Our six kids outside of a Church building. The sun was bright!
Sometimes for those newly visiting our church, this unique meeting comes as a surprise. Occasionally, when we bring our friends along to church, we hope no one will say anything that isn't quite doctrinally correct. Regardless, these meetings can be wonderfully uplifting and spiritually edifying.
Since there are two parts of fast and testimony meeting, I will discuss both.
Members prayerfully fast during this day by going without food or water. Anyone can fast. We start and end our fast with a prayer. Generally, we fast for three meals, starting with dinner on Saturday evening. We don't fast to lose weight or simply go without food. We fast for a purpose. When fasting, we can ask God for additional help, whether it's for spiritual blessings, like gaining a greater witness of the divinity and truthfulness of a principle of the gospel, or we can fast for someone who is ill or otherwise in need of heavenly help. We don't have to wait until fast Sunday to fast. We can fast anytime and for anything. Fasting with purpose increases the intensity of our prayerful requests.
God is our Heavenly Father. He understands our physical capabilities and our needs at all times, including during the fast. He understands that sometimes we shouldn't fast. For instance, pregnant and nursing mothers shouldn't fast. If we need to take medicine, it's okay to drink. When we have questions about when to fast or for how long, we should use common sense and prayerfully consider it. Young children, for instance, shouldn't be asked to fast. But at a certain age, perhaps they can be encouraged to skip a meal.
Primary or Sunday School teachers should not bring treats on fast Sunday. Candy, snacks and food items are not the reason we come to church and these can be a distraction anyway. Occasionally, however, I don't think it's harmful. Interestingly, our kids have been loaded up with sugar during their primary meetings and we've had to deal with the hyper after-affects, which can be entertaining, too.
Seriously, though, when we fast we are asked to donate money -- this is in addition to tithe or the tithing we pay (ten percent of our income or our "increase"). This special fast offering, as it is called, goes to help others in need. These funds are carefully observed so that they are not spent unwisely. The bishop, a lay (or unpaid) minister, who oversees the congregation can give these funds for those whom he feels need them most.
It should be noted that the Church encourages all members to be self-reliant and frugal. The president of the Church, President Thomas S. Monson, recently declared,
"We urge all Latter-day Saints to be prudent in their planning, to be conservative in their living, and to avoid excessive or unnecessary debt. Many more people could ride out the storm-tossed waves in their economic lives if they had a supply of food and clothing and were debt-free." (Ensign, Sept 2014.)
Again, these fast offering funds, donated by members around the world, help bless the lives of many others in need. We should be generous in our donations, knowing that many lives are being blessed, in particular those who are falling upon hard times. Giving without a grudge or without expecting something in return, helps bless and edify both the giver and the receiver.
Whenever I may think to withhold my substance, I consider how much the Lord has given me. Indeed, He has given me everything and He can take everything away, too. If fact, He provides me with the very breath I breathe. He sustains my very life! Therefore, I owe all that I have to Him. Whatever I can give, I do. Of course, I also need to take care of my families' needs first, but I can also sacrifice, too.
I recently came across a few talks by leaders in our Church, and I looked up some talks that I remember about testimonies. These quotations below say much more than I can say about testimonies on my own. Whether for the longtime member of the Church or for those newly converted to the faith, these statements and teachings below, when followed, allow testimony meetings to be spirit-filled and truly bless all those in attendance, especially the penitent and heartfelt seeker of spiritual comfort.
Please note that some of the teaching, reproof and advice given below is for those who are already members of the faith. I believe all Church members would benefit from reading and following this advice, as well as those who are new and/or returning to the faith.
Now, the statements:
Fast and testimony meetings are held once a month, usually the first Sunday. Generally, babies are blessed in that day. After the sacrament, the conducting brother bears a brief testimony. He then invited members to bear brief, heartfelt testimonies of the Savior, His teachings, and the Restoration. Parents and teachers should help children learn what a testimony is and when it is appropriate for them to express it.
Younger children should learn to share their testimonies at home or in primary until they're old enough to bear and appropriate testimony unaided in fast and testimony meeting.
—Elder Russell M. Nelson "Worshiping at Sacrament Meeting," Ensign, Aug 2004
Sometimes in a sacrament meeting talk or testimony, we hear a statement like this: “I know I do not tell my spouse often enough how much I love her. Today I want her, my children, and all of you to know that I love her.”
Such an expression of love may be appropriate. But when I hear a statement like this, I squirm and silently exclaim that the spouse and children should not be hearing this apparently rare and private communication in public at church! Hopefully the children hear love expressed and see love demonstrated between their parents in the regular routine of daily living. If, however, the public statement of love at church is a bit surprising to the spouse or the children, then indeed there is a need to be more diligent and concerned at home.
… The bearing of testimony need not be lengthy or eloquent. And we do not need to wait until the first Sunday of the month to declare our witness of things that are true. Within the walls of our own homes, we can and should bear pure testimony of the divinity and reality of the Father and the Son, of the great plan of happiness, and of the Restoration.
… And our testimonies are proclaimed and lived most powerfully in our own homes. Spouses, parents, and children should strive to overcome any hesitancy, reluctance, or embarrassment about bearing testimony. We should both create and look for opportunities to bear testimony of gospel truths—and live them.
A testimony is what we know to be true in our minds and in our hearts by the witness of the Holy Ghost (see D&C 8:2). As we profess truth rather than admonish, exhort, or simply share interesting experiences, we invite the Holy Ghost to confirm the verity of our words. The power of pure testimony (see Alma 4:19) does not come from sophisticated language or effective presentation; rather, it is the result of revelation conveyed by the third member of the Godhead, even the Holy Ghost.
—Elder Bednar, “More Diligent and Concerned at Home,” Oct 2009
Those who have prepared carefully for the fast and testimony meeting won't need to be reminded how to bear testimony, should they feel impressed to do so in the meeting.
They won't give sermons, nor exhortations, nor travel reports, nor try to entertain, as they bear witness.
Because they will have already expressed appreciation to people privately, they will have less need to do it publicly.
Neither will they feel a need to use eloquent language, or to go on at length.
—Pres Henry B Eyring, "Witness for God," Nov 1996
You can read my testimony on my Mormon.org profile page here: http://www.mormon.org/me/2GXB/JeffreyDenning
If you'd like to learn more about the Church, I invite you to watch Meet the Mormons, the movie. You can also talk to a neighbor or friend who's a member of the faith, or speak with the full-time missionaries. Two other good references for learning more are the Church's official websites: Mormon.org and LDS.org.