Two weeks ago, Jacksonville experienced significant damage from wind and flooding associated with Hurricane Irma. Since then, our church has been heavily involved in the clean-up and recovery effort. Church on the 10th was cancelled because that was the day of the storm's arrival and it could be unsafe for people to leave home. Beginning on the 12th, we have been regularly working on debris removal. Most people were off work on the 12th and 13th, so those days it was an all-day effort, but since returning to work, it has been mostly evenings and weekends. Last weekend, local members were joined by members from throughout the Southeast, who camped on the church's back lawn and worked all day Friday through Sunday.
My current calling is in a ward leadership position where I receive planning and scheduling notices that are later shared with the ward members. Thursday the 14th, we received notice that President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency would be in Jacksonville that coming Sunday and attend a special stake-wide sacrament meeting. We were asked to publicize this information among the stake members.
Now, I'm sure the leadership knows what they're doing, but it seems to me there's a strong argument for NOT publicizing a visit like this before it happens. Here's my reasoning.
Where are stake members supposed to be on Sunday? In church. Not "in church because a high-up church leader is visiting," but IN CHURCH. If you're where you're supposed to be, you are there for the visit of President Eyring. But pre-announcing this turns it from a reward for faithfulness into a celebrity spectacle. Some people were there to see President Eyring, not to hear from the Lord's servant.
I get why someone might think this is still okay: come to see a church celebrity and now you're in the room to hear the Lord's servant. But I think of the Nephite experience recorded in 3 Nephi. Jesus arrived unexpectedly at the temple in Bountiful, not to a pre-announced meeting. The ones who got to have the experience were those who were at the temple because that was where they were supposed to be. Everything that Jesus teaches from Chapter 11 through 18 is only heard firsthand by those who were where they were supposed to be. Then, in 3 Ne. 19:2-3, the "come see a church celebrity" news is spread around, and the next day the larger crowd is taught by those who received the teachings firsthand the day before. And in the parable of the 10 virgins, the arrival of the bridegroom is immediate and only those already prepared are able to participate in what comes later.
My wife said, "If they didn't make it know, afterwards they'd have a lot of people mad that they missed it." And I said, "That's a pretty tough argument to make, saying, 'If you would have told me it was special, I would have done what I knew I was supposed to do.'" Isn't that what integrity is, doing what you're supposed to do ALL the time? And the reward for integrity is when one of those times turns out to be special. But it's not integrity when you say, "With advance knowledge of which time is special, I'll dust off my special behavior."
I get that this is probably jerky of me. Everyone has somethings that are easy and some things that are difficult. For me, being in the church meetings I'm supposed to attend is not difficult. Then, like a jerk, I say, "Screw the people who can't handle this as easily as I can!" But I sure don't want anyone to say, "Screw the people who can't handle the stuff A Random Stranger can't handle yet!" In THAT case, I say, "Give me some practice getting better, guys!" Like I said, I guess I understand that side of things: to get a child ready to be a responsible adult, you create a bunch of artificial scenarios for practice. Pre-announcing a visit can help people start a habit of being where they're supposed to be, so when it REALLY matters, they'll be there. But I dislike turning spiritual experiences into entertainment experiences, and I feel pre-announcing a visit from a church leader does just that.