“What are the guidelines regarding sacrament meetings during which departing missionaries or returning missionaries speak?” Ensign, Sept. 1996, 61
Hoyt W. Brewster Jr., president of the Netherlands Amsterdam Mission, former managing director of the Church’s Priesthood Department.
To understand Church direction regarding missionary farewells and homecomings, we need to remember that sacrament meeting is a worship service. Our main purpose in attending sacrament meeting is to renew our covenants through partaking of the sacrament and to worship our Heavenly Father through hymn singing and prayer. Sacrament meeting provides an opportunity for members to strengthen their faith, find inner peace and spiritual healing, receive inspiration, and be instructed in the gospel.
President Joseph Fielding Smith declared that sacrament meeting is “the most sacred, the most holy, of all the meetings of the Church” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:340; emphasis in original). Sacrament meeting, he further stated, “is an occasion when the gospel should be presented, when we should be called upon to exercise faith, and to reflect on the mission of our Redeemer, and to spend time in the consideration of the saving principles of the gospel, and not for other purposes” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:342; emphasis in original).
The ordinance of the sacrament is the focal point of this special worship service. Partaking of the bread and water, emblems of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, “should be a powerful, reverent, reflective moment,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “It should encourage spiritual feelings and impressions. As such it should not be rushed. It is not something to ‘get over’ so that the real purpose of a sacrament meeting can be pursued. This is the real purpose of the meeting. And everything that is said or sung or prayed in those services should be consistent with the grandeur of this sacred ordinance” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 68).
While departing and returning missionaries may be invited by the bishopric to speak in a sacrament service, the focus of the meeting remains on our Father in Heaven and on the supernal gift of the Atonement wrought by his Son, Jesus Christ. Departing or returning missionaries, along with others who may be invited to speak or perform a musical number, should concentrate their message on the doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the scriptures and by Church leaders.
Neither missionaries nor their families plan sacrament programs. If invited by the bishopric, they may make suitable suggestions; however, Church policy states that bishoprics are to plan sacrament meetings and see that they are conducted in a reverent manner. In a recent announcement, the policy regarding the participation of departing and returning missionaries in sacrament meetings was again emphasized:
“Bishoprics may honor newly called full-time missionaries by asking them to speak in a sacrament meeting before their departure. The bishopric plans and conducts such meetings and invites those who will participate. Family members of the missionary may offer prayers, present special music, or speak. Talks and music should be worshipful, faith promoting, and gospel oriented. The regular time of the sacrament meeting should not be extended” (Ensign, Nov. 1994, 112). This policy also applies to returning missionaries.
Regarding open houses, we have been instructed that “members and local leaders should avoid practices that may detract from the sacred nature of a mission call or create unnecessary expense, such as holding open houses for missionaries (except for family gatherings), sending [or publishing] formal printed announcements or invitations, printing special programs, or forming reception lines at the meetinghouse after the sacrament meeting” (Ensign, Nov. 1994, 112).
If we remember the purpose of sacrament meeting, the importance of the Lord’s day (see D&C 59:12–13), the sacredness of the ordinance of the sacrament, and the sacred nature of a mission call, our actions will be consistent with Church direction and gospel guidelines.