumed/believed was the purpose of children in sacrement meeting is to teach children respect for the sacrement at an early age and have famlies together, it is the only time in church that families are all together.
      And on a side note the church does not allow for pre-schools to use the buildings because they usually charge for their services/employees receive payment. But on the other hand, the church allows for homeschool groups etc to use the church. I guess it’s at the individual bishop’s discrestion but growing up I was homeschooled and we used the church all the time along with other families for various get togethers and activities that were not church related.

  4. Sarah says:

    Honestly, there are some times I wonder why families don’t time-share the Sacrament experience: family “A” watches all the kids while parents of families “B” and “C” go to sacrament meeting. Or, alternately, parents trading off (though I can see why that’d be less satisfying than parents staying together.) I especially wonder this when toy cars come flying at my face during the Sacrament, and during our annual Saturday morning to clean the building, when the vaccuum chokes on all the cracker bits. Amongst other things, I’m not sure the kids are learning a good lesson by sitting in Sacrament and being distracted while they’re young. As a young adult I find it hard not to doodle or think about other things during the meeting, after all those years of practicing not caring about what was going on.

    It doesn’t help that at my UU church when I was little, I perfected the art of napping while sitting straight up, as my father and grandmother were both in the choir and therefore watching me as I sat alone on the pew. Incidentally, the trick is to put your neck in a neutral position (looking slightly up works best) and wear glasses (it works really well if you’re in reflected light.)

    At least one time in church I’ve actually been asleep and even my sister, who was sitting right next to me, couldn’t tell for sure for nearly half an hour (I had my scriptures open, so it was possible I was just “pondering.”)

  5. John says:

    Quakers worship in silence–it’s like the quiet parts of a Mormon testimony meeting. The Quaker meeting we sometimes attend is in the middle of downtown Santa Ana, California. This was by choice–they could’ve had established the meeting in a quiet suburb. As a result, “silent” worship is punctuated by bell towers, loud hip hop music, sirens, and crying babies. I don’t think that this mutes the atmosphere of reverence.

    I think this is because a large component of reverence is attitude: to love each of the interruptions and the humanity behind it and to think of each as a gentle reminder to turn one’s attention to God. In Buddhist mindfulness meditation, one is advised to be compassionate towards and to acknowledge distracting thoughts, rather than berating oneself for losing focus.

    Of course, all this is easy to say, and much harder to put into practice.

  6. paula says:

    Oh wow, now some of you have spiffy avatars. I feel so inferior. (And maybe I’m even so uncool, I’m using the term wrong.)

    I’m 47 and I have never heard of nursery being conducted for kids during sacrament meeting. However, when I was little, at least in rural Utah where I grew up, people did not expect a mother with very young kids to attend as regularly as they do now. It was just accepted that SM was not really a place for a toddler. This was an older concept, dying out when I was little, but I do remember the idea that I was too young for SM, and would go when I was older, and my mom stayed home with me. It was the norm in my extended family. I don’t think it was a bad idea either.

  7. Bored in Vernal says:

    OK, OK, I admit it. I TALK during sacrament meeting. Well, I whisper loudly. But if you want me to pay attention, can you try to be a little more interesting??? And if you want the children to listen, why don’t you speak to them, or say something that will relate to their point of view? (See my related article, “Zen and the Art of Sunday School Attendance” at my new blog

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been a member of the Church since 1962 and I’ve NEVER known a time when there was a nursery for Sacrament Meeting. For Relief Society yes, paid, non members or members from another Ward, and they took all children from infants on. Of course in my early life as a Presbyterian nurseries were the norm during worship service and junior meetings as you got older. I was a little unnerved by children in Sacrament Mtg. when first introduced to the LDS Church but I have grown to love the fact the we have “suffered the little children to come unto me and forbid them not”. It is hard on the parents (except for the ones who use their children as an excuse to leave themselves) but I can testify that the children are learning and often much more than we think.

  9. Caroline says:

    Hmmmmm, I’ll have to ask my mom about nursery during Sac Meeting. I could have sworn our ward did it, at least for a very short time period before it stopped.

