By Sister Neill F. Marriott of the Young Women general presidency
This article is the sixth and final article in a series on Young Women class presidencies.
A friend of mine recently shared the experience of a relative who served as a missionary in an international area several years ago. A faithful auxiliary leader in a young branch approached her with a hopeful expression. “Sister,” she began, “is it OK if we hold our opening exercises outside?”
With a puzzled expression, the missionary asked, “Why?”
Earnestly the leader replied, “We want to be obedient but we just simply do not have enough room inside for all of us to do our exercises.”
I agree that the term “opening exercises” is unique and perhaps a bit misleading, but are we tapping into the power of this weekly meeting? Are you looking for ways to teach leadership and at the same time improve opening exercises in youth gatherings? We can do better! This meeting is a preparatory time for everyone and an opportunity for leadership training.
Opening exercises is a time to set the tone for the upcoming class. We acknowledge and thank those who have come. We sing together — the hymns “invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord. ... We encourage all members, whether musically inclined or not, to join with us in singing the hymns” (Hymns, ix). And most important, through prayer, we invite the Spirit to open hearts and minds for gospel learning.
We are promised, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Is the atmosphere in the room conducive to the Spirit? How is that atmosphere engendered?
Opening exercises is a prime opportunity for the adult leaders to nurture leadership skills of Young Women class presidencies. The class presidency member who will be leading the opening exercises — or should be — can learn organization and spiritual preparation; she can gain confidence in how to lead out in purpose, dignity, love and with the Spirit.
How can this young woman lead if she doesn’t first have direction and preparation? On the Church’s lds.org website for Young Women, the first box you see below the banner is “Class Presidency Leadership Lessons.” Click there and you will find a treasury of short leadership lessons that every young woman should experience at some point during her time in the Young Women program.
For example, the lesson entitled “Counsel Together, #4: Conducting Meetings” emphasizes the principle of responsible preparation and how to develop a spiritual tone in meetings.
Our best example of how an opening exercise or a meeting should be conducted comes from general conference. We have a pattern of prepared leadership coupled with warm and loving dignity. From the general conference pulpit we see the pattern for how to start and lead a meeting. As you teach this leadership lesson, perhaps you could show a clip of general conference and have a discussion about what the class presidency members see and feel from the one conducting a general conference session. How could the youth follow the example of conducting from our Church leaders? What leadership and conducting qualities do they see at the general conference podium?
Through this lesson the young women will begin to see that there is much more to conducting opening exercises than just reading the announcements from a page that the Young Women president might have handed her as the meeting begins. This lesson will benefit the adult leaders, too, as they see their part in preparing class presidencies to become effective leaders.
Consider the following suggestions from the leadership lesson on conducting a meeting effectively:
• Arrive early and make sure everything is ready for the meeting.
• When possible, make assignments ahead of time, including opening and closing prayers.
• Conduct with reverence as guided by the Spirit. Leaders always teach by example.
• Use a written agenda that outlines events to take place in the meeting.
• The person conducting announces who will pray, speak, lead the music, and do other things.
• Choose music that invites the Spirit. See that the music director and accompanist are prepared. Where appropriate, arrange for prelude music to be played before the meeting starts.
• Be efficient and aware of time limits.
In order to live what we are learning, the leader could ask the class presidency to practice conducting a Sunday opening exercise or Mutual activity right there in class presidency meeting. Afterwards, discuss what things went well and what could be improved. It would be helpful to identify one specific way the class leader could better prepare and conduct a meeting.
So perhaps the term “exercises” is accurate — we are getting our young women in shape for a lifetime of leading and serving. Even more important, as they learn to lead as the Savior leads, they will set an example in their classes, homes and communities that will bless generations to come.
This concludes our series on class presidencies. Young Women leaders and class presidency members will find additional leadership helps at youngwomen.lds.org.