Zelophehad’s Daughters

A One-Hour Block for the Holidays

Posted by Ziff

What meetings does your ward or branch typically hold when Christmas in on a Sunday? Do you have all three hours of meetings, or just sacrament meeting? Or is there some other arrangement?

I realize that there are several reasons this might be a silly question. First, this won’t be an issue until the end of 2011, when Christmas actually will fall on a Sunday. Second, Christmas falls on a Sunday only every seven years or so, give or take leap year pushing it around. Third, given that it’s such a rare occurrence, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to talk about what a ward “typically” does. Likely half a ward’s membership and most if not all of the leadership turns over between occurrences of Christmas on a Sunday, so it’s not even really the same ward from one occurrence to the next.

The reason I ask the question, though, is that I was wondering if arguments for reducing church to one hour when Christmas falls on a Sunday might not be extended and apply similarly when Christmas is merely near a Sunday. This occurred to me because I was asked to substitute in my ward’s severely short-handed primary on the 26th. In the hustle and bustle of all the holiday preparations, I didn’t get to prepare the lesson until Christmas Day, and that wasn’t really how I wanted to spend time on that day.

So what are the arguments for a one-hour block when Christmas falls on a Sunday? I don’t know that I’ve ever heard them actually stated, but I’m guessing they’re something like these: First, on Christmas, people should be able to spend time with their families rather than in Sunday School. Second, enough people will be out of town on Christmas that it will be difficult to find enough teachers for all the classes. When most people are in town, teaching benefits from a kind of economy of scale, where you don’t have to have as many teachers as there are students. When people leave, though, this arrangement makes things more difficult, as a few students missing from a class don’t reduce the number of teachers needed (unless there are so many missing that classes can be combined), but each missing teacher requires a substitute. The result is that a larger fraction of the ward has to be teaching when lots of people are out of town than on more usual Sundays. Third, as I was reminded of when preparing my lesson, a lot of work related to the second and third hours occurs on days before Sunday, so holding all three hours requires preparation that competes with holiday preparation and celebration, and most importantly, with extra-precious family holiday time.

How do these arguments apply when Christmas is merely near a Sunday rather than being on a Sunday? Well, the first argument is weaker. People still probably want to be with their families around Christmas, but it doesn’t seem like as big a deal to take them away for the full three hour block on December 22nd or 27th (say) compared to on Christmas Day. But the second and third arguments are, I think, just as strong. Lots of people will be out of town on Sundays around Christmas, and it will be difficult to staff all the teaching positions. And preparation for Sunday will still interfere with celebration and family holiday time.

What are the arguments for having the full three hours when Christmas is on (or around) Sunday? I doubt that people would argue that there’s an extra need for the second and third hours at these times, especially considering that we rarely have lessons related at all to Christmas. Rather, the best argument seems to me to be that church shouldn’t be cut down to one hour without having a really good reason, and saving holiday celebration or family time, and avoiding staffing difficulties, just aren’t good enough reasons. Or, thinking along similar lines, if we can cut church to one hour for a Sunday around Christmas, why not for Easter? Or Independence Day?

What are your experiences with church when Christmas is on a Sunday? What arguments am I missing, either for or against reducing church to one hour in such cases? What do you think about reducing church on Sundays around Christmas?

21 Responses to “A One-Hour Block for the Holidays”

  1. 1.

    I can remember a Christmas-on-Sunday from when I was a teenager, and I know my ward only had Sacrament that Sunday. A friend in my current ward said the last time Christmas was on Sunday (2005, I guess) that our ward and the ward we share a building with had a combined, one hour service.

    My current ward announced a just-Sacrament service for this Dec. 26, and I assumed it was Stake-wide until I heard that the other ward in our building was planning on having all three meetings. In the end, church was cancelled because of the snow anyway, but at least I didn’t prepare a Primary lesson that I didn’t need or use.

    I think it would be nice to make a tradition church-wide for just Sacrament December 24, 25, or 26. I don’t think having the extra meetings those days helps with the Spirit or feelings of family harmony.

    Then again, I think Primary Program Sunday should just be Sacrament meeting, with a linger longer or potluck afterwards. I think family and community members should be invited and I think it should be kind of a big deal.

  2. 2.

    The last time Christmas was on Sunday, my ward and the other ward in the building held a combined musical Sacrament Meeting at noon as the only meeting of the day (well, public meeting, anyway; I don’t know about leadership meetings).

    While I understand the desire for family time at the holidays, the flip side of this is that there are more people than you might imagine who don’t have families and for whom church *is* the full holiday celebration.

  3. 3.

