The Unwritten Order of Things, Revisited

At last night’s Stake Leadership Training Meeting, the stake president announced the first two speakers, both bishops. The second was assigned the topic “the unwritten order of things.” Hard to think of a topic more likely to spin out of control — I braced for the worst, and prepared myself for the upcoming train wreck by Googling up a copy of Elder Packer’s actual remarks at the 1996 BYU devotional and (#3 on the Google search) Julie’s 2009 post “The Problem with the Unwritten Order of Things” and the 103 spirited comments to that post.

It turned out the speaker talked about an entirely different topic and never even uttered the words “unwritten order.” I think we can add the fact that speakers generally feel free to ignore the assigned topic and talk about whatever they want as another item on the unwritten order list. I certainly can’t fault this speaker for making that choice, and I’m sure whatever he talked about was informative and encouraging (I don’t recall the details). Surprisingly, having re-read Elder Packer’s talk during the meeting, it’s not really that bad. I think the problem is how easy it is to take that idea and run with it, simply taking the phrase itself as approving the pernicious idea that a local leader can do anything they want, regardless of what Handbook 1 or Handbook 2 says, as long as they feel good about it.

That Phrase Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

First, let’s highlight this statement by Elder Packer: “The things I am going to tell you are not explained in our handbooks or manuals either.” That is important because it directly refutes the idea that the unwritten order idea can be invoked to trump the written order of things (the Handbooks). If someone is pursuing their own approach rather than what is directed in the Handbooks and justifying it using the phrase “unwritten order,” they aren’t using Elder Packer’s unwritten order of things, they are just making up their own rules. My prepared response to that situation is: “I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ, not the Church of Bishop X. If you want to make your own rules, go make your own church.” I’ve never had occasion to use that fine response as I have always had reasonable and responsible bishops. But I know the lunatic fringe is out there, and sometimes they get called to local leadership. It is good to know Elder Packer specifically rejected that broad reading of his counsel.

And what did Elder Packer actually affirm? His alternate description for the unwritten things he was alluding to was “The Ordinary Things about the Church Which Every Member Should Know,” which doesn’t sound quite as sinister. Particular items he referred to in the course of the talk as examples of the unwritten order of things were:

  • The one presiding at a meeting should sit on the stand and sit close to the one conducting the meeting.
  • The first counselor should sit on the President’s right, the second on the left.
  • We don’t ask for callings and we don’t ask to be released, although one is free to consult with the leader who called you if circumstances change.
  • For blessings or counsel, go to your parents. Plan B: get a blessing from your home teacher and counsel from your bishop. Don’t go to GAs for blessings or counsel.
  • Revelation is vertical: a bishop shouldn’t consult other bishops for advice, he should consult the stake president.
  • Be a little patient with how things are done in the Church; busy local leaders might not always get the details right.
  • “Bishops should not yield the arrangement of meetings to members,” with specific reference to missionary farewells and funerals.
  • Funerals should be “spiritually impressive” and not become “informal family reunions in front of ward members.”
  • Wear your Sunday best on Sunday.
  • Over the pulpit, leaders should use full names when calling and releasing people, not first names or nicknames.

So what he was describing was the things ordinary members should know about how the church works at the local level in meetings and so forth. There is *nothing* about doctrine or history in the general principle (things ordinary members of the Church should know) or the list of examples that he provides, so anyone trying to pawn off their own personal doctrines or ideas about LDS history using Elder Packer’s idea is just off base. That would be an unwarranted application of Elder Packer’s counsel.

How Not to Apply the Counsel

So back to Julie’s post, which stated that “any adult member can offer either prayer in sacrament meeting” (paraphrasing the Handbook) but noting that some LDS units were operating under a rule that only men could offer the invocation at Sacrament Meeting. Some local leaders had apparently received direction from higher leaders that this was a requirement, an unwritten order thing, despite Handbook language to the contrary. That seems like a plainly mistaken use of Elder Packer’s counsel (“The things I am going to tell you are not explained in our handbooks or manuals”). Which is not to say that some circumstance may arise where a departure from the written order is appropriate, just that one can’t use “the unwritten order” idea to justify that departure.

