Overscheduling at Church

By: Hedgehog
September 26, 2013

Do you feel overscheduled by church programs? As a parent of teenagers I don’t believe I am alone in feeling these pressures. A recent post over at Times and Seasons suggested changes to the Seminary program that would alleviate some of the pressure.

First I want to take a look at all the things we are expected to do with our children as families and in fulfilling our basic duties as church members.

As Families

Family Prayer

If we truly love our families we will constantly pray for them and with them. I know of no single activity that has more potential for unifying our families and bringing more love and divine direction into our homes than consistent, fervent family prayer.

Think of the power for good as you gather your family together and thank God for all of his blessings. Think of the eternal significance of daily thanking him for each member of your family and asking him to guide and bless and protect each one. Think of the strength that will come to your family as, daily, one member or another pours out his or her soul in love to God for other family members.” John H Groberg

In our family we have family prayer morning and evening.

Family Scripture Study

Latter-day Saint parents recognize the tremendous importance of scripture study in the family. Not only does learning the gospel together stimulate feelings of family harmony and appreciation, but it establishes a foundation of truth upon which children can build throughout their lives.

…With some commitment and creative preparation, parents can excite the entire family about scripture study and help each make gospel study a habit.”

We hold our family scripture study daily before breakfast after family prayer.

Family Home Evening

We cannot afford to neglect this heaven-inspired program. It can bring spiritual growth to each member of the family, helping him or her to withstand the temptations which are everywhere. The lessons learned in the home are those that last the longest.” Thomas S Monson [emphasis mine]

Generally, family home evening is held on a Monday evening. In our family we allocate at a minimum one hour for this, though I have met families who believe the entire evening should be set aside for the purpose. We have hymns, a lesson, scripture reading, and a fun activity. We take turns to prepare the different parts.

Family Council

Family councils can help a family work, play, and grow together. They help family members become more sensitive to the needs of others, set goals, and evaluate progress. They can create an atmosphere of respect, understanding, order, and harmony. Children can be more committed to family plans and goals because they have helped to formulate them. All family members can grow in spirituality, unity, and love for one another.

Family councils can also help parents build strong, personal relationships with their children. These relationships provide the foundation on which parents can build as they teach their children the gospel. Family councils also establish habits of communication and mutual respect on which both children and parents can rely when serious and difficult problems arise within the family or in the lives of individual family members.”

We hold family council weekly, on a Sunday evening, where we talk through calender items for the coming week, and discuss issues that any member of the family would like to raise. We also make a point of highlighting something good we have noticed about eachother over the past week.

Parent – Child Interviews

We hold these weekly on a Sunday, reviewing Duty to God and Personal Progress, and discuss any issues the child may not wish to raise in family council.

As Ward Members

Attend Church

That’s 3 hours of meetings on a Sunday: Sacrament meeting, including both worship and instruction. Then further study and teaching in our Sunday School, Primary, Relief Society and Priesthood programs. That’s a lot of teaching and, hopefully, learning going on.

Home and Visiting Teaching

My husband and I both have assignments to fulfil, which if we are to cover everyone on our list requires both of us to be out twice in a month. And our son is my husbands home teaching companion, so that’s two evenings for him in a month as well.

Fulfilling Callings

That’s pretty much every Tuesday evening gone for my husband as he attends his meetings. I have more flexibility.

Week-night Youth Activities

These are held Wednesday evenings where I am. So that’s the children out one evening every week, and finish at 9pm, nominally. Home by 9.30pm.

Ward/ Stake Activities

On average we have one ward activity per month. Stakes activities vary, but there are family activities in addition to youth activities.

Firesides/ Youth Firesides

Frequency varies.

Seminary

Where we live early morning seminary is the default option. We’re lucky our son is online, though that’s still 40 minutes a day, plus a weekly lesson before his youth activity. But for the rest that’s an early start to the day before school. Seminary students in my ward look perpetually sleep-deprived. One family wanted to move their children to online seminary but were denied permission. Some of our early morning students have had to resit a year at school, because their grades have suffered.

As Individuals

Personal Prayer

That’s morning and evening.

Personal Scripture Study

My children have been working on building this habit for themselves. Now that my son is taking seminary, what he can study is dictated to him by the seminary program even whilst being separate from the lesson, unless he is to have two personal scripture study sessions per day.

Develop Talents

We are given talents and gifts to help us fulfill our missions on this earth and to help us bless the lives of others. We have a responsibility to Heavenly Father, to ourselves, and to others to develop our talents and gifts as completely as we can. The development of talents and gifts requires persistence, courage, and patience, but brings great joy.” [emphasis mine]

I’d add that the development of our talents also takes time. Our children have already downgraded from two to one extra-curricular interest. Music for our daughter, and computer programming for our son. These activities take time. Though our daughter had also benefited from gymnastics and our son from music in the past. I am aware of youth who have dropped all extra-curricular activities once they they start seminary, and I don’t believe that that is healthy or what the Lord requires.