    Bored in Vernal,
    I talk too. Or at least I try to whisper things to my husband, but he usually ignores me since he can’t stand people talking to him during the service. Now I find it therapeutic to crochet leper bandages during sac meeting. It keeps me focused as well as less bored, and I get to do something humanitarian during the hour.

  10. Tracy M says:

    Hey Dave, how many kids do you have???

    SM is a sweaty, stressful white knuckle endeavor for me and DH. We have three kids under 5, and no matter how much you practice or how good your kids are, children that small CANNOT sit still and be quiet for 70-80 minutes. Can’t be done. Sorry. Period.

    I wonder what my kids are learning, actually. Are they learning awe for the Savior, or are they learning mom is grumping at them constantly for over an hour, just for being normal kids? I worry so about how we might be bothering our neighbors, and usually end up sitting in the folding chairs in the back. We use the Cheerios, books, coloring, and usually the program gets made into a paper airplane that, miraculously, has NEVER been thrown, only held tightly in a small boys fist.

    There are honestly Sundays when I simply bow out. When we have 1 pm Sacrament, it’s even more horrid- that is, quite simply, NAPTIME for almost all pre-school children present. Just put a fork in my ear and call it a day, please.

    I’m going to go read that psalm now. Thanks for letting me vent.

  11. jana says:

    For awhile, when our ward was in the first slot on the Sunday schedule, we skipped Sac Mtg in the chapel and headed to the RS room. There, we turned on the speakers so we could hear the talks, while our kids were free to roam and I reclined on the soft seats. Very comfy–like having church in your living room. 🙂

  12. John Mansfield says:

    This post seems initially to find “be quiet and think of Jesus” an insufficient concept of reverence, but then a dart is thrown at those whose devotional attention in the sacrament meeting isn’t sufficiently perturbed by the noise of their children.

  13. Dora says:

    The other week, as I was busy flirting with the adorable toddler in the row just in front of me, she made a lunge for me. After shooting an entreating smile at the mother, and getting the go-ahead nod, I gathered the child in my lap and had quiet fun with her until she decided it was time to move on. Which brings me to my new SM theory … parents of cute infants and toddlers should loan them out to singles during meetings. Of course, I would sit near said parents so that hand-offs for unconsolable children can be made. Think of it as Rent-An-Auntie.

    Caroline ~ I confess to bringing knitting with me to church to help keep my fingers busy and my mind awake during more prosaix speakers.

  14. Capt. Obsidian says:

    My Mission Pres told us of an experience he had attending a Sacrament Meeting with a GA (currently a member of the 12). During the sacrament the GA whispered to my MP, “what do you notice about this ward?” My MP answered, noticing the profound silence, “I can’t believe how reverent they are.” The GAs response: “It’s dead! There are no children in this ward.”

    In the context of church, reverence can different things to different people. I try to keep my 2-year-old daughter as quiet and still as possible, but she’s 2 and a busy-body. If she’s too noisy, I’ll just take her out to the hall and be thankful to get the break from listening to the high council speaker.

  15. Pearl says:

    I come from a family of 8 kids and we were required to be quite during SM…we weren’t aloud to leave the chapel and had to just sit and draw or read, sleep or other varied silent SM activities…the youngest were given snacks. But we all learned from my Mom who wouldn’t tolerate noise during the meeting. The first time we misbehaved she would make us “practice” sitting still for an hour…we would be stuck on the living room couch for an entire hour after church. For all of us it only had to happen once and we would prefer to sit and work on silent activities during SM…maybe all 8 of us were a certain type of kid…but I don’t think so. Anyway there maybe something to learning it at home.

  16. fsmith says:

    I have 4. Six and under. Some weeks its OK and some weeks its a cat fight.

    I really appreciate the vitality of wards with lots of kids. It means that the church is growing and people are taking church teachings seriously.

    I like the apostles comments about a childless ward being “dead”

  17. Tracy M says:

    Dora- I love, love, love it when a single sister or someone whose kids are grown grabs one of my kids. I want to hug them with thanks.

    As far as practicing at home, some of us try. We do the best we can. Unless I duct tapes my kids to the couch, and I’m not kidding, they cannot sit for 80 minutes. My almost 5-year old finally can, but the younger ones? Come on.

