Sarah Jane Weaver: Why returning to Church is a return to something new

My words spoken from the parking lot of our Latter-day Saint meetinghouse stilled my husband. He stopped and looked at me, so I tried to explain.

“Of course I want to go back,” I said. “I just like home Church.”

It has been 15 months since the world shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as restrictions eased, we were returning to the normalcy — and the traditional meeting schedule — we had all craved since March 2020.

I was happy for anyone who had been isolated or felt alone on Sundays during that time. I was thankful to worship with all the people I had missed over the months. I knew I would feel a power and a peace when we prayed or sang together.

But I was also a bit sad.

The past 15 months had been a sacred time for my family. I loved the simplicity of home worship, of quietly participating in meetings via technology, of our family’s marginal efforts to sing the hymns. I had grown to love looking directly into faces of ward members during Zoom lessons. Sometimes we ate snacks while participating in Sunday School.

Amid the trials of COVID-19 — and I acknowledge there were many — my family had found silver linings.

So in the moment of return to a traditional Sunday meeting schedule, I was happy to have again all that had been lost, while pondering how I could hold onto all that I had found.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had articulated my feelings in an interview a year earlier. “We are not going to go back to something old,” he had said. “We are going forward to something new.”

During the year 2020, my stake president, Joseph Staples, had consistently asked members of our stake to take the necessary steps to ensure we came out of the pandemic better than we started it.

Timeline: How the Church has responded to the global COVID-19 pandemic

We had all learned something during this time about the sacredness of our homes and of our gratitude for the things that connect us — including technology. We found that busyness did not equate to happiness. And we came to know that when we could not be in a temple on a regular basis, our temple covenants and temple blessings could be in us. Most important, we had reaffirmed there is and has always been one answer to conflict — faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said there will never be a time that the Lord won’t teach us if we are righteous. “This life is a time for becoming, not just for experiencing. It is a time of being taught from on high,” he said.

I will never forget the overwhelming feeling I had when the world began to shut down because of the virus. I regret now that I did not glimpse the potential suffering that would impact so many physically, emotionally or financially. Instead, as my calendar cleared, I felt relief.

For me, the pandemic was an opportunity to restart, to be still and to reflect. To determine what is needed — and what matters and what does not. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, the pandemic was “a rare time of enforced solitude when we don’t have a lot of trivia or superficial busyness distracting us from considering the truly important things in life.” Such times, he said, “invite us to look into our soul and see if we like what we see there.”

Last weekend I traveled for work for the first time in almost 15 months. Like returning to the traditional Sunday meeting schedule, the trip brought me great joy. I observed and wrote about Elder Quentin L. Cook’s sacred ministry and felt the peace that comes when an Apostle testifies of Jesus Christ. I was among fellow Latter-day Saints. I saw again the power of the Church of Jesus Christ to bless and strengthen God’s children.

The trip also gave me pause.

Just as was going back to Church, it was another reminder that — as things normalize — we are all faced with a choice: Armed with the lessons of the past 15 months, we can go back to something old or forward to something better.