Changes to Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society Meetings

On Friday 25th August 2017, the Church issued the news that it was to change it’s schedule and resources for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. This is the opening statement on lds.org “The Church has announced changes for Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society Sunday meetings in 2018 that affect not only what materials adults will study but also how they use the time they meet together to accomplish the Lord’s work.” This is quite significant news for Latter-day Saints who will find the content of a third of their Sabbath activities changed in 2018. It is also especially significant for people of my generation who have developed through these auxiliaries and quorums with the same format for the whole time they’ve been in it – the ‘Teachings of the Presidents of the Church’ curriculum has been used since 1998!

Below of the monthly schedule:

Week

Topic

Led by

First Sunday

Counseling together about local needs

Presidency or group leadership

Second and Third Sundays

Recent general conference message

Presidency or group leadership or a called teacher

Fourth Sunday

Special topic chosen by general Church leaders (announced in May and November issues of the Liahona and Ensign magazines)

Presidency or group leadership or a called teacher

Fifth Sunday

Topic chosen by the bishopric

Bishopric or someone they assign

There are some significant changes here which I have noticed.

1. Change from ‘Teachings’ to General Conference talks

This is probably one of the more significant changes. Instead of studying the words of presidents of the Church from the past, members will be studying more from the recent General Conference addresses. This has been usually done on the 4th Sunday of the month but has now doubled to the 2nd and 3rd Sundays. There has been a clear reason for this. Elder LeGrand R Curtis who serves as a General Authority Seventy said ““One of the reasons for the new approach is to give increased emphasis to the words of the living prophets. We’re going to not just devote more time to the messages given by the senior leadership of the Church at general conference, but we are also going to provide some teaching tools to help the instruction and discussion of those messages be all the more rich and meaningful for the members of the Church.” This will provide more opportunities for a deeper discussion on more addresses from the recent General Conference and I for one am looking forward to this.

Another aspect of this change is that local Church leaders are to determine the talks that quorums and auxiliaries will focus on and not only this, Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Society do not have to study the same message. Again, this provides another opportunity to personalise content for the individuals in the wards and stakes that this curriculum is meant to support.

2. Counseling together about local needs

A number of members may see this 1st Sunday content as virtually the same as previously. Before 2018, the 1st Sunday of the month was put aside for Instruction planned for by the quorum and auxiliary presidencies. Whilst it will be a discussion focused on local needs still, it seems to be more towards ministering to others rather than general instruction. Elder LeGrand R Curtis explained ““We want to extend the power that exists in counseling together—not just to the ward councils and presidencies but also into the Relief Societies and quorums of the Church,” We know that quorums and auxiliaries are potentially powerful groups when united and these 1st Sunday discussions can be a vital part of helping this happen.

3. Continuous revelation to guide the Church

Then, to finish all the changes, the 4th Sunday of the month (previously used for a message from the recent General Conference) is now set aside for a topic which is chosen specially from the general leaders of the Church. This I find particularly exciting. Once a month, we will have the opportunity to study and discuss topics which have been considered of vital importance by the Lord’s chosen servants. An example would be recent focuses on family history, Sabbath day observance and studying the Book of Mormon.

I’m very excited about these changes and it indicates a change to focusing on the words of the living prophets and personalised support for local units.

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Sabbath Blessing

I had an experience recently about the need to keep the Sabbath Day Holy and the blessings associated with keeping that covenant.

Last Sunday I was anticipated a big week at work (leading a Staff Meeting, lesson observation, largest book scrutiny, twilight meeting) and had worked when I could to prepare on the days before. However, due to the demands of a young family and various other commitments I hadn’t managed to complete everything. As we settled for sacrament meeting it was on my mind, particularly preparing for my lesson, and I reasoned that for one week only it would be ok to do a little bit of work to catch up in the evening – perhaps when everyone in my family had gone to bed so it wouldn’t have impact on time with them.

However, when the meeting began I received a clear prompting – can’t remember whether it was through a talk, a hymn or a simple prompting – but it was clear, to keep the Sabbath holy even though it might be difficult. Then in Priesthood we had a lesson on Obedience based on the lesson found in the President Gordon B Hinckley manual. In this lesson we learnt about not putting anything before God and keeping the Sabbath Holy. I got the message by then.

As such, I did not complete the work required on the Lord’s holy day. However, as I had faith, I did manage to get it done early in the week much quicker than I expected. As well as this, the challenges and outcomes of the week occurred brilliantly and I was so pleased with the results. I have no doubt that the Lord blessed the results of the week and when we keep the Sabbath Day holy he magnifies our efforts.