    We only have sac meeting when church is on a Sunday, but if only near a Sunday, regular meetings. But a couple of weeks ago, there was a major water leak in our building requiring a few walls to be torn down, so we only had sac meeting the Sunday before Christmas. A beautiful musical Christmas program then we went home. Wonderful.

  4. 4.

    In my experience, in several different wards, the three-hour block has been reduced to just Sacrament meeting when Christmas has fallen on a Sunday. The last time I think the two wards in our building had a combined meeting. The argument I have heard for this has always been that Christmas is a day to be home with family. Your argument that it’s hard to staff the other meetings near Christmas is a good one too.
    I like having Christmas on a Sunday. Then the Sacrament meeting can be focused on the birth of Christ, in both music and talks. And going to church seems like an appropriate way to celebrate the birth of our Savior. In our ward this year, there was not a single talk about Christ’s birth during the month of December and only one Christmas musical number (a song by the choir the second week of Dec.). Sad.

  5. 5.

    I believe all truncations need to be made with the permission of the Stake President, right? I have heard of a few retractions here and there.

    I always find it ironic that MOST Christians spend extra time at Church on Christmas, but Mormons can’t hack religion that day.

  6. 6.

    I think it’s weird that on the day when pretty non-religious people are taking their families to church, Mormons are arguing to not go. I like that the Leipzig wards have a Christmas Eve concert. The music really brings in the holiday really well. I guess you can tell I’m all for the whole three hours when Christmas falls on a Sunday and we could even start a during-the-week celebration with my full support.

  7. 7.

    Here’s what I’ve learned after having been in a Primary Presidency for the past couple years.
    You will lose a lot of kids to travel, so you can plan on combining a couple classes. You will also have a few visitors, so be prepared in Sacrament meeting to guess ages/classes. You will also have teachers who are otherwise reliable throughout the year not show (or the sub they arranged won’t show). Have substitutes lined up to fill in, if necessary.
    In Primary there is a Christmas lesson, and in Sharing Time, we focus on Christmas in songs. So, there’s no reason not to have church on Sunday. However, it’s the wards who are in the 1-4 block, like we will be, that it stinks for.

  8. 8.

    I would prefer having a special musical program at church to celebrate the birth of the Savior on Christmas Eve or Chistmas Day regardless of the day of the week the holiday falls on. Participating in hymn-sings is my favorite thing to do at Christmas time. Attending a Christ-centered service could become an important family tradition as well as include the many members who are lonely during the holidays. I wonder if the Mormon reticience to celebrate in church on Christmas stems from early anti-Catholic sentiment against liturgy.

  9. 9.

    The only time I specifically remember, either Christmas Eve or Christmas fell on a Sunday (I don’t recall which it was), and the Stake had issued strict instructions to hold the full three-hour block. Our bishop had a longer than normal special program and then dismissed us. He was my hero that day! How was he punished for this effrontery? He was soon called into the stake presidency, then later called as a mission president, and after that as a temple president. I attribute all of that to having the cojones to do what is right.

  10. 10.

    I put a g in angle brackets at the end of no. 9, which didn’t show up in the comment as posted. So please just imagine some sort of a smiley face there.

  11. 11.

    While I understand the desire for family time at the holidays, the flip side of this is that there are more people than you might imagine who don’t have families and for whom church *is* the full holiday celebration.

    That is well said, and not often enough remembered.

    Though I’ve been in wards where if Christmas was “near” a Sunday, one hour meeting. Others, where only limited if it was on a Sunday, and, pre-consolidated meeting schedule, wards where we held all the meetings even if on Christmas day.

    Full gamut in my experience.

  12. 12.

    #4: I agree: very sad, indeed. I still remember Easter Sunday the year after my wife and I married. A high councilor spoke on food storage. The only mention of Easter the entire meeting was the HC’s hoping the Easter Bunny had been good to the children that morning. Yikes! (The good result of that was that whenever I’ve been in a position to plan sacrament meetings, I’ve checked my calendar early for Easter to be sure we’d be prepared!)

    Hopefully as leaders make decisions about the length of meeting blocks they’ll consult their ward and stake councils! We’ve enjoyed a sacrament-meeting-only Christmas Sunday in the past.

  13. 13.

    I always find it ironic that MOST Christians spend extra time at Church on Christmas, but Mormons can’t hack religion that day.

    MOST Christians have a paid clergy, music director, and organist to run the program for them on Christmas, MOST Christians have some flexibility as to what time they attend services (either by choosing the congregation or choosing from multiple services), and MOST Christians attend services which last far less than 3 hours a week, making an 80 minute Sacrament Meeting program probably about average in length for a Christmas service.

  14. 14.

    Years ago my family set aside the 24th, 25th and 26th as days that we’d all get together from wherever we all ended up once we moved out of my parent’s home. Some years those three days are the only time I’ll see some of these people in the flesh, so try as I may I can’t bring myself to feel guilty about skipping a couple of meetings or even the whole block.

