Saturday, August 29, 2009

Two-and-a-half-minute Talks

Once upon a time Sunday School was a stand-alone meeting with its own opening exercises. Actually, the truth is that Sunday School was the meeting of choice for many members, and lest they should miss partaking of the sacrament (because they did not attend the sacrament meeting that was held on Sunday evenings), the sacrament was administered and passed both morning and evening.

Of course many members today won’t remember any of this because the consolidated meeting schedule (the three-hour-block of meetings instituted in 1980) spelled the demise of the Sunday School opening exercises. Too bad, because with opening exercises went a unique Mormon icon—the two-and-a-half minute talk.

You read that right. Not three minutes, not five minutes, but two-and-a-half minutes. Why this prescribed length? Well, remember that Sunday School talks were the Lord’s own training ground for public speaking, and all members of the branch were given their turn, child, new convert, and life-long member alike. Who could be intimidated by speaking such a short time, and to such a small audience?

And, on the rare occasions when the two speakers actually managed to speak for 2½ minutes each, the talks neatly added up to five minutes, just the right amount of time for a few brief thoughts before the practice hymn and dismissal to class. (The practice hymn is another casualty of the consolidated schedule.) The exact time was rarely achieved, however. The speakers either sat down after thirty seconds or rambled on for fifteen minutes, and it didn’t matter anyway.

Beginning in September 1949, the assignments for 2½ minute talks were published in the Aurora Branch newsletter. It would be interesting to know if the people were asked ahead of time, or if they learned about the assignment when they read the newsletter—echoes of mission calls issued from the pulpit at General Conference.

Here are some of the assignments as published. It appears that a male and a female member were assigned each time, but otherwise there were no age and experience requirements.
The McCarty family had moved from Utah to Aurora where H. Ward McCarty was the manager of the Montgomery Ward store in downtown Aurora and second counselor in the branch. Nancy was his teenage daughter. Jackie Owens was a non-member friend and neighbor of the Greer family. Ginger (that’s me) was not quite six years old. Cora Hall was a woman who had joined the Church in Southern Illinois, and of course, James T. Greer was branch president. (September 4 was stake conference in Chicago.)

In the above list from December 1950, Craig Tatton, Vera Ruth and Jimmy Resch were children under 10. Mary Jane Greer was almost 14, and the others were adults.
In the next extant copy of the newsletter, July 1951, we already see familiar names. At least seven are repeats. Oh, the blessings and bothers of a tiny branch. (Sister Murri was a missionary working in the Branch at that time.)

Since I was thinking about Sunday School, I asked my father to help me remember how the program went each week. Here’s what he came up with, and I’ll take his word for it as he was the Sunday School superintendent for more years than anyone can imagine.

Greeting and announcements
Opening Hymn
Opening Prayer
(No official Branch business was conducted in Sunday School)
Sacrament Hymn
Sacrament Gem
Administration of the Sacrament
Two 2½ minute talks
Practice Hymn
Separation for Classes
Reassembly and reminder of announcements
Closing Hymn
Closing Prayer

Did you catch that “Sacrament Gem”? Yet another tradition lost to the consolidated schedule, but more about that another time.

1 comment:

  1. Do you ever think they will bring it back...the talks...and the whole opening exercises etc? Time will tell I guess.