Temple/Sabbath Connection

The Sabbath Day is a wonderful thing. However, it is one of those aspects of living the Gospel of Christ that can be either be missed out on or bring great blessings. The concept of a holy day in religion is almost universal and clearly has importance to a number of groups of faith and again, is observed differently by various cultures.

The Sabbath Day

The law of the Sabbath has been in force since the time of Moses and probably even further before. We read in Exodus 20:8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” The Sabbath Day has been recognised since the creation of the Earth. This will be why many religions observe a ‘holy day’, whichever day that is for them.

Typically, the Sabbath is a day of devotion to spiritual matters. Often referred to as a day of rest (“Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest…” Exodus 23:12), we are encouraged to avoid our work in our career on the Sabbath – as much as possible, of course some jobs require working on the Sabbath. However, every possible effort should be made to avoid it. Also, the Sabbath is an opportunity to focus on the things of the Lord. The Lord told us that people would be blessed “that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it…” (Isaiah 56:2). Considering the imagery used of ‘keeping unspotted from the world’, this applies to focusing activities on the Saviour or with the family.

Recently I was shown this connection between the Sabbath and the Temple also. In D&C 109:13, we read this plea to the Lord in the Kirtland Dedicatory Prayer ” And that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou hast sanctified it, and that it is thy house, a place of thy holiness.” From this extract of this important revelation, we learn that the House of the Lord is sanctified. To ‘sanctify’ something means to set apart as or declare as holy. The Temple is a sacred, holy place where the Spirit of the Lord can be truly unrestrained. Worshipping in this sanctified place enables us to come a little bit closer to our Father in Heaven.

We can then link this right back to a verse from the Old Testament, right back to when the Sabbath was first ‘set apart’. In Genesis 2:1-3 we read “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” The seventh day – the day of the Sabbath – was sanctified and set apart to represent and give thanks for the Lord and His mercy to create the Earth in which we live.

There is a link here between the Temple and the Sabbath. Both have been sanctified for our benefit. Both are set apart for worship and sacred ordinances (this is vital). Both are for us to align our lives and wills in line with the Lord’s life and will. As we strive to live the Sabbath Day more fully, with just as much focus as we do to be ready to enter the Temple, then we can find great strength and guidance from the Lord.

Fully Benefitting From the Sacrament

If you were to stop anyone on the street and ask them what the MOST important regular event of their week was, what might they say? Some may highlight a sporting event as that special time; some may quite justifiably say a particular evening they spend with friends or family (whether that be in the home, pub or other place). Some may say the weekend is their highlight of the week and some may not be able to answer this question at all. Now, what time to you in the week is most important?

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there should be one clear answer in our minds. President Joseph Fielding Smith stated – “In my judgment the sacrament meeting is the most sacred, the most holy, of all the meetings of the Church. When I reflect upon the gathering of the Savior and his apostles on that memorable night when he introduced the sacrament; when I think of that solemn occasion my heart is filled with wonderment and my feelings are touched. I consider that gathering one of the most solemn and wonderful since the beginning of time.” Since the beginning of time – do we recognise the importance of that? Should our sacrament meetings not emulate that moment, just as we try to emulate the Saviour through this life-saving ordinance? I use the term ‘life-saving’ because, even though it is not an ordinance in which we MAKE covenants, it is an ordinance in which we RENEW covenants – covenants which, at some point, we ALL break due to our mortal nature.

In order to investigate how we can benefit more fully from the sacrament I want to do this using one of my favourite hymns in our Hymnbook – one of the most beautiful pieces – #185 Reverently and Meekly Now. The reason why I love this hymn is obviously it is deep and meaningful being a hymn that is sung as the holy ordinance of the sacrament is being prepared in front of the congregation. Another, more moving, reason I admire this hymn is the way in which the author of the lyrics has written them as if the Saviour is addressing us, the individual approaching Him through the sacrament. The language is loving, expressive and helps us begin to understand how our Saviour loved us so much that He made this plan possible.Each verse highlights a key principle in how we can make the sacrament a more holy experience:

  1. Rev’rently and meekly now,

Let thy head most humbly bow.

Think of me, thou ransomed one;

Think what I for thee have done.

With my blood that dripped like rain,

Sweat in agony of pain,

With my body on the tree

I have ransomed even thee.

