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So, I'm on vacation in Utah (and still compulsively thinking C.SE!), and so I attended an LDS service. In the morning, I heard a reading from one of the Presidents of the church during the "Quorum of the Elders," then went to Sunday School, and finally witnessed the Sacrement of the bread and water. (I guess it makes sense there was no wine, but it did make me go "Huh!") After that, there were testimonies from missionaries and some music - but nothing that struck me as a sermon.

Was I missing something, or was this an atypical service? I guess I was trying to understand what the "pastor"s role in the service was supposed to be - or again, is it just that Mormons are even more Baptist than baptists?

If someone could explain how instruction and exhortation are primarily conferred in the LDS church Id appreciate it.

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Good question but what do you mean by 'even more baptist then baptists'? Just curious. –  ryan May 21 '12 at 5:42
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Baptists are highly congregationally driven, rejecting all kinds of authority and focusing tremendously on the priesthood of all believers. Baptists in theory see the preacher as just another guy who is on the hook each week to give an informational exhortation. What I saw with the Mormons was that they took it one step further and rotated the preacherly office itself so as to avoid setting up any one individual over against the whole congregation completely. –  Affable Geek May 21 '12 at 14:41
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@AffableGeek: That would be a misunderstanding. The Latter-Day Saints are about as hierarchical and authority-conscious as the Catholics; it's just that the concept of preaching sermons is done in a very different way. –  Mason Wheeler May 22 '12 at 0:25
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@MasonWheeler, I respectfully disagree. Although Mormons have a priesthood hierarchy, they also have a strong sense of equality. Offices are "rotated", and someone who is a bishop today may serve in the nursery (watching the toddlers) next week. The authority vs. individualism issue is one of Mormonism's paradoxes discussed in Terryl L. Given's People of Paradox. –  amcnabb May 30 '12 at 13:44

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I'm surprised this hasn't been asked here yet. Mormon services are a bit different, as you discovered. In the United States, there is generally a block of 3 meetings back-to-back including a sunday school, a mens' and women's time for instruction, and a sacrament meeting where the general congregation meets together. It sounds like the first meeting you attended was Priesthood meeting where the brothers study the words of scripture and modern Church leaders. Those classes usually have a single instructor each week. [Source]

Sacrament meeting is where any equivalence of a sermon would be heard. The primary difference between Mormon services and some others is the focal event of church meetings. The purpose behind holding a sacrament meeting is to take the sacrament and renew covenants made at baptism. The actual administration of the sacrament is the most sacred public meeting to Mormons. Hearing people speak and even interpersonal communion (socializing) is only secondary, though important. [Source]

Members of a ward, or local congregation, are invited to speak by the bishop or his counselors (the basic equivalent of a pastor) and will have some time to prepare a talk. Talks should draw from the scriptures, personal experience and testimony, and focus on the Savior. Note that comments made by church members over the pulpit at a sacrament meeting do not necessarily reflect the Church's official position on a topic or even Church doctrine.

The talks are meant to urge, inspire, and exhort all in attendance to come to Christ, to give them an opportunity to feel the power of the Spirit, and to strengthen their faith. Often, members will come with questions in their hearts and find answers in the words that day.

Counsel from leaders like a bishop sometimes occur over the pulpit, but usually this is private and individual, based on personal circumstances. The bishop and his counselors are supposed to meet with members regularly in interviews. There is no paid clergy, so all the service is volunteer.

Each member is also assigned two "home teachers" which visit their family once a month to share a gospel message, check on well-being, and be a friend and support especially when needed. [Source] In this way, instruction is given which might also help replace a typical sermon pattern. The bishop, his counselors, and others he calls on help organize these efforts. (It has also proven to be very quick and effective during disaster response, as home teachers immediately report in on who they teach, and bishops coordinate an effort if needed. [Source 1, Source 2)

So what you saw was apparently quite normal. Even once a month (the first Sunday), a fast and testimony meeting is held during sacrament meeting, where members forgo preparing talks and instead bear their testimonies about Christ and the gospel for the hour as they feel a desire to do so. Instruction is very member-to-member, you might say, but is guided by the direction of a bishop and other church leaders who also inspire and instruct. [Source]

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I think you can omit the "In the United States" conditional at the top paragraph. The block schedule is consistently followed in countries I've lived in such as Panama, El Salvador, Uruguary, and Chile. I think it's safe to consider that the world-wide standard except in a few unusual cases where such a schedule is unreasonable due to issues of overcrowding in buildings, or some other reason. This is no biggie; just thought I'd clarify –  Jake Toronto Jul 17 at 18:47

The "pastor" in an LDS congregation is called a Bishop, and his role in meetings can be understood rather literally as that of episkopos, or overseer. Instead of preaching a sermon himself, the Bishop calls upon members of the congregation to prepare and then present the sermons in coming weeks. The Bishop presides at the meeting and he or one of his counselors directs matters according to the schedule, but the talks are given by the members.

This makes sense in the context of Mormonism because the Bishop (and all clergy members, in fact) is a layman with other personal and professional duties to attend to throughout the week, in addition to his ecclesiastical responsibilities. He doesn't have time to prepare a sermon every week the way professional, dedicated pastors from other faiths do!

So instead, that burden/opportunity is spread throughout the congregation, with each Sacrament Meeting usually seeing two or three talks by members. (The exception being Fast Sunday, which Matt mentioned.)

The other two meetings divide the congregation up in different ways and present instruction in more of a classroom-style format, where active participation and discussion is encouraged. These meetings use pre-planned lessons from standardized lesson manuals developed by the church, though the manuals only cover the material to be taught, not any techniques or guidelines as to how to present it. Because of this, the tone of these meetings tends to be influenced pretty heavily by the people attending them, and by the teacher's style. (This is a contrast to the highly formulaic Sacrament Meeting, which is always similar in format and style no matter where or when you attend.)

As for the use of water instead of wine in the sacrament, the doctrinal basis for it actually predates the dietary revelation proscribing the use of alcohol by about two and a half years. Joseph Smith was told in a revelation that:

it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.

The use of bread and water has become standardized by custom, but stories exist of rare occasions when a congregation had no bread available and found other things to use on short notice, such as thin-sliced potatoes. (While this is doctrinally acceptable, such stories tend to be a bit contrived and I can't help but wonder how accurate they are.)

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