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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
LDS 10th Ward renovation. Allred/photo

SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time in nearly 40 years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is making a change in its Sunday meeting schedule.

In the opening session of the 188th Semiannual General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced a new "home-centered and church-supported plan" for Sunday worship services before Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained the adjustment to a shorter meeting schedule, including a 60-minute sacrament meeting followed by a 50-minute class alternating between Sunday School and Priesthood quorums, Relief Society and Young Women meetings.

"As President Russell M. Nelson has just beautifully and eloquently set forth, church leaders have been working for a long-time on '… a home-centered and church-supported plan to learn doctrine, strengthen faith, and foster greater personal worship.' President Nelson then announced an adjustment to achieve '…ma new balance between gospel instruction in the home and in the church,'" Elder Cook said. "This Sunday schedule allows more time for a home evening and to study the gospel at home on Sunday, or at other times as individuals and families may choose."

The last change came in March 1980 when the First Presidency sent a letter to stake presidencies and bishoprics announcing a new schedule combining meetings into a three-hour Sunday block.

Church leaders began exploring a consolidated schedule as early as 1973 when the United States experienced an energy crisis, according to an LDS.org article by William G. Hartley.

The 1980 move also involved months of pilot studies that showed increased attendance, another LDS.org article reported.

“The purpose of the consolidated meeting schedule is to re-emphasize personal and family responsibility for learning, living and teaching the gospel and to allow church members more time for personal gospel study, for service to others and for meaningful activities,” the article said.

In his remarks Saturday morning, Elder Cook outlined similar objectives for the new Sunday schedule, set to begin in 2019, including a deeper conversion and strengthened faith, stronger individuals and families, honoring the Sabbath day with a focus on the sacrament and helping all of Heavenly Father’s children on both sides of the veil through missionary work and receiving ordinances and covenants and blessings of the temple.

Objectives for the 1980 schedule change included a more enriched family life at home, home-centered Sabbath activities, more flexibility for weekday activities, reduction of travel and nonessential costs, and conservation of energy resources.

In the decades before the 1980 meeting change, church meetings were spread out between Sundays and various days of the week. Primary, Sunday School, Relief Society and Priesthood meetings all occurred during the week while Sacrament meeting was the final meeting on Sunday afternoon.

In the early days of the church, worship services were held in log homes, schoolhouses or outdoors. Sabbath Day services began changed with the construction of meetinghouse between 1850 and 1900, making it possible for more local members to participate in meetings by giving prayers and giving talks or teaching classes, Hartley wrote.

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During his remarks in the Saturday Morning session, Elder David A. Bednar, also a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, reviewed a sequence of events in church history that led up to Saturday's announcement. He starting with President Spencer W. Kimball counseling members to remain in their native lands and build up Zion. He mentioned the move to the three-hour block, the Proclamation on the Family, President Hinckley's small temple announcement, the Self Reliance Initiative and the ministering announcement last April.

"I believe that the sequence and timing of these actions over many decades can help us to see one united and comprehensive work and not just a series of independent and discrete initiatives," Elder Bednar said. "I pray we can recognize the Lord’s work as one great worldwide work that is becoming ever more home-centered and church-supported. I know and testify that the Lord is revealing and will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."