2: The Primary Program
Stories in this episode: A dad with a special needs child courageously decides not to skip town the Sunday of the Primary Program with hilarious and touching results; A primary president discovers the unexpected real rewards of putting it all together; A visitor on the back pew of a Chicago ward wonders, “where did they find these kids?”
KARYN LAY: Welcome to This is the Gospel an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host KaRyn Lay.
In this episode, we're telling the stories that celebrate one of our most beloved cultural traditions. Of course, I'm talking about that Sunday, once a year, when the primary children take over our Sacrament meetings and share their growing testimonies, sing those beautiful primary songs, and let's be honest, pick their noses in public. The primary program is always a highlight of my year. It's special for the kids. It's rewarding for the parents, teachers, and leaders and whether we have kids or not. It reminds us that the gospel is actually quite simple at its core. We put out the call on Instagram to gather your tails of primary programs near and far, and we got back an amazing mix of stories. Let's start with a roundup of some of your unforgettable funny moments.
ANIKA: My husband and I sit right up close and Sacrament meeting so that we can help my son who might need help with behavior during the program. So we had a front and center seat one year for watching the kids who had learned sign language to one of the songs. And one boy, in particular, was standing right in front of my daughter. And we noticed that he had gotten so creative and he had figured out a way to smack his neighbor with every single sign. So his arms would go out in a beautiful, graceful sign with the rest of the crowd, he would smack his friend and then in the next sign, he would find a way to elbow him and in the next sign, he would find a way to thump him. And we were pretty impressed with his creativity. Even more so because turns out he was the primary chorister's son.
JAMIE: My oldest daughter was in sunbeams, she was snacking on some grapes during Sacrament meeting. And as they called the kids to come sit on the stand for the primary program, she popped two huge grapes in her mouth, one in each cheek. And as the kids all got up there, they all started singing the song. And there was my daughter right in the front row, with a panicked look on her face and her mouth full of grapes. She wasn't sure what to do. She couldn't sing because her mouth was full, but she started chomping on these huge grapes during the song and miss the whole thing.
LETICIA: When I was in high school, I remember attending one primary program that I will never forget. I was visiting a different ward with my friend. So I didn't know any of the children. But I was still really excited. Knowing that primary program is always the best Sunday of the year, one of the little children, a boy, probably about Sunbeam age, stood up at the pulpit ready to say his part. As we were all anxiously waiting his eyes became very wide. He had us all on the edge of our seats thinking, oh dear, where's this going to go? He stood there for a full minute and then suddenly sneezed right into the microphone. The congregation let out an obvious laugh. But we also down thinking he's going to continue on his part. But nope. He just wanted to sit down. Apparently, that was all the message he needed to deliver that day.
PAUL: We have a six-year-old son with special needs. He has delayed speech, so he doesn't talk very much or very clearly. So during our recent primary program, when his classmates were all given short lines to deliver, his teacher said that maybe it would be best if he just held a picture of Jesus. So on the day of the program, when his class went up to the microphone to deliver their lines, he stood there and held his sign and as his classmates went up to the microphone, they all froze and the wouldn't deliver their lines. Well, Allen got bored and turned his picture around and looked at the front of it and said, "Jesus!" and that was the only line that got delivered by his class that program.
KARYN: That was Anika, Jamie, Leticia and Paul with some totally relatable stories from the front lines of the primary program.
Many of the stories we received mentioned kids with special needs, and I was blown away by the efforts and love demonstrated by primary leaders who sought inspiration to make sure every child had what they needed. First, we'll hear from Miriam and then from Ryan, a dad who's experienced with the primary program could only be described as bursting with the Spirit.
RYAN: In our primary, we have a seven-year-old autistic boy named Blake who isn't very verbal. However, we do know that he loves music. We asked his family, all eight of them, to sing Families Can Be Together Forever, like was right up front and saying his heart out for the first verse and then his family quietly joined in the chorus and second verse. It was such a special moment hearing Blake sing unprompted and unassisted. I feel like every one of us in the room got a little glimpse of Blake's spirit, who he really is inside. We could feel his testimony as he sang a song with complete confidence. There were not many dry eyes. It's a moment I know, I will never forget.
