Kirby: Kids preaching in church. What could go wrong?

Robert Kirby

Ethan Clegg is the youth speaker in my Latter-day Saint ward’s sacrament meeting Sunday. I’ve been looking forward to it.

Ethan has not. The 11-year-old told my wife that he wasn’t scared but was worried that I would make faces from the congregation in an effort to get him to laugh. Since I sit next to his parents every Sunday, it’ll be hard for him to miss me.

Speaking to the entire congregation is something Latter-day Saint kids are raised to do. At what age depends on the inclination of the individual child.

It starts out voluntarily. Following the examples of other kids, a child might go up to the lectern during fast and testimony meeting and offer a few comments about what the church means to him.

The youngsters are usually nervous, sometimes to the point of incoherency. For my tastes, this puts them ahead of most adult speakers.

In fact, if I’m really bored by long-winded adult testimonies, I’m not above paying kids sitting nearby to go up and speak just to change things up.

Then there are the kids in Ethan’s shoes — assigned youth speakers who either volunteer or are press-ganged at random. We have a youth speaker most sacrament meetings.

Like adults, youth speakers are assigned a topic for their talk. They can’t just “follow the spirit” when deciding what to speak about. Far too often in the past that went horribly awry (albeit entertaining to the likes of me).

This week, it’s Ethan’s turn. Yesterday, when I was writing this, I texted him about the topic he was assigned. He said it was proper Sabbath worship.

Since we once shot off cannons in my front yard on a Sunday, I imagined Ethan’s talk would be more of a rhetorical presentation.

Me • “Are you doing it for free?”

Him • “Yeah. Wish I got money for it.”

Me • “Liar. I once offered you 10 bucks to bear your testimony and you wouldn’t. Serves you right that you have to do it for free.”

Him • [Poop emoji].

The conversation summoned memories of my own first preaching in church, a brief enunciation known as a “sacrament gem.” It was a scripture or hymnal stanza that lasted less than a minute and was intended to impress on everyone the importance of partaking of the sacrament.

It was far too long ago for me to remember the entire gem, but it remains branded on my mind that I got the word “resurrection” mixed up with “resuscitation.” Even the adults laughed. I was the butt of resurrection jokes until we mercifully moved a year later.

“Hey, Bobby. Was Jesus artificially resuscitated?”

It’s just this sort of thing that can put a huge dent in a formative testimony. I wouldn’t want that to happen to Ethan.

I assured him that his talk will go well. He’s a smart kid. All he needs to do is stay on script, remember that his Heavenly Father loves him, and don’t stare at the paper in front of him. To appear sincere, he should occasionally make eye contact with the congregants.

“I’ll be the one wearing the evil clown mask.”

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.