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In 1963, Mormon services consisted of three parts: Morning priesthood meeting, followed by Sunday school and, finally, the dreaded late afternoon sacrament meeting. Three hours plus travel time.

I'm not sure how I got through such a fragmented schedule as a kid. A miracle, I guess. Most of church I could tolerate, provided I had something with which to distract myself — book, knife, lizard, smaller sibling.

None of that did me any good when it came time for the prayers. That's when the chapel settled into a relative hush while someone offered up some thoughts to Heavenly Father for the entire congregation.

Note: This was also the moment when the Old Man's mischief radar was at its peak. With most everyone's eyes shut, it was the perfect opportunity for a bit of surreptitious irreverence. If he heard, glimpsed or even suspected I was up to something, things got Old Testament in a hurry.

Having to sit still while someone prayed forced me to classify the types of prayers, especially the closing one. It was the last one between me and freedom. I learned whom and what to dread.

The worst prayer — now as well as back then — was the hated "prayer-talk." This is when the person asked to pray for the group goes off on a tangent (or several of them) during the course of communing with deity.

Brother Buttloch was the worst. As the closing song faded away, he would approach the lectern with all the focused purpose of a brain surgeon. We were in for at least five minutes of droning gratitude, promises, reminders, apologies and pleadings.

You know how long five minutes is for a kid? It's the same for an adult. Try it sometime.

Before letting us go home, Brother Buttloch would call down blessings on every person on Earth, from President John F. Kennedy to the lowest scab-covered unfortunate living in African squalor. He prayed for missionaries, service people, and — to show how loving he was — even communists.

If he got really worked up, Brother Buttloch would quote scriptures, as if God might have forgotten them. Even his wrap-ups were tedious since they were a recap of what he had already covered.

Him: "We say these things in humble gratitude for all thou hast given us, even unto our lives, our food, and the inspired holy direction of the Brethren, whom we love with all our hearts, and in the sacred and loving name of ... "

Me: "God, kill him. Please! Or you can kill me. Anything to make it stop."

The communal "amen" at the end carried with it a sigh of relief. Some were visibly seething. Even the Old Man would be grinding his teeth.

Prayer performances were almost as bad. Some people would get up and adopt the same meticulous timing and enunciation of a general authority during conference.

"We. Thank. Thee. Father. That. We. Live. In. The. Land. Of. The. Free."

The best prayers were the "shoot and boot" ones given by Brother Chopp. Abrupt and succinct to the point of rudeness even when he wasn't praying, Chopp really got to the point.

"Thanks for church. Take us home in safety. Amen."

Bam. The Kirbys were in the car and on their way home to the best part of Sunday: dinner, "Lassie" and "Walt Disney."


Robert Kirby can be reached at or

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