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On Time
By Aaron Johnston September 17, 2004

OK, hypothetical situation: you're the final speaker in sacrament meeting, and the previous speakers have left you no time. Technically the meeting should be concluding about now, but you haven't even started talking yet.

What do you do?

Deliver the ten-minute talk you worked so hard to prepare? Cut it down to five minutes so the meeting only goes five minutes over? Tell the congregation how grateful you are that you don't have to speak after all and sit down?

Hmm. Let's consider each option.

Give the talk you prepared.

You worked hard. You prayed. You meditated. You spent hours in front of the computer screen writing and rewriting, thinking and rethinking. The scriptures you found are dead on. The quotes you found from general authorities are perfectly appropriate.

In short, the talk is a masterpiece.

And you're certain the Lord guided you in your preparation. You felt inspired to go to certain scriptures, to look in certain books, to read certain passages. This is the message the Lord wants you to give. You're sure of that.

And to cut any of it would be a travesty. It's perfect as is. It can't be shortened.

So ignore the clock and just do it.

Cut it down.

Although it pains you, maybe there is a way to slice off a minute or two here and there. Perhaps you don't need that lengthy quote from Brigham Young. And maybe you can live without reading a few of the scriptures.

What's important is that the congregation understands the gist of your talk, right? You can still make your point. You can't use as many examples, of course, but you can still communicate the main idea.

And so what if you're a few minutes over? Doesn't sacrament meeting go over every Sunday anyway? Why should this Sunday be any different?

Besides, it isn't your fault the other speakers completely ignored the time parameters given them and spoke for twenty minutes each instead of for twelve.

So, yes, you can cut down the talk to a few minutes. And if the meeting goes a little over, so what?

Say a sentence or two and sit down.

Making a joke about how the other speakers left you no time is probably a bad idea - no need to embarrass them; they probably know by now that they went over and likely feel bad about it. Why kick them while they're down?

The best thing to do is to bear a brief testimony of the topic and sit down. Yes, you prepared a beautiful talk, but time is time. The Lord's house is a house of order.

If you go over, you're only doing to the Sunday School teacher what the previous speakers did to you: robbing time.

Best to put an end to this by keeping your message under thirty seconds. Doing so will get everyone back on track and not disrupt the remaining meetings.

OK, there are the arguments. Each has its merits, right? So which is the right choice? A, B, or C?

My vote: follow the brethren.

Sessions of General Conference always end on time. In fact, sometimes sessions even end early. President Hinckley is notorious for that.

Shouldn't we do the same?

Meetings should end on time. Period. And if a meeting does go over, it only does so at the request of the priesthood authority presiding at the meeting. Speakers do not have the "right" to make that decision.

Consider testimony meetings. In some wards, members hoping to bear their testimony go and sit on the stand to "wait their turn."

Now, if a long line forms and time expires, the bishop does NOT have to wait for everyone to have their turn. He may stand up and conclude the meeting precisely when he is supposed to - even if that means several people must return to their seats without having born their testimony.

Of course, he can allow the meeting to go over if he so chooses. But he doesn't have to. He's presiding. It's his call.

I always chuckle to myself when I notice someone trying to beat the bishop to the pulpit. They know he's about to conclude the meeting, so they hustle to the microphone before he can get there.

My favorite, of course, is when someone asks permission. They're already on the stand. They know time is up. And yet they ask permission anyway.

This is usually done with body language. They gesture to the bishop that they're comments will be brief. (The most common gesture is the thumb and forefinger placed close together. "I'll only use a little time," they say.)

And because they do so in front of EVERYONE, the bishop's only option is to say yes. He's backed in a corner. If he flat out says no, he'll seem cruel - even though it's his prerogative and responsibility to do so.

This problem isn't isolated to sacrament meeting, though. Watching the clock should be a priority no matter what meeting we're attending.

Take Sunday School for example. I once had a teacher who always ended five or ten minutes over. Always.

And it wasn't that she simply forgot about the time. That's a natural mistake. This teacher knew what time it was and chose to go over.

I know this because she always said, "I know we're over time, but..." right when we were supposed to be concluding. And then she would go on to share a few more scriptures or read another quote or ask another question or show another visual aid.

She totally disregarded the clock.

As a result, priesthood and relief society always started late. And as a result of that, the teachers of those classes always had less time than they needed to share their prepared lesson - further proof that when someone goes over, everyone suffers.

The worse abuse of time management, however, occurs when a teacher or speaker goes over in the final meeting.

If church is supposed to end at noon, for example, the teacher should not conclude his or her lesson at 12:05. This is wrong.

And some of you are saying, "What's five minutes? Isn't the purpose of the Sabbath to come together and worship? Why should it matter if the teacher goes over a few minutes? Perhaps Brother Johnston should worry more about his spiritual development than about getting out of class on time."

And to that I say, "You must not have children in Primary or nursery."

The Primary presidency and nursery leader cannot leave until every child has been reunited with a parent. If one meeting goes over, these sweet sisters are stuck babysitting our children. And frankly, that's not fair.

Parents should pick up their children precisely when they are expected to. So if a meeting does go over, parents should sneak out and hustle over to Primary. Their first obligation is to their child.

This subject is a little sensitive to me because my wife is Primary president. She's often had to wait around for a dawdling parent to come and retrieve their child.

She shouldn't have to.

And the same goes for Primary activities. Some parents, for whatever reason, can't pick up their children when they're supposed to. If the activity ends at noon, for example, some parents don't show up until 12:30, long after most kids have gone home.

This makes no sense to me. If the activity ends at noon, parents should be there and waiting before noon. This is simply common courtesy, right?

But enough complaining. My point is this: meetings should end on time. Speakers and teachers should end when they're supposed to, regardless of what time has been used up before them. Your preparation, however extensive, does not entitle you to ignore the clock. We are all slaves to time, even at church.

And speaking of time, mine is up.

Copyright © 2004 by Aaron Johnston

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