The lineup for my Mormon ward’s sacrament meeting Sunday includes me. I’ll be speaking for several minutes. This assumes that I’m not ejected before then.
What? No, of course it wasn’t my idea.
Clark Dana, first counselor in the bishopric, drew me out of the ward library and asked — in a tone normally reserved for the planning of a robbery — if I would be willing to say a few words in sacrament meeting sometime during the month.
I was surprised for a number of reasons. First, because it just seemed like a bad idea. I suffer from what three previous bishops and two mental health therapists have described as “Church Blurtism Syndrome,” or the inability to refrain from giving utterance to whatever pops into my head when I’m bored. Which happens a lot. In church.
Also, because there was no mention of my taking a pre-talk polygraph examination, a priesthood ordinance developed by Herriman Pioneer 6th Ward Bishop Ed Watson when I lived there.
Mostly, though, I was caught off guard by the paper Brother Dana handed me after the deal was struck: “Rose Summit Ward Sacrament Meeting Speaking Guidelines.”
Note: I won’t go into detail regarding this list because I happen to agree with nearly all of the “please do not” and “remember to” items, spelling out what was expected of speakers.
The only one I had serious reservations about was No. 4: “Do Not Share Rumors or Folklore That Cannot Be Substantiated.”
Since that covers about 80 percent of religion in general (hence the need for faith), I wasn’t sure how to handle it.
Besides, in the seconds before the paper was handed to me, I had my talk already planned. I have been working on it for years. It’s based on a church hymn and aptly titled, “If We Could Hie to Kolob, How the Hell Would We Get There?”
Apparently the subject of Kolob was already booked because the guideline sheet specifically informed me that I was to speak on the subject of “empathy” for 14 minutes. Specifically.
Not 13 or 15, but 14 minutes. Like they couldn’t even round it to the nearest five-minute mark? No wonder fast and testimony meeting gets out of hand.
The issue of time wasn’t much of a problem. The subject was. Empathy. I thought that was the Relief Society’s job, or at least the responsibility of someone capable of actual feelings?
As an ex-cop, ex-soldier, ex-bum, lifetime Mormon, media member and the father of three daughters, asking me to hold forth on empathy was akin to asking a carp to talk about its feet.
But I’m a somewhat faithful member of the Herriman Rose Summit Ward, so I kept my astonishment and discouragement to myself.
I shook Brother Dana’s hand and said I would do the best I could — which is a far cry from saying that the bishopric would be pleased. We’ll wait and see what comes up Sunday. Maybe I’ll never be asked to speak in church again.
I can empathize with that.