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!