On the first Sunday of each month Mormons, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, designate that day as “Fast Sunday.” During this time Mormons engage in fasting and prayer. The prayers are individual and collective. The Mormon definition of fasting is refraining from partaking of two meals during Fast Sunday observance. Thus, the fast lasts for about 24 hours, once each month.
After the Eucharist (what Mormons call the “sacrament”) members of the congregations participate in what they call “fast and testimony meeting.” This is a time where there are no scheduled sermons. In the Church of Jesus Christ, even Sunday sermons are delivered by assigned lay members, but there are no previously-made assignments on fast Sundays. The privilege to address the congregations is otherwise by invitation from the Bishop or other church authority. These individual addresses are called “talks.”
On Fast Sunday, the meeting is turned over to members who wish to share their personal testimonies (witness) of Christ, God, or the Church. Their personal testimonies may include a simple witness or even highly personalized stories that have strengthened their testimony in Christ and His gospel.
There is no set formula, and members young and old may participate by going to the podium to address the congregation or what Mormons call a “ward.” Sometimes the deacons will carry a microphone to any member who stands for this purpose, or the member may simply stand and bear their witness or testimony in a loud voice if no microphone is available, or the congregation is small enough that all may hear with clarity.
Quite often the younger generation participate in ‘bearing their personal testimonies (witness) of Christ and his Church. As a young person growing up in the Church of Jesus Christ, I recall bearing my testimony as early as five years old. Technically, I was not even a member of the Church, because in Mormonism you are not eligible for baptism until eight years of age. Prior to this “age of accountability,” Mormons do not consider a child to be capable of making the right and wrong choices that allow for sin. Children are sinless before God.
After the services, Mormons then make a “Fast Offering” (a form of alms giving, which is also part of the Easter tradition among all Christians). Since Mormons have refrained from eating on fast Sunday, Mormons take the approximate value of those meals as an alms, or offering, for the benefit of the poor. Again, this is done on a monthly basis.
Fast offerings are collected on an honor basis. These donations are distributed through the Bishop’s Storehouse and the LDS Church welfare system. In an individual congregation a Bishop may request assistance for a family. Quite often, these benefits, particularly in natural disasters, do not even benefit members of the Church but go to anyone in need.
Some Mormons are not able to participate in fasting due to medical reasons like old age, diabetes and so forth. However, even if they are not able to participate in the actual fasting, they can still make an alms or fast offering.
Since Mormons do not take up collections in meetings, addressed envelopes are provided near the Bishop’s office with a form that can be filled out to make various types of donations to the Church.
These donations can be made by cash or check by filling out the form and giving the Bishop or one of his counselors before or after the meeting. They may also be mailed in the self addressed envelope with the Bishop’s name and mailing address. Sometimes donations may also be accepted in kind- by arrangement, meaning by donating actual goods, rather than cash or check.
Mormons also provide physical labor to help the poor, donating their time and effort at church welfare farms, orchards, ranches, and canneries.
In addition to fast offerings, Mormons also pay ten percent of their income to the Church of Jesus Christ in the form of tithing. Tithing supports all of the activities of the LDS Church including building and maintaining Mormon temples and meetinghouses. The Church of Jesus Christ also sponsors three universities and a remarkable system of religious education. Tithing also supports missionary work with nearly 60,000 missionaries out in the field.
This article was written by Mel Borup Chandler, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mel Borup Chandler lives in California. He writes about science-related topics, technological breakthroughs and medicine. He is a former member of the Los Angeles Press Club. Additionally, he has also served an LDS Mission in Argentina during Argentina’s “Dirty War.”