The bottom line: as actually spelled out by Elder Packer, it’s a much narrower concept than most of us suppose. If he had just titled his talk “Ordinary Things about the Church Which Every Member Should Know,” a lot of confusion could have been avoided. Maybe one of the things that every member of the Church should know is that the unwritten order of things as that idea has come to be used in the Church (rather than how Elder Packer originally explained it) is a folk doctrine.

40 comments for “The Unwritten Order of Things, Revisited

  1. September 22, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    I appreciate this post, Dave. A think I’m missing something. How does this:

    “The things I am going to tell you are not explained in our handbooks or manuals either.”

    Do this:

    “…directly refutes the idea that the unwritten order idea can be invoked to trump the written order of things,”


    Still bugged by the funeral directions. “Spiritually impressive” rather than a celebration of the life of the deceased for loved ones? Phooey. What I most remember from GS funerals is personal anecdotes and biographical information, not doctrinal essays. :(

  2. Last Lemming
    September 22, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    I agree with your assessment of Packer’s talk–the content is largely unobjectionable. But the loathed phenomenon (leaders enforcing unwritten rules) nevertheless exists, and we have (perhaps unfairly) linked it to Packer via the “unwritten order.” So what language do we use instead to talk about it?

    Incidentally, my impression is that this stuff originates more at the general level than the local level; a visiting GA will pass on his personal preference to a stake president and that stake president will run with it as if it were on par with the handbook.

  3. September 22, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Alison, his statement essentially limits the scope of his counsel to cases where there is no relevant statement in the Handbooks. If there is a written statement there, the “unwritten order” as he explains it does not apply. So you can’t use unwritten order to trump written order, at least as Elder Packer explained the concept.

  4. Hunter
    September 22, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    I like this: using Elder Packer’s own talk to slow any “unwritten order mission creep.” (Ironic, though, isn’t it? Using written things to dissuade from an ideology based on unwritten things.)

    One other limiting factor that Elder Packer provides regarding these rules, is that, while they’re not explained in the scriptures, they do “conform to the principles taught in the scriptures.” That’s important, I think.

  5. KLC
    September 22, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    LL, isn’t this entire talk something a GA is passing as his personal preference? I think it should be renamed, “Things that bug Elder Packer but are too trivial to be addressed in scripture or the handbook.” Really, who cares on which side of the presiding authority the counselor sits? Who cares if the full name is used when announcing a calling? And, like Alison, who has the right to demand that something as personal as a funeral become just another sales meeting?

  6. Hunter
    September 22, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    On the other hand, Elder Packer doesn’t seem to limit himself to the rules he mentioned. He consistently referred to them as “examples” and “illustrations.” So, he’s purposefully not limiting himself to the list.

  7. Owen
    September 22, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    KLC, women who get referred to by part of their names while men are always given full names with middle initials care. .

  8. September 22, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Dave, I am left wondering about exactly what kind of confusion you feel could have been avoided. Confusion seems to be characterized in Doctrine and Covenants 9 as “stupor of thought”. The scripture passage suggests that “stupor of thought” is the antithesis of inspiration. Does this correspond with what you describe? How is it different?

  9. KLC
    September 22, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Owen, so LaVerl Vaughn Romney is respected while Cissy Jones is not? Give me Cissy Jones anyday. The church needs fewer formalisms, not more. We are a congregation of believers, equally yoked in the gospel of Christ, not a business unit of a multinational corporation. Whatever the person being called is known by in the ward is what should be used to call them to the work. Plus, I think you should go back and read the talk again if you think Elder Packer is being a pioneer of feminism by giving this instruction. This is what he said, “It bothers me to see on a sacrament meeting program that Liz and Bill and Dave will participate. Ought it not be Elizabeth and William and David? It bothers me more to be asked to sustain Buck or Butch or Chuck to the high council.” I don’t see him concerned with dissed sisters but irked that we would call someone what they prefer to be called. Just another thing that bugs Elder Packer.

  10. IDIAT
    September 22, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Packer gave the talk in 1996, prior to some newer Handbooks coming out in 1998 (the precursor to today’s two volume set.) Much of the stuff he mentions about funerals, farewells, and prayers was covered in the 1998 Handbooks and the current Handbooks. I am a rules guy. I think you can have plenty of rules and procedures and not be Pharisiacal in their observance and implementation. There are plenty of ways to “follow the Spirit” and still have structure in the administration of church related things. But if you want uniformity then put it in the handbook. If you want to allow adaption in certain areas, put it in the handbook (it’s there now). If it’s important, put it in the handbook. If it’s not in the handbook, then it must not be that important and therefore shouldn’t rise to the level of doctrine, policy or practice.

