Every Monday evening, Mormons around the world pause, as families. Together they pray, sing, play games, eat snacks. This is all standard fare for many American households, but the difference is that for Mormons, it’s built into every Monday night (or sometimes another night) and it has an official, deceptively generic-sounding name: family home evening.
The weekly gathering is far more than a family game night. Vern Bengtson, a sociologist who ran a major study of at-home religious practices that spanned nearly four decades, called family home evening one of “the most successful [religious] programs fostering intergenerational connections and the nurturing of families.” This, at least, is the ideal. Among some seasoned practitioners, family home evening has been called “the family fight that begins and ends with prayer.” The Mormon humorist Robert Kirby has referred to it as “family home screaming.”
But back to the ideal. In 1915, the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recommended that church members arrange monthly (and later, weekly) “home evenings” to strengthen family ties—a goal that many present-day Mormons consider to have been prescient, given the dramatic changes to family life that have come in the intervening century. The leaders outlined a window of time “devoted to prayer, singing hymns, songs, instrumental music, scripture reading, family topics, and specific instruction on the principles of the gospel and on the ethical problems of life, as well as the duties and obligations of children to parents, the home, the Church, society, and the nation.” As their vision suggests, family home evening wasn’t ever intended to be strictly religious. There is hymn singing and scripture reading, but there is also game playing and ethics discussing.