To quote J. A. T.’s comment from the T&S post on seminary:

Most music programs (marching band, orchestra, band, etc.) happen zero hour, when the weather is cool, the music doesn’t disturb other classes, and ‘electives’ don’t get in the way of requirements. Most sports take place after school.

Our local school district denied us release-time, so seminary was only zero-hour. The church wouldn’t let us have after-school seminary.

This started a huge debate in the wards about the church’s preference of sports over arts and men over women as more YM were involved in sports and more YW were involved in music.

For 40 years our stake forced kids to choose between God and music.

I choose both and went to orchestra practice.”

Education

Education is an important part of Heavenly Father’s plan to help you become more like Him. ..

Education will prepare you for greater service in the world and in the Church. It will help you better provide for yourself, your family, and those in need. It will also help you be a wise counselor and companion to your future spouse and an informed and effective teacher of your future children.

Education is an investment that brings great rewards and will open the doors of opportunity that may otherwise be closed to you. Plan now to obtain an education. Be willing to work diligently and make sacrifices if necessary. Share your educational goals with your family, friends, and leaders so they can support and encourage you.”

In Britain our youth take vital public exams every year for at least the final three years they take seminary, and depending on the school, they could be taking them for all four years. This is a grim schedule, that church programs do not accommodate, and the grades and qualifications they gain are vital to the rest of their lives. And there’s a lot of homework.

Work

We are expected to teach our children to value work. Ours have chores to complete, for which they are paid. Again, these chores take time.It is also not uncommon for older teens to find a part-time job.

Sleep

Enough sleep is vital to our health. Both adults and children need to sleep, and to sleep too little is antithetical to the word of wisdom. In my family we go down hill fast, both mentally and physically when deprived of sleep. Scary downsides of sleep-deprivation are described here.

Church Statements on Overscheduling

Parents should act to preserve time for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and the other precious togetherness and individual one-on-one time that binds a family together and fixes children’s values on things of eternal worth. Parents should teach gospel priorities through what they do with their children.

Family experts have warned against what they call “the overscheduling of children.”” Dallin H Oaks

Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.

It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Overscheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks.” Dieter F Uchtdorf

Brothers and sisters, protecting children means that we provide an environment that invites the Spirit into their lives and validates it in their hearts. That automatically eliminates any form of indifference, neglect, abuse, violence, or exploitation.

And while conditions of depravity are more serious, we also protect children from other detrimental conditions, such as expectations that are too high or too low, overindulgence, over scheduling, and self-centeredness. Either extreme dulls a child’s ability to identify, trust, and be guided by the Holy Ghost.” Margaret S Lifferth

In my experience it is possible to do the basics. We do consider keeping the Sabbath to be a basic, so it is not a day for homework. We don’t consider weeknight youth activities (though they usually attend), ward or stake activities, firesides to be the basics. Perhaps shockingly, we don’t consider Seminary to be a basic either. Seminary is a tool families can use in helping their youth develop habits of personal scripture study. Unfortunately CES employees and local leaders present this program as being absolutely vital, and often use coercive tactics (which I consider abusive) to pressure parents and youth into compliance with programs that are not compatible with their family and school schedules.

I like Margaret Lifferth’s point. We need to trust our parents and youth more. Allow them to follow the Spirit in deciding where they should participate, and how they should otherwise be allocating their time. Time is a limited resource. I am reminded of one situation I was told about where one of the youth had completed the necessary 80% of the Seminary course, and asked a bishopric member whether it would be okay to skip the rest of seminary as exams were looming and she needed to revise. His advice was for her to pray about it, and do whatever she felt guided to do. She skipped the final 20% and studied for her upcoming exams. The CES rep was less than happy, and felt she should have been told that attending seminary would bring blessings that would ensure success at school. I am getting tired of this CES trope. I’ve not seen it played out. Blessings of seminary are knowledge of the scriptures. If we want to pass our exams at school, we need to put in the effort to study, and that means spending time on that study.

I’m somewhat disturbed by the sentiment expressed here:

Church programs and activities should not be so all-encompassing that families cannot have everyone present for family time. And family activities should not be scheduled in conflict with sacrament meeting or other vital Church meetings.

We need both Church activities and family activities. If all families were complete and perfect, the Church could sponsor fewer activities. But in a world where many of our youth grow up in homes where one parent is missing, not a member, or otherwise inactive in gospel leadership, there is a special need for Church activities to fill in the gaps.” Dallin H Oaks

Very often our youth programs do feel all-encompassing. Families are suffering because leaders feel “there is a special need for Church activities to fill in the gaps”. What of those families who have have worked hard to provide an environment for their children without those gaps. Are their efforts now to be stomped on by CES and others? Because that’s what it feels like. It seems an ideal is presented, but because our leaders feel we won’t meet that ideal, they prefer to take it out of our hands anyway. Where is the respect for agency in the way these programs are delivered? Where is the respect for families in the way these programs are delivered? CES in particular appear to be very unwilling to work with families. Please could we take more account of the words of Elder Ballard:

“We need to thoughtfully allocate our resources of time, income, and energy. …. No matter what your family needs are or your responsibilities in the Church, there is no such thing as “done.” There will always be more we can do. … We just need to be wise in protecting our health and in following the counsel that President Hinckley has given often to just do the best that we can.