  11. fbisti
    September 22, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    RE: Alison Moore Smith…
    “Still bugged by the funeral directions. “Spiritually impressive” rather than a celebration of the life of the deceased for loved ones? Phooey. What I most remember from GS funerals is personal anecdotes and biographical information, not doctrinal essays. :( ”

    I agree completely. We can get so-called “spiritual” messages/meetings from sacrament meetings, and, unfortunately, from every meeting characterized by having speakers from the pulpit. A funeral is a much different setting and should honor and remember the deceased, aid in the grieving process, and make only very little mention that the family can be reunited later.

    Many years ago (at least 15-20), funeral services (supposedly), Stake Priesthood Leadership Meeting, Stake Leadership Training Meeting, General Priesthood Meeting, etc all became just another sacrament meeting. So I began referring to them as “rah-rah” sessions…just another 90 min to 2 hour harangue on being dutiful, worthy, righteous, faithful, and so on. Leadership meetings since then (where I have lived) provide nothing of any practical value. No tips, skills, new ways of doing tasks or anything that could be put into practice. I have long felt that these meetings miss a very good opportunity to hold break-out sessions where such specific, useful, tools, best practices, techniques, etc. could be taught/shared among clerks, secretaries, aux presidents, activity committees, bishops, et al.

  12. ji
    September 22, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    I’m glad you finally found that Elder Packer’s talk wasn’t offensive or sinister.

  13. Jared vdH
    September 22, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Perhaps I haven’t attended enough funerals – but I guess I’m just not understanding the criticisms laid here. I haven’t attended sacrament meeting like funerals, nor have I attended super raucous funerals. For me “spiritually powerful” just mean attended by the Spirit powerfully, and pretty much every funeral I’ve gone to has had touching personal anecdotes, funny stories, and powerful testimonies. Feels like it meets the criteria to me.

    Just reaching to the stereotypical here – was this maybe more of a problem with large Utah extended families and maybe several branches didn’t know the deceased very well and just came because it was an excuse to get the family together?

  14. Travis
    September 22, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    I see “spiritually impressive” versus “celebration of the life of the deceased” as a false dichotomy. Who says a celebration of the life of the deceased, including anecdotes illustrating the person’s personality, virtues, humor, beliefs, and maybe even shortcomings where appropriate, isn’t spiritually impressive? What could be more spiritually impressive than to reflect on the life and legacy and lessons learned from the recently departed?

    I’m not convinced President Packer meant anything else.

    So what might he have meant to preach against, if not against celebrating the life of the deceased? I imagine that “spiritually UNimpressive” might include the following:
    – Relating nothing but trivialities (“And one thing I’ll never forget about him was what a big Broncos fan he was”; or “I remember one time we went to Disneyland…we sure had fun”), implying either that the deceased didn’t make much of his life, or the speaker didn’t care enough to find out anything deep or meaningful or significant
    – Misrepresenting the deceased as much better than she really was—gives the impression that speaking honestly about her would be embarrassing, which is perhaps the biggest insult of all
    – Using a talk as an opportunity to [impress everyone with how important a role you played in the deceased’s life][affect exaggerated emotional displays][wax pretentiously grandiloquent][deliver a missionary lesson on the Plan of Salvation that barely mentions the deceased]

    (P.S. That last one might be excusable if you’re Joseph Smith and the deceased is one King Follett and you’re revealing new doctrine for the first time ever)

  15. September 22, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, Dave.

    Unfortunately, I have found them to do so far too often. For example, in the case of women praying in church, the handbook used to say something like “both men and women can pray in church.” But the “unwritten order” was used to interpret that to mean, “yes, but not in general meetings” or “yes, but not in meetings with men” or “yes, but only closing prayers because ‘women can’t invite the spirit'” or other falderal.

    So nearly everything that could have a problematic interpretation (if you tried really hard), would have one in some wards/stakes and the justification was “the unwritten order of things.”

