Back in 1957, when he was stationed in the outskirts of Alaska with the United States Air Force, Frank Santiago, now of Provo, Utah, learned the doctrinal details of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and decided to be baptized. One of those pivotal details was a family-centered focus, and Frank determined he would implement that doctrine in his forthcoming family.
After his military obligation concluded, Frank left his New York City roots, enrolled at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, married Ella Castagno of Erda, Utah, and became the father of seven children, five boys and later two girls. “I felt so strongly about this family responsibility,” Frank reported. “I always wanted the kids to know the gospel was the most important thing in my life and I’d do whatever I could to help them develop their own personal belief in God.”
The Santiago family and millions of other members of the Church stretch to similar lengths, adjusting schedules and outside demands to abide by the 100-year-old continuing counsel to hold a regular family home evening. A weekly family meeting, now encouraged on Monday evenings, is practiced throughout the population of the worldwide Church and hearkens back to initial guidance from Church leaders a century ago.
When society ran at a slower pace and much of the United States lived in rural populations, President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) thoughtfully advised Church members in April 1915 to “inaugurate a ‘Home Evening’ throughout the Church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord.”
Subsequent Church leaders encouraged the practice, but it was not until 1965, some 50 years later, when Church membership had significantly grown throughout the world, that President David O. McKay (1873–1970) encouraged parents to consistently observe one night each week as a family night and provided a teaching manual to support the practice. In 1970, President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) designated Monday night as the weekly family home evening and directed that no other Church functions should conflict with that schedule.
President McKay, in his renewed emphasis on family home evening, promised that “great blessings” come to those who carry out this responsibility. Family home evening lessons have brought member families closer to one another and have brought a great measure of peace and harmony in many homes.
Current Church President Thomas S. Monson concurred. “We cannot afford to neglect this heaven-inspired program. It can bring spiritual growth to each member of the family, helping him or her to withstand the temptations that are everywhere. The lessons learned in the home are those that last the longest.”
Aaron Sherinian and his wife, Emily, of Arlington, Virginia, are among Church members who follow that prophetic counsel.
“Family home evening is all about these crazy people that we share our life with–our family,” said Aaron.
“Family home evening is a tradition we have along with millions of other members of the Church around the world,” Emily added. “It’s about carving out the time to put those things that are most important – family, faith, service and friendship – to really put those things first.”
Another Mormon mother concurs.
Stephanie Santiago, Frank and Ella’s daughter-in-law of Orem, Utah, recalls an important lesson she learned in her youthful family home evening experiences.
“I grew up in an Idaho family of 11 children,” Stephanie explained. “My Dad was always involved in leadership positions in the Church and I remember him day after day leaving home in his Church shirt and tie uniform – except on Mondays. He reassured each one of us that Monday was our special time to spend together and he could be available despite the heavy demands of his Church and work responsibilities. Now I see that my husband, Todd, values our family time in the same way both of our fathers did. It makes a big difference.”
Emily Stratford of Mesa, Arizona, recalls the difference regular family home evening made in her young life. “I remember times we studied about our ancestors in our lessons – in particular, a lesson about my great-grandmother Hedwig Weed. She was a German immigrant and convert to the Church that never learned how to drive a car. One home evening we all took a bus ride around Phoenix, running the errands that Grandma would have done. We were exhausted by the time we returned home, but we returned with a renewed appreciation of Grandma’s lifestyle and the sacrifices she made. We still talk about that bus ride.”
In her own family with her husband, Ryan, and five children ages 5–15, Stratford feels compelled to teach her children as much as she can while they are still at home.
“Ryan and I decided from the get go that we would be valiant about holding regular home evenings,” she said. “I remember lots of times when he was at the hospital and couldn’t come home to meet with us that we’d hold family home evening over the speaker phone. It turned out to be a great missionary opportunity as the nurses would often listen and share our lessons.”
The Stratfords have tried a variety of teaching techniques including use of elaborate, laminated kits created with friends during graduate school, participation in outdoor activities and varied child-directed lesson formats, but their current and best received resources come from the diverse media options available at Church websites.
“Those video messages really connect with all of our kids and help us emphasizes our teaching messages.”
Dani Wilde, Phoenix, Arizona, grew up in a family of five children in Dallas, Texas, and learned early on that family home evening was the teaching habit of her household.
“I remember lots of wiggles and quickly played games and sometimes just a single thought,” Wilde recalled, “but the regularity of our home evenings helped me put everything in perspective and made a solid foundation for our family.”
Now, with three boys two through seven, Wilde and her husband, Seth, committed early on to a weekly observance of family home evening. “For us, it’s the habit, it’s all about the habit of holding it, of being obedient and letting the boys know that we are willing to set aside this special time for them. I know from experience that home evening provides a safe place to learn, to ask hard questions and to grow in the gospel together.”
Growing in the gospel together is the ultimate focus of the family-centered study and activity time throughout the Church. Virtually every involved member of the Church remembers a significant teaching moment in family home evening, either as a child, a parent or even a grandparent. Some recognize their belief systems originated with the weekly practice, while others acknowledge the self-confidence created by planning, organizing and participating in family home evening experiences.
As Emily Stratford concluded, “I believe family home evening is an inspired program, a designated time outside of church for our little family to talk, to play, to learn, to sing, to pray and to testify of those things that are most important in our lives.”