“The key, it seems to me, is to know and understand your own capabilities and limitations and then to pace yourself, allocating and prioritizing your time, your attention, and your resources to wisely help others, including your family, in their quest for eternal life.” M. Russell Ballard [emphasis mine]

  • Do you feel overscheduled?
  • How resilient are you and your family members when it comes to coping with sleep deprivation?
  • Have you or your children experienced coercion from leaders? How do you respond?
  • How do you decide what is and isn’t vital?

Discuss

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32 Responses to Overscheduling at Church

  1. hawkgrrrl on September 27, 2013 at 12:50 AM

    Great post. I’d comment, but I have to be up in 5 hrs and 30 mins to get my son up for seminary.

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  2. relax-o-rama on September 27, 2013 at 4:41 AM

    Though this topic has come up before, this is the best post on the subject! Excellent post. I have tremendous admiration for the LDS families that are doing the best that they can. Hedgehog, you are admirable.

    If you don’t feel like reading this long post, go to the last paragraph, which discusses our church life decisions.

    Our current situation (which is not so unusual for people at our stage of life):
    My job: 60 hours a week.
    My wife’s job: homemaker
    My current calling: bishop
    My wife’s callings: 3 of them, 2 of which are ‘volunteer’ callings
    Our family: 6 kids — toddler to high-school age

    My personal outlook:
    1) My wife is wonderful. I admire her and love her. I don’t have any complaints about her or any negative feelings towards her. I don’t expect her to do better or to be different.
    2) Daily exercise is my primary need and is more important than anything else. It keeps me balanced and positive and prevents emotional thunderclouds from gathering. Figuring this out was a huge life lesson, since I had held TBM priorities (prayer and scripture study #1) since I was a teenager.
    3) Daily meditation is almost as essential as exercise.
    4) Daily prayer and scripture reading is also very important, but definitely #3 in the priority list. It just is that way for me, though if I were to justify it to somebody that disagreed with me, I would say one should have the body and mind balanced before one can commune with the divine or do anything else well.
    5) I am doing lots of other things, but none of them is nearly as important as being physically, mentally and spiritually balanced, at peace. I want to be more effective (and I am spending lots of effort to do so), but effectiveness is not nearly as important as balance.

    This is what we have come up with:
    1) We live where we have daily home seminary (on-line or early morning is not available). Although we are supposed to spend an hour 4 days a week, our kids do more like 10 minutes with my wife each day (because sleep is needed). It is a positive and spiritual thing. I am in favor of daily seminary like we have. But its also ok if it doesn’t last longer than needed. It’s kind of a material covered and connections made vs time spent kind of thing. One of our seminarians was already reading the scriptures daily, so seminary is an add-on and not the primary impetus for spiritual activity each day for that child.
    2) Our non-Sunday church meetings are on Friday evening (weekly seminary, YM/YW activities, any primary activities, institute, PEC/ward council, bishopric meetings). No one has to drive to the church on 2 weeknights, unless it is the week for quarterly RS activities.
    3) We don’t accept home teachers–not worth the loss of family time.
    4) On Sundays, after I get back (2pm or so) from the interviews after church, then Sunday is a family day. No non-family events allowed. No friends. We do lots of borderline Sabbath things like going for long walks, skating, or bike riding, and we play soccer or baseball together. An exception would be me visiting a member family after the littler kids are in bed.

    Hedgehog, I suppose that we are living your dream with regards to seminary. But don’t tell the CES guy who manages seminary here. He would never give up on trying to force better compliance.

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  3. ji on September 27, 2013 at 4:43 AM

    If someone is overscheduled, it is because he or she has made it so. Any Church member can say “no” to anything, whenever “no” is the right answer. Even if it’s the wrong answer, they can still say it. When a person says “no,” I hope he or she can say it without hatred or anger towards those who are hopeful for a “yes.” And I hope those who were hopeful for a “yes” will accept the “no” in the same manner.

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  4. John Mansfield on September 27, 2013 at 5:22 AM

    You forgot time spent on hygiene and nutrition, also things a Latter-day Saint needs to give appropriate attention to in her days and weeks.

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  5. Hedgehog on September 27, 2013 at 5:50 AM

    relax-o-rama #2,
    Thank you for your interesting comment. You’re right, that sounds just like my ideal seminary program. The one problem with online is that they monitor how much time the student spends, including whether they play through the hymn at the start, and watch all the cheesy videos. The home study with booklets I did really didn’t take that long.

    It’s wonderful to read that a Bishop is able to maintain the balance you describe, as I imagine it’s a calling that will consume as much time as it is allowed to consume.