    This year I found a sub for my class and we left after the sacrament.

    I’d love ESO or Mischelle to point out all of these congregations that are meeting for 3 hours on Christmas day while Mormons complain about having to go for more than an hour. Really?

  15. 15.

    I’ve been in places where they reduced and combined it and places where it was the same ol’ same ol’ as every other Sunday (similar to Easter). But I’ve never had an experience that made me feel like we really believe what we teach about the miracle of Christ’s birth.

    So I would prefer to see neither. I would prefer to see an atypical service where wards come together and add a bit more tradition to the whole thing, not only on years where it falls on Sunday, but every other year with some form of Christmas Eve service offered as well.

    I think my feelings are very much in line with “A Seasonal Protestant” from the recent Exponent II. This year I didn’t attend my ward Christmas anything, and we went to a Christmas Eve mass at a local cathedral. It was absolutely amazing to sing with others in that setting and to light candles with them, and one of the few places that I have felt the spirit (of Christmas or otherwise) lately. I don’t think a Mormon service needs to look like that, but something different from the norm would be nice.

  16. 16.

    MOST Christians have a paid clergy, music director, and organist to run the program for them on Christmas, MOST Christians have some flexibility as to what time they attend services (either by choosing the congregation or choosing from multiple services), and MOST Christians attend services which last far less than 3 hours a week, making an 80 minute Sacrament Meeting program probably about average in length for a Christmas service.

    Not to mention for many Christians that “extra time at Church on Christmas” is often their only chapel experience of the entire year. The “Easter/Christmas only” subset of Christianity doesn’t seem to appear within the LDS much — it’s either every week or not at all.

  17. 17.

    Great post.
    I like the discussion of why Mormons want out of church at Christmas (and Easter).

    In the most recent Exponent II, Emily Parker Updegraff writes about being a seasonal prostestant and visiting other churches on the Holy Days. It’s a great article and she gets to the core of this issue about needing a more focused celebration of these important Christian holidays.
    (page 6)
    http://www.exponentii.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Winter-2010.pdf

    Unfortunately, I didn’t read the article until after Christmas, but I think I”ll try it next year.

    In the meantime, perhaps having a shorter block is the best thing.

    Ziff, I’m sorry you were preparing your lesson on Christmas day. I had to sub as well and I just read over mine in sacrament meeting. Luckily, the 4 year olds liked the parachute I brought as a game :)

  18. 18.

    I visited with a Catholic aquaintance shortly before Christmas. Interestingly, she complained (gently) that going to church for her on Christmas Eve was very hard, just because of the logistics. She said parking is a mess and getting into the meeting itself is also very tough because of the many C&E attenders. She said sometimes it’s just easier to stay home with the family.

  19. 19.

    I asked this year, and the RS president of my husband’s ward confirmed to me that the ward cuts back to Sacrament-meeting-only when Christmas falls on a Sunday. There was a full 3-hour block on the 26th.

    My own church meetings last about 2.25 hours most of the year, for Sunday School and the normal service; I don’t know of another branch of Christianity that has mandatory gendered meetings on Sundays. There’s optional men’s Bible study and women’s Bible study groups held throughout the week.

    However, Sunday School usually takes a break during the holidays due to low attendance. We had a special Christmas Eve candle-lighting service at my church, and then there was a normal service on the 26th for 1.25 hours.

  20. 20.

    Gol.

    Meetings on sudnay?

    yes, all three.

    And bishopric meeting for my husband (no, no… he’s only a lowly ward clerk) at 6:45 am.

    :D Brownie points in heaven, I hope…

  21. 21.

    I’m very excited: our ward is having an Easter Eve musical fireside this year. And the idea of having a Christmas Eve program (regardless of the day Christmas falls on) is glorious to me! Such things don’t have to be complex… simply singing as a congregation, having a few special musical numbers, and maybe a message from the Bishop that’s very scripture-heavy would do it!

    I’ve been in wards that have a full block on a Sunday-falling 24th, 25th, or 26th, and wards that do Sacrament meeting only on those same days. I don’t have a preference for which, so long as the focus of all the meetings is on Christ.

    But then, I tend to want the focus of all Sunday meetings be on Christ, anyhow. I’m radical that way.

    Our ward is lovely. Our bishop is lovely. But, he does not really understand music as worship, so it’s been a dry, dusty several years. We have become seasonally Protestant, and seasonally Catholic as well. My nearly 6-yo enjoyed Mass a lot. “You get to stand up, and kneel, and move around, Mom! And the music was cool! Can we go pretend to be Catholic again sometimes?”

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