The sacrament should be one of the most spiritual experiences of our week because it is one of the times when we are closest to the Saviour in an average week – we literally touch the emblems of His Atonement. In Luke 22:19 we read And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” It is ‘meant’ to be the time in the week where we reflect on the Saviour and His Atoning sacrifice. In order to receive the full blessings of the Atonement the sacrament is vital! How can we fully benefit from the sacrament? Reverence – treat it with the reverence and sense of worship that this holy ordinance demands.

Of course, it may be difficult for some – particularly those with…energetic children (trust me, I know) – however, it is possible as we prepare ourselves for the sacrament effectively. President Joseph Fielding Smith recounted: “I wish we could get the members of the Church to understand more clearly the covenants they make when they partake of the sacrament at our sacrament meetings. I have seen two members of the Church sitting together [in sacrament meeting], enter into a conversation, stop long enough for the blessing to be asked on the water or on the bread, then start again on their conversation. … That is shocking to me, and I am sure it is to the Lord.”

How can we fully benefit? Reverence…

  1. In this bread now blest for thee,

Emblem of my body see;

In this water or this wine,

Emblem of my blood divine.

Oh, remember what was done

That the sinner might be won.

On the cross of Calvary

I have suffered death for thee.

The principle of the sacrament, as well as being a literal renewal of ALL our covenants, is based on the principle of remembrance. Sister Cheryl A. Esplin of the General Primary Presidency said this:As we partake of the sacrament, we witness to God that we will remember His Son always, not just during the brief sacrament ordinance. This means that we will constantly look to the Savior’s example and teachings to guide our thoughts, our choices, and our acts.” Further, 3 Nephi 18:7 says “And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.”

How can we fully benefit from the sacrament? Remember. Remember during the ordinance. Remember during the week. Remember every day of our lives – for that is what we promise ‘that we will always remember him’!

How can we fully benefit? Reverence, Remember at all times…

  1. Bid thine heart all strife to cease;

With thy brethren be at peace.

Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be

E’en forgiven now by me.

In the solemn faith of prayer

Cast upon me all thy care,

And my Spirit’s grace shall be

Like a fountain unto thee.

Another principle is found in a well-known scripture. We read in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Our Saviour, through His Atonement and therefore the sacrament ordinance, to cast upon Him all our care. As we do this his grace will flow to us. This is shown in 3 Nephi 18:9 “And it came to pass that they did so, and did drink of it and were filled; and they gave unto the multitude, and they did drink, and they were filled.” This filling spoken of is the power of the Atonement of Christ relieving us and helping us find personal peace as spoken by Elder David A Bednar in his recent publication ‘Power to Become’.

How do we fully benefit from the sacrament? Relieve – relieve yourself from your cares through the sacrament ordinance – this is one principle that for me personally is a life-saver!

Reverence, Remember, Relieve all our cares to the Lord, and His grace will make up the rest…

  1. At the throne I intercede;

For thee ever do I plead.

I have loved thee as thy friend,

With a love that cannot end.

Be obedient, I implore,

Prayerful, watchful evermore,

And be constant unto me,

That thy Savior I may be.

We have looked at the doctrine and principles behind the sacrament, so how are we to physically act to fully benefit from the sacrament?

As it says in the sacrament prayer – ‘and keep his commandments’ – as we renew our covenants through the sacrament – we should leave the meeting with a renewed desire to live a life of a disciple of Christ, one who is willing to take upon them the name of Christ.

President Joseph Fielding Smith said: “Do you think a man who comes into the sacrament service in the spirit of prayer, humility, and worship, and who partakes of these emblems representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, will knowingly break the commandments of the Lord? If a man fully realizes what it means when he partakes of the sacrament, that he covenants to take upon him the name of Jesus Christ and to always remember him and keep his commandments, and this vow is renewed week by week—do you think such a man will fail to pay his tithing? Do you think such a man will break the Sabbath day or disregard the Word of Wisdom? Do you think he will fail to be prayerful, and that he will not attend his quorum duties and other duties in the Church? It seems to me that such a thing as a violation of these sacred principles and duties is impossible when a man knows what it means to make such vows week by week unto the Lord and before the saints.”

How can we fully benefit from the sacrament? Renew – not just our covenants but renew ourselves in mind, word and deed.

These four things – Reverence, Remember, Relieve and Renew WILL help us benefit from the sacrament!