    Exercise is something I didn’t mention in my list, perhaps I should have done, and I do feel the benefit when I fit it in.

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  6. Hedgehog on September 27, 2013 at 5:59 AM

    ji #3 :”I hope those who were hopeful for a “yes” will accept the “no” in the same manner.”

    Well, the problem is that a “no” is often not accepted with good grace, particularly in respect of seminary where leaders can apply pressure to youth independently from their parents. Many leaders seem to regard the “sacrifice” required as good thing in and of itself. If we were taught the real lessons that can be learned from the fate of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, rather than the romanticised version found in our manuals, possibly they’d see things differently. But I digress…

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  7. Hedgehog on September 27, 2013 at 6:04 AM

    John #4
    You are of course absolutely correct. Washing and eating all take time too. And laundry, and housework, and all that stuff. Just to reassure we do feed our children, launder their clothes, shower, and we don’t live in a pigsty ;-)

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  8. Jeff Spector on September 27, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    To think that it used to be worse until the Church removed many activities like sports tournaments, speech contests, annual roadshows, and various other activities.The parts of a bygone era where the Church was the center of activity.

    But, I agree that we need to govern ourselves and our time, deciding what activities are mandatory and what is optional.

    While i think there is some level of peer pressure to attend to all of it. i think we need to do what is best for us and our families. bottom line.

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  9. anita on September 27, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    Add in Scouting, too, which is a weekly commitment plus weekend time for hikes and more; Activity Days, summer camps, youth conferences, and so on! I agree, it’s a whirlwind.

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  10. KLC on September 27, 2013 at 8:30 AM

    We have yearly DI assignments and Bishops Storehouse assignments, usually 2-3 of each per year. These are always in the middle of the day.

    What about chapel cleaning? It’s working out to about 3 times per year per family.

    They recently have taken away the cars from our missionaries and the new “without purse or scrip” mission means depending on the members for rides. Since we currently have sisters I can’t help but my wife gets several phone calls a week asking her to drop everything and ferry them about town (no bikes, no public transportation for the most part).

    Here we have temple sealing assignments. There are currently about 15 per year, 3-4 couples per assignment, sometimes in the evening, sometimes in the middle of the day. The temple is even more of an 800 pound gorilla than CES. You don’t say no to the temple. Sometimes we have had 2 of these assignments in one week. In addition, our stake is pushing ward and stake temple trips. There is one per month. It used to be directed at the temple recommend holders but in the last few months they have upped the ante. Now they are encouraging all members to come to the temple for these trips, those without recommends can go to the visitors center or just tour the grounds.

    Do I feel overscheduled? Yes,frequently.

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  11. Hedgehog on September 27, 2013 at 8:56 AM

    Jeff #8, I remember the days pre-consolidated schedule, with weeknight primary to attend. But I think where I was seminary was all home study if it existed at all back then. And dictated ward and stake events may have ceased, but I don’t think that means the number has necessarily dropped off any, simply that it’s down to the stakes to decide what they want to do. And other demands are new (see my respone to KLC). I agree with your bottom line.

    Anita #9, The church only had a brief fling with scouting in Britain, about 30 years ago. It didn’t take off. But I gather from reading elsewhere it is very demanding.

    KLC #10, I’m pretty sure we’re down for chapel cleaning more than 3 times a year, something not required in the days of employed custodians, but we certainly don’t get DI/Storehouse assignments. We also aren’t required to ferry the missionaries around (they have bikes), though we are expected to feed them. For us that’s the sisters once a fortnight. I seem to recall back in the past, members were not allowed to feed (or otherwise materially assist) the missionaries (outside the mission fund), now feeding is definitely an expectation. And sometimes they do request for someone to accompany them to teach. I’ve never heard of assigned sealings, and although we have assigned temple trips there’s no heavy-handedness involved that I’ve noticed. Your description sounds grim. I hope you’re able to keep a balance.

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  12. Jane on September 27, 2013 at 9:55 AM

    Unfortunately family time isn’t really valued by the LDS church no matter how many times they say it is. The amount of activities they schedule is astounding and the leaders act like they are getting paid not to take no for an answer. They also act like your salvation is in jeopardy if you don’t participate in everything. I tried to keep up with their schedule but I soon learned that it wasn’t possible to participate and still have the family time we needed. Scouts was the first thing to go, then activity days and eventually weekly youth activities, camps and no, we do not do Seminary. Making our own choices makes our family a “project” so I have to be firm in setting boundaries with the leaders. Please give us the monthly/quarterly schedule so we know what you’re doing and we can choose to participate if we want to but NO weekly invitations, emails, phone calls, texts and harassment/pressure/embarrassment. When they call new leaders we have to start all over teaching them that when we say no thank you, we mean NO.

