Throughout my life I have seen church leaders chastise church members for being late. I have a two-word reply to these leaders: STOP IT.
There is a joke that Latter-day Saints operate on “Mormon standard time” — that is to say, we’re always late. Really it’s a stereotype that borders on a truism, because members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do often seem to show up late for Sunday church services, and many church meetings and activities do start later than their scheduled time (possibly because everyone attending is late). Though whether Latter-day Saints or more likely than members of other groups, religious or nonreligious, to be late is, in my experience, at best questionable.
But as long as I’ve heard church members joke about running late, I’ve also heard church leaders gripe about members running late. I have heard it in council meetings and in priesthood quorum meetings, and in Sunday School classes and over the pulpit. I have seen bishops and stake presidents and occasionally general authorities (members of the church’s worldwide leadership) — all positions held exclusively by men, I might add — chastise members for arriving late to _____ church meeting and suggest, implicitly or even explicitly, that a late church member is not a faithful church member. That somehow showing up late for sacrament meeting or another meeting is a violation of baptismal or priesthood covenants, even though I see nothing about punctuality in the places baptismal and priesthood covenants are described.1
I have a simple reply to these church leaders:
There are so many reasons an individual member or a family may be late for a church meeting. The church touts itself as a “family-oriented” organization, and many Latter-day Saint families have children — often more than the typical family. Regardless of the number of children, any parent or caregiver knows how hard it can be to get children fed, cleaned, dressed, and out the door. It is even harder when so many fathers are pulled away on Sunday mornings for meetings that are often held before church services or for other church responsibilities, leaving a mother to fend for herself in getting her entire family ready. (This is the case in my own family.)
Beyond that, in my own ward, and I’m sure we’re not unique, many members have jobs, particularly in healthcare and similar fields, that require that they work long hours, often on Saturdays and often overnight. Many of our members can attend church only once or twice a month, because those are the only Sundays they can get off of work. Add in the fact that our sacrament meeting starts at 9.00 and I’m impressed that many of them make it at all.
And, you know, sometimes you’re just late. Because life. Or, in Mormon parlance, mortality. That’s just kind of the nature of living on this planet sometimes.
Regardless of the reason, if someone has taken the time to show up for Sunday or other meetings, even if they are late, it is completely inappropriate to chastise them. Many of these members are doing so at great personal sacrifice of time and/or money; in my ward, for example, I’m sure it is a stretch for some families to scrape together the bus or subway fare even to get to church. And yet, for some reason, church leaders find it necessary and appropriate to excoriate them for arriving a few minutes late.
A stake I used to live in, the Brooklyn New York Stake, had an extraordinary number of extra church meetings on Saturday and Sunday evenings, often named some variation of “stake priesthood leadership meeting” or “auxiliary training meeting”. It frustrated me and my wife that a church that supposedly placed so much emphasis on families and spending time with families expected both of us to attend meetings that took us away from our families so often. In a chapel full of men and women who had taken time from their families and their lives to receive some sort of superfluous “training” or “instruction”, the stake president still found it appropriate to call out people who apparently had the gall to arrive, say, 15 minutes late.
I’ll be blunt: if I have taken time to show up for your stupid meeting at 6.00 on a Saturday evening, don’t you dare criticize me if I get to that meeting late. And don’t you dare question my testimony or my faithfulness.
Instead, church leaders need to focus a lot more on making meetings worth showing up on time for in the first place. I hate being late for a movie; I don’t want to miss a moment of it — and I even enjoy sitting through the previews ahead of time. But there is little incentive to show up on time for sacrament meeting to listen to mediocre congregational singing and announcements which are likely already printed in the program, and I have little interest in attending yet another boring leadership or training meeting just to listen to yet another boring speaking talk about something I’ve heard about dozens of times before — so be grateful I’m there at all, even if I get there late.
With all the evil in the world today, the last thing church leaders should be harping on members about is punctuality. Same for church members: we need to stop judging others when they walk into the chapel after the meeting has started. (Ditto for judging others for what they’re wearing, or for not singing hymns by parts, or ….)
My ward has over 700 members on its rolls, and yet fewer than 100 of them attend sacrament meeting any given Sunday. We need each and every one of them, and I am grateful when they have taken the time and made the sacrifice to show up whenever they can — even if that’s 15, or 30, or 45 minutes late, or even if it’s only one or two Sundays a month.
In the meantime, I never again want to hear a church leader chastise members for being late. This needs to stop. As individuals and as a church we are so far from perfection that punctuality should be the least of our worries — we don’t have time for it.
- See Mosiah 18:8–10 or Doctrine and Covenants 20:37, 77, and 79 for baptismal covenants; see much of the rest of Doctrine and Covenants 20 for the duties of priesthood holders and church members and Doctrine and Covenants 84:33–44 for the oath and covenant of the priesthood. ↩