  18. madhousewife says:

    Some years ago, our bishop’s wife got up in SM and told us she had been the parent of 6 and that her husband had always been in leadership positions and she frequently had to manage all the kids in SM, and she was going to give us real-life, practical tips for keeping kids quiet during SM. I thought, “Oh, wow, this is going to be good.” So she gave us her tips, and with each one, I thought, “Been there, done that.” She acknowledged that it took some time, but eventually all her kids were able to sit quietly during SM. I think she forgot to mention the part where the kids got older.

    I think making kids “practice” at home can be very effective for some families. It wouldn’t work for us. My kids won’t sit still for five minutes of time-out, let alone an hour of reverence practice. We got the older ones to be quiet(er) in SM by making them offers they couldn’t refuse. The younger ones, well, we’re just waiting for them to get old enough to appreciate bribes (and threats).

  19. Eve says:

    As a Primary child I heard over and over that reverence was different from just being quiet, but I could not, for the life of me, figure out what the difference was, since we were constantly praised as “reverent” when we were–you guessed it!–quiet. (The concept of reverence may just be quite difficult to convey to children.)

    I’m not a parent, so I’m treading lightly here, but I think it’s worth noting that children come with very individual dispositions. Like Pearl’s, my family of origin, seven kids, all learned pretty quickly to sit relatively still in sacrament meeting–but then we tend to be introverted and reserved, the type who sat quietly in school as well. (Quiet we may have been, but reverent we mostly weren’t. I recall a fair number of paper frogs folded out of programs, and at one time my brother Ziff had a series of short stories which featured a notorious character named Chuck Humphries and which he kept in the front of his scriptures and added to weekly. To our quiet and general amusement.) But sitting still, like anything else, comes easier to some than to others. As a nursery worker I’m always fascinated by the weekly parade of personalities I get to see–ranging from fearless human tornadoes almost physically incapable of stillness to wide-eyed, reserved children who trot around obediently after us and barely peep. It may work to sit one kid on the couch after church for another, and it may have absolutely no effect on another kid, unless duct tape is involved. It’s worth keeping that in mind when someone’s children seem to have mutinied and are flying their own colors over their mother’s exhausted body from a nearby pew.

  20. Anonymous says:

    My husband was out in the mountains with some scouts, and they were talking about the scout oath (I think)–honest, trustworthy, thrifty, clean etc…when they got to “reverent,” he asked them what that meant. They all instantly responded, “you sit still with your arms folded.” So my husband got a great opportunity to expand the definition to include wondering awe for God’s creations.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I love this topic. I love the noise of kids in sacrament meeting and love that it is now someone else’s job to keep the noise to a dull roar. When you have what feels like a million kids under the age of 5 in your pew at the end of a long Sunday, think of it as the thrill part of a roller coaster ride, a la Parenthood, the movie. Kids grow up, you get to pay attention in sacrament meeting again and you start longing for grandchildren to keep quiet. Then you are one of those people reaching for the sweet, noisy toddler or baby in the pew in front of you.

    I found that after practicing at home, my kids could sit quietly until after the sacrament had been passed. Then they thought it was a treat to roam the pew at will as long as they were quiet. When they weren’t quiet, they got to go outside the chapel full of interesting people and sit in an empty classroom on my lap. There they could holler and struggle until they decided they would rather be quiet in the chapel. As they got older, we all loved sacrament meeting.

    My husband was a full time student with an almost full time job plus National Guard weekends on one Sunday we didn’t make it through the schedule. He was home about 5 waking hours a week. He was gone on that fateful Sunday. After a long morning of trying to keep the Sabbath holy and a long sacrament meeting trying to keep the kids quiet, my bright, articulate 6 year old made a smart alecky but funny remark as I was conducting primary. At first I just got the giggles, then I started laughing hysterically, then I started sobbing, then I fled to the hallway where the bishop certainly thought more was wrong than an overwrought mom who had enough of kids and Sunday. I yanked three kids out of primary and nursery, we all went home and they spent the next two hours on their bed and the rest of their day in the bedroom.