    Instead of church programs we have family time seven nights a week. After dinner is cleaned up and the babies have had their activity and are put to bed we read great novels together, have geography/spelling/math bees, and always, always have a musical jam session. After a day of hard work our evening activity is everyone’s favorite part of the day and I believe it is the glue that will always keep our family close. I can’t wait till we’re having them with in-laws and grandchildren! Just imagine if we hadn’t been willing to give up what the church was offering so that we could find something better. In the beginning, being raised in the church myself, they were extremely hard choices to make but infinitely worth it.

    Some people try to tell me that my children need to participate in these activities so the activities are available for the children without strong families. No. My children are not examples or missionaries. They are children and they are not here for your amusement or entertainment. I was one of those children that grew up without a strong family and after a day at public school and activities, more peer activities were the last thing I needed. What I needed was a family. One adult that cared enough to spend even a few minutes a week with me or invite me into their home would have made a huge difference in my life. But in 18 years that never once happened because all the adults were too busy “serving” in the church. Including my own single mother. Too busy for real service. Too busy for family. To this day my mother wonders why none of us are close but she is still too busy “serving” in the church and other civic organizations and although she only lives 30 minutes away she sees her grandchildren maybe half a dozen times a year. It breaks my heart what people allow the church, and their many programs, to do to their families and communities.

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  13. KLC on September 27, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    Hedgehog, I think the temple sealing assignments are a product of a very large temple and a declining amount of members in the temple district. LA was once the flagship temple for the whole west coast of the US. It is very large, on very large grounds, and must cost a fortune to keep up. With the Oakland temple and temples in the pacific northwest it lost some of its district but for many years it remained the temple for all of central and southern California which is a huge population base to draw from. But the church has built new California temples in Fresno, San Diego, Redlands and Newport Beach in the past few years that have carved up the monopoly the LA temple once held. And those are also the areas that are growing and/or affordable, the areas that new LDS families move to. The remaining LA temple district has not only grown smaller geographically but smaller demographically. It is less attractive and less affordable for LDS families, older empty nest couples sell their homes and move, the temple district grows smaller and smaller.

    So you have a very large, very visible, very expensive flagship temple that faces declining membership and participation. What to do? Start assigning people to attend, start laying on the guilt and the pressure to attend, start creating new programs to stimulate attendance. We regularly experience all of that.

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  14. LLH on September 27, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    I think that the church can absolutely take over every waking minute of someone’s life if they let it. We are socialized to never say no to anything asked of us by church leaders, and I personally think that is mind control. I say no to everything that doesn’t work for me or my family. I have taught my children that if any adult at church tries to ask them anything, their response is to be “you need to ask my mom.” I don’t go in for manipulation and I also am teaching my kids how to avoid it and set appropriate boundaries. I get that the church is important and I am not saying otherwise. I am saying that it does no one any good to sacrifice just for the sake of sacrificing. The scriptures themselves tell us to not run faster than we have strength and to be wise in all things. Getting my kids up for early morning seminary is definitely running faster than any of us have strength. Giving myself a lot of distance from the social element of the church is wise for me and the rest of my family. Most of these activities are not required for salvation. We don’t live in a world (at least in this country) where we are taking refuge from the rest of the world and have to only associate with other members for safety. Honestly, the people who I count as my true friends are NOT members of the church.

    I also remember from several years ago hearing in GC that families do not exist for the sake of the church, rather the church exists to support families. We need to be wise and not get so wrapped up in doing things “because the church says so” that we are neglectful of our true responsibility, to our families. The church exists to help us teach our family how to get back to Heavenly Father. I don’t believe that letting the church control our whole existence on this earth is the way to do that.

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  15. greedy reader on September 27, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    I’ve attended leadership meetings where we were admonished not to schedule youth activities that took away from time with their families. Then, before the evening was over, they’d announce yet another fireside and another dance. After a few of these, I sat through the hour with a secret smirk. Yeah, I thought, I wonder how long this will last.

    One breaking point for me was “month of consecration.” This was quite the fashion in our area a few years ago. Leaders handed out a lengthy list of scriptures for families to study that month. The first round was not so bad. But by the third round, when it was sponsored by the seminary and it demanded family home evenings every night that week, I was livid.

    Another breaking point was a conference talk in which the apostle told us we should be having regular individual prayer, couple prayer and family prayer, as well as individual scripture study, couple scripture study and family scripture study. I wondered when we might ever find time to just eat a bowl of popcorn or watch fireflies.

    My husband regards these men with more than a little hero worship. He listens to conference, eager to mine a few more things to add to our list. He didn’t take it well when I stopped cooperating.

    It’s true that we can say no, but the social pressure is monumental. The church is a rich soil for growing people with deep anxieties about getting everything right.

    The thing is, we are instructed to teach our children to follow the prophet and respect their leaders. But when the leaders pull this stuff, you either cooperate ‘til you’re dragging, or you teach your children to pick and choose. Which will supposedly teach them that the Word of Wisdom and garments and everything else is optional. Which is is. Unless it’s not.

