At one of your upcoming family home evenings, you might wish to note two landmark anniversaries that both occur this year.
Family home evening, one of the most prominent institutions of Latter-day Saint teachings and culture, is now a century-old tradition in the Church.
But in addition to that centennial, there is another landmark anniversary worth noting this year pertaining to family home evening: It was 50 years ago in January that the practice of family home evening was reemphasized and revitalized in the Church with an annual (for a while) lesson manual published expressly for it and with one night a week (eventually standardized to Monday night) being set aside for it.
It was on April 27, 1915 — nearly 100 years ago — that President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency sent the following in a letter to local Church leaders:
“We advise and urge the inauguration of a ‘Home Evening’ throughout the church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord. …
“This ‘Home Evening’ should be devoted to prayer, singing hymns, songs, instrumental music, scripture-reading, family topics and specific instruction on the principles of the gospel, and on the ethical problems of life, as well as the duties and obligations of children to parents, the home, the Church, society and the nation. For the smaller children appropriate recitations, songs, stories and games may be introduced. Light refreshments of such a nature as may be largely prepared in the home might be served.
“If the Saints obey this counsel, we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influence and temptations which beset them” (James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965–75], 4:339).
Though the practice was innovative to some degree, the concept was not entirely new, as President Harold B. Lee would point out years later.
“In the last epistle written to the Church by President Brigham Young and his counselors, it was urged that parents bring their children together and teach them the gospel in the home frequently. So family home evening has been urged ever since the Church was established in this dispensation” (quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, Chapter 13).
Indeed, the practice is rooted in gospel doctrines pertaining to the eternal nature of the family unit and in the scriptural admonition given to parents to bring up their children in light and truth (see, for example, Deuteronomy 6:5-7; Ephesians 6:4; Doctrine and Covenants 93:40; 68:25,28).
Though somewhat structured, the weekly family gatherings were always intended to be warm and informal, fostering a spirit of love and bonding.
Early efforts to follow the prophetic counsel in this matter perhaps are typified in this reminiscence by President Gordon B. Hinckley:
“My father said we would do so, that we would warm up the parlor where Mother’s grand piano stood and do what the President of the Church had asked.
“We were miserable performers as children. We could do all kinds of things together while playing, but for one of us to try to sing a solo before the others was like asking ice cream to stay hard on the kitchen stove. In the beginning, we would laugh and make cute remarks about one another’s performance. But our parents persisted. We sang together. We prayed together. We listened quietly while Mother read Bible and Book of Mormon stories. Father told us stories out of his memory. …
“Out of those simple little meetings, held in the parlor of our old home, came something indescribable and wonderful. Our love for our parents was strengthened. Our love for our brothers and sisters was enhanced. Our love for the Lord was increased. An appreciation for simple goodness grew in our hearts. These wonderful things came about because our parents followed the counsel of the President of the Church” (April 1993 general conference).
Beginning in January 1965, the 50-year practice was given renewed emphasis under the administration of President David O. McKay. That year, a Family Home Evening Manual was published with weekly lessons to be taught in each home in the Church.
“While instruction in priesthood and auxiliary classes presented gospel principles, the activities in the home focused on the practical everyday application of those principles,” noted the Church Educational System student manual, Church History in the Fulness of Times (p. 565).
In the introduction to that manual, President McKay wrote “The [problems] of these difficult times cannot better be solved in any other place, by any other agency, by any other means than by love and righteousness, and precept and example, and devotion to duty in the home” (p. iii).
The following year, parents were urged to strictly observe one night a week for family home evening and not allow anything else to conflict with it. In 1970, the weekly family home evening night was standardized throughout the Church as being Monday evening. All meetinghouses and temples were to be closed that night and no other Church functions were to be planned to conflict with it. That practice persists to this day.
A new family home evening manual was published each year until 1985, when a Family Home Evening Resource Book was published with lessons and resources that could be used and adapted from year to year.
That book is still in print, but in this Internet age, it is also available on the Church’s website at www.lds.org/topics/family-home-evening. Also on that web page are links to other useful resources for family home evenings, including videos, music, the Gospel Art Book, Teaching Helps, and the online versions of the Young Women Personal Progress and Young Men Duty to God publications.
After the renewed impetus given in 1965, family home evening was adapted for use by individuals in circumstances other than living at home in a typical family setting. For example, college students living away from home could meet together for weekly home evening as administered by student wards or branches. Other single adults in the Church often gathered together in groups to observe weekly family home evening, a practice that continues today.
Also as a result of the renewed impetus, family home evening began to attract the attention of persons and entities outside of the Church. In an October 1975 general conference address, Elder James A. Cullimore, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, spoke of the national attention the practice was receiving. He quoted proclamations made by the mayor of Houston, Texas, and the governor of Arizona declaring Family Unity Month and Family Week within their jurisdictions and citing the Church’s emphasis on families and the practice of family home evening. He also quoted an article by UPI journalist Louis Cassels giving a glowing report of family home evening as practiced in the Church.
Today, 100 years after it was introduced to the Church and 50 years after the boost given to it under President McKay’s presidency, family home evening is as vital and integral to the lives and beliefs of Church members as ever.
Do you have a special memory or personal insight pertaining to family home evening, experienced either as a child or a parent? You are invited to share it with Church News readers. Send your comments to staff writer R. Scott Lloyd by email ([email protected]) or by postal service: R. Scott Lloyd, LDS Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101.
Depending on reader response, comments might be published in print or online in April to coincide with it being 100 years since family home evening was introduced in the Church.