So the thing you have to understand is we have a history of epic primary practice and performances and stuff. My oldest has special needs, he has Fragile X syndrome. And so he has a lot of social anxiety. And it usually involves either my wife or I having a mental breakdown at the end of it because you know, you have the whole parade of normal children and then you get to compare yours against it and so we very understanding ward that tries to help with these situations. And for just, for example, in the past, he he's actually thrown his shoes from the stand and like one time that hit into the sacrament table and made, you know, huge noises and cups and, and everything and so, so this past Sunday was our primary program and we were trying to decide whether to even go to church, I was trying to convince my wife that maybe we should just skip town, because they're going to have a meltdown on stage. And then we're going to cause a scene and then my wife is going to, you know, feel all that guilt and pressure. And so I just, I didn't want to have to deal with all of that. And so but you know, her being the wise mother she is wanted to give them the opportunity. And so we went this Sunday, and I'm actually a primary teacher, and so I went to the primary practice, and they came up with an excellent plan for my eight-year-old to they would bring him a mic plugged in and bring it to his seat and then he could duck down and so no one could see him and he would say his part and everything went great. The problem is, is our five years old suffers from social anxiety naturally. And then his example growing up is Calvin. He was super stressed out. And so we bribed them to no end with all these toys and presents if they would just say their part and sing and the practice went amazing. So I was like okay, we figured out the special recipe. So we show up on a Sunday, and the kids go up onto the stage, and Calvin Actually, my eight-year-old starts waving at us all excitedly, which is huge for him. And so I was like, Okay, this is gonna be good. We're into the second song singing and my five-year-olds up there just beaming singing and all of a sudden, he starts scowling at us. And so Kim and I are, you know, using our animated faces and trying to like give them thumbs up and everything. And then by the end of the song, he's balling, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it's like, I don't know if you've seen Pitch Perfect, but it was projectile vomit all over the stage. And like a couple of the adults had come down to try to like comfort him before this occurred. And so Kim runs up there and grabs him and like holds him like a baby running out. He's covered from head to foot and vomit. There's another couple other parents trying to clean up the mess and the show must go on. So they're like the show doesn't even take a break. Like it just keeps plugging through. And so and then my favorite part was one of the adults that had come down to try to comfort him, had caught some of it. And so he's running behind him with his hands cupped with like a nauseous face. And so, anyway, so that was our experience. And so I'm texting Kim trying to figure out what I if she wants to be back there or if she wants, you know, help. She's like, "No," she's like, "I think I got it covered." She's like, "I'm just going to stand by the door, see if Calvin says his part and then I'm going to take Hudson home." And so the good news is Calvin did say his part. He ducked down and he said his part is part was, "The Holy Ghost makes me feel warm and soft." And so you could, they had the microphone down there, and he was crouched down there, and he's obsessed with Mashems. They're these little squeezable characters of all the different movies, and they're an absolute waste of money. And so we had bribed them with them. And so when he went to say his part of all I kept hearing with the microphone over the whole speaker system was, "Warm and soft, warm and soft. I get my Mashem now, right?" Everyone's just like, confused because no one knows where this microphone no one even knows about, besides those of us in the program, no one knows that there's going to be a microphone used besides the pulpit and so, to be honest, for a massive projectile vomit experience, it went as good as it possibly could have.
PAUL: If I could talk to the whole Ward, all I would say was just, you know, just to express thankfulness. They always go above and beyond trying to help Calvin and trying to help him give opportunities, but also support him in those opportunities. You know, you just see the value and award family and situations like that. So for those parents that do have special needs children, and are in some similar situation as me, which I know the situation's vary greatly, I would just encourage you not to be negative like I am, or can get caught up in being because my wife is right, like if we never give them those opportunities, they're never, you know, maybe we would have avoided that whole situation, but we would have never had the success that Calvin had like, all day yesterday, he kept asking me, "Dad, aren't you so proud of me? Aren't you so proud of me? I said my part I said my part!" And so like, he feels this sense of accomplishment that would never have occurred if I had led into my fear. And so thinking outside of the box on situations like that of how your kid can be successful like I didn't think of the microphone, you know, getting taken to him to a seat. It was an amazing teacher who has an immense love for him. And so you just don't run from the situations, try to figure out how you can modify the situation to be successful and, and be a wonderful experience for your kid.
ANIKA: As anyone who's ever served in a primary presidency knows, there are months of work and stress and love and bribing that go into making this primary presentation thing happen. Here's a story from Laura, who found an unexpected blessing and a message of God's love for her through her own efforts to create an amazing primary program for her ward.
Laura: I was put in charge of the primary program this year, and so I wanted the kids to come up with each of their own parts. So I asked one little girl, "What makes a good mom and dad?" And she said, "Getting them potty trained and teaching them how to roller skate!" Another little boy, when I asked him, "If Heavenly Father came to visit you one day, just for one day, what would you want to do with him?" And he said, "I would show him, my Spider-Man shoes. And then we will play superheroes." There are lots of little treasures like that throughout the interviewing of the primary kids. And it was so fun to interview them, but the most part was probably interviewing my own children.