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  16. JrL on September 27, 2013 at 11:48 AM

    The balance Elder Oaks’ comments require is tough. Think of your own ward: If all the strong, active families opted out of all meetings, activities, and assignments other than the “required” ones, what would be the impact on children and teenagers from families that do not and perhaps cannot meet their needs? How often do we forget that the objective our attending a meeting or event may be to help another–that our presence, and hopefully our active participation, may be much more meaningful to someone in need than to ourselves?

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  17. jcc on September 27, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    On the other hand, my ward doesn’t have a planned calendar, no planned events, only last minute activities. Less active members, converts and investigators cannot live on the three hour block alone.

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  18. Jack Hughes on September 27, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    Big Church seems to be trying to be part of the solution, not the problem. Locally, though, it could go either way. I have a bishop with 6 kids, ranging in age from toddler to high school, so he has good boundaries and makes every effort to keep priorities balanced and not to overprogram.

    In a previous stake I was in, however, the prevailing culture required members from the far-flung wards and branches (over 2 hours from the stake center) to attend multiple redundant mid-week meetings, and they willingly complied without complaint. Drove me crazy. This was in a mostly rural part of the Deep South, with deeply rooted traditions in one’s church being the social center of the community; the old-timers looked for excuses to get together and talk, so they had random meetings and activities that were inconvenient to anyone under 65.

    I remember my parents telling me about the switch to the 3-hour block (I was a toddler at the time), how the change received an overwhelmingly positive response from the general membership of the church, but a few of the “old-timers” were opposed because it significantly reduced the footprint of church life in one’s weekly routine.

    Nowadays, I’m in favor of reducing the 3-hour block to a 2-hour block, as we used to do in a branch I was in (we met in a rented building, and 2 hours was all we were allowed to have). Lessons were succinct and relevant, and it was not difficult to maintain an attention span.

    Also, do away with early morning seminary. It is a vestige of a simpler time when kids already woke up early to milk cows and such, and college admissions were not competitive. Different times call for a different approach.

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  19. hawkgrrrl on September 28, 2013 at 12:47 AM

    My biggest frustration is early morning seminary. When I was a teenager, there were six different school districts in our ward, so we had home study (my husband had time release as a native Utahn). I got A+ grades for three years straight in seminary, and my parents read the lessons with me. It was our family scripture study time. When I was a senior in high school, they switched us to early morning. That meant we kids had to drive ourselves 20 miles each way in the dark on icy roads during the winter months and back in time to catch a school bus or drive to school. I was afraid to drive in those conditions. Despite quitting halfway through the year, they graduated me anyway. Nowadays that would not happen. Attendance is taken, and kids don’t graduate if they miss too much. It seems like we’ve moved in the wrong direction.

    My kids are so tired. By Thursday we can tell that the sleep deprivation has taken its toll because there is zero ability to finish homework, and every conversation degenerates into tears. That’s what our family time looks like by the end of the week. But if they want to go to BYU, they have to graduate from seminary. Or I can pay 2x that much for them to go to state school or 4-5x as much for them to go to a really good school. Thanks in part to early morning seminary, though, my kids just haven’t had the grades to get in at the top schools despite testing well. They just can’t keep the mental organization needed to do well with all their assignments and turn everything in. I’m sure that’s not entirely due to the crazy schedule required by early morning seminary (which also impacts us parents), but it certainly hasn’t helped. Kids today get much more homework than I ever did.

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  20. Hedgehog on September 28, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    Jane #12: “I was one of those children that grew up without a strong family and after a day at public school and activities, more peer activities were the last thing I needed. What I needed was a family. One adult that cared enough to spend even a few minutes a week with me or invite me into their home would have made a huge difference in my life. But in 18 years that never once happened because all the adults were too busy “serving” in the church. Including my own single mother.”

    I’m glad you brought out this point, because that was what occurred to me in connection with Elder Oaks second quote. I doubted formal church activities would be able to fill the need. Rather, more informal closer attention from home teachers, or the family of a friend, which I thought less likely to happen with everyone too busy with the formal activities. But not having been in that position myself, I didn’t feel qualified to delve into it.

    I have fond memories of my mother reading novels to us as a family growing up: Pilgrim’s Progress, Little Women and the rest of the series, and leading up to Christmas for a number of years A Christmas Carol.

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  21. Hedgehog on September 28, 2013 at 4:07 AM

    KLC #13, Thanks for that description. I’d have thought such tactics more likely to drive people out of the district, only exacerbating the situation. With only the 2 temples in Britain, and with London drawing members from France, Portugal and Spain (in spite of the Madrid temple), I don’t believe we have that problem for the moment.

    greedy reader #15: “The church is a rich soil for growing people with deep anxieties about getting everything right.”
    Yes! This is something we are constantly have to guard against with our children, and in particular our ASD son who is very susceptible to anxiety issues.

