3 times the brethren skipped church meetings (and it didn’t end well)

(Photo courtesy Mormon Newsroom.)

President Thomas S. Monson speaks at general conference. (Photo courtesy Mormon Newsroom)

Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is a commandment with a promise. The Doctrine and Covenants reads, “But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord. … Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth.” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:12, 16)

But exactly how individuals and families observe the Sabbath can vary widely. Even the way we observe the Sabbath today is vastly different from the way many people observed it decades ago.

Even future leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made a decision to skip out on a meeting — sometimes with dangerous (or funny) consequences. Here are three moments when Church leaders missed their Sunday meetings. (Warning: It didn’t end well.)

Thomas S. Monson

President Thomas S. Monson once took a Sunday morning to go duck hunting with his brother Bob. It was the morning after the opening Saturday night in fall 1949. On page 133 of his biography, “To the Rescue,” the following transpired:

“They loaded their shotguns and trudged through the marsh to their boat, then stashed their gear in the flat-bottomed craft and dragged it into the water. Tom was in back, Bob in front. As Tom rowed, the craft struck a sandbar and Bob climbed out to push the boat clear. Neither can clearly explain what happened next, but Bob lost his footing, slipped into the mud, and pitched forward just as his 16-gauge shotgun fell from the bench in the boat and discharged, shooting straight at where Bob would have been standing had he not just lost his balance. The shotgun blast barely missed his broad back.

“The two brothers looked at each other — ashen. Tom got out of the boat and sat down on the side; Bob joined him. Neither spoke for a long time. Finally, Tom said, ‘Let’s go home.’

“He never again went hunting, fishing, or anything else of the kind on Sunday. That ‘near miss’ on the Sabbath in a marshland far from where he should have been got his attention. He had been protected but chastened ‘to measure up to the stature of (his) true potential.'”

George Albert Smith

In a little-known story from the life of President George Albert Smith (who was president of the Church from 1945 to 1951), he and his family skipped a session of general conference and instead attended the fair. People who recognized him at the fair congratulated him, though he didn’t know why.

According to historian Mary Jayne Woodger, who told the story in an interview with the Mormon Channel, it happened this way (follow the link and skip to 21:52 to hear the interview):

“The story is told that during conference on Saturday, he decided he would take his girls to the Utah Territorial Fair. He’s at the fair, and while he’s there, people come up and congratulate him, and he thinks he’s being congratulated because he has these beautiful daughters. He comes home and he meets this woman, and she says, ‘Don’t you know you were called to be an apostle today? Where were you?’ Of course, Joseph F. Smith comes over to the home and informs him that he has been called to be an apostle. He was called and sustained without being there and knowing of it at the time. Certainly a different time, different era.”

Matthew Cowley

Though not yet a member of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles, young Matthew Cowley (who was an apostle from 1945 to 1953) and his friends once also skipped a Church meeting. His father, Matthias Cowley, was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time, and Matthew’s behavior didn’t reflect well on his father.

Elder Glen L. Rudd recorded:

“To sit with (Matthew Cowley), to live in his home, to pray and to eat at his dinner table, and to be his close companion were some of the great blessings of my life. … He told me about some of the troubles the kids got in. The sons of the Apostles were not always as obedient as they should have been. Once during a meeting in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, they were up in a nearby barn trying to figure out how to smoke, and they set the barn on fire. The fire engines roared on both sides of Temple Square, and the meeting was dismissed so the barn that the sons of the Apostles had set on fire could be rescued.”



Breanna Olaveson worked in the magazine industry before taking her writing from full-time to nap time with the birth of her first daughter. Her work has appeared in the Ensign, Liahona and New Era magazines, as well as Utah Valley Magazine, Utah Valley BusinessQ, Utah Valley Bride and the Provo Daily Herald. She lives in Utah county with her husband and three children. She blogs at www.breannaolaveson.com.


  1. AvatarBryan Reply

    So for George Albert Smith, was the fair being held on a Saturday (when General Authorities are normally sustained)? If so, this would not be an example of not keeping the Sabbath day holy, but more a lesson on the importance of attending all sessions of General Conference. Still a funny story!

  2. AvatarCharles Barrett Reply

    Skipped church on a Sunday and raced my boat. While putting it away I was strict by lightning and rushed to the hospital…

  3. AvatarLinda Reply

    Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, 1903–45
    On Tuesday, October 6, 1903, George Albert Smith had a busy day at work and was unable to attend the sessions of general conference that day. By the time he left the office, the afternoon session of conference was nearly over, so he started for home with plans to take his children to the fair.

    When he arrived at his house, he was surprised to find a crowd of visitors, one of whom stepped forward and congratulated him warmly.

    “What is all this about?” he asked.

    “Don’t you know?” she responded.

    “Don’t I know what?”

    “Why, you’ve been sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” the visitor exclaimed.

    “That couldn’t be right,” George Albert said. “There must be some mistake.”

    “I heard it myself,” she countered.

    “It must have been some other Smith,” he said. “Not a word has been said to me about it, and I can’t believe it is true.”

    Confused, the visitor returned to the Tabernacle to find out whether she was mistaken. There she was informed that she was right—George Albert Smith was the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.17

    His daughter Emily later recalled the scene at the Smith home: “It seemed like the whole Tabernacle was streaming across the lawn into our house, crying and kissing mother. They were all saying that Father was an apostle, and we thought that being an apostle must be the worst thing that could possibly happen to you.”

    Even after the report had been verified, George Albert determined that he would still take his daughters to the fair as promised, “although he didn’t see much of it,” Emily remembered. “He spent the whole time with his back to the wall talking to people.”18

  4. AvatarRobert Reply

    I knew I was being too uptight about keeping the sabbath. I was brought up being bored to death on Sundays and have been doing the same thing to my kids.

  5. AvatarMelanie Reply

    My great-grandfather was with George Albert Smith when he was at the fair! I have my great-grandfather on tape telling the story. They were doing business together that day…a SATURDAY. George Albert Smith said to my great-grandpa, “Charlie, if ever you tell anyone about this, please make sure they know it was a Saturday and not a Sunday when we were at the fair and I was called to the Twelve.” 🙂

  6. AvatarDoug Reply

    One time I did the right thing on Sunday: Our small chapel was near a corner drug store. The deacons and priests (me included) would often walk there before Sacrament Meeting to buy a snack. Of course, this in itself was not something we should have been doing. One Sunday I could see that Sacrament Meeting was about to begin and we were in danger of not returning in time to administer the Sacrament. I turned around and went to sit in the deacons’ seating area. The meeting began soon after I sat down and the Branch President commented that some of the older Priesthood members would be needed to administer the Sacrament, as there was only one deacon. A wave of relief washed over me as everyone (including my parents) turned to see who the “one” deacon was. The trip home was equally rewarding as my parents expressed their appreciation for me making the right decision.

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