Like baptism, I never would have dreamed of not receiving the priesthood once I turned 12. It was just what you did and I was quite excited for it. As a little, aspiring priesthood holder, you come revere the 12 and 13 year old Deacons who pass the sacrament every Sunday. In my childish imagination, they almost seemed like Army soldiers marching up and down the aisles, handing the first person in every pew the trays of bread and water, strictly staring straight ahead waiting for the tray to be returned to them, taking it back and continuing in their assigned route until the entire congregation had partaken. Also in the public eye were the Priests, the 16 and 17 year old boys, who reverently sat at the sacrament table in front of the entire congregation until they had to break the bread and bless the sacrament. The blessing consists of one of them kneeling down in front of a microphone beneath the table and reciting word for word the sacrament prayers as found in the scriptures. They too seemed to exercise these tasks with such precision that I marveled as a kid. The Priests handing the trays to the Deacons always seemed so well executed and orchestrated. I remember being let down when I found out that the Priests actually read the blessings from a card or sticker underneath the table. The Teachers, 14 and 15 boys, prepare the sacrament. As a child, I don’t think I ever saw this happening due to the fact that it took place before everyone arrived.
When it came time for me to become a Deacon and pass the sacrament, all fantasies and expectations of executing the sacrament as swiftly as I had always perceived it were shattered the first week. I was assigned to pass the sacrament to the bishop, his counselors — basically his two right hand men —, and everybody else on the stand. I was nervous about getting things right because the bishop is always supposed to take the sacrament before anybody else in the room. He’s the presiding officer in the meeting. Sometimes leaders that out rank him would visit the ward and they would preside and receive the sacrament first. If I recall correctly, I performed that part just fine, but in my nervousness, I missed the fact that I was also supposed to pass to the entire left side of the chapel as well. I lined back up in front of the sacrament table expecting my friends to do the same, but they didn’t. Eventually they all lined up, we returned our trays of bread to the Priests, and received new trays with water. I performed my route again and awkwardly stood to wait for everyone else in front of the sacrament table. It didn’t occur to me that I had only passed to about five people and left the other boys to pass to the remaining 300.
After standing there for about two minutes, a gentleman sitting close to where I was standing stood up and whispered to me that I should go help the other boys. I know his intentions were good, but I think that may have flustered me a bit more because I didn’t know where to go from there. I did manage to figure it out and properly fulfilled my assignment. The next week, I made sure to get the same route again in order to redeem myself as I knew exactly what I was doing. As time went on, I was called to leadership positions and would direct the new and lost Deacons in similar situations. I remember once being complimented by a ward member for the way I handled myself and directed other boys while passing the sacrament. I was proud of that compliment. By the time you turn 14 and become a Teacher, you have all eight routes down perfectly.
The idea that I had that the Deacons were disciplined enough to reverently perform their sacramental duties was farfetched. Most 12 year old boys have a very short attention span and rather than looking straight ahead while waiting for the tray to return, they’ll look around aimlessly, play with their hands, and probably be thinking about Minecraft. Occasionally there would be someone who looked so intently forward that they wouldn’t even notice the tray had reached them again. Or sometimes a slightly socially awkward boy would look directly at every person as they place the bread in their mouth and the water cup to their lips. Normally, Deacons are instructed not to do that, as the sacrament is supposed to be a personal and private matter. Eventually, with coaching they learn not to do those things.
As with the temple, the sacrament often became a contest between us boys of who could be more reverent. As immature 12 year olds, we publicly called out those who failed at this. Looking back at it, I personally feel bad for doing so. It promoted a culture of comparison, which is terribly toxic and and potentially traumatic. That aspect of Mormon culture only thickened as I got older until it completely climaxed during my mission when there were 300 of us 19 year olds competing for the attention of one 65 year old man. But that’s a story for another chapter.
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