A prophet of God instituted Family Home Evening in 1915, 100 years ago, with these words (in part):
Dear Brethren and Sisters:
We counsel the Latter-day Saints to observe more closely the commandment of the Lord given in the 68th section of the Doctrine and Covenants:
And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents (D&C 68:25).
To this end we advise and urge the inauguration of a “home evening” throughout the Church.”
JOSEPH F. SMITH
ANTHON H. LUND
CHARLES W. PENROSE
Years later, The First Presidency issued another letter:
October 4, 1999
To: Members of the Church throughout the World
Monday nights are reserved throughout the Church for family home evenings. We encourage members to set aside this time to strengthen family ties and teach the gospel in their homes.
Earlier this year we called on parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children in gospel principles, which will keep them close to the Church. We also counseled parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, family home evening, gospel study and instruction, and wholesome family activities.
We urge members, where possible, to avoid holding receptions or other similar activities on Monday evenings. Where practical, members may also want to encourage community and school leaders to avoid scheduling activities on Monday evenings that require children or parents to be away from their homes.
Church buildings and facilities should be closed on Monday evenings. No ward or stake activities should be planned, and other interruptions to family home evenings should be avoided.
Gordon B. Hinckley
Thomas S. Monson
James E. Faust
In our attempt to obey these words of our prophets, our family has been on a wonderful ride. I can’t say it went perfectly every time. In fact, probably most of the time it didn’t, but our desire to put this program into practice forced us, as parents, to make some serious decisions. As a result, we have felt the blessings come.
First of all, as parents, we decided that Family Home Evening (FHE) included daily family prayer, daily early morning scripture reading, weekly family council, weekly FHE, monthly family testimony meeting, and monthly extended family FHE. This may seem like overkill, so let me explain our experiences, and then you can judge.
We also took seriously the request to sacrifice any outside conflicts. We took it to a family vote to eliminate baseball games, dance recitals, etc., that regularly interfered with Monday nights. Over the years there were certainly exceptions, but we kept mostly to this decision.
FAMILY PRAYER AND EARLY MORNING SCRIPTURES
Every weekday morning, we dragged the kids out of bed for scripture study, and every evening we had a family prayer and ate dinner together. My husband always liked to say that if you start this when the kids are young, it becomes a part of their spiritual DNA, so there is little fighting about it over the years. We found that consistency was the best trainer. Now that our kids are older, they admit to not remembering anything about those mornings, because they would sleep up until their turn to read then dose off again. That’s okay, their body was there, and they knew it was important to us.
FAMILY COUNCIL AND TESTIMONY MEETING
As the kids got older and schedules got crazier, we began holding family council meetings, typically Sunday afternoon after Church. We’d run through the calendar and bring up any topics that needed to be discussed. Family chores and getting along with one another were often the leading items. This was also a time to receive priesthood blessings, if needed. Once a month, we would conclude with a testimony meeting.
There may have been a little pressure for everyone to stand up and share their testimony, but not everyone did every time, and that was okay. Occasionally, the Spirit would be there in full force when a child shared an experience they had during the week, or expressed their love for their siblings and parents, or apologized for bad behavior, or parents went around the room and said something they had noticed about each member of the family and why they loved them, or any one of us testified of Jesus Christ. These were moments never to be forgotten. After each testimony, that person would go around and hug each family member and sit down. Those meetings brought lots of love and hugs.
FAMILY HOME EVENING
Neither my husband, nor I, grew up in a home that held Family Home Evening. This was a tradition we started for our own family. We tried all kinds of ways to keep things interesting with the kids. Sometimes we were successful, and sometimes we just weren’t.
For a while, I created a schedule for the entire year of topics we would discuss, all based on the Family Home Evening Manual. We always rotated who gave the lesson, and they were always prepared last minute. Lessons often ended in a lecture when parents taught and were incredibly short and creative when the kids taught. Sometimes, things were brought up that inspired kids to run screaming to their rooms, and other times certain siblings just weren’t allowed to be within 10 feet of each other. Many times, we actually had a lot of fun.
There came a point where we finally figured out that a short off-the-cuff lesson was okay; we simply wanted to be together. Serious things could be discussed during family council, but FHE was mostly meant for fun. We invented some games and activities that became standards to our evenings.
- Basketball—We would go outside and play HORSE. Mom always got special privileges, because she wasn’t very athletic.
- Music Appreciation—Occasionally, dad would get his Jazz Record collection out and teach the children how to appreciate his music. This was always met with loud groans and lots of giggles.
- Water Balloon Volleyball—A family favorite that always ended in a huge water fight.
- Acting out scripture stories—Sometimes we would dress up; sometimes we would just act out. One time we acted out Elijah and the Priests of Baal. Mixing teenagers with white gas is a classic family memory for sure. (Adult supervision required!)
- Book of Mormon Trivia—The most popular and often played game of all. With a laundry basket, a rolled up pair of socks, and random questions from early morning scripture reading, we had an instant game of fun. When a question was answered correctly, the kids had an opportunity to shoot for a basket. We bent rules all over the place helping the kids get the right answer and moving the basket around so they could make the shot.
- Nephites and Lamanites—This game should have been outlawed, because it always ended in someone crying, or getting hurt. We would have teams: one in the living room; one in the family room. Each was to hide a washcloth somewhere in the room. Then the other team would send out scouts to find the washcloth without getting tagged by the opposing team, and run it back to their side of the house. Mom always stayed in the kitchen, which was the neutral zone. If someone got hurt, they would go to mom to be comforted then go back and play. Inevitably, bodies would collide, there would be serious crying, and it was game over. Because the house was usually a mess, with laundry baskets full of clothes, and piles of stuff in every corner, it made finding the washcloth particularly tricky. I still don’t know why we played this game, but everyone loved it.
- Movies and Bowling—We did our share of going bowling and to the movies on Monday nights too. If there wasn’t school that day, dad would come home early, and we would just play all day long together.
- Lessons—And yes, occasionally we would actually have a lesson. It was always short, but could be something the kids learned in Church, a review of the For Strength of Youth pamphlet, a particular issue that needed to be discussed, etc.
- Now that some of the kids are married, we have continued with a monthly extended family FHE. We usually have dinner, visit, and play a game together. Interestingly enough, it’s our kids who have insisted that we have a 10-minute spiritual message at every gathering. In just that short time, we are able to feel the spirit together as a family, and it makes all the difference.
- Family History Work—As empty nesters, we have found that Sundays and Mondays are a great time to do family history. Sharing the work and the stories of ancestors with our children and grandchildren adds so much to family bonding. Sharing temple cards among families and getting together to perform sealings has bonded our family together in a unique way.
In 1915, The First Presidency promised, “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 influences and temptations which beset them.”
Our family has found this statement to be true. We have taken The Family: A Proclamation to the World to heart, which teaches us why families are important, why we have families, and why we need to nurture and protect our families. We raised our family on Family Home Evenings, and now we are raising our grandchildren on this great program. Family Home Evening, and the time we spend together as a family, has made all the difference in our eternally bound home.
1915 letter found in its entirety in this Ensign article.
1999 letter found in its entirety in this Ensign article.