As a bishopric counselor conducting a Provo, Utah, young single adult ward’s first sacrament meeting since the Church’s wide-sweeping COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, I choked. Or rather, I choked up.
Standing at the meetinghouse pulpit at the start of the May 31 worship service and facing an appropriately distanced congregation of some 40-plus young ward members, I was moved to tears when first looking into the collective faces — many masked — of those we had missed since mid-March.
It truly was an emotional experience. But Sundays since the start of the Church’s pandemic-related adjustments have resulted in a series of emotional moments and memorable experiences.
On March 12, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced the immediate suspension of all Church gatherings. One’s Sunday worship became quite personal in an “at-home” setting, with bishops authorizing appropriate priesthood holders to perform the sacrament ordinance in their homes and — where possible — the homes of others.
My first “home-centered” Church worship experience came while my wife and I were spending a week in New Jersey with a daughter, her husband and their four young children. On Sunday, March 15, we gathered with their family and her in-laws in their Marlboro, New Jersey home. Our son-in-law led the meeting, the bread and small plastic cups of water were placed on plates, and adults and grandsons shared brief testimonies and expressions of faith, hope and appreciation.
My second at-home experience the following week was completely different— all by myself in our Provo home. Cheryl had extended her stay in New Jersey several extra days to help our daughter’s family get adjusted to pandemic closures and at-home educational efforts, and I flew back to Utah. That Sunday, I sat down for personal gospel study, followed by a sacrament service for one.
All the time, we’ve been mindful of the variety of experiences of Latter-day Saints worldwide — including those where residences of individuals or families were without a priesthood holder to perform the sacrament service or where government restrictions or extreme distances precluded in-home visits from those able to help bless and provide the sacred emblems.
While Latter-day Saints in Utah start to return to limited public worship services, other Church members elsewhere may still be months away from meeting together. In some areas, members are just now able to make in-home ministering visits and bring in the sacrament.
Over the past several months, our ward leaders and members have tried to stay connected, with ministering and monitoring done via text, calls, video conference and, when allowable, chats on the street or the doorstep. For Easter Sunday, we had five members videotape their brief messages on the Savior, His Atonement, Gethsemane, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, with the videos posted on the ward Facebook page.
In mid-May, the First Presidency authorized “some meetings and activities to be resumed on a limited basis using a careful, phased approach” and in harmony with local regulations.
On Sunday, May 24, knowing we would be meeting again with our YSA ward the following week, my wife and I held what we hope to be our last pandemic-era combination of in-home gospel study, Sunday worship and sacrament service. They have been pleasing, peaceful and purposeful Sabbath moments of reflection and recommitments.
Our pandemic-period Sundays have been quite different from those of the past nine years — presiding over a mission, serving as a Provo Missionary Training Center branch president and now in a YSA ward bishopric, all complete with meetings, councils, trainings, interviews, devotionals and the like. Some Sundays seemed more like “a day of rush” rather than “a day of rest.”
Our Sundays during COVID-19 have included more time and attention to scripture study and “Come, Follow Me” conversations, more calls and video-conference chats with family members and friends, and more shared conversations about family history stories and photos.
I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy and learn from our Sunday in-home worship experiences during the period of pandemic restrictions. Yet once back in public worship services in the meetinghouse, I didn’t realize how much I had missed the interactions with and edification through fellow Latter-day Saints.
It’s all part of a personal collection of emotional moments and memorable experiences from a dozen Sundays during the COVID-19 pandemic.