not in Primary anymore

elder’s quorum observations – a female perspective

By Hannah Wheelwright

So yesterday I went with Asriel to Elder’s Quorum for the third hour of church. After so many weeks of writing about the differences between the Young Men’s and Young Women’s programs, I was interested in how those differences play out in the Young Single Adult crowd- BYU singles wards are perfect microcosms in that regard.

For the curious- it was as simple as Asriel telling the Elder’s Quorum greeter, “She’s visiting today, is it okay if she comes to our meeting?” and the greeter responding, “Of course, not like we have any secrets in here!”

As a side note, the lesson was about raising children in righteousness. The irony of me visiting on this particular day cracked me up.

We sat in the back. One of the first things that I noticed was the atmosphere. I don’t think I realized how solemn and subdued Relief Society usually is until I was there in the Elder’s Quorum lesson- there were 20 different side conversations going on at once (and you could hear the resultant low rumble- in Relief Society you can’t hear the one or two side conversations well because of the high pitched tones of the whispers), a couple guys were napping, a few more were on their phones or iPads playing games, and the rest were listening to the lesson with varying degree of focus. This chaotic feeling continued throughout the lesson. It was a stark contrast from the generally silent or almost silent Relief Society lesson’s I’ve been in where, for the most part, the only reason a girl would not be paying attention would be if she was too busy jotting down spiritual quotes into her journal.

With all that chatter and distraction, you might be wondering how the Elder’s Quorum teacher got anything done. At a glance, it would appear that the elders weren’t very respectful to the teacher compared to the way Relief Society sisters treat their teacher. Since my calling is as a Relief Society teacher, I can attest to the difference here; when I teach a lesson in Relief Society, everyone stares at me. I have the sisters’ undivided attention. When they make comments, the comments are directed at me, and there is a tentative note attached to them, with a hint of “Here’s just my lil two cents- if you were going to get to that later in the lesson I’m sorry, I just was thinking about it and it could be said now, if that works all right for you, of course it’s fine if it doesn’t…”

However, there was still productive discussion in the Elder’s Quorum lesson. In fact, there was even some comedy- and it was very different from comedy you’d see in a Relief Society lesson. Throughout the lesson, several guys shared stories or experiences that were humorous. They shared them with candor, a simple confidence, and a carefree attitude. I use these words to show a contrast between them and what it’s usually like when someone shares a funny story in Relief Society; frequently, she will first give a disclaimer about the story. Something like, “So when we were talking about ___ in the lesson it made me think about this funny story that kind of relates to it.” Next she gives a lot of backstory. “I grew up in ___ and my mom liked to ___ and so our family friends would ___and one year we went to ___ and there was this ____ and …” Then she gets to the actual crux of her story, the humor, and then she closes with trying to tie it back in to the lesson. Throughout this process, she usually is making very close eye contact with the teacher and uses a lot of hand gestures. She might look around to the other Relief Society members to try to engage them in the telling of her story. This is all as opposed to the guys in the Elder’s Quorum, who bluntly tell their joke or funny story, briefly tie it in or explain why they brought it up, and then are done.

The last big thing I noticed was the content of the comments shared. In many Relief Societies of which I’ve been a part, the most common type of comment was purely based on feelings: “I love that scripture because it makes me feel loved by my Heavenly Father.” In contrast, the comments in the Elder’s Quorum lesson were much more substantial- they shared personal experiences of the doctrines at play in their own lives, they talked about their mission experiences, and they discussed practical applications of the principles in the lesson. I understand that there are more male RM’s than female RM’s, but there are plenty of substantial comments to make that are not reliant on missionary comments from 24 or 18 months of service.

I should note that my observations are certainly not representative of women or men across BYU, much less across the entire Church organization. They were obviously seen through my own biased lens, so take them with a grain of salt. Please- feel free to disagree with my assessments in the comments section!

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7 Responses to “elder’s quorum observations – a female perspective”

  1. hawkgrrrl

    This is an interesting anthropological observation. Now that you point it out, I think the women are looking for approval from the others in the class. I too see them doing this same behaviour, looking for the teacher to approve, looking for others in the room to approve, almost apologetic for sharing something personal, and definitely making it clear that they are not trying to derail the lesson. What the heck are we women doing??

    Reply
    • Asriel

      Just to provide a little pushback to what you’ve said here, what if men in the Elders Quorum are also seeking approval, but the path to approval is different (or at the very least is perceived differently) in a group of men than in a group of women?

      Reply
  2. Genavee

    Spot on. Why is it that even in a meeting with all women, women act like they need permission or to apologize for speaking?

    Reply
  3. James

    I remember when I first started going to elder’s quorum when I was 18. It was simply the best experience I had at church. Elder’s Quorum is a place where you can raise your hand and flat-out disagree with the teacher. And then someone else will disagree with you, and next thing you know it you’re actually talking about the matter at hand and not just being recited to. I always made it a point to raise my hand and try and take the opposite viewpoint, just to be interesting. It’s an extremely boring discussion when everyone agrees. I say, If you’re all agreeing, you’re wasting time talking. Either new information is being conveyed or people’s minds are being changed, and that doesn’t happen when everyone sits around and nods.

    The perfect way to disagree, without drawing too much attention to yourself, is to simply ask a question to which the answer seems like it should be obvious, but isn’t. Like if you’re talking about the creation, and the class is talking about genesis or MAYBE the temple version, it’s interesting to ask a no-joke deadpan question about dinosaurs. Not a troll, just a legit question that mormon theology does not have a clear-cut answer to.

    And when someone says “well we don’t need to know that for our salvation” which is a cop-out answer if there ever was one, I just look puzzled and say something like “But there are so many of them. They dominated the earth! Where do they fit in?” and if you’re lucky there’ll be a good discussion before you get patted on the head and told not to worry yourself.

    I find the way to get the most out of elder’s quorum is to ask the prickliest, hardest questions possible in mormon language, so it seems like there would be an easy answer when there really isn’t. I used to love the looks of puzzlement on people’s faces when they realized what I was really asking.

    Of course, I only ever did this like twice, just as a disclaimer so this doesn’t end up in stuffthatdidnthappen.txt

    Reply
  4. Dominic

    I think this really varies from one ward to the next, and you should be encouraged that this is happening in the ward you attend, because sometime you get the ipads and naps without any of the rest of it. Some groups are amazing and have brilliant and spiritual discussions, others are boring, and still others are so stuck in the “everyone sits around and nods” way of doing things that nothing important is discussed.

    Reply
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