    Frankly (and not to postjack with my gospel hobby) isn’t that what the female priesthood ban is, too?

  16. September 22, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Per my objections about the funeral statement, here is Packer’s entire statement:

    Another point of order: Bishops should not yield the arrangement of meetings to members. They should not yield the arrangement for funerals or missionary farewells to families. It is not the proper order of things for members or families to expect to decide who will speak and for how long. Suggestions are in order, of course, but the bishop should not turn the meeting over to them. We are worried about the drift that is occurring in our meetings.

    Funerals could and should be the most spiritually impressive. They are becoming informal family reunions in front of ward members. Often the Spirit is repulsed by humorous experiences or jokes when the time could be devoted to teaching the things of the Spirit, even the sacred things.

    When the family insists that several family members speak in a funeral, we hear about the deceased instead of about the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the comforting promises revealed in the scriptures. Now it’s all right to have a family member speak at a funeral, but if they do, their remarks should be in keeping with the spirit of the meeting.

    I have told my Brethren in that day when my funeral is held, if any of them who speak talk about me, I will raise up and correct them. The gospel is to be preached. I know of no meeting where the congregation is in a better state of readiness to receive revelation and inspiration from a speaker than they are at a funeral. This privilege is being taken away from us because we don’t understand the order of things—the unwritten order of things—that relates to the administration of the Church and the reception of the Spirit.

    I think this largely hasn’t been an issue because most local leaders (and general leaders) have ignored it.

    My father died last May. He had lived with us for three and a half years, but wasn’t in good health. I admit it rather unnerved me that we had to prove that every piece that was sung or played (all classical) was legitimate. Even one from the Messiah. Hello. And when the bishop spoke at the end — even though he barely BARELY knew my dad — it bugged me. (Fortunately, he’s a good guy so it didn’t bug me as much as it COULD have.)

    But I also know that we could have held the funeral at the mortuary if we wanted to.

  17. September 22, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Admin note: I removed a comment and a response. I’m sure you can make your points without shouting.

  18. Thoroughly Modified Millie
    September 22, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

    “Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine (**unless it comes from Elders McKonkie or Packer, or their extended families**). A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church (**unless it comes from Elder Packer, who…**) with divine inspiration (**anticipates in advance the revelations of**) the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church), who counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications (**or in Elder Packer remarks**). This doctrine resides (**much less clearly**) in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith, (**than in the talks, off-hand comments, and collected poems of Elder Packer**). Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted (**so it is probably best just not to think too hard about them, and to just obey them literally henceforth to be on the safe side**).”

    “Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of (**counselors of the Bishopric**) is far (more) important (**to the average Sunday sacrament meeting**) than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. The mistake that public commentators often make is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at (**the periphery, rather than**) the very center….The fundamental principles of our religion are (**1). Where people sit; 2) What you say at funerals; 3) What you wear at Church; 4) Which hymns you sign; 5) Whether the meeting starts on time; 6) who we ask for advice; 7) that we not bother general authorities with things like requests for blessings; 8) how long the prayer is; 9) that we not write blog post comments in all caps, because that offends the spirit; 10) the testimony of the (**most senior living**)) Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died (**and had a funeral as outlined in Handbook Chapter XI, Paragraph V, Subsection iii) bullet point 2**) was buried (**as outlined in Handbook #2, Chapter XI, Appendix 2, Paragraph 3, Subsection i) Bullet Point #7) and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it (**and Handbooks #1, #2, and all other words and poems of B.K. Packer**).”

  19. Travis
    September 22, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    @Alison: Okay, I am now convinced that Pr. Packer meant something else. I should’ve gone back to the source before trying to interpret it.

    …even though I like my interpretation better than his.

  20. Mark B.
    September 22, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    I don’t think it was the “shouting” of the deleted comment that made it offensive and ridiculous. You should delete it again.

  21. September 23, 2014 at 1:29 am

    A good explanation of some of the reasons why I have asked to be cremated! I trust that Jesus can find my remains for the Resurrection–seriously!-and folks can save travel money for what their familes really need. . .

  22. Hedgehog
    September 23, 2014 at 3:06 am

    “Often the Spirit is repulsed by humorous experiences or jokes when the time could be devoted to teaching the things of the Spirit, even the sacred things.”
    Do we really want a spirit that has no sense of humour? This is an attitude that really annoys me. Other people purporting to know what the Spirit does and doesn’t like!!!!!

