Gerry Avant: Elder Faust’s experience with ‘meetingless’ Sabbaths

In most cases, Latter-day Saints haven’t attended sacrament meetings for the past 17 Sundays.

The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sent a letter on March 12 stating that all Church meetings and activities worldwide were to be temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 19, the Brethren sent another letter authorizing the resumption of some meetings and activities using a careful, phased approach. Most units of the Church have not resumed their meetings.

During these “meetingless” Sabbaths members have been encouraged to read the scriptures and engage in personal and family gospel study.

Our current situation reminds me of an experience James E. Faust related during an interview in December of 1985. At that time, he was serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from March 12, 1995, until his death at age 87 on Aug. 10, 2007.

Here is a brief recap of Elder Faust’s experiences of studying the gospel and worshiping alone:

On Dec. 7, 1941, Elder Faust, then 21, and his missionary companion went to teach the gospel to a woman in her home in Brazil. When they arrived that Sunday afternoon, she was listening to a radio broadcast. The missionaries’ attention was riveted to the announcement in Portuguese: “Pearl Harbor has been bombed.”

Geographical boundaries seemed to dissolve for the 6-foot-tall, blue-eyed missionary. Until he heard that broadcast, his concerns had been predominantly of missionary work, his family and home in Salt Lake City. While standing in that living room in South America, far from home, he knew the attack on the military base in the Hawaiian Islands would have a big impact on his life. Because of his age, he was certain he would be drafted as soon as he returned home from his mission. He had nearly completed his full-time mission, having served almost two years.

“We couldn’t get home because of the war,” Elder Faust recalled. “I went to Brazil in 1939 and came back in 1942 — I was there 33 months. Those were unsettling times, but I got to have an extra long mission, which was a great blessing.”

The extended mission helped fortify him for the challenges of military service, which began within weeks of his return home. He was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps.

President James E. Faust and his wife, Ruth Wright, on the day of their wedding, April 22, 1943. The wedding took place during a short leave during his military service.
President James E. Faust and his wife, Ruth Wright, on the day of their wedding, April 22, 1943. The wedding took place during a short leave during his military service. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

One challenge was being the only Latter-day Saint on a ship while being transferred to the South Pacific. Off the coast of New Zealand, his ship was ordered to pull in a tanker that had burned out. The stricken vessel was larger than the ship he was on; towing it took 83 days.

Factoring in the time he’d already been aboard ship before the towing began, he spent about two dozen Sundays worshiping alone. He said he searched for places where he could read scriptures, meditate and pray. Using a pocket-size hymnal, he sang, always solo.

“Most often, I would go way up in the front of the ship, out in the open, where the waves would drown out my singing, and I would have my own service as best as I could,” he reflected.

His military service took him to the South Pacific and Middle East during the perilous, uncertain days of World War II, adding to his life a dimension he said was invaluable.

“I learned some things in the military that I had to learn, and that added to what I had learned on my mission,” he said.

Reading scriptures, singing hymns and studying the gospel on his own fortified and sustained him during the many times he was the sole Latter-day Saint during his military service.

During these meetingless Sundays, I’ve thought about Elder Faust and his solitary worship. I assume he had a limited gospel library, maybe just his scriptures, a book or two, and the pocket-size hymnal. By contrast, we have access to thousands of publications — books; magazines; texts of talks by General Authorities and officers of the Church; and, yes, print and digital editions of the Church News. We have videos of conference talks, Tabernacle Choir performances, inspirational movies and other uplifting items and postings to fortify and sustain us during the Sundays we’re unable to gather with fellow Latter-day Saints.

Still, it will be a sweet experience to meet again in our wards and branches.