Bringing the Natural World into Sacrament Meeting: A request for ideas

By: AaronR
Last year, I had a strong urge to hold Sacrament meeting outside. We are blessed to have some beautiful trees and nice shaded areas on our grounds and it seemed appropriate to conjoin a sacrament meeting focussed on themes of creation and stewardship as we sat in the summer sun, partaking of the sacrament together. Then, after coincidentally reading about similar sacrament meeting Eugene England held as a Bishop, though in an admittedly more grandiose place, I resolved to organise that meeting.

However, once I suggested the idea to a few people in the ward I found there was considerable concern among the members about whether this would be appropriate. Not wanting to alienate those who felt uncomfortable I decided not to push ahead. A month or so later I had an interview with the SP and during that meeting he said it would be inappropriate to hold sacrament meeting outside and explained his reasons*. I explained that, for me, chapels are about convenience and that the Church has a long history of both worshipping in nature and of interpreting the history of the OT in that context as well. He was not convinced and I agreed to sustain his decision.

What concerned me about these two experiences is the extent to which we have sequestered the natural world from our worship. Still feeling that urge, but now with a sense of moderation, I want to work toward collapsing that distinction and intend to hold a dedicated sacrament service (inside) on these themes.

In light of this, it would be most helpful to me if I could gather together LDS resources that could be given to help people in my ward specifically (but potentially any ward in the Church) to help them begin thinking about these issues.There are two directions this can take. First, there are one or two people to whom I could give the last issue of Dialogue to, or George Handley’s classic article on the Environment and Mormonism, also in Dialogue. As such it would be great to collect a list of those resources.

Second, unfortunately, the majority of people would not read that much and also would prefer sources from more ‘official’ channels. Items from GA’s or other official publications, including the scriptures would be most helpful.After the conversation with my SP I spoke with one of the people who were concerned about meeting outside. I explained my reasons and what I hoped to accomplish. She was surprised and said: “that would have been wonderful”. I agree.

I hope that, over-time, our ward will have a tradition where, once a year we worship our God in the world he created and remind ourselves of the important stewardship that we have all been given.


12 responses to “Bringing the Natural World into Sacrament Meeting: A request for ideas

  1. mfranti June 21, 2011 at 10:59 am

    I killed an hour and a half trying to find a picture of the saints meeting outdoors.

    Here’s the best I could find. At least it’s been done before.

  2. mfranti June 21, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Aaron, I love your idea–a lot.

    You might want to point out what message a chapel is communicating about the natural world.

    For example, it’s deliberately trying to block it out.

    If you’re lucky to have windows, they’re ususally covered with fabric, presumably to keep the inmates from daydreaming about what’s outside. The air you’re breathing is recirculated and smells of off-gassing plastics. There’s (often) no natural materials within (unless it’s an old building).
    It’s all designed to prove that a man- made environment is more comfortable and more desirable than a natural environment. Sure, an air conditioned/heated building is nice on hot/cold/wet/windy days, but there are ways to build chapels that don’t deliberately block out the natural world.

    If you have large windows in your building, you might pull back the coverings for that meeting. Prop the doors open, etc.

    From what I’ve seen, a lot of Saints meet outdoors. Just not in the U.S.

  3. Ardis June 21, 2011 at 11:11 am

    It would be diplomatically difficult now that a local official has expressed opposition, but in some places and under some leaders you might bring up the idea as a sort of commemoration of the Saints with Joseph Smith meeting in the out-of-doors in Nauvoo (where they had no chapel for meetings), or in the bowery with Brigham Young in the first few years in the Salt Lake Valley.

  4. Mark Brown June 21, 2011 at 11:26 am

    It is meaningful for me to realize that so much of what LDS people consider sacred took place in a natural setting: The primeval garden, the first vision, the Hill Cumorah, Moses on the mountain, Adam-ondi-Ahman, the transfiguration of Jesus. Even in our modern era, Spencer W. Kimball retreated to Mt. Graham near his home in Arizona for seclusion, meditation and prayer after he was called to the apostleship.

  5. reader Rachel June 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I would love to worship outside with my fellow saints. I have taken the Primary children outside during sharing time for activities and lessons, and encourage the Primary teachers to take the kids out when the weather is good.

    As for sacrament meeting, you could help bring nature inside the building. Put together floral and grass arrangements for the stand using local plants. One of the prettiest set of table centerpieces I’ve ever seen at a RS dinner used brilliant maple leaves in red, orange and yellow.

  6. Alliegator June 21, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Another blog I read had this quote the other day, saying it was from Brigham Young:

    “The soil, the air, the water are all pure and healthy. Do not suffer them to become polluted. Strive to preserve the elements from being contaminated. Keep your valleys pure, keep your towns pure, keep your hearts pure, and labor as hard as you can. Adorn your habitations, make gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and render the earth so pleasant that when you look upon your labors you may do so with pleasure and that angels may delight to come and visit your beautiful locations.”

  7. mfranti June 21, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Alice, do you have a link?

  8. Nicole I June 21, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    What a wonderful idea! I routinely feel closer to God in nature than in a building – chapel, temple, or otherwise – so this would be very uplifting to me. So sorry to hear it was shot down.

    I have very distinct memories as a child of camping with a couple families in our ward and holding mini sacrament meetings at least several times. This was in the mid-80s. The one that seems most clear to me is also the one where we woke up to quite a bit of snow. As a southern Nevada young girl, I remember feeling so cold and wondering if it would be possible to just skip it. I think I asked such a thing, but was chided for not feeling thankful for the opportunity to take the sacrament. I do remember breaking camp immediately after the closing prayer… I must not have been the only one who was cold and miserable!

    Two of the men we traveled with were either in bishoprics or high councils for most of my growing up years… so maybe that is what made it kosher?

  9. ESO June 21, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    We regularly hold all sorts of meetings outside, including Sacrament meetings. Granted, these are almost always at “the sites”: Hill Cumorah, Joseph Smith home, Peter Whitmer farm, Sacred Grove, temple grounds, etc. But we do it often and no one seems the least bit perturbed by it.

    I have definitely been in Sacrament Meetings where the chapel opened directly outside and those glass doors were left open. In our modern lives, though, all it would take for someone to complain is for a fly to become an annoyance on the stand or a bee to bug people, or pollen during hay-fever season, or for a kid to escape out into the parking lot. We are no longer a sturdy lot.

  10. mfranti June 21, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    All the cool kids are doin’ it…

    What could have inspired such a move? Well, Cornerstone explains that it’s not about having church outside, it’s about a mindset. They want to escape a consumer mindset and a mindset of comfort in the church in favor of a mindset that cares for the poor and oppressed — in their community and in the world.

  11. Aaron R. June 22, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Thanks everyone for your comments and to mfranti for allowing to share my thoughts here.

    mfranti, I love the idea of opening windows and doors. Unfortunately we have no windows which open directly onto the Chapel itself. The pictures were helpful thank you.

    Ardis, I agree that it would be difficult and I try hard to follow my leaders. However, I suspect that my SP is morepragmatically opposed than theologically so. If members en masse wanted to do it I think he would be fine. I think that is a really nice idea and one worth pitching. Pioneer commemoration sunday.

    Mark, I could not agree more. However, the sense I get is that the discourse surrounding that perspective most commonly focusses upon the necessity of God speaking to people in these places because he had nowhere else he could. I guess I need to find something that works against that trend a little.

    reader Rachel, great suggestion, thank you.

    Alliegator, great quote from BY. I suspect there is also quite a but in the Nibley article on BY on Environment.

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