    The last funeral I attended at church, a couple of years ago, was really well done. The guy whose funeral it was had planned out his own programme beforehand, and immediate family were non-members. We had non-LDS hymns that he particularly liked, family sharing poems and anecdotes, and the musical items he’d requested beforehand. It was a celebration of the person he was, as it should be, in my view.

    I shudder to think what it must be like for family planning a funeral with handbook & unwritten order-obsessed and nit-picking bishop. I’d be very very tempted to hold it elsewhere than jump through those hoops, my goodness.

  23. September 23, 2014 at 9:16 am

    I am really trying to understand why anyone feels obligated to have an LDS wedding or funeral, if they absolutely so deplore the “spiritual” format of such meetings. I personally enjoy the spirit of LDS-oriented funerals and find them more uplifting than others. But please, feel free to put on Uncle Bob’s wake at Comedy Central, or stage your personal performance at some tastefully fashionable venue, if you are so inclined.

    As for me and my house…

  24. September 23, 2014 at 10:32 am

    “I am really trying to understand why anyone feels obligated to have an LDS wedding or funeral, if they absolutely so deplore the “spiritual” format of such meetings.”

    Maybe because the deceased/betrothed and their families were longtime members and attached great significance to their faith and community? Elder Packer might not want to feature at his funeral, but that wish will surely not be granted, not even by the prophets and apostles, so why should the rest of us refrain from acknowledging the life and times of a beloved individual in the midst of what may well be that person’s most important associations?

  25. living in zion
    September 23, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    I have been to my share of LDS funerals and they are not what I plan on doing when I kick the bucket. I will be taking the suggestion given above and will have my funeral anywhere but the church. Not that I don’t love the church, but I refuse to have my funeral be a Sacrament Meeting dressed up with pretty flowers. I have been to funerals where the deceased was barely mentioned, it was all about presenting the 3 fold mission of the church. Sigh… it didn’t work at all for me.

  26. September 23, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Hedgehog – I am right there with you. My millenial era daughter, very devoted to the church, announced to my husband and I that our funerals were not going to be at the church because she does want to make our passing a celebration of life. I am barely middle aged, she is barely out of college but she attended enough funerals in and out of the church to decide what type she wants for her parents.

    As to your comment on the spirit and humour. Amen!!!. Joseph Smith loved to joke, tease – yes even wrestle with his children. President Hinckley even made jokes. At the rate it’s going we are going to be the saddest people on the face of the earth – not the happiest.

    So Hedgehog – you can come to my funeral and tell any joke you want. My daughter will let you know when we are having it. :)

  27. H.Bob
    September 23, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    KLC: Then there’s the matter of calling someone by their actual name. A woman I’m related to was christened Rebecca Mae [Lastname], and that’s what’s “on the records of the Church.” By some quirk of fate, her junior high school friends started calling her “Liz,” and that’s what she’s known by to this day. But those of us in the know were a little nonplussed (and amused) when, in stake conference, “Elizabeth [Lastname]” was called as the stake Young Women president. She was set apart by a thoroughly embarrassed stake president, whose counselors and clerks hadn’t bothered to check the actual records for her real name. That “unwritten order of things” works out sometimes.

  28. Hedgehog
    September 23, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Carrie, the funny thing is I rarely tell jokes, except when relating my Dad’s jokes to my kids. I’m the most serious of my fellow siblings, but we do all enjoy laughing together. My father does tell jokes, and we all remember the first joke our youngest brother told very fondly. Growing up we’d spend time together, Sunday afternoons reading humorous poetry and the like. We especially enjoyed a hilarious monologue about limburger cheese. I think it was my grandfather who had bought the book of it. My parents and grandparents were big fans of ‘the goon show’, and ‘hancock’s half hour’ and the like.
    Sounds like your daughter has things in hand, though hopefully not required for many years yet. Thanks for the invite. :)

  29. Glenn Thigpen
    September 23, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Dave, it seems that you are saying that maybe we should always check the source of any phrase etc. that anyone is parroting for context. A novel idea to be sure.