    JrL #16, I take your point about achieving a balance being difficult. But it bugs me no end that phrases like “our presence, and hopefully our active participation, may be much more meaningful to someone in need than to ourselves” are used to guilt trip members into participating. That is more or less what I was told when they stopped the home study seminary class for my final year, and I had to do early morning. Actually at that time of the day my presence benefited no-one, not the rest of the class, and certainly not me. I didn’t learn a thing, and my school grades suffered. An activity will hardly go with a swing with everyone there under order. Also see my comment #20.

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  22. Hedgehog on September 28, 2013 at 4:15 AM

    jcc #17, our ward are pretty good at integrating people in an informal way, I think, though I guess that varies widely from ward to ward. I don’t think formal activities necessarily help with integration however, as I have observed elsewhere that members can often congregate as cliques at these events.

    Jack #18, I agree that as a whole the church does keep sending the message from the top that overscheduling should not be happening, and local interpretation has a bog influence in what we see on the ground. I also think however, that CES seem to regard themselves as exempt from these instructions, as though they are outside for those purposes.

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  23. Hedgehog on September 28, 2013 at 4:16 AM

    *big influence

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  24. Hedgehog on September 28, 2013 at 4:25 AM

    hawkgrrrl #19, Your experience with seminary sounds very similar to mine. I had 3 years home study, which I loved, and where I learned a lot. For my final year only an early morning class was available. It didn’t suit my body clock, or learning style. I had to cycle there and back (uphill both ways) and was so exhausted I’d be falling asleep in my afternoon classes. I learnt nothing in seminary, and my grades suffered.

    I’d agree my kids get more homework than I did, and it’s much harder to get a good university place (as Jack mentioned #18) in this country too than it used to be.

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  25. Jack Hughes on September 28, 2013 at 7:39 AM

    I had early morning seminary, in a time and place where parents and stake leaders held it as sacrosanct and non-negotiable–and I thoroughly disliked it. I “graduated”, but it gave me no noticeable advantage in life as I did not attend Church schools. In hindsight, it only disadvantaged me by sapping my energy and taking focus away from my secular studies.

    It is foolish to think that you can gather sleepy teenagers and spoonfeed them quasi-Sunday School lessons, and expect any of that information to stick. Studies are demonstrating that teens need more sleep than previously thought (9+hours per night), and many high schools now recognize this and don’t start classes until 9:00. My parents bought into the idea that “seminary kids do better in school because they are more in tune with the spirit” or some such propaganda that was going around back then. One look at my high school transcript might suggest otherwise.

    More recently, I have seen various adaptations of the seminary program in different areas I have lived: independent study seminary, evening seminary, conference call seminary, once-weekly seminary. Unique approaches like these give me hope for the future, but outside the Jello Belt, the early morning format is still the standard. When my daughter is old enough for high school, I will let the choice of whether or not to attend seminary be hers. But if it becomes a choice between seminary and sleep, I already have a pretty good idea of who will win.

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  26. whizzbang on September 28, 2013 at 6:44 PM

    Reminds me of Elder Gene R. Cook’s experience

    “When we arrived home in Utah, we returned to a very active ward. In fact, in our first three months, we counted thirty-nine activities to which we were invited as a family or as individuals—Young Women’s activities, the annual Relief Society anniversary, the high priests’ ice-cream social, Scouting affairs, and on and on. If I’m not mistaken, we went to about three of those activities as a family, and some of the children attended a few more.

    Soon after that, our good bishop told me he was worried about my family. I said, “If you know something I don’t, I’d be very anxious to know. Please tell me.”

    “Well,” he said, “I have a feeling that your family isn’t as supportive of the Church as they ought to be. For example, last Sunday night we had a Scouting meeting for all the Scouts and their families in the stake. At the meeting, they counted the number of people in each ward. The ward having the most people present won a prize. Because your large family was not there, we didn’t feel you were supporting the Church as much as you should.” (He said all of that very carefully, lovingly, and with good spirit.)

    I said to him, “Well, I might be mistaken, Bishop, but my understanding is that the Church is supposed to support the family. If we had been to that social meeting that night, we would have missed the tremendous family devotional we had in our home.” I asked him if he’d ever seen our children miss priesthood meeting, sacrament meeting, Sunday School, or Mutual. He said he had not. I continued, “I understood that all those other things were electives, that they were optional, and that we could choose which ones we wanted to attend. Is that not true?” He wasn’t too sure.

    Then I said to this good bishop, “Do you know what my biggest problem has been since I returned home from Latin America?”

    He said, “No, what is it, Brother Cook?”

    I said, “It’s been the Church itself, and perhaps the school here to some extent.”

    He said, “What do you mean?”

    I said, “Because I travel a lot on the weekends, the week nights are very important to me, as are Saturday and Sunday if I’m home. I must have that time with my own family. In Latin America we had family home evening almost every night. I don’t mean a lesson; I mean just a fun time.

    “Sometimes we carved things. Sometimes we built things. Sometimes we took walks around the block. Sometimes we helped the widows or ministered to others in need. Sometimes we had lots of fun with other families. But since I’ve come home it’s been difficult because some group has my children on Tuesday night, another group on Wednesday, and somebody else on Thursday, and they are with their friends on Friday night. My biggest challenge has been all of these activities going on outside the home.”

