On the Sunday before I left for my mission to Rosario Argentina in 1995, the ward held a traditional missionary farewell sacrament meeting for me. My grandma spoke, my father spoke, and I spoke. I remember my grandma and my father commenting on my good smile. I suppose if I had nothing else going for me in terms of missionary skills (Spanish language skills, gospel teaching skills, etc.) at least I had a good smile 🙂
While I believe my farewell sacrament meeting was completely appropriate, at this time period, back in the 1990s, not all missionary farewells were appropriate. In some instances, the entire sacrament meeting was turned over to the family to do as they pleased, including at times, lengthy talks and elaborate musical numbers. Some families would send out invitations and hold reception lines at the church or do other things that would detract from the sacred nature of a mission call.
In October 2002, President Gordon B. Hinckley put that practice of missionary farewells to an end. Said he:
“We have an interesting custom in the Church. Departing missionaries are accorded a farewell. In some wards this has become a problem. Between outgoing missionaries and returning missionaries, most sacrament meetings are devoted to farewells and homecomings.
No one else in the Church has a farewell when entering a particular service. We never have a special farewell-type meeting for a newly called bishop, for a stake president, for a Relief Society president, for a General Authority, or anyone else of whom I can think. Why should we have missionary farewells?
The First Presidency and the Twelve, after most prayerful and careful consideration, have reached the decision that the present program of missionary farewells should be modified. The departing missionary will be given opportunity to speak in a sacrament meeting for 15 or 20 minutes. But parents and siblings will not be invited to do so. There might be two or more departing missionaries who speak in the same service. The meeting will be entirely in the hands of the bishop and will not be arranged by the family.
…We are convinced that when all aspects of the situation are considered, this is a wise decision. Please accept it, my dear brethren. I extend this plea also to the sisters, particularly the mothers. We hope also that holding elaborate open houses after the sacrament meeting at which the missionary speaks will not prevail. Members of the family may wish to get together. We have no objection to this. However, we ask that there be no public reception to which large numbers are invited. Missionary service is such a wonderful experience that it brings with it its own generous reward.” (To Men of the Priesthood)
Since that time in 2002, newly called missionaries have continued to be invited to speak in sacrament meeting before they depart. Here is a podcast of my daughter talking about her farewell talk before leaving on her mission to Portugal in 2022. While the sacrament service is not longer a farewell meeting, it is still the missionary’s farewell talk and many people will still often refer to the meeting overall as the missionary farewell.
Priesthood leaders and missionaries should remember the following guideline with regard to missionary farewells:
- It is a regular sacrament meeting, not a missionary farewell meeting.
- The bishopric will plan and conduct this meeting, including assigning topics and musical numbers, as they normally do, making sure they are faith promoting and gospel oriented.
- Family members and friends of the missionary should not be invited to speak so people don’t get the impression that the meeting is a missionary farewell.
- If there are other departing or returning missionaries around the same time, they can and should be invited to speak in the same sacrament meeting.
- Missionary talks should not dominate the sacrament meeting to the exclusion of other valuable subjects and speakers.
- The regular time of the sacrament meeting should not be extended.
- Open houses for missionaries, if held, should be kept small, for family and close friends, and should not be publicly announced at church.
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