  30. September 23, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    Glenn, I think I am saying that the phrase “unwritten order of things” has taken on a life of its own. Some people disagree with both the untethered meaning and with Elder Packer’s original idea. I disagree with the untethered meaning but find Elder Packer’s original meaning (ordinary things every church member should know but you won’t find explained in any manual) much less objectionable.

    Putting one counselor on the right and the other on the left sounds kind of petty, but when I visit other wards when out of town, it is always nice to know which one of the suits on the stand is the bishop. More than nice — we in the congregation deserve to know who is running the meeting. And while I would give some leeway for funerals (some), I do like the idea that LDS leaders should run LDS meetings, not this or that strong-willed family member who has their own ideas about how that missionary farewell or LDS funeral ought to be run. Open-mike testimony meetings are bad enough.

  31. A Turtle Named Mack
    September 23, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    I am not looking forward to Elder Packer’s death, but can’t wait to see what his funeral will be like. Does that cross the line into blasphemy?

  32. Thoroughly Modified Millie
    September 23, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    OK, Mark B., I will admit that there was too much snark in my prior post. But sometimes exaggeration makes uncomfortable truths more apparent. We mormons do have plenty of “blue blood” families that seem to be accorded unusual respect due to their lineage to an “important” LDS figure. Certain apostles (which I mentioned) have used their position to influence church culture in ways that are arguably inappropriate, often focusing inordinately on cultural norms rather than the central Gospel of Christ. Certain individual apostles even accorded their own interpretations doctrinal status in their books. The very fact that this blog post exists is evidence of how these preoccupations distract us from the Savior. Honestly–if items similar to the “unwritten order” have any eternal importance at all, why are things like them totally absent from the scriptures? You’d have to go back to the Old Testament to find this level of preoccupation with outward procedures. I thought Christ brought us a higher law.

    Everybody on this blog will recognize that my post was hyperbole, a caricature of reality. Yet it is one that highlights important failings we have as a people–hero worship (idolatry, as some might say), pre-occupation with outward behavior and rules rather than inward spirituality, a tendency to let minor cultural issues dwarf the rich message of Christ, a tendency toward double speak of following the Spirit even while relying on detailed handbooks for very minor decisions, and a tendency to promulgate an “unwritten order” that was unwritten (until now) for a reason.

    If these points are grounds for criticism and censorship, then criticize and censor away.

  33. Mary Ann
    September 24, 2014 at 12:07 am

    Thankfully, the LDS funerals I’ve attended in the last few years did not seem to have followed Pres. Packer’s guidelines.

    As for an “unwritten order” — there are definitely items that are not doctrinal, or spelled out in the handbook, that are useful for members to know. Like when I was taking a new convert to the temple to perform baptisms for the dead and she bounds down the apartment steps in jeans and a t-shirt. See, it would have been useful if I had remembered to instruct her to wear church clothes. Same with girls needing to wear a white bra to the temple when you’re getting endowed (I didn’t know). Same with knowing that when the leader asks “all opposed” in sacrament meeting, it’s rhetorical and you don’t actually raise your hand unless you want to be a pariah (one of my dad’s friends thought it was a vote). There is definitely an unwritten order of things that members need to be aware of in the church. What order the bishopric members are supposed to sit wouldn’t even make my top 10.

  34. September 24, 2014 at 8:21 am

    I’ve been to funerals that were dry and stilted and funerals that were trivial and ridiculous. Didn’t like either one. The first kind were too Mormon and the second kind weren’t Mormon enough.

  35. Mike
    September 24, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    If I recall correctly, Pres. Hinckley’s funeral (or his wife’s?) was not a doctrine-fest, but did speak of personal matters. I think it was fairly balanced.

  36. rah
    September 25, 2014 at 4:55 am

    For me the real danger of the “unwritten order” is the more general sense that there is some secret gospel language and knowledge out there that men (and men in leadership only) somehow get to learn. It is this accepted general sense that leads to the ability for men to pass off their own preferences as authoritative (as some have mentioned) but also this creation of status and hiearchy of gospel knowledge that is built on nothing real.