    So maybe my kids just behaved because they were afraid mom would have a nervous breakdown if they didn’t.

    I think those with young families would be surprised to know of how many people without kids would be overjoyed to help out during sacrament meeting. Try asking someone who admires your children to help out.

  22. Tracy M says:

    I’m not a parent, so I’m treading lightly here, but I think it’s worth noting that children come with very individual dispositions

    Eve- you might not be a parent, but you hit the nail on the head.

    As a nursery worker I’m always fascinated by the weekly parade of personalities I get to see–ranging from fearless human tornadoes almost physically incapable of stillness to wide-eyed, reserved children who trot around obediently after us and barely peep.

    Any guesses what type of children inhabit my house?? Just you try and make a Fearless Human Tornado Incapable of Stillness sit on the couch for an hour, without resorting to tactics that would draw CPS to your door. Uh huh.

    I used to think it was my parenting, and was acutally going through a personal crisis because I felt I had failed my children somehow. Then I had my third baby, and she is completey different than my sons, and was a blessing from God, because from her I learned that it wasn’t my fault my boys are tornadoes. They really, truly came that way, and I didn’t fail them. My daughter is a lovely, sweet tempered mellow child; Also not because of anything I did.

    Parents need to cut themselves (and other parents) some slack. You are not responsible for the personality your kids came with, and neither are you necessarily deserving of congratulations if your children are mellow and well behaved. Give it up to the Lord, cause he made ’em that way.

    I will now put my soapbox away. Thank you for coming. Goodnite.

  23. Eve says:

    Tracy, it’s a good soapbax, living as we do in the wake of decades, almost a century of blank-slate behaviorist parenting, in which middle-class mothers are supposed to walk through the fires of perfect self-sacrifice to produce the perfect child.

    No way, I say. I had a very telling conversation earlier this year with the harried mother of our nursery’s current human tornado, in which I told her I was so glad to see that she struggled with him in sacrament meeting (reassuring us that it wasn’t just us nursery leaders doing something wrong), and she laughed and said that SHE was so glad to see that WE struggled with him in nursery (reassuring her that it wasn’t just her doing something wrong). He’s not a bad, evil, malicious kid. He’s just got the energy of ten. Makes it tough on his mother, especially. I can tell she’s knocked herself out because that kid came into nursery knowing everything there was to know about time out. One day he even put himself in it, no prompting from us–he knew the drill!

    But the way he is is not anyone’s FAULT. It’s just his disposition.

  24. Ziff says:

    Eve, I completely agree. Among her many other great arguments in The Nurture Assumption, Judith Rich Harris argues against the blank slate parents-are-responsible-for-everything myth you cite. She points out that in studying how parents affect kids for so long, developmental psychologists, parenting experts, et al. have missed the fact that kids have different dispositions at birth, and the effects of kids on parents are at least as important in many cases if not more important than the effects of parents on kids.

    This certainly seems true for me. My wife and I have two kids; particularly from our older son, I often feel like I have no idea what to expect. So he’s the actor and I’m the reactor rather than the other way around.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I agree that children come with different personalities. I have twins. They have very different personalities.

    Its easy to point at a misbehaving child and think that the parents are doing a bad job. However its unfair to judge the parents by a 3 year olds energy level.

  26. Anonymous says:


    So many times I ahve heard a harried parent say: This child is so hard I cannot imagine having another. Then another child comes and the child is so different from the first. The parent is relieved.

    I ahve to say that there is now way children come as blank slates. It makes no sense to me from a practicall standpoint (exp) or my belief in the pre-existence.

  27. Ana says:

    I often say that if my second child had been my only child, I would think I was the best mother in the world. But oh, what I’d be missing.

    After years of fighting it, we now let my oldest (age 7 in a couple of weeks) leave sacrament meeting when he can’t sit still, as long as he stays for the sacrament itself. He goes and sets up the chairs in the Primary room or runs a couple of laps around the building and then comes back, much calmer. (We accompany or check on him, of course.) Some days are harder than others. But stillness is never in his vocab. One kind old lady told me she expected him to become a bishop, with all that energy. Blessings on kind old ladies!

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