A little backstory. My husband, the last three years has not been an active member of the church. He has lost his faith, and so I've been raising my four daughters when it comes to the church stuff, kind of doing that all on my own. So if I want to do scripture study, no one else gonna jumpstart that it's me to do family home evening, I have to be the one to initiate that. And it's been kind of daunting for me. But to hear my youngest when I asked her, what's your favorite part of Heavenly Father's plan? To have her say, "Because it shows me that heavenly Father loves me all day!" That was very rewarding. My next daughter, I asked her, "What is it that you want to do when you become a mom to teach your kids about Jesus?" And she said, "I would want to pray with them every day and read the scriptures." And then my next daughter, was able to bear her testimony about conference and listening to conference and how it brings the Holy Ghost into our home and brings a peace into our house.
To hear my oldest daughter who's almost turning 12, bear her testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith translated in the Book of Mormon. To hear her say that the Book of Mormon testifies of Jesus Christ was just very fulfilling for me. And that was a very big payday. I was grateful for the opportunity to write the primary program because it gave me the opportunity to see that I am doing a good job and that with the Savior, that I can raise these girls with strong testimonies.
KARYN: Our final story today comes from Thomas. Thomas's His story is of a primary program that forever changed the course of one family's history.
TOM: My name is Tom or esky. I was born and raised on the north side of Chicago, in a Roman Catholic family where I was taught to pray, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and have faith in Jesus Christ. I was blessed because of that start I had.
January of 1975, the doorbell rang. My son Tommy and my daughter Jenny, two and one, were sitting on my lap watching cartoons. When an Elder Pall and an Elder Call from The Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-day Saints, walked up and handed us a letter from La Punta, Argentina from my sister in law, Alice, who introduced us to the church and bore her testimony in the letter of the truthfulness of the restored gospel.
We invited the missionaries for dinner and many discussions for many months. We also met a couple, Mariana and Carl Sholf. Carl started to invite me to the North Shore First Ward, the Wilmot Stake on Saturdays to play basketball and Marianne invited my wife, Rita, to go to Relief Society functions. They invited us to go to church many times but my activity on Sundays for years and years was to play football with kids that I had grown up with.
October of the same year on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I made the choice instead of playing football with my friends to go to the Wilmette Stake center and see what the Sacrament meeting was about. I had taken my daughter, Jennifer, she was dressed in a nice white dress, white sandals, and a white ribbon. We went and sat on the back row and I watched as people started to file in. I saw that my daughter fit in with the rest decked out in their Sunday best. But I started to feel very uncomfortable in the white t-shirt, blue jeans, and white gym shoes. As I watched them come in I decided I needed to get out and get out quick. As I turned to pick up my daughter to make the escape. she was gone. She had crawled underneath the backbench had ended up way at the other end of that bench, couldn't see or I saw the people looking around to see what was underneath their feet and I thought, "Great." I was mortified. Just then a man stood up introduced himself as Bishop Joseph Hicken, and the Sacrament was passed. He stood back, and invited all the primary children and announced the program that it was going to be primary Sunday. Not knowing anything about it, I sat and watched his children little older than mine, go up to the front. And for the next 45 minutes, bare their testimony of the restored gospel and their faith in Jesus Christ. I was astounded. I thought, "Who are these children? Are they special group from Salt Lake City that shipped all over the country." I found Marion and Carl and I was astounded to find out that these were just children from that ward. I made a decision that day I wanted my children to have the same opportunities as these children to bare their testimony, I decided that I would be coming back. Not long after that, I was baptized in February of 1976 and moved to the Buffalo Grove Second Ward of the Buffalo Grove Stake. I was there for the next 24 years. The people of that Ward supported our family to the point where our children made choices, to go on a mission to be married in the temple.
Right now. I am so grateful for those people. Back in the North Shore First Ward that made the sacrifice to but the first primary Sunday that I ever attended together. I no longer, in fact, I never did go back to play football with my friends. But I still like to sit on the back row. But in 10 days, I will be sitting on the stand with other people. I have the best calling that I could have in the church. I will be sitting next to my primary class. My calling is a primary teacher. And I say it's the best calling that I could have. Not that it's better than any other calling but it's the calling that my Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ have called me to, to teach.
KARYN: Thanks to Thomas and Ryan and all of our storytellers today who submitted stories through Instagram. I think we can all agree that this is what it's like to live the gospel of Jesus Christ at its best. A mix of sweet, spiritual, hilarious and sometimes messy moments that we celebrate together as a church family. That's it for this episode of This Is the Gospel. Join us for more stories next time and until then if you'd like to find other episodes from our This is The Gospel podcast and video series, you can find us at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel. Have a great week!