    In that sense, I think that Packer’s talk can be seen as “good” in the fact that it was an attempt to make some rules of this “order” more public and less arcane. However, I just cringe when I talk with women who are convinced there is some deep, spiritually meaningful training in priesthood holder that has let us in on these “secrets” that priesthood holders get to know exclusively. Many of these things are just preferences or tricks for efficiency. There is nothing mystical or powerful about them. There is not secret priesthood code (well except Handbook 1 and the second annointing apparently). There is no basis for assuming or projecting some type of status, special knowledge or power because one knows the “correct” secret order of things.

  37. Cameron N.
    September 25, 2014 at 11:09 am

    I hope after you cringe, you correct them rah. I don’t know how someone reading that talk would think it’s about ‘mysteries’ of the kingdom. =)

  38. Josh Smith
    September 25, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    “Unwritten Order of Things” is a hilarious topic for a speaker. I’m just trying to imagine what I would do if someone asked me to address a few hundred people about unwritten order of things. …

    “[Clears throat for effect] What do we understand by the phrase ‘unwritten order of things’? Well, for starters, many things have an order, and the order of some things have not been written down. Those are the things I’d like to talk about today, the unwritten things, and in particular, the order of the unwritten things. Although, I suppose if say the unwritten thing, and someone here writes the order of the unwritten thing, then the ‘unwritten order of things’ will quickly become the ‘written order of things’ [muffled ‘damn it’]. … So, well, I’d appreciate it very much if you would not take notes for the duration of my speech. Now one thing that has never been written down, yet has an order, is … [‘What the hell? This little red light is driving me nuts.’]

    Seriously, you can make up whatever you want … just so long as it’s not written down somewhere. :-)

  39. September 26, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Travis, I like your interpretation better than Packer’s, too!

    As I said, my dad died last May. He had written out his funeral directions very specifically decades earlier. I read them aloud as the first part of the eulogy. THAT was the funniest part of the event. Someday I’ll blog about it. So much of my dad was in that script.

    I’m having a viking funeral, complete with long flowing green dress, flower wreath in my hair, raft, water, and fire. (OK, I don’t know how “viking” that is and I don’t care. That’s what I’m doing. Or cremation and sprinkling in the back yard.) I think the funeral industry is a government-regulation-imposed racket.


    Glenn, I think I am saying that the phrase “unwritten order of things” has taken on a life of its own.

    Buckets of yes. And I disagree with mounds of both the unwritten unwritten order and the written unwritten order. :)

    Open-mike testimony meetings are bad enough.

    One of the best funerals I ever attended was in 2001 for a young father of six daughters who had died very suddenly (as in he went to the hospital not feeling well, was told he had hours to live and there was nothing that could be done). They were evangelical Christians I knew from homeschooling in Florida.

    Much of the service was open mic, with friends and family sharing experiences. It concluded with the widow (still a friend of mine) sharing her thoughts on moving forward with young children and without her husband. It was one of the strongest testimonies I have heard to date.

    A Turtle Named Mack:

    I am not looking forward to Elder Packer’s death, but can’t wait to see what his funeral will be like.

    I suspect there will be a lot of talking about Packer himself so I’m looking forward to seeing him “raise up and correct them.” That should get some press.

    Thoroughly Modified Millie:

    We mormons do have plenty of “blue blood” families that seem to be accorded unusual respect due to their lineage to an “important” LDS figure.

    So true. And what I can’t figure out is why *I* don’t have this privilege! I married a SMITH for heaven’s sake! What more could I do?

    Everybody on this blog will recognize that my post was hyperbole, a caricature of reality. Yet it is one that highlights important failings we have as a people–hero worship (idolatry, as some might say), pre-occupation with outward behavior and rules rather than inward spirituality, a tendency to let minor cultural issues dwarf the rich message of Christ, a tendency toward double speak of following the Spirit even while relying on detailed handbooks for very minor decisions, and a tendency to promulgate an “unwritten order” that was unwritten (until now) for a reason.

    I agree 100%. That knowledge has been a longtime coming to me, too. I was a very by-the-book person — and still am, really — but don’t put the same eternal significance on every little policy or practice that I once did. I thought your comment made a great point.

  40. Chet
    September 27, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Today is the funeral for a certain former pres. of the Univ. of Utah and active church member. Funeral to be held at an undisclosed stake center near the university. I understand that he helped to Hasten the Work(tm) of nuclear fusion so it should be an informative meeting.

Comments are closed.