Communion through the Sacrament

As has been stated a number of times recently by General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the weekly sacrament meeting is considered to be one of the most sacred, important and potentially life-changing meetings conducted in the Church. On my mission, I still did not appreciate how this was so until studying 3 Nephi 18. I still probably don’t fully understand but I have some more thoughts now…

The first thing I noticed is the use of the phrase ‘filled’ in 3 Nephi 18. For example: “And it came to pass that they did…drink of it and were filled…” (3 Nephi 18:9). Of course, this isn’t referring to a physical filling – the Nephites were being filled with the Spirit of the Lord, something we can feel if we partake of the sacrament in the way it’s meant to be. This sheds some light on what Christ meant when He told the Samaritan woman “…whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst…” (John 4:14). Christ was speaking of a spiritual fulfillment – a filling of the Spirit which, if we stay worthy of it, will never leave us. As we prepare for the sacrament each Sunday, we can receive this filling. But do we?

President David O. Mckay taught there are “…three things fundamentally important associated with the administration of the sacrament.” He continued by saying ” The first is self-discernment…we should partake worthily, each one examining himself…” We should not be surprised if when partaking of the sacrament we do not feel a spiritual filling or satisfaction if we have not fully repented or confessed to the Lord our recognition of our faults in the week. This applies to all transgressions, even ones we may consider ‘smaller’ or less significant; sin is sin. If we pray to the Lord consistently through the week to ask for forgiveness then it should be no surprise that when the culmination of this repentance process happens (the sacrament – the renewal) then we will feel the Spirit more strongly.

“Secondly, there is a covenant made…” – remember how important that statement is. We are make a two way promise (or rather, renewing all our promises ever made with God) when we partake of the sacrament. That is not something to be taken lightly. Of course, we will fail to fully live up to all our covenants, but that is why the sacrament is a weekly event. And this is when we start to see how vital to our spiritual strength the sacrament should be.

However, the third fundamental principle of the sacrament stood out most to me. “Thirdly…a sense of close relationship with the Lord. There is an opportunity to commune with oneself and to commune with the Lord.” What an experience that could be – to commune with the Lord! “Let us make that sacrament hour one of the most impressive means of coming in contact with God’s spirit. Let the Holy Ghost…lead us into his presence, and may we sense that nearness…” In Catholicism, there is an event in a Catholic’s regular worship called The Holy Communion. I have attended a Communion and it is similar in principle to our sacrament – both of course based on the Lord’s Last Supper. Whilst we have a number of differences in belief and practice, I do like the name that Catholicism has chosen for this event. Through the sacrament, we can (we should) come closest to communing with God in those precious moments. Picture the sacrament ordinance for a moment (remembering as well it is a sacred ordinance, officiated by priesthood authority). The emblems carried in the trays are symbolic – emblems, even – of Christ’s body and blood. When we partake of the sacrament, we are mirroring the Nephites who came forward in 3 Nephi 11 and felt the prints of the nails in His hand. Whilst in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we don’t believe these emblems metamorphisise into Christ’s actual flesh and blood, we do believe they are partaken as a representation of His body and blood.

I have occasionally wondered what it would have been like to be present when the Nephites had the opportunity to go (one-by-one) and partake in feeling Christ’s sacrifice. Now I realise I don’t have to. I should know what spiritual filling they received IF I partake of the sacrament worthily, recognising the covenants I am renewing and trying to break to the veil to commune with my Father in Heaven. Will this happen every week? Probably not (particularly with my 3 year old son and 1 year old daughter). However, it CAN happen and how complete would our life be if we could sense that presence and renewal to it’s fullest extent each and every Sabbath? That, is why the sacrament is so important!

Your Tent Door

The sermon of King Benjamin to his people from the tower at the Temple is amazing. However, we can even learn principles from the context given in the Book of Mormon.

It says in Mosiah 2:6 “And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple, that thereby they might remain in their tents and hear the words which King Benjamin should speak unto them…”

So what do we learn this minor mention of context? It made me think – what do we point our tent door towards? The Nephites pointed towards the temple and the words of King Benjamin (which were the words of the Lord) – do we?

Another example of this is given in the Bible in Genesis 13:12-13 which says “…and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent towards Sodom. But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” Later on, Lot and his family had many trials because of where they decided to pitch their tent towards. Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed, forcing Lot’s family to flee and his wife looked back (after being commanded not to do so) and became, according to the scripture, a ‘pillar of salt’.

These two stories show a contrast between the people and, as a consequence, the result. The Nephites learned from King Benjamin and their sins were forgiven whereas Lot and his family struggled.

Wherever we point our tent doors shows our devotion to the Lord. How do we observe the Sabbath? This has been a focus recently from leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and something for all it’s members to consider.