    This faithful bishop was quite shocked at my response but I’m sure he understood. I suggested there might be wisdom in having the family heads in the ward determine how many activities there ought to be, and then in helping parents understand that they—not the Church or the school—were primarily in charge of the activities in their family.

    In the following months, with the planning and involvement of parents, this good bishop greatly reduced the number of activities in our ward. He also retaught the principle that parents were to hold activities with their own children, and that in its support role the Church would sponsor some group activities as well. (It should also be mentioned that he knew, as did we, that he had to provide more activities than “the ideal” to help families who had greater needs than we did.)

    President Harold B. Lee said: “It seems clear to me that the Church has no choice—and never has had—but to do more to assist the family in carrying out its divine mission . . . to help improve the quality of life in the Latter-day Saint homes. As important as our many programs and organizational efforts are, these should not supplant the home; they should support the home” (“Preparing Our Youth,” Ensign, March 1971, p. 3).”

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  27. ANON on September 28, 2013 at 10:20 PM

    #3 I have said no on a few occasions with grace and kindness and was still bullied, manipulated, and generally abused by the person on the receiving end of my “no.” It is very difficult to stand firm especially when the result of your “no” causes loss of social status and friendship among the ward.

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  28. Hedgehog on September 29, 2013 at 1:13 AM

    LLH #14, Sorry! I wasn’t intending to skip your comment. I agree with you.
    “I don’t go in for manipulation and I also am teaching my kids how to avoid it and set appropriate boundaries.”
    I believe that’s vital.
    “We don’t live in a world (at least in this country) where we are taking refuge from the rest of the world and have to only associate with other members for safety.”
    Indeed. I find it bizarre that on the one hand church would keep us so busy if we let it, that we’d have no time for non-members, yet on the other expects us to be missionaries.

    whizzbang #26, Thanks for that great addition to the conversation. I start panicking at a lot less than 39 activities a quarter.

    ANON #27, It’s so sad that happens.

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  29. Martie on October 2, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    I was grateful for a Stake President–Pres. Hinckley’s son–who taught stake members to apply the “Family Filter” to all Church activities. He repeatedly told us that the only “must” meetings were the Sunday block.

    Some of the posts here sound totally crazy. I’d hate to live in one of those wards or stakes.
    Early morning seminary is awful! Kids are exhausted! I’m glad we were able to do home study while we lived in the South. R

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  30. Bryan Hinton on October 2, 2013 at 10:51 PM

    I can understand the sentiments that all have expressed. Life is busy in and out of the church in my experience. I see plenty of people who fill life with plenty of other things without Church service (and most of the time it isn’t spending time with their kids). While the implementation of the Church’s teachings to focus on the family isn’t the same everywhere our family has benefited by that counsel. We have times where the volume of Church activities definitely stretch us and we pull back when we need to. The same goes for all the other activities we fill our leisure time with. I am amazed at the volume of things we sign our kids up for these days. At 8 and 9 they are playing or practicing baseball or football 5 days a week to the tune of hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars – often in the name of them not following behind their peers etc… – you could substitute any number of extracurricular activities for the sports I mentioned. I have found that it is also helpful to be a voice of reason in the councils of the Church and that with a well placed and formed comment a lot of good can be done in addressing the issues that many have raised here.

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  31. Amanda on October 26, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    Joining the conversation late but I wanted to chime in that as a new convert (I was baptised in late June) I often feel downright stalked by the church. My husband is not a member (and isn’t interested in joining) and I am also a part-time caregiver for a family member with dementia yet I am constantly being called to volunteer for things, asked if I can host missionaries (for meals, for them to teach investigators, or to give them rides), asked if I can make time for my home teacher and visiting teachers (in addition to caring for the four ladies I’ve been assigned to visiting teach), or surprised with impromptu visits from people who feel intrusive and pushy rather than well-intentioned. I’ve even quit going to Relief Society since it seems like if I’m there then I’m seen as a potential pair of hands for whatever events are going on rather than a sister wanting to learn more about the gospel.

    In the past, I’ve tried to establish firm boundaries and let folks know what dates/times I’m available but I’ve had people (women, usually, which I found surprising) try to bowl me over. Now I don’t even answer my phone if the number isn’t one I recognize and I try to dart in and out of sacrament like a dress-wearing ninja. It’s the craziest thing. I love the gospel and really enjoy the company most of my fellow ward members but the relentless time obligations (and inability to accept “no” as a full sentence) can make it hard to have the time to meet your own family’s needs and also cultivate your own deeper relationship with Christ (never mind actually having a moment to just sit with a cup of cider and relax/knit/read/etc).

    Thanks for letting me vent. ;)

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  32. Hedgehog on October 28, 2013 at 4:04 AM

    I hope that get the